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CONSOLE: Game Boy DEVELOPER: Nintendo PUBLISHER: Nintendo
RELEASE DATE (NA): June 28, 1994 GENRE: Puzzle/Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

Do the Donkey Kong on the go!

At first glance, this game may just look like a portable rehashing of the 1981 arcade game of legend. The first time you play the game, you may initially feel the same way. After all, Donkey Kong does, in fact, begin with the exact same four stages as the Donkey Kong arcade game. So you may experience an initial sense of disappointment when you believe that you spend good money on an arcade port of a thirteen-year-old game with FEWER colours than the original. But once you defeat Donkey Kong and rescue your darling Pauline, that's when things start to pick up. Or, rather, that's when Donkey Kong picks up Pauline and runs off! Your quest is not over yet! DK won't go down without a fight, and you have 97 additional stages ahead of you over nine different worlds to chase down that nasty ape and win back your lady love! (Well, one of them at least. I'm sure Princess Toadstool won't be too pleased that Mario is off chasing another gal.)

The new stages build upon the foundation set by the Donkey Kong of olde. Donkey Kong, carrying the screaming Pauline, wedges his rather weighty behind through a door and locks it. Mario arrives on the scene and has to pick up a key (in classic Super Mario Bros. 2 fashion) and take it to the door. That sounds simple enough, and in the early levels, it is. Without Donkey Kong pummeling you with flying barrels, there's a slightly more carefree element to your play. There's still a timer, though, so you can't just dilly-dally: you've got to snag that key and save that girl!

In later stages, the door key is farther away or will require some ingenuity to obtain. New elements are gradually added to the levels as the game progresses. Temporary platforms (mentioned in the manual as "roads" and ladders) require you to touch a special block, at which point you can choose where on the screen to place a platform or ladder that then extends as far as it is able to go. These extra set pieces only last a short while before disappearing, although activating another will restart the clock. As well, in addition to the standard hammer of DK lore, there is a Super Hammer that can break blocks AND can be thrown in the air and caught for repeated use. Spring boards are also available to give you a much-needed boost. Lastly, switches for opening and closing doors, retracting and extending platforms, or changing directions of moving platforms are quite abundant.


It may start out familiar, but there are a few new barrels up DK's sleeve!

Mario has a few new smooth moves, too! He can leap around and climb ropes as per usual, but now he can also pick up and throw objects (such as the door key). Barrels, trash cans, and even some of the enemies can be lifted up high and tossed to one's desire left, right, or straight up. The last move is particularly useful for moving a key upward, since Mario can't carry one and climb a ladder simultaneously. Mario has also become a bit of an acrobat in his spare time, pulling off sweet backflips and walking handstands to save the day. If there's a rope or other taut wire, he can rotate around it and fire himself off into the distance with some good momentum. Of course, unlike most Mario games, he isn't particularly good at surviving long falls, so keeping your drop distance to a minimum is strongly advised. Yet even with all these additions, Donkey Kong still feels like the original, even if there are far more giant ladybugs and angry-faced walking bricks to contend with than ever before.

Every fourth stage pits you against the giant ape himself, where you must either make your way safely to the top or, more for the end of each world, pick up the barrels Donkey Kong tosses and give him a taste of his own medicine. On occasion, Donkey Kong Jr. also lends a hand to his old man, usually acting silly and annoyingly pulling switches. These were actually the most enjoyable stages for me, which made the final world, the Tower, all the more exciting as it features only Donkey Kong-based stages.

The game's visual style pulls directly from the arcade game, although there has been a bit of a facelift since the early 1980s. Being a monochrome Game Boy title, the sprites do their job more than impress, although Mario and his environs are a bit more detailed than before. There are actually shaded backgrounds, as opposed to a stark black backdrop. Mario visits many unique locales, and each one is reflected fairly well by its stages. The audio has its ups and downs; the classic tunes from the arcade Donkey Kong are still intact and have aged well enough, but the new ones aren't quite as catchy, though they still will keep you fairly motivated. The map screen music can be rather creepy, though. My favourite thing to hear is Pauline's yell for help, which is impeccably cute. If you use the Super Game Boy attachment, you'll hear actual digitized female screams. Doesn't that... sound a little blood-curdling, actually?

Donkey Kong is more than just a port. It's a full-blown sequel, perhaps the only one of its kind. With tight controls, decent presentation, and a challenge level that should keep your brain synapses adequately occupied, this is one that shouldn't be left out of your classic Game Boy library. With its availability on the 3DS Virtual Console as well, there's no reason not to dive back into a time when Donkey Kong was actually the bad guy and Mario thought that swinging a hammer around like a maniac was an appropriate course of action.


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