‘Let’s Take A Look At’ is going to be a series where I play through the first hour or so of a game and take a good, hard look at it. Today, we’re looking at yet another port for the Game Boy, released in 1994. It’s not just any port, though – it’s the port of Nintendo’s smash hit arcade game Donkey Kong. You know the score – the big bastard ape is squatting at the top of the stage, throwing various projectiles at you as you try to get your arse up to him so that you can rescue Pauline, who was Mario’s actual girlfriend back in the day.
There were four stages in the game, all taking place up a hundred meter tower that Dong was slowly ascending each time that you caught up to him. You beat him in a final confrontation, and then the levels start looping back around. It’s a classic, although it’s a bit limited by today’s standards. Of course, being that it’s a classic, Nintendo has tried to port it onto every single system that they make. The Game Boy was no exception to this rule. Anyway. Enough about that. You know it’s a port. Let’s play said port. Screenshots are from the Game Boy game specified, and it’s all thanks to Nintendo.
A humble title screen. It tells us what it is. There’s a big mugshot of the title character, ol’ Dong himself. It tells us to push start. Unusually, it also specifies the console. The year of release – 1994. For this reason, this game is commonly referred to as Donkey Kong ’94. Moving on.
Since we’re all familiar with what Donkey Kong is now, it’s a bit weird that it has a file select screen, since it’s only four stages long. Hi-scores, perhaps? Oh well, moving on.
No surprises here. You get the Donkey Kong experience that you expect. Unlike most games, though, not much is compromised, save for some of the hazards from the original arcade game. As a matter of fact, Mario himself is a lot more nimble, able to do somersaults, back flips, and hand stands. As well as that, you can toss the hammer power-up into the air, meaning that you can carry it between platforms.
It’s surprisingly slick. As a result of Mario being more agile, there’s usually multiple different ways to tackle the stages. All four of them. These advanced manoeuvres can make the game a bit too easy though, especially since the stages have obviously been shrunk down to make it onto the Game Boy.
You’d have thought that they’d have changed the levels a bit to compensate for this. Perhaps they were going for something new. One thing that’s interesting is that these abilities are very reminiscent of Mario’s move set in 1996’s Super Mario 64. The games were only made two years apart. It does make you wonder if they looked back at this game and decided to emulate how acrobatic Mario feels here. Either way, it’s fantastic, and intuitive, especially for a Game Boy game. Even if it does make the game a little bit of a cakewalk.
One thing to note is that the fourth stage, or the cement factory, famously cut out in the NES and other versions of the game, appears here on the humble wee Game Boy.
Being that it’s the fourth and final stage in the arcade game, it’s here that you have your final showdown with Dong, before the levels start to repeat themselves. Yes, after this, it’s back to stage one, with some minor differences to make things a bit trickier. You have to run across all of the rivets pictured here. That makes Dong fall on his arse. Pauline’s piece of girder manages to somehow stay in the air, rendering her unharmed. This allows Mario, or Jumpman, as he used to call himself, to rescue his ol’ bird Pauline.
And that’s it. You get your happy ending. Donkey Kong is a decent romp every now and then, but there isn’t that much to it, outside of playing for the highest score. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of skill involved, but in terms of longevity –
In what must have been one of the greatest surprises in my young gaming life, what I thought was just a simple port was actually so much more. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t exactly disappointed when I came across my copy of Donkey Kong back in the day, but I wasn’t thrilled about it either. Until this happened, of course.
I hate to speak about ‘back in the day’, because it makes me feel old, but I feel that it’s appropriate here. If this game was released in the past five years or so, you’d have had a thousand dickheads like me writing about it and spoiling the reveal for you before you’d even bought into it. In 1994, the only things that we had were magazines, which, in my household, were few and far between. Not to mention that I was three years old at the time of release, anyway. I didn’t exactly have the reading comprehension to understand a review in a magazine. Gaming has lost some it’s mystery now, thanks to reviews being easily accessible. It is better this way. Except for the rare moments like these, when something you thought lacklustre turns out to be amazing.
Nostalgia trip over, let’s get on with it. We’re at a place. This place is BIG-CITY, and Pauline is still in trouble. World 1-1 awaits. Let’s have a ganders.
No longer is your aim to reach Donkey Kong. Instead, you have to platform your way around a level in order to get a key. The key that you get unlocks a door, which finishes the level for you. You have to stand on top of the key and pick it up Super Mario Bros. 2 style, so it’s not a pick-up like Zelda or anything. That means that you normally have issues to contend with.
This is the objective of ninety percent of the levels in the game, and it works really, really well. A lot of the time, the levels end up being little self-contained puzzles. These little puzzle rooms get progressively harder as the game goes on. Obviously. Every few levels a new mechanic will be introduced, and a whole bevy of puzzles surrounding it will come in the levels following.
For example, in this set of levels, you have these power cables or wires that you can hang off. Swing around them, and you can propel yourself upward to a great height. These are pretty satisfying to use, and generally work well, unlike similar mechanics in other platformers.
Also scattered through the levels, much like in the original game, are three of Pauline’s items. Her purse, parasol, and hat, which recently made a reappearance in Super Mario Odyssey. Collect all three of them, and you trigger a bonus round after the level. In these, you get lives, and they come in two flavours.
Both gambling related, then. Anyway. Collect that key three times, and you’ll end up having a showdown with The Dong on level 1-4.
This is a simple, but tricky affair. When Dong jumps, stuff falls. If you don’t jump when Dong stomps, then you end up getting stunned, which can leave you open to the wheels, weights, and hubcaps falling on you.
These are a nice break from the key collecting levels. It’s yet another gleeful throwback. As a matter of fact, a level like this wouldn’t look amiss in some kind of parallel universe version of the arcade game. The vast majority of the mid-boss fights with Donkey Kong are like this, and they’re all excellent. And, just like in the arcade game, as soon as you get within grabbing range of Pauline, Dong will grab her and do one.
These little ‘intermissions’ after the boss stages are cool. They generally introduce a new mechanic, too, showing it off to you so that you know what to do when the time comes. Here, we have Mario using some kind of arrow block, which lets him create a bridge in place of the one that Dong destroyed.
A pretty simple puzzle, but things get a little bit more complicated in the level afterward, with the introduction of up arrow blocks, which create ladders rather than bridges. Nothing that ol’ Kote can’t handle, though.
Another round with The Dongmeister. This time, we have to lob shit at him.
Throw barrels at him a predictable three times, and he’s down for the count. He gets straight back up, grabs Pauline, and buggers off. Are you starting to see a pattern here?
Another mechanic. Levers. But if you want to find out about those, you’ll have to buy the game. You can do it through the 3DS eShop for £3.49, which is dirt cheap for such an amazing game. If you’ve never played it and you have a 3DS, then you really have no excuse not to buy it right now. It’s about the price of a coffee or a cup of tea. Go on. Buy it in memory of the Virtual Console, since that’s dead in the water now.
Chuck us a follow on Twitter and on here if you enjoyed the article. See you next time, where I’ll probably have a look at another piece of old shite.