I didn’t think of Donkey Kong on the Nintendo Game Boy back when I was a kid. Back in the day, we frequently exchanged Game Boy cartridges and I felt that I got the short end of the stick when I got this game. Little did I know that I would be playing one of the best Game Boy games of all time. So I was excited to revisit a game that I haven’t played in decades.
Does Donkey Kong hold up to today’s standards? In my opinion, it does!
Donkey Kong is a puzzle platformer where you play as Mario as he tries to rescue Pauline from Donkey Kong. It begins with remakes of stages from the original Donkey Kong games, but later on you get to play original stages. Stages come in two types: puzzle stages and the Donkey Kong stages. In the puzzle stages, the objective is to find the Key and bring it all the way to the exit door.
The Donkey Kong stages are either similar to the classic Donkey Kong stages where all you need to do is avoid obstacles and whatever Donkey Kong tosses out to you until you get to the space beside Pauline, or an actual battle stage where you need to hit Donkey Kong enough times to make him retreat.
The game uses a lives system and you get so many opportunities to get extra lives. It also has a save system with three save slots, allowing you to save after every fourth stage. Because of the bountiful lives and save system, I never lost all my lives so I’m not sure if the game offers any continues. I don’t think you’ll need them though.
Mario’s Moves and Abilities
I was really surprised at how capable Mario is in Donkey Kong. I don’t think there is any other 8-bit game where Mario can do as many things as he can do in this game without the aide of power ups. Typical of platformers, Mario in this game can jump and move to the left and right. He can also crouch to avoid enemies or projectiles. Mario can grab unto and move across horizontal wires, and climb up ladders, ropes, and vines. Mario can spin himself while holding onto a wire so he can launch himself upward. Sometimes, these wires are set up at a diagonal, so you can launch yourself across large gaps.
When you attempt to jump while crouched, Mario does a handstand. In this position, Mario can deflect falling objects and avoid damage. Sometimes, these deflected objects will stay on the stage, and you can use them as thrown projectiles.
You can also do a boosted jump from a handstand if you press the Jump button as soon as Mario’s hands touch the ground. This jump goes a lot higher than his normal jump. If you’re running forward, you can do a backflip by pressing the opposite direction and the jump button. This also lets Mario jump higher.
Despite being capable, Mario still makes use of power ups in Donkey Kong. The mallet makes a return in this game and works the same way – it kills any enemies that it hits. The hitbox is limited to the mallet head, so enemies can still be harmful if Mario has his arms and mallet raised. Similarly, you can hit enemies above you when you have the mallet raised.
You’ll also find several power ups that aren’t really power ups, but are actually puzzle solving elements. There’s a power up that creates a temporary bridge, allowing you to cross gaps. And another that creates a ladder that you can use to climb up to an otherwise inaccessible area.
Early in the game, you’ll encounter these one at a time and it’s pretty easy to figure out how to use them. Later on, you’ll need to use more than one of them to solve that stage’s puzzle.
Finally, you’ll find Pauline’s accessories – her purse, umbrella, and sun hat – scattered throughout the non-Donkey Kong stages. If you collect all three, you’ll be able to play a bonus game where you can get extra lives. There are two types of bonus games – a slot machine and a roulette. While the stages are easy, make sure you always collect these because you’ll need all the extra lives that you can get to beat this game.
Visuals, Sounds and Presentation
I know some people look down upon the Game Boy because graphics are limited to shades of green but if you can look past that, you’ll see that Donkey Kong has really good looking graphics. Sprites are really well drawn and animated, so it’s clear to see what everyone is and what they’re doing. Stage elements also are able to represent their locations well through good tile design and background pixel art.
As for sounds, this game has really good tracks and sound effects. I don’t know why this game’s music isn’t more popular because I loved several of this game’s tunes, especially during the Mario/Donkey Kong chase sequences that happen right after every fourth stage. The only negative I can say about this game’s music is some tracks are re-used, but I understand that Game Boy cartridges can only hold so much data.
But going back to the chase sequences – these were my favorite parts of the game. Aside from showing you how the “story” of the game is progressing, a lot of these transitions illustrate game mechanics or some of Mario’s moves. It’s a good way to both entertain you and teach you at the same time. And for me, these were good rewards for successfully beating the Donkey Kong stages. Everything about presentation is aces as well, from the menus to the HUD and the fonts. This is a really well-polished game.
Donkey Kong for the Nintendo Game Boy is as good as I remembered it, and I’m glad to have revisited it. It’s a little on the easy side so expect to just blow by the stages quickly. It will put up a nice challenge around the last quarter of the game but it never gets frustrating because the game will give you a ton of lives so you can keep retrying. There were stages where getting all three of Pauline’s accessories proved too difficult for me, so you can always use that as a personal goal in case you’re hungry for something tougher. Aside from that, this game held up against time quite nicely, and I really think it deserves a remaster.
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