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Donkey Kong (Game Boy) Review Rewind

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On 07/13/2011 at 10:00 AM by Matt McLennan

Witness the original arcade Donkey Kong get beaten into the dirt.

For puzzle and side-scrolling platforming fans alike, now on the eShop!

Please note that this review will not cover 3DS Virtual Console or Super Game Boy features.

I have a confession to make: I hate the original arcade Donkey Kong. Yes, sneer at me all you want, but I have good reasons for disliking it so much. While I have been very spoiled by Mario platforming adventures, his first battle with Donkey Kong is not something I eagerly replay. Note that this is coming from someone who enjoys games like Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga, and Dig Dug (notice a pattern here?); I will admit that the original DK arcade game has some sound elements that would set a benchmark for Mario’s debut, but with those awful jumping mechanics Donkey Kong isn’t a game I rate highly.

So why is it that its Game Boy remake gets lauded much higher by myself? Imagine this: the first four levels are lifted from the original Donkey Kong arcade, remade for the Game Boy, but with a brand new platforming engine that feels great. No more cheap jump deaths or stiff controls, this game controls wonderfully.

After these four levels the game throws you a massive curve ball. While Mario rescues Pauline, DK decides to destroy the stage foundation, making Mario and Pauline plummet below. DK takes Pauline and Mario gives chase, only to have a locked door block his way to the big city. You will now come to the realization that this is not your parents' Donkey Kong; you are now in 1994 (or 2011, your pick), and this time DK isn’t playing around.

Game Boy titles had a fantastic NES-like quality about them, giving experiences akin to that of a full-fledged console title. DK '94 is no different in this aspect; the game has over one hundred levels with the option to save after every four, and as you get later into the game, the puzzles get more difficult. Yes, puzzles. DK '94 adds a puzzle emphasis to the platforming. Each stage, sans the mini-boss and world boss levels, has a key that must be obtained in order for Mario to unlock the stage clear door. As the stages get harder and new puzzle elements are revealed, you will be tested on how clever you are; and you will die. A lot.

Thankfully, extra lives are very plentiful. In each stage, collecting an umbrella, a purse and a hat allow Mario to play a randomized bonus stage for extra lives. Extra lives are also awarded at the end of a mini-boss and world boss stage based on your time count. On top of that, the time spent on the past three stages is added up; if it was, say, 367, you are given one extra life for every one hundred seconds and any leftover in the tens digit also counts for an extra life regardless of count. You easily earn four lives. While most people may be put off by this, remember that with most of Nintendo’s games it is easy at the beginning, but gets much harder at the end.

With the great controls, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Mario controls far better than his arcade Donkey Kong counterpart. Some moves are almost like a precursor to Super Mario 64, as Mario can back flip, do a hand-stand and jump higher with timing. Even more useful is even after you collect a hammer, pressing the B button can toss it upwards. You can either get rid of it or collect it again to go on further hammer rampage. Other elements, such as climbing vines and rope grabbing, is a bit hit-and-miss; climbing vines can be climbed fast or slow, whereas tightrope grabbing is slow and slightly cumbersome. Thankfully the latter isn’t much of a focus in many of the game’s puzzles.

As you progress further in the game, you will realize how well this game looks for a mid-generation Game Boy game. The game has some great backgrounds, and Mario and his enemies are easily identifiable. During the last level boss fights, DK will throw barrels at you; unlike the arcade levels at the beginning, you have to throw them back at him. Also pleasing is the music and sound effects, which keep in tune with some of the arcade original sound effects.

It is not hard to recommend this game at all. It's fun, the puzzles are great brain teasers, and it looks plain good for a Game Boy game. 1-ups may be given out like candy at Halloween, but it's basic Nintendo design, folks: this game gets harder, and you will enjoy it.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Our Take

Nick DiMola Director

07/13/2011 at 10:26 AM

I absolutely love this game. Got it when it released and played through it countless times as a kid. It was originally my brother's game, so I re-bought it a couple years back and couldn't help but play through it again on the spot.

While Nintendo brought the series back with Mario vs. DK, that title doesn't stand up to this one. Even worse, they took it down the Minis route and ditched the gameplay started here. While the Minis games aren't bad, they're hardly DK '94.

I might grab this in virtual form for the 3DS, but I'm still on the fence about it. It's not expensive, but I already own the game and can easily play it on my TV via the Gameboy Player. I don't take my games on the go nearly enough to really justify it, but I'm still tempted regardless - yes, it's that good of a game.

Joaquim Mira Media Manager

08/11/2011 at 10:10 PM

Damn you, Donkey Kong! Stop stealing my Pauline!

The game's awesome.

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