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Donkey Kong Jr. (NES) artwork

Donkey Kong Jr. (NES) review

"BRB, going to Kickstarter a documentary called "Prince of Kong.""

For better or for worse, Donkey Kong Jr. is a product of its time.

If youíve played Donkey Kong (and you probably have) then the general flow of Donkey Kong Jr. will be familiar to you. This time, Mario is the villain and Donkey Kong is the kidnapped victim. You play as Donkey Kong Jr., and have to climb to the top of four different single-screen stages to rescue your dad, even though heís kind of a jerk and probably deserves to be kept in a cage anyway.

Jr. moves differently from Mario. Instead of climbing ladders, Jr. climbs vines. This is what sets Donkey Kong Jr. apart from its predecessor. Jr. can climb either one or two vines at a time. If heís holding two vines, he can ascend quickly but will descend slowly. The opposite is true when heís only holding one vine. Instead of swinging a hammer around, Jr. defeats enemies by dropping fruit on them. If he touches a piece of fruit, it will drop to the bottom of the screen, crushing every enemy it touches on the way down. While this wonít give you the feeling of pure power that the hammer brought in Donkey Kong, itís a bit trickier and more satisfying to pull off, and it keeps the game flowing smoothly. (Once you picked up a hammer in Donkey Kong, there wasnít much you could do besides smash things until the effect of the power up wore off.)

Like many games of the era, Donkey Kong Jr. may not control quite the way youíd expect it to from the description. For one thing, you have zero aerial control. Once your feet have left the ground, your fate is sealed. The lack of a run button means all forward jumps are exactly the same. Thereís no running start. Moving from vine to vine can also feel a little awkward when those vines are moving. Jr.ís hand needs to be in a very specific spot when you release your current vine, or youíll likely fall to your death. These things are not necessarily bad, but they take some getting used to after 30 years of platformers that have allowed us to defy the laws of physics.

Donkey Kong Jr. screenshotDonkey Kong Jr. screenshot

For our purposes, Donkey Kong Jr. is superior to its predecessor in one very important way. All of the important parts of the arcade original are intact in the NES version. The handful of cutscenes are missing or shortened, and it looks and sounds slightly different than the arcade version of the game, but itís a great port by 1983 standards. Donkey Kong lost its entire second level somewhere in the transition from arcade machines to the NES. Donkey Kong Jr. managed to make the jump with all of its levels intact. And, considering there are only four stages in the whole game, thereís a nice bit of variety within them. The first stage is reminiscent of Donkey Kongís third stage, except with vines. The second stage has a spring for Jr. to bounce off of. Advanced players will figure out that, if they hit the A button with the proper timing, they can propel themselves higher and skip part of the stage. Stage 3 is a more complex version of Donkey Kongís first stage stage, and the fourth and final level has Jr. climbing vines to push keys to the top of the stage to finally free his father.

Yes, thatís essentially the whole game. Of course, the game loops until you run out of lives or hit the kill screen. Each lap through the set of stages is more difficult than the last, with more frequently spawning and faster moving enemies. Thereís not much there, but if youíre really into score attack games, this might be right up your alley. It serves that purpose well, with the arcade version being played competitively by many of the same people you may have seen competing for the world record in Donkey Kong, in the documentary King of Kong. The game may be small, but itís pure.

Donkey Kong Jr. is an old game, without question. Some games feel as good in 2012 as they did when they launched. Donkey Kong Jr. is not one of those games. Itís not a bad game, but itís a bit unintuitive for those who arenít used to classic arcade physics, and thereís not really very much to it. Unless youíre into high scores, youíll have seen pretty much everything the game has to offer after a few minutes of play. But if you do take pleasure from setting personal records, Donkey Kong Jr. is worth your time. Itís just a little hard to recommend the game for the $5 Nintendo asks for it on the Virtual Console service if youíre not one of those people.


Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (September 19, 2012)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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