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Donkey Kong (Game Boy) artwork

Donkey Kong (Game Boy) review

"In the first level, you progressed upward through a series of tiers while bounding over barrels and swinging a hammer - your only line of defense against the unstoppable rolling barrel squadron. "

In the first level, you progressed upward through a series of tiers while bounding over barrels and swinging a hammer - your only line of defense against the unstoppable rolling barrel squadron.

In the second level, you made your way up through a stack of conveyor belts, tiptoeing carefully around the bowls of flammable material that were moving down the line.

The third level had you clearing consecutive platforms while skillfully evading bouncy fireballs and even bouncier springs.

Those three miniature adventures led up to the final struggle to make the small blocks rooted in the ledges disappear by walking over them in the fourth (and last) level.

Yes, Jumpman had some amazing adventures back in 1981. He went through all that just to save his honey Pauline from the clutches of a raging necktie-clad gorilla. Jumpman was the good guy, and Donkey Kong was the villain. Since then, the carpenter rescuing his woman has evolved into Mario, recognizable to millions of people spanning the globe, and the gorilla has had a role reversal la Terminator, becoming the heroic antithesis of his original purpose in a number of platformers both revolutionary and execrable. Nintendo clearly knows how to build legacies out of the most minor supporting actors. It was clear four years after Donkey Kong hit arcades in '81 that Jumpman/Mario was going to be the biggest thing in electronic entertainment since Asteroids. But the bad guy? The evil primate who fell on his noggin in bitter defeat while two star-crossed lovers ran off together in the moonlight?

Believe it. This could just as easily have been a dull port of the same four levels everyone played in seedy arcades over a decade earlier. But the monkey is out for revenge. Beat the first four levels on this cart and watch Jumpman and Pauline fall in love all over again .... until DK comes to the realization that he fully controls his destiny, not some two-bit woodworking chump. In a deliciously juicy twist, DK stomps the floor out from under the two, re-captures Pauline, and sends Jumpman - a role easily filled by Mario - on a wild goose chase through the best retro makeover ever put on the small screen.

Even though he's not saving his banana horde here as he does in his 16-bit adventures, the spotlight is totally on the big ape from the get-go. Donkey Kong (Nintendo, 1994) takes those four classic levels and adds over 100 even cooler puzzle-style levels to the mix, making sure your quest to save your main squeeze is drawn out and arduous while simultaneously keeping you hooked all the way to the final epic battle. A slew of new items and techniques are at Mario's beck and call, such as backflips and somersaults, disposable platforms and ladders, and the ability to throw the hammer away if it becomes cumbersome or outlives its usefulness. Most importantly in all this newfangledness is that the original point of the game and its most rudimentary mechanics and aspects remain intact, meaning that reaching the top where DK lies in wait with your woman is the same fun task it always was - it's just deeper and more meaningful this time through.

As usual, Nintendo proves that they have some of the best quality control money can buy. The simple gameplay - after all, it's only necessary to master just the bare minimums to get your girl - is enhanced primarily by the control. I've never seen so many uses for four directional keys and two action buttons. Mario can pull off backflips like nobody's business, and has no trouble wielding heavy objects or swinging ungodly distances off a single rope. It is fascinating and innately satisfying to use the moves you learn to take the key in each level to the exit. This vast array of easily executable moves makes things possible that would have meant in the early eighties that Jumpman would just have to settle for losing a girlfriend to an 800-pound primate. Best of all, the spot-on control scheme is totally frictionless. You'll have a blast using your new toys to square off with Big Man Kong at the end of every four levels. Nintendo's efforts to make this more than just a lazy port pay off in all the game's areas, but it shows most in the arena of control. All the new features don't detract from the game or unnecessarily complicate it, but rather add a wonderful dimension that propels it to stratospheric acclaim. Nintendo throws everything except the kitchen sink at you but still makes sure that for every instance in which the cards are stacked against you, the Powers That Be provide a delightful way to squeeze you out.

In a close second to the majesty of the control are the graphics, done so well for the monochrome medium that many 8-bit adventures are put to shame by them. The backgrounds match the theme of each new area perfectly and are done in a light gray that is nowhere near the point of intruding on the foreground but is clearly visible. Donkey Kong and Pauline are wearing their two-dimensional Sunday best, and Mario looks just as comfortable in overalls and a goofy hat as he ever has. All of these characters are placed in a series of environments that are beautifully varied and rendered at their artistic best, even if they are a little clich in their conception. Better still are the animated shorts that play between quartets of stages. These well-done pieces of eye candy not only look good, but serve a purpose too: to teach you new techniques or show you how to use unfamiliar items that you'll find available to you in the not-too-distant future. Then again, some are there purely for entertainment purposes. Watch in the desert when Mario chases Donkey Kong through a pyramid, flips over a pit, smacks his head on the ceiling, and curls into a ball and whimpers for a moment. I've tried for hours at a time to get him to regress to this babyish action to no avail. Also, one movie near the end of the game is funny but misleading; if you touch your foot to the lava, you'll suffer so much more than just a simple burn. This is as close to aesthetic perfection as a colorless Game Boy game gets, and it is all done with the meticulous attention to detail that only a reliable company like Nintendo can put forth.

From that little speaker in the corner of the Game Boy, Nintendo also brings out songs worthy of an unconscious hum at school or in the workplace. The Big-City theme reminds you of a sprawling metropolis, and the Iceberg level's tune uncannily captures the chilling desolation of a subzero desert. Every single composition fits nicely into the mix, from the bass-filled sense of adventure in the Jungle to the murderous highs and lows of the Rocky Valley. The songs run the gamut from ditties that repeat themselves every few seconds or so to tunes that offer something new and upbeat if you're willing to put in the extra minutes to jam out to them. Back for the ride are the wavy pitch of Mario's jumps and the familiar ''doo-doo-LOO-doo'' reserved for the collection of items and clearing of moving obstacles, as well as Mario's ber-funky but forever memorable walking noise (which I impersonate unnaturally well and subsequently scare strangers on the street with). If it weren't for the measures in each song looped with grating frequency, this would be worthy of a soundtrack purchase. You get a little bit of the old along with a little bit of the new. Like a radio station infused with rock from the seventies, eighties, and nineties, it's the whole package spread out over a modest space.

You may think that by now this is leading to the conclusion that these superb factors combine in the proverbial melting pot to make a great adventure that every Game Boy lover should already have or buy immediately. The fact is that it's not the mixture of those things that makes it great. They are merely the stepping stones to a conclusion whose simplicity totally belies the exhaustive rant I just gave - that this is just a great quest all-around. The pieces fall into place as if someone completed a jigsaw puzzle for you while you were away. By adding a plethora of new and exciting levels and features without straying too far from its deep roots, Donkey Kong becomes the height of excellence. Reliable battery backup keeps you wandering the desert and flying airplanes, and time trials that challenge you to set record times for level completion ensure that you go for the ride again as soon as you get off. You can't scoff and laugh it off as a children's venture either, because some levels can test your mind's penchant for spotting illusions by dangling the solution right in front of your face without you ever seeing it clearly. It's funny how puzzle platformers can do that.

Donkey Kong's release also coincided with the debut of the Super Game Boy, making it the perfect flagship title for the SNES's new entertaining peripheral. The game is equal parts fun on the Game Boy and with the Super Nintendo controller. Whatever medium you choose to experience the magic on, Donkey Kong is one of the few Game Boy games to please the senses, challenge you both thumb-wise and brain-wise, and put together a package that you can casually enjoy whether you're ten or fifty years old. All you have to do is follow the disposable road you just placed over that pit to a journey of black and gray wonder. Isn't it refreshing to let the bad guy have fun once in a while?

More Fun Than a Barrel of Monkeys
-- Graphics are as refined as the grandpa Game Boy gets
-- Every stage offers a memorable song or two
-- Control is so airtight, it's practically hermetically sealed in the Game Boy
-- More features and more fun on Super Game Boy
-- Enough variety to keep the interest level high all throughout
-- Is the prime example, bar none, of adding to a classic without ruining it or complicating it somehow

Monkey See, Monkey Don't Do
-- The game's only failing is that occasionally all three game files get mysteriously deleted at the same time, ruining any progress you might have made

snowdragon's avatar
Community review by snowdragon (December 09, 2003)

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