Review: Donkey Kong (Game Boy)

In this review, we barrel through the Game Boy game Donkey Kong. We find out how well this adventure game plays.

This game was released in 1994. We’re fairly familiar with this specific sub-series that pits Mario against Donkey Kong. We previously played Donkey Kong as ported on the Atari 7800 and found it to be OK. We also tried Donkey Kong Jr. on the same system. It was passable, but nothing special. So, we thought we’d give the Game Boy game a play.

The game borrows substantially from the previous games. The goal is to rescue the princess from Donkey Kong who kidnapped her.

At first, the game plays just like the original Donkey Kong. Donkey Kong is throwing barrels. You can jump over them for an additional 100 points. You can grab the hammer that allows you to run around swinging at everything. You can destroy the barrels for additional points. Climb the ladders to make it further up. Reach the princess to end the round.

In total, there are four stages. At the fourth stage, the goal is to remove parts of the girders to drop Donkey Kong. Remove them all and Donkey Kong will fall down, allowing you to win the game… or does it?

This is where the game begins to deviate from the original. Donkey Kong will take the princess away, forcing Mario to pursue. You’ll find yourself in world 1-1. In the overworld, you get a map of the different levels. There are two kinds of levels: normal levels and Donkey Kong boss levels. In the normal levels, there is a door and a key. You need to pick up the key and carry it to the door. Unlock the door and advance to the next stage. If you have played Super Mario Bros 2, this game will behave in a very similar manner.

In the normal levels are also a couple of different optional items you can collect. Three of them are the purse, the umbrella, and the hat. Each item is worth some points. If you collect all three of them, however, you’ll be able to play a bonus game once you beat the level.

There are two different bonus games. The first is the big wheel. On some levels, there are only 1up and 2up’s that can be collected. In later levels, you can also find 3up prizes on the wheel as well. Wait for Mario’s face to appear. Press “A” when you want the “wheel” to stop spinning. The wheel will gradually slow down until it finally stops on what you get.

The other game is the slots game. The combinations that yield prizes are found on the machine themselves. Press “A” to instantly stop the tumbler. Stop all three tumblers and you’ll find out what you earned.

The other item that can be collected is the 1up heart. This also gives you a free life.

There are really two different boss battles. The mini-boss stages have one goal in mind: get to the princess. If you get to the princess, Donkey Kong will be forced to grab her and continue the pursuit. In the final level in the world, the goal is to hit Donkey Kong 3 times. Often, it is with barrels, but sometimes it is with other objects he throws at you. Beat the final boss level to move on to the next world.

Every time you defeat Donkey Kong, you’ll get a tally of the previous 4 levels. In each level, you have a time limit. Run out of time and you die. However, if you beat the level with time to spare, this total will go towards a pool of points. At the end of the fourth round, the points are added up. If you get 1 point extra, you get a free life. For every 100 points you earn after, you get additional lives. This is likely where you’ll earn a majority of your free lives.

In total, there are 10 worlds. There is “world 0” where you have the classic rounds. The remaining 9 worlds are added on later and are all new.

Another way in which this game deviates from the original Donkey Kong games is how you move. Moving up and down ladders, running left and right, and jumping are all there (though you have a higher jump here). What is new are a whole bunch of new moves.

There is the high jump. Simply run one direction, then run in the opposite direction to execute a skid. During this skid, press “A” to jump. You’ll perform a particularly high jump. This is like the high jump found in the later released Super Mario 64 game.

You can also duck in this game. Simply press down while not moving. This will allow you to dodge a few enemy attacks as well as allow you to squeeze through low spaces.

The final move of note is the hand stand. While seemingly useless throughout the game, this move is required to beat some of the final bosses of the game. To execute, hold down either left or right, press down and jump. This will allow Mario to flip onto his hands. With this move, barrels that fall down from above will be stopped by his feet. The barrel will flip harmlessly onto its site and permit you to use it against Donkey Kong.

While there is is a host of new moves, that is not what all is new in this game. Throughout the levels, you’ll also encounter new obstacles and enemies. One of the new obstacles include switches that control platforms and doors. There are also conveyor belts that complicate things. There are areas where you can swim (either through still water or even waterfalls). There are lava pits and normal pits that kill you instantly. There are even spikes and floating objects that also make things interesting.

One obstacle also allows you to execute a new move as well. There are wires that pop up from time to time. Simply jump to the wire and hold up to grab onto it. While you are hanging, press and hold up to begin flipping around. Once you are up to speed, press A to jump extremely high into the air. There are also angled wires that allow you to fling yourself at a diagonal angle.

In addition to this are a host of new enemies. Donkey Kong Jr. makes an appearance from time to time to make things complex. Sometimes, Donkey Kong Jr. randomly hits switches to further complicate the field. There are enemies that wander around. Some of them kill on touch while others simply push Mario around. Some enemies will allow you to stand on them for an extra leg up. A few enemies have tails you can use as moving vines to traverse larger gaps.

One final note is the fact that Mario is much more durable in this game. Mario can now survive larger falls. If it’s a larger fall, then Mario will perform a roll move. In an even larger fall, Mario will end up doing a face plant to be temporarily stunned. However, falls larger then that will cause Mario to land on his head, killing him. Also, not all enemy hits are lethal. Sometimes, Mario will bounce away and also be stunned. This definitely gives this game much more forgiveness.

One thing to point out right away is the difficulty. Some developers create sequels that are significantly more difficult than the original. Miner2049er and the sequel, Bounty Bob Strikes Back is a great example of that. In this game, the difficulty is actually pulled back a fair bit. Jumps are easier to accomplish and timing windows are, in some ways, widened. This approach paid off very well because it makes the game much more approachable. You don’t have to make sequels harder. A higher difficulty won’t necessarily make a game better. For me, the expanded content really wins the day in making this game more playable.

Another impressive accomplishment is the fact that the expanded content didn’t actually make the game confusing in any way. In fact, the cutscenes practically trick you into learning new moves. While the cutscenes initially seem like they are just moving the plot along, they also teach you a lot about the new content along the way. The way this game goes about this is absolutely brilliantly executed.

Having said that, this game isn’t without its flaws. The biggest flaw for me is the length. When I made it to world 3, I thought I might be getting close to the end. When I got to world 4, I thought the Jungle must be Donkey Kong’s last stand. When I made it to world 5, I wondered how much further this game is going. By world 6, I’m saying, “really?” In world 7, the magic of the game began to fade. In world 8, the game felt endless. In world 9, the game felt like work more than actual enjoyment. Though the save system really helps things, this game felt about 5 worlds too long. The replay value suffered a lot as a result of this.

I will credit the creativity in the game. There is always something new to experience in this game from beginning to end. Unfortunately, the creativity only carries the game so far.

The more durable Mario is also a nice move. Mario isn’t seemingly made of glass like in previous ventures. An improvement that gets a thumbs up from me.

The difficulty curve is also very reasonable. In fact, it’s reasonable to a fault. The game progresses somewhat in difficulty for a few levels, but then seemingly stalls for several worlds. While it’s more than possible to die in this game, the game also tosses free lives at you quite a lot. As long as you can build up a reserve after 2 worlds, the goal ends up being more about preserving and, possibly, increasing this reserve. The game only gets challenging when yo finally make it to the last few levels of world 8 and 9. This lull in difficulty likely contributed to the feeling of this game being too long.

Generally speaking, this game has a lot going for it. There is a massive amount of new content added. The cutscenes manage to both entertain and teach at the same time. The new moves and obstacles made things more interesting. The added forgiveness in the game also helps things a lot. Having said that, the game ends up being several worlds too long. By the end of the game, completion feels more like work than enjoyment. Part of the blame is found in the lull in the difficulty part way through the game. Still, it’s a pretty decent game in the end.

The graphics are certainly reasonable. There is the occasional blurring that gets in the way from time to time, but this tends to happen when things are moving particularly quickly. This doesn’t always happens, so is only a marginal problem. The backgrounds and cutscenes are nicely done. So, I would say the graphics are very solid, though there is competition from games already made by this time.

The audio is pretty decent. I found nothing particularly memorable about the music, but the music is well suited for the different worlds. The use of original music is a nice throwback to the previous game. The sound effects are nicely done (man, the Princess’s voice must be hoarse by the end of the game, though). So, a decent job here.

Overall, this is a pretty solid game. The new moves and obstacles add so much to the game. The added forgiveness works extremely well too. The game, however, is too long. The lull in difficulty likely plays a role in this where it seems that levels don’t get any harder for a long period of time towards the middle of the game. The graphics are pretty decent, though blurring and competition from earlier games go give this one a run for its money. The audio is decent enough, though nothing too memorable in the way of music. A pretty good game, though I understand it if players get bored of it before the end.

Furthest point in game: Beat the game (beat level 9-9)

General gameplay: 19/25
Replay value: 6/10
Graphics: 7/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 70%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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