Donkey Kong
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • Game Boy
  • Developer:
    • Nintendo
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    • JP 06/14/1994
    • US 06/28/1994
    • UK 09/24/1994
Score: 90%

This review was published on 07/16/2013.

Donkey Kong '94 is a 2-D, puzzle based platform game developed by Nintendo and released for the Game Boy in 1994. Its title isn't actually Donkey Kong '94; that's merely its working titles, which fans used as a label to differentiate the game from the original Donkey Kong that was released in the arcades during the early '80s. This is a fairly extended remake of that arcade game, with new game mechanics and literally around a hundred new levels. It's actually more of a new game than a remake, only using the original Donkey Kong as an inspiration. Because Donkey Kong '94 launched close to the release of the Super Game Boy, an attachment to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System that allowed you to play Game Boy games on a TV screen, it was one of the first Game Boy games to have exclusive features when paired with a Super Game Boy. The marketing pushed this unique functionality to increase sells. As for what the unique functionality entails, it gives the game a unique border, adds some color, and enhances a few sound effects. It's not a huge deal, but the game is best enjoyed on a Super Game Boy. With regards to the game itself, it's easily one of the best Game Boy games of all time.

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The story of Donkey Kong '94 is pretty much the same deal as the original arcade release of the game. Donkey Kong is a large ape that was inspired by the similarly named King Kong, and he kidnap's Mario's girlfriend, Pauline. Princess Toadstool wasn't around at this time, so Mario was dating another broad. The Italian plumber sure gets around. Well, Mario was originally a carpenter named Jumpman in the arcade release of Donkey Kong, but I'm not sure if that's the case in this game. It's not clear when this game takes place in the Mario universe chronologically. That kind of stuff only matters if you're obsessed with Mario canon, though. Donkey Kong '94 redesigned the character of Donkey Kong to what the modern incarnation is like, more or less. Believe it or not, Donkey Kong first got his dapper tie in this game, and not in the Donkey Kong Country series. The more you know. Speaking of, I don't know if the Donkey Kong in this game is the same one in Donkey Kong Country. If this is supposed to be an informative review, then I'm not doing a good job. Oh well. The important thing here is that a portly man must save the attractive babe from a hairy ape. It's a classic tale for a classic game.

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Mario can run, jump, and climb ladders, much like in the original Donkey Kong. Also like the original Donkey Kong, Mario will die in one hit, and there are no power-ups to prevent that. Unlike the original Donkey Kong, however, Mario has a ton of new moves at his disposal, many of which became staples of future Mario games. First of all, Mario has his ability to grab enemies and items, just like in Super Mario Bros. 2. You can't defeat enemies in this game by jumping on them, but you can grab them and throw them into other enemies to do the job. Getting hit while holding something will protect Mario from instant death, though it will knock whatever he's holding out of his hands. This paragraph is starting to get out of my hands. The actual new moves Mario has are a back flip and a handstand. While you don't see the handstand appearing in most of the newer Mario games, the back flip became a staple of the 3-D games later on. The reason is because it's one of the best moves imaginable. It can be performed by turning Mario around and quickly pressing the jump button. The utility of this move knows no bounds, as it can get you almost anywhere. All it really does is allow Mario to jump higher, but it's really satisfying to pull off. You can't help but feel like an acrobat whenever you do it. Speaking of acrobats, the handstand certainly makes Mario look like one. This one isn't as useful, but it still has its uses. In order to perform a handstand, Mario has to jump while ducking. While in the handstand state, Mario can knock harmful objects away with his feet. It's a handy defensive mechanism if there are any falling objects from overhead. When Mario jumps out of a handstand state, he can perform an extra high triple jump that is even higher than the back flip, though it's harder to pull off. The versatility of all the moves at your disposal in this game adds so much depth to the experience; it's fantastic.

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Upon booting up the game, you're greeted with an intro screen with cheery music. Soon after that, you'll start the very first level of the game, which is an exact recreation of the first level in the original Donkey Kong arcade game. As a matter of fact, the first four levels in the game are all faithful recreations of the levels in the arcade release. If you played the arcade game, then you'd know that it's just the same four levels on an infinite loop, with each loop getting progressively harder. That's not the case here. The rest of the game opens up once you complete the first four levels. It's here where the game truly begins. Your objective for most of this portion of the game is to bring the key to the door. It's not as simple as it sounds, because there is always a perilous puzzle involved. The levels are all usually pretty short, only being a few screens long, and the game almost always makes the positions of the key and door immediately obvious. The challenge isn't in finding the key and door; it's in figuring out how to carry the key to the door successfully. In the beginning portions of the game, there is no challenge whatsoever in completing this task, but it gets really tough later on. Besides killing you, enemies and hazards can also knock the key out of your grasp, which can become problematic. Whenever the key isn't being held, it'll slowly disappear and reappear back in its original position at the beginning of that particular level. The kinds of puzzles you'll have to contend with later in the game are absolutely brilliant in design. There are moments when you might find yourself stumped by a given puzzle. It never gets too convoluted, but it does get surprisingly complex. Some puzzles later in the game require you to manipulate levers to switch the direction of a conveyer belt as it carries the key to where you need it, and you need to race to the key before it disappears. What's brilliant about these puzzling challenges is that they combine action with intellectual problem solving, testing both your reflexes and your mind. When it comes to puzzling level design, this game just nails it.

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Every few levels, you'll do a boss stage of sorts where you go up against Donkey Kong himself. There are two variations on this. The first is a simple affair of getting from point A to point B without dying. These levels will have Donkey Kong somewhere at the end, either throwing barrels at you or dropping dangerous objects from overhead. It's pretty much the same formula as the levels from the original Donkey Kong, but the design is a lot more intricate, and there are new gimmicks every so often. The second variation is you fighting the big ape himself in an actual boss battle. These stages usually involve you picking up barrels, or anything that can be picked up, and then throwing them at Donkey Kong to inflict damage. Do this three times and you win the battle, but not the war. The boss stages with Donkey Kong provide a nice break from the puzzling puzzles of the main game, as these fights are pure action. That's not to say that they aren't inventive, though. Some of these boss segments contain minor puzzle elements in addition to the action, like this one stage where Donkey Kong constantly pulls a switch to alter the direction of conveyer belts, platforms, and doors in the level as you try to make your way to him. There is always something new to look forward to in these fights, and that makes it all worth fighting for.

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Donkey Kong '94 is a fantastic game that deserves a lot more recognition. There are around a hundred levels filled with challenging, but fun puzzles to solve, great music, simplistic yet decent visuals, precise controls, and lots of charm. I'm not sure what it is exactly, but not a lot of people talked about how good this game is back when it first came out. It might be because a lot of people thought it was merely a port or remake of the original arcade game, dissuading them from trying it out. Nintendo certainly didn't help matters by giving the game an identical title. In any case, this stands tall as one of the best games on the Game Boy, and quite possibly, one of the best Mario games ever. If you haven't already, be sure to play this game right away.

Word Count: 1,576

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