Review by Retro

"Introducing in the left corner, a plumber named Mario, and in the right corner, a big ape called Donkey Kong"

I'm sure everybody that is even somewhat familiar with video game history has heard about the classic game of Donkey Kong at one time or another, which was the very first game that featured either Mario or Donkey Kong.

You have to control the now-famous plumber named Mario (who was originally going to be named Jumpman in this game) and try to rescue his not-so-attractive girlfriend. But it's no easy task because this damsel in distress has been kidnapped by a huge monkey named Donkey Kong instead of the usual ancient dinosaur. Not to mention that he is a sureshot in throwing and rolling barrels. It's ironic, but true. Mario and Donkey Kong actually appeared in the arcades and even on the Atari 2600 before a Nintendo system was ever produced. And now, both characters have went on in history in their own successful string of hits.

Unlike the Donkey Kong in the arcade, Donkey Kong for the Atari 2600 only has two screens, or levels, but for what it does include, it's pretty good. In the first kind of stage, Mario will start out at the bottom of the screen and when you look up at the top of the screen, you'll see that Donkey Kong is holding Mario's girlfriend (no it's not Princess Toadstool) as a hostage.

There is a series of steps and diagonally-tilted ramps that Mario must climb up and walk across. To make his tiresome journey a little shorter, there are many ladders scattered about on each flight of stairs. A few of the ladders have a broken piece in them, so Mario will not be able to climb those all the way.

The chipped off ladders are the least of Mario's worries. The gargantuan named Donkey Kong that resides at the top of the screen, constantly throws and rolls barrels (even though you can't see him throw or roll them) at Mario while the out-of-work plumber makes his way closer and closer to his prize.

As soon as Donkey Kong sets a barrel on its dizzying quest to roll over Mario, the barrel will roll until it reaches the bottom part of the screen. That is, unless it does what it's supposed to do and nabs the trespassing human being along the way. To make it even harder on Mario, the barrels have the eye-rolling ability to fall down ladders while they are tumbling down the ramps, and you can never tell if a barrel is going to plummet down a ladder or not.

Mario can either jump over the barrels, or if he's anywhere near a hammer that is hanging in the air, he can jump up, grab the hammer, and start swinging away at those wooden monsters. The good thing is that with the hammer, Mario can hit barrels that are either falling down a ladder or coming straight at him. However, while Mario is holding the hammer, he will not be able to jump. All he will be able to do is walk left and right; he won't be able to climb ladders either. Fortunately for the players, the barrels don't bounce while they're coming at you.

To get to the end of this first kind of level and proceed to the next one, your only mission is to climb up the ladders, dodge the barrels, and reach the very top where the damsel in distress is located.

The second and final type of level in this version of Donkey Kong is a lot different, and in my opinion, more challenging and more fun. In this one, there are even more ladders to climb and a fiery kind of enemy that could burn up the wooden barrels: fireballs. These four blobs of fire that all look to be lifeless except for their scrolling left and right, are quite fast and dangerous.

Like the first level, Mario can jump over these fireballs even though it's not easy to do in the fire's case. There is also a hammer you can use against one of the fires. What makes this second level more challenging, is that there are eight holes in the floor (2 on each of the four floors) that have a small line across the top of them that you must walk across or jump over, and the pestering fires are not as easy to dodge as Donkey Kong's wooden masterpieces (the barrels).

Once you walk across or jump over one of the lines, or traps, the line over the top of it will disappear. That's when the hole really becomes a trap. The fires will not be able to go past the ones you've set, except for occasionally when one of them might mysteriously jump over one of them, but that's very rare. If Mario walks into one of the holes, he will fall through it and lose a life. Therefore, that means you will have to either go up or down a ladder or jump over the traps to get past them after you've unleashed them.

Once you make all the lines disappear over the holes, the level will be completed. Then, since that's the last kind of level in the game, and since this is an Atari 2600 cart, the game just loops around to the beginning. In short, you will go right back to the first barrel-dodging stage, and just keep going through the same two stages over and over again. The only difference is that the enemies get faster and faster each time around, providing an increasing challenge.

The vertical lines at the top-right of the screen represent how many lives you have left. When you lose touch with all of your lives, your game will be over; there is not any continues to be found.

If you liked playing Donkey Kong in the arcades or if you'd like an original and fun game to play, I recommend getting Donkey Kong for the Atari 2600. But keep in mind that it's only one-player, and that only two different levels are included. Even though there are only two different levels instead of the 4 that the arcade original has, it is still a fun game.

The only reason I'm not giving this game a higher score is because there are only two levels of play, whereas in the arcade game there is more. For this to be an Atari 2600 game, the graphics aren't terrible or impressive. The gameplay is just like it should be; it's just like it is in the arcades. The sounds are a lot like they are in the arcade game too, and the controls are well done.

GRAPHICS - Even though the fireballs have a tail (which was sort of impressive for the time), Mario's girlfriend's head is shaped like and looks like that of a whale's. Also, Donkey Kong looks more like a bear than he does an ape, but the graphics in Donkey Kong for the Atari 2600 really aren't that bad, looks-wise. I can't say the same for the graphical effects.

Many graphical effects were completely left out. Donkey Kong doesn't appear to throw or roll the barrels (he just stands there being still or pumping his fists while Mario climbs a ladder), Mario looks to be marching more than running, the fireballs don't have any animation, Mario looks to be swinging the hammer from his nose, and there are no cinemas or in-betweeners such as the famous ''How High Can You Get?'' screen or the part where Donkey Kong falls down on his head.

The levels themselves and Mario look impressive. Mario is probably the best part of the graphics; he actually looks just like he did in the arcade game. The game also has nice looking colors.

SOUND - The sounds in Donkey Kong are pretty good. The sounds of Mario walking, jumping, or climbing a ladder, are identical to the arcade game of the same name. The other sounds such as that of hitting something with the hammer, and the short music that plays when you finish a level, aren't bad either. You don't have to worry about going deaf from the annoyance of any of the sounds because they are not annoying.

CONTROL - Donkey Kong is your basic run and jump game; all you have to do is run, jump, and climb ladders, so it's real simple. The controls aren't overly touchy, or slow; they're just right. But, when you play Donkey Kong for the first few times, you will have to get used to judging Mario's jumping distances.

REPLAY VALUE - Either you like Donkey Kong or you don't. Myself, I've always enjoyed playing Donkey Kong in any way, shape, or form. Whether it's for the Atari 2600, arcade, NES, etc., Donkey Kong is always fun to me. This Atari 2600 version of it is a lot like the other versions, only with half the levels.

OVERALL - The only bad things about this game whatsoever are some of the characters' looks and animations such as the girlfriend's head, and most of all, that there are only two levels of play instead of the four that you see in the other versions of Donkey Kong. But as I said, the game is still fun and it can get addictive to see how far you can get. While any other version of Donkey Kong would get a 9 or 10 from me, this one gets a low 7.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 04/16/01, Updated 05/20/02


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