Following the kill screen
Do you know which Mario game is the greatest on the Game Boy? This isn’t Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. It isn’t Dr. Mario. Alleyway? No. What? You’re simply making stuff up now. Shut up and listen. Stop making me feel bad for asking you to participate in this guessing game. Donkey Kong is the solution.
Donkey Kong may be the Game Boy’s worst-kept secret at this moment. I didn’t hear anything about it when it came out in 1994. The fact that it’s just called Donkey Kong makes it sound like a port of the original arcade classic, and it appears eager to maintain that illusion. There was also a drive to make it the Super Game Boy’s poster child, which seemed to further confuse the waters. However, if you take a risk on it, you’ll discover that it’s not only a fantastic game in its own right, but it’s also one of the finest titles on Nintendo’s brick-like portable.
The finest and worst aspects of Donkey Kong on Game Boy are its unwillingness to explain itself. When you start the game, you’re sent to the arcade title’s classic building site. The eponymous Kong sits atop the girders, tossing barrels your way. The artwork, sound, and music are all reminiscent of the original title.
If you take the time to play with the controls, you could discover that Mario has quite a few new tricks up his sleeve, but there’s no hint that you should (assuming you didn’t read the instruction manual on the way home while eating Pizza Hut with your mom). Donkey Kong then maintains this illusion through four stages of arcade gameplay before ultimately revealing its hand. Pauline is kidnapped from Mario’s grip, and Donkey Kong races through approximately a billion more courses.
You might be wondering how you might spread Donkey Kong’s arcade gameplay across a hundred or more stages. Rampage attempted this, and anyone who has completed its 768 levels will tell you that it was a bad idea. Donkey Kong, on the other hand, considerably develops the fundamental gameplay in a variety of ways. It also borrows elements from Donkey Kong Jr. and departs from the original idea by including scrolling displays. It all progressively grows into something that feels more like the perfect Game Boy game than the renowned arcade classic.
It would be best if you kept your pizza grease-splattered fingers away from the instruction manual, because one of Donkey Kong’s strengths is gradually disclosing all of its secrets to you. The game is broken into four level slices, with vignettes featuring the hairy ape opposing the hairy plumber in between. Mario showcases some of his new moves and what can be done with them, as well as any new level elements that will be included. Donkey Kong conveys that it trusts you to figure things out, which is more courteous than any game with a forced lesson.
Mechanics are presented gradually, giving students plenty of time to grasp them. Some of your moves are more or less elective, but they will enhance your experience. Donkey Kong portrays Mario at his most spriest. The tiny Italian was performing handstands before Super Mario 64. That tiny skid-stop super-jump even makes an appearance here. Who’d have known it’d become a staple in Mario’s repertoire?
Each stage is mostly accomplished by obtaining a key and moving it over to a locked door in Super Mario 2 (USA) manner. It’s a simple aim, but some of the levels are a little perplexing when it comes to acquiring the key to the door.
There are many opponents in your path, and here is when Donkey Kong falls. Some foes can be touched, while others will kill you instantly. Others will allow you to pick them up and chuck them, while others will not. There are a few foes who appear to be attacking, but they simply push you. It’s a bit of a communication breakdown, and although it’s not game-breaking, it’s a glaring weakness in the game.
Every fourth level pits you against the titular monkey. While some of them need you to reach Pauline, like in the arcade title, others require you to go on the offensive, hurling barrels back at the hairy lad. Predictably, the business monkey comes back up and snatches Pauline again until you can finally put him down.
Donkey Kong wriggling his butt as he crams his way inside the door at the start of each block of levels. I’m not sure why I’m bringing this up, other than the fact that I find it highly distracting. It makes me feel uneasy. I want to look away, but who can look away from such a shapely rear posing so boldly? Isn’t it not just me?
What were we on about? Donkey Kong, you’re right. It’s umm… huh.
It’s noteworthy that many of the level designers for Donkey Kong come from the Mother scenario group. I’m not sure how much this has to do with how the game came out, but it’s cool that a team from a largely unrelated title hit it out of the park with this one.
Donkey Kong was supposed to get a Game Boy Advance remake, but it mysteriously vanished and was replaced by Mario vs. Donkey Kong. While plainly a sequel, Mario vs. Donkey Kong delved even farther into the puzzle-platformer genre, and this trend continues with Mario vs. Donkey Kong: March of the Minis. So the series carries on (the most current installment, Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars, was released in 2015); it just followed the path of creating its own identity apart from the arcade inspiration.
The 1994 version, on the other hand, is easier to ignore. To make the contrast apparent, it could have been better titled Mario vs. Donkey Kong. Even now, if you hadn’t heard of the game and were browsing a Game Boy game display, you may mistake it for a stripped-down copy of the arcade classic when it’s everything but. Butt, butt, butt.