Donkey Kong (Game Boy) – IMPLANTgames Reviews

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Donkey Kong was a launch title of sorts for
the Super Game Boy, back in 1994. At first glance, this appears to be a handheld version
of the arcade game, with Mario on his quest to save Pauline from Donkey Kong. However, after clearing the 4 arcade levels,
a much deeper experience is presented. Donkey Kong is actually a puzzle platformer, taking
elements from Donkey Kong, Super Mario Brothers, and sprinkles in plenty of puzzle elements. The game is broken into 9 different worlds
and you play through levels sequentially. At first, these just take the Donkey Kong
formula and run with it. Mario has to locate a key on the screen, and then bring it to
the door to complete the level. Every fourth stage is a boss battle, where you have to
face the obstacles posed by Donkey Kong, in attempt to again rescue Pauline. Upon defeat, you chase Donkey Kong through
three more levels, before meeting up with him yet again. The cycle repeats for a surprisingly
long time, totalling a whopping 101 levels. Quite the feat for a Game Boy game. Of course, it takes a lot more than a high
level count for a game to be good. Donkey Kong succeeds in nearly every way imaginable.
First, the controls. At first they feel like the arcade original, but soon you’ll discover
Mario is significantly more maneuverable, and can change momentum mid-air. Next, he has a ton of different jumps. In
fact, hardcore fans of Mario 64 should feel right at home, with Mario performing an extra
high jump when jumping immediately after changing directions. He can also do a handstand, again
turning into a high jump when needed. While I was hoping for a more traditional Mario
feel, it becomes second nature rather quickly. I also applaud Nintendo for keeping the feel
of the arcade game, and augmenting it with new mechanics, rather than abandoning the
formula altogether. In addition to some superb controls are some
terrific levels. These are simple at first, but some of them can become quite complex.
Temporary platforms can be placed anywhere on the map, and the game will let you fail
as often as you need, to figure out the solution. Well, until the timer runs out. Some levels had me scratching my head for
quite a while, before realizing I could use temporary platforms and switches to manipulate
the patterns of enemies, which of course introduces a whole new level of depth to the gameplay. This depth, combined with the controls, is
where the fun comes from. I knew the Game Boy version of Donkey Kong was well regarded,
but I never really knew why. Donkey Kong does a great job introducing new
concepts at just the right pace, never letting you feel overwhelmed, while also never letting
you feel bored. It’s a brilliantly designed little game, with the perfect balance of puzzles,
platforming, and challenge as the adventure unfolds. Next, the game is fairly generous with extra
lives. These can be found in some levels, and respawn when you die, and in bonus games.
Scattered throughout each level are three items, which I assume are Pauline’s umbrella,
purse, and hat. Collecting all three before reaching exit will unlock a mini game. These make it quite easy to rack up a decent
life count, and help make the trial and error game play an enjoyable challenge, rather than
a frustrating experience. Because yeah, you are going to die a lot. In the beginning,
it’s from not knowing how far down Mario can fall. Later, it will be inconsistent enemies
causing your deaths. Some enemies won’t harm you at all, others
can be jumped on, and others kill you immediately. It’s a bit annoying, but again, mitigated
by the generous life system. On top of just being an absolute blast to
play, Donkey Kong is also technically impressive. The game takes full advantage of the Super
Game Boy, with a custom border mimicking the original arcade cabinet, each stage having
a custom color palette, rather than the same 4 shades of color over and over, and even
takes advantage of the Super Game Boy’s ability to display more than 4 colors on screen
at once. The animations are smooth, the sprites are
detailed, and overall, Donkey Kong is a vibrant looking game. Things don’t stop there either.
When played on a Super Game Boy, Pauline actually yells out help using the Super Nintendo’s
sound hardware, which again is an awesome touch. Even cooler than all of these bells and whistles,
is how Donkey Kong seamlessly blends this with the original sound effects of the arcade
game. After selecting a level, the appropriate jingle plays, same goes for the completion
of a stage. The sound effects are accurate as well, with the climbing and jumping sounds
ripped straight from 1981 and are a great piece of nostalgia. Combine all of this with
a terrific 8-bit soundtrack, and you have an audio experience equal to the rest of the
game. My only complaint is really just a nitpick.
Again, the inconsistencies between enemy behavior can be annoying, from being benign to insta-kills,
and the game never makes it obvious which do what. Some might find the game repetitive
as well, though the game features a battery back-up, and doesn’t force you through the
entire game in a single sitting. And that is Donkey Kong. The controls aren’t
perfect, but faithful to the source and definitely responsive, the graphics are excellent, the
sound presentation captures the awesome 80’s arcade scene and blends it perfectly with
90’s chiptunes, and the level design is truly outstanding. While it doesn’t rank
up there with the Sonics and Marios of the world, Donkey Kong is most definitely, excellent.
Four, out of five.

 

19 Responses

  1. Corey Oliver

    January 23, 2016 3:36 am

    This is probably the best version of Donkey Kong to me. Turning Donkey Kong into a puzzle game was a smart move since it was on a handheld. Great review as always.

    Reply
  2. fighterxaos

    January 23, 2016 4:40 am

    I love this game. I still have the cart somewhere. I haven't found it but I know it's somewhere I found the Link's Awakening cart and I use to have those two games side by side, so it has to be somewhere. It's so awesome that they added basically this big puzzle game after playing the four classic arcade stages.

    Reply
  3. Duke Jaywalker

    January 23, 2016 8:51 am

    Wow, I had no idea the Game Boy version went beyond the NES or arcade versions… very far beyond! I'm going to pick this up for my 3DS on the virtual console.

    Reply
  4. wrena79

    January 23, 2016 12:39 pm

    Always had a soft spot for this one since release and coincidentally finally got round to completing it for the first time only a few days ago. A real gem from start to finish.

    Reply
  5. Ryan Amberger

    January 24, 2016 12:49 am

    I love this game. I remember getting it at a flea market as a kid and the surprise when I got past the first section. It was so fun.

    Reply
  6. Rick Valenta

    January 25, 2016 5:17 pm

    I had this for the original gameboy way back when and it was one of my "go to's" as a kid. Many fond memories. It's hard as nails and I never got far, but I always had fun beating the first few screens. Will have to get my gameboy back from my Uncle one of these days and give it another go..

    Reply
  7. CaptainRufus

    January 25, 2016 11:35 pm

    This might be one of the best GB original games ever. And thankfully as of lately it's still a very reasonable price. I'm not sure the spiritual sequels improve on it though. They kind of diminish the formula really. A shame we never got a Donkey Kong Jr sequel like this. Could have been amazing.

    Reply
  8. Treyworld

    November 19, 2018 9:46 am

    Take it from me, folks. Donkey Kong '94 Game Boy cartridge in the Super Game Boy cartridge on the Super Nintendo is the best way to play the original Donkey Kong arcade game.

    I also use a CRT television. Yeah, I'm that hardcore.

    Reply
  9. Chris Gorski

    January 31, 2019 4:10 pm

    A top 5 Game Boy title for me. It's right up there with Link's Awakening. The Mario vs Donkey Kong series never came close to repeating this game.

    Reply

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