Ah yes, the original Donkey Kong. Who knows where the mario franchise would have gone if it wasn't for this game? Considering it really was just a bunch of pixels and sound effects, it really had an impact on the gaming scene and really the world in general. However returning to it in 2021, is there really any reason to play it again?-aside from maybe nostalgia’s sake, that is. So here's my review of the original Donkey Kong.
But before I begin, as the title says, I'm reviewing every mario game that I own. While this definitely doesn't include all of them, it still includes a fair chunk of them. Ever since i was young I've always enjoyed Mario games and I always felt a certain sense of nostalgia when playing them. So i'll just say don't worry, i'm still gonna talk about a pretty big chunk of them. And also, sorry if your favorite doesn't get talked about. Also just warning you, there are some parts of my reviews where I talk about my nostalgic connection to some of these games. If you're not into that, skip maybe the first paragraph or two.
Anyways, back to the review!
My first time playing this game was when I was maybe around 4 when my dad first bough this computer. He managed to find this website with tons of old arcade games on it. He let me have a look around it. While I did find many more interesting games like Dig Dug and Pac Man, I was also introduced to Donkey Kong. While it didn't particularly stand out to me, I just remember that as the first time I ever played this game. Another fond memory of this game came when I was around 7, when my family first got a wii and were experimenting with the virtual console feature. This was the first game they got on it. After this,I just kinda saw the game pop up every now and then on N.E.S online or on the N.E.S. classic. And maybe I saw it show up at an arcade here and there
The story of this game is that Mario’s (or jumpman as he's called in this game) girlfriend was captured by Donkey Kong and taken to a construction site. It's now up to jumpman to get her back. The player takes on the role of Jumpman. Pretty standard stuff.
One neat little detail that I want to note is how it's later confirmed that the Donkey Kong in this game is Cranky Kong in the current games. I know it wasn't this games doing and is more of a gag than anything, but I've always loved that little detail!
The game has 3 stages that continually repeat each other after beating the last one. The objective of the first two is to get to the top of the stage where Donkey Kong is holding Jumpmans girlfriend captive. The last one, however, involves Jumpman removing the bolts to a series of construction beams in order to try to save his girlfriend instead. In the process, the player must navigate through barrels and other obstacles that prevent them from reaching the goal getting hit by either results in a life lost. Losing three lives results in a game over. This repetitiveness gives the player a sort of safety net to plan out how to tackle the next stage. While in the process of being one of the games biggest drawbacks as to why you cant continually play the game for hours on end like other entries later in the mario series. One way that the game tries to balance this out is that each time the cycle repeats, it gets a little harder. The enemies become more frequent and some of the obstacles become faster. This is definitely more evident on stage one and three more than it is on stage two. I think this affect is a nice way to keep some players engaged and also serves as a motivation to continue to see just how crazy it can get. While this definitely won't work for all players, getting mad at this game for lack of stages is like getting mad at pac-man for reusing the same maze every level.
Now that that's done, let's look at the 3 levels individually.
Stage 1 (or 25m)
I'm pretty sure I don't even need to tell you what this stage consists of, but I'm gonna do it anyway. The stage starts with 6 beams all with a space taken out of them on alternating ends. Donkey Kong is at the top of the stage, with the player starting at the bottom. Connecting the beams are various ladders which the player must climb up in order to beat the level. While the player does this, Donkey Kong throws barrels at them which slowly make their way downwards. The player must jump over and avoid these barrels in order to beat the level. However, the barrels don't all move in the same pattern. They can fall down the ladders that the player uses to climb up them , Donkey Kong can throw them straight down, etc. This causes the player to be paying attention to how Donkey Kong throws the barrels. It also assures that the player needs to have a backup plan in case the barrel they thought was gonna fall normally doesn't. This creates what is undoubtedly the most fun and frustrating part of this level.
At the bottom of the stage is an oil barrel. Once a barrel makes it all the way down, they have a chance of getting taken by the oil barrel and turned into a walking fireball of sorts. As opposed to the other barrels, the fireball climbs up the stage instead of down. This makes sure that the player doesn't just stand in one place for too long, and move forward despite what they don't know. Thus adding to the chaos.
Around the stage, there are normally one or two hammers. These hammers temporarily give the player and invincibility from the barrels. However they come at the cost of not being able to climb upwards while the player is using them. Another downside is that most likely they are all right underneath Donkey Kong, which means that if he decides to throw a barrel straight dowards while the player while trying to grab a hammer, then they can say hello to the game over screen. This is probably the most risky feature in the game. As put by Adam Sandler in Pixels “just because you see a hammer doesnt mean grab it.” This gives the player a split second decision that they must make depending on the circumstance.
Overall, stage one does a pretty good job of introducing the players to the main concept of the game while leaving enough room for more chaos to be thrown in down the line.
Stage 2 (or 75 cm, as most versions leave out 50 cm) There are really two parts to this stage, the first one, where the player needs to navigate a series of ladders and levers in order to reach the next part, and the second part, where the player navigates through a set of platforms with obstacles falling through the middle.
One of the biggest differences between this stage and stage one is that now instead of throwing barrels, Donkey Kong is now throwing springboards. Theise springboards make three separate bounces before falling in the middle of the stage. One of which happens to be right where you need to climb in order to beat the level. That particular part makes for a very tight timing challenge. One last omph of the level, to put it. The last trouple the springboards give is when it falls in the middle of the second part of the stage. Since the second part of the stage has you moving back and forth through a certain set of platforms, this creates another timing challenge to spice things up.
Another difference is the addition of bonus items. These consist of a parasol and a purse. Presumably, these are items that Jumpmans girlfriend dropped or Donkey Kong took from her. While they are not required to beat the stage, getting them gives the player a nice bonus. If for whatever reason you are trying to get the best score possible, these two items will undoubtedly help you a fair bit. If not however, then aside from trying to add a bit more challenge, there is really no reason to get theise. Nevertheless, their mere existence doesn't take away from the enjoyment of the game.
The first part of the stage relies heavily on two levers. One consists of a series of identical platforms moving up and the other moving down. Sandwiched in between both of them is a set of ladders with a fireball moving in between them. The challenge here is to outsmart the fireball while all the while successfully navigating the levers. One drawback of this stage in particular is how when you jump onto a lever at a tall height, the player loses a life. While I suppose this makes sense, a lot of players must've found this out through trial and error. In a game where you only get 3 lives, losing one of them because of something that you didn't even know was a thing must be pretty annoying. Once you're aware that it's there it's no problem, but for newer players that might be a bit of an issue.
Also there are no hammers in this level, making sure that the player has to deal with the fireballs.
Overall, a good continuation of the first level, with a bit of a drawback on the one part a the beginning.
Stage 3 (or 100cm)
As stated above, the objective of this stage is a little different. Instead of just blatantly climbing to the top, the player is supposed to jump over 8 screws on 4 different platforms. With 2 screws on each platform. This change in objective throws in a healthy twist to the game and makes the ending just a little more climatic.
The fireballs return this time, although they behave just a tad differently. Now they seem to be a little smarter. Whenever the player gets a hammer, they all actively move away from the player and don't return until the hammer is gone. This also makes a good mental mark as to how the player knows that the hammer is about to go if they know about this. This more smarter fireball is definitely the most challenging thing about this level. Once a player has taken out a screw, the fireballs cannot move over it, giving the player a sort of safe haven if their cards are played right. The fireballs also respawn nearly immediately after being taken out with a hammer. Making sure that the level remains hard.
The bonus items also return in this level. However they are more well guarded and take more effort to get. There are also 3 of them in this level as opposed to the 2 in the previous one.
The hammers are back in this level, and they function the same as the first level. This gives the player a slight advantage over the fireballs. Slight. As mentioned before, not only do they run away from the hammer this time, but they also respawn nearly immediately after being taken out. As opposed to the first level when the player had to think about whether they wanted the hammer or not, this time there is virtually no reason not to, as the player no longer necessarily needs to be constantly climbing up ladders.
In the previous stage, there was a hiccup where if the player jumped onto or off of the lever at too high of a height, they would lose a life. This hiccup somewhat returns to this level. As if the player walks into an empty space where a screw was, they lose a life also. If they already learned this in the previous stage, avoiding it should be no issue here. However if they didn't, then this could be even more of an unpleasant surprise since it's likely that this is their last life. While this isn't major, it IS enough to keep the game from being a perfect 5/5.
Once the level is beat, there is a brief cutscene of Donkey Kong falling off of the construction sight while Jumpman and his girlfriend reunite, followed by the first level repeating itself.
Overall, satisfying conclusion. The change in gameplay definitely added to the ending.
Also I should probably mention the two player mode. If you select this mode, once one player loses a life the other player gets to take a stab at whatever stage they are on. Then when that player dies the other one resumes where they left off. The winner could be determined by whoever gets the furthest or has the higher score once both players' lives are all lost. However its not necessarily for competing against each other, it's more so that one person doesn't have to wait constantly if someone else wants to play. I honestly would much prefer this than having two people try to play at once. With the stages too small for two people to play at once and too big for a split screen to work. Kinda like the bonus items, it's pretty harmless so if you're not into it just ignore it.
Obviously compared to games today, this game falls flat on its face (unless you're looking for the classic arcade aesthetic) but if you're looking to play a game from the 80’s for good graphics, then I got some bad news for you.
I always had a weird thing about this game's graphics in particular. The red beams on the black background makes it feel like you're playing on one of those neon “OPEN” signs. The one exception is the final stage which still manages to look decent despite not having the same effect. Though personally, I prefer Donkey Kong's sprite work in the arcade version to this one. I just think the orange colors look better on him. But still, his sprite work in this game along with everyone else's is okay. I've always particularly enjoyed Jumpmans right when he was done climbing a ladder. How much attention to detail went into making his ass realistically stick out before getting onto the platform? Guess we'll never know. My ability to critique sprite work is kinda hindered by not knowing much about what good spitework looks like though, keep that in mind.
Although the music in this game is alright, the majority of the time it's overshadowed by all the sound effects that constantly play over it. To me that's alright, as the music in this game isn't really anything to write home about.
I would say the best thing about the music in this game is the level 3 theme. The first two share the same theme, but in level 3 It’s changed enough to feel dramatic while also not being so drastically different from the other two that it feels out of place. I guess that’s kinda more an effect of the tools available at the time than intentional design, but it really doesn’t matter to me.
The only two sound effects that I found to be worth mentioning are Jumpmans walking sound and Donkey Kong's intro sound effect. I always liked how his sound effect shifted from pitch to pitch with each step and how they were notably more spaced out when climbing up a ladder. Donkey Kong's intro sound effect is also one that I thought was cool, and how it lasts long enough so that the player gets a brief look at the stage before it actually starts.
So what do I think of this game overall?
In an era where games nowadays require hours and hours of content and dlc, it's nice to see a game that you can just sit down and play for a little nostalgia, neat 80’s graphics, and maybe entertain yourself along the way. Honestly if you ask me, I would LOVE to see Nintendo make this game a battle royale like they did with Super Mario 35. I just think a Donkey Kong 35 could work a LOT better as a battle royale game.
But anyways, to think that a game as simple as this could spawn a mascot that would one day get his own amusement park made after him is astounding. Doesn't It just make you think that anything can happen in life? Ah, miracles happen in such mysterious ways… but I guess I can understand why this game is such a pop culture icon, it was one of the first ever platforming games, after all. Like I said earlier, the only thing really holding this game back a little is the whole lever hiccup and due to age, and there are some moments that made me go “thats bullshit”. Because of that, im giving this game 4 / 5.
ways to play this game today:
While there are a plethora of obscure consoles it's released on, I'm only gonna go into details about the main way you can play this game today.
There are about 5 realistic ways you can play this game.
. The first would be having an original N.E.S. to play this on along with an original cartridge of the game, but if you don't have either of those, I would exclude this one. .If you downloaded this game off of the wii shop like I did, you can play it that way. Unfortunately the wii shop is closed in 2021, so that's probably not an option unless you already have it downloaded. .If you own a Wii U or 3ds however, you can buy it for 4.99$ plus tax on the eshop, which I think is a pretty good price for this game. You also get the ability to create a save point, so if you're getting frustrated in one section, you can get rid of the pressure of losing one of your lives. .It's also one of the 30 games available on the N.E.S. classic, however I wouldn't buy it just for this game alone. Although if you don't have an N.E.S. yourself, its probably the closest you can come to playin the game the way it was intended to be played. While this version doesn't have “save points” it does have a saving feature (this was mainly how I played it for this review.) .If you have the Nintendo switch online membership, it's included in the N.E.S. online library. Along with also having save points, you can also use the rewind feature to fix stupid mistakes. Like the N.E.S. classic, I wouldn't buy it for this game alone however. If you have little ones looking to play this game who aren't that experienced, that rewind feature could really come in handy. (While I didn't play the game this way nearly as much as I did with the N.E.S. classic, I still used it.)
Overall if you're looking for just this game alone, I would recommend buying it off eshop. But if you don't have either a 3ds or a wii u, it got taken off of the eshop after this review was posted, or you just don't have money to spend, then you could probably find it somewhere online. If playing it the original way is really that much of a concern to you then maybe try to get an N.E.S. classic controller and hooking it up with a wiimote and playing it on wii u eshop anyways.
Do you agree with this? Do you have anything you wish I mentioned? I would be glad to hear it in the replies. If you don't though, then thank you for reading this far, and happy gaming.
- In the past two weeks I’ve played through 3 games: Donkey Kong 64, Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle, and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.
- Reviewing every Mario game I own in chronological order: Donkey Kong Jr
- Donkey Kong Country 1-3 and Donkey Kong 64
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