When I was about ten years old, my father gave me a Donkey Kong Game boy for Christmas. This was the “big present” of that year, other things being clothes and a bunch of random boardgames. This thing topped all of it and I brought it to school to show my friend. Most of them already had it but loaded with different games like Home Alone and Mario if I remembered correctly.
It was like magic. I had never seen a video game before. Ever. The idea that I was controlling the pictures on the screen blew my damn mind. Atari was another one that was popular during that time.
Over the years, I would pick up more and more games for it. Pokemon Blue, Mario Land, Mario Land 2, Star Wars, and Link’s Awakening – most of which were tossed out by my mom over the years. One of my favorite games for the original Game Boy, however, would never be ported to another system. That game was simply called Donkey Kong.
This Donkey Kong had little to do with the modern day incarnation of the great ape. No, it was the official direct sequel to the original arcade game Donkey Kong. You know, this one:
Personally, I can’t stand the original Donkey Kong arcade game. The controls are too stiff, the graphics are boring, and I just don’t find the gameplay rewarding. Donkey Kong for the Game Boy, however, added some massive innovations to the original arcade game’s formula.
Mario has several new movement options: he can backflip, handspring, and even do his now-famous triple-hop. This game was, to the best of my knowledge, the very first game to give Mario an moveset more complicated that “B is run, and A is jump.” You can even swing from ropes, climb vines, throw hammers around, and pick enemies and objects up ala Mario 2 and throw them around. In fact, I think this is the most expansive moveset that a 2D Mario title has ever had. Interestingly, Mario’s trademark fireballs are missing completely.
The game starts off with DK grabs Pauline (yes, that’s Pauline, not Peach – even though at this point peach had existed for years) and drags her up a skyscraper. If you’ve ever played the arcade game, these initial stages will be very familiar. While changed for the Gameboy’s smaller screen, the levels are transplants straight from the original arcade game. Mario climbs up a bunch of I-Beams and hops over barrels to “save” his girlfriend Pauline. I say “save” with quotation marks because, of course, Donkey Kong gets right back up and drags her off again.
Donkey Kong for Game Boy features several worlds and over 100 different levels in which Mario must overcome enemies, obstacles, and puzzles in order to reach – and defeat – the eponymous Donkey Kong. He must trudge through the pyramids of Egypt, harsh island jungles, a pirate ship’s underbelly, a plane, and of course what appears to be New York, as seen in the film King Kong.
Each world introduces new concepts and builds on old ones, in standard video game fare. Donkey Kong, interestingly, is both a platformer and a puzzle game. While other Mario games see Mario dashing to the end of stages and attacking enemies, Donkey Kong has him finding keys to unlock doors, and riding enemies like vehicles.
Mario must find a key, present in every level, and take it to the exit door in order to follow in DK’s footsteps. He can jump on top of enemies and pick them up to throw them around which, as stated before, functions exactly like it did in Mario 2. This time around, though, much like in the original arcade game, Mario has hammers, trash cans, and a few other items he can use to attack enemies with, but these moments lie few and far between. Most levels see the player cooperating with enemies in order to achieve goals rather than fighting them.
The game is interesting because it marks the beginning of what appears to be a failed experiment by Nintendo to create a Mario spin-off franchise with mechanics that more closely align with their original hit arcade title than the classic Mario NES series. The Mario Vs. Donkey Kong series is a direct spiritual successor to this game. I never had the chance to play them, but if that chance should eventually arise I’m sure I would enjoy comparing and contrasting them to their source material.
Nintendo was the leader at that point and I loved those games. Wished that I still had the chance to play Legend of Zelda. Another absolutely enjoyable game. But the gorilla takes the cake. The game also represents one of the better UI for gameplay, moving you up the stages with new worlds and concepts to augment what you had learnt in the prior stages. And it is surprisingly very addictive. If you want to relive those memories again, the first link below gives you the chance to play it again. Enjoy.
Part of my nostalgia series.