Review by Aaantlion

"A little Donkey Kong with a lot of keys and locked doors"

The Game Boy version of Donkey Kong is a sequel to the arcade and NES smash hit of the same name. However, unlike those versions, the game offers a lot of non-Donkey Kong related filler in the form of retrieving keys to unlock doors to the next area. In fact, nearly 70% of the game is filler between actual Kong-frontations.

The game features ten areas (which the game refers to as stages although I'll call them areas to avoid confusion with the individual stages) which can have varying gimmicks (like wind and ice hazards). The initial four stages are a recreation of the original Donkey Kong game and, after defeating DK, he flees to a new area. Each of the new areas are broken up into sections comprised of three non-Donkey Kong stages followed by a Donkey Kong stage (with the exception of the last area which is all Donkey Kong, all the time). Generally you have three sections like this per area, with the first two DK fights involving just getting up to the platform while the last fight involves picking up barrels or another object to pelt the gorilla (usually three times). The Donkey Kong fights are generally all pretty fun. Less enjoyable are the lock&key stages...

The lock&key stages start with either DK dragging Pauline through a door which closes behind them or seeing a "Help! Help!" dialogue balloon next to a door. The objective to these stages is picking up the key (as an object) and carrying it over to the locked door. While carrying the key you're unable to do certain jump tricks, swim, or climb ladders. If you get hit or fall for too long you automatically drop the key. You can also throw the key (either forward or straight up) to either get it around an obstacle or kill certain kinds of enemies. These stages are puzzles which more involve thinking rather than gameplaying ability, although the solution is generally obvious.

These lock&key stages will generally have their own set of gimmicks not seen in the Donkey Kong areas. The most common of which are blocks used to temporarily create a ladder, platform, spring, or block (yes, just a tiny single block you can stand on). Interestingly, it seems like the timer for these is connected (or it might be later on) so you can tag a new block to extend the timer on existing block-constructs. Some of the enemies in these stages can also be used to solve puzzles, either providing a stepping stone or pushing you under obstacles.

Each area also seems to have its own set of gimmicks (although they're generally gone during the Donkey Kong fight). A few of the conventions, like weight-sensitive sinking pillars, repeat through some of the areas although where once you fell into water (ie, non-lethal) it later becomes lava (ie, lethal). Other areas make use of strong winds that push you back (occasionally seen in DK fights), the ice level has slippery surfaces, and there's a waterfall effect where you'll slightly sink no matter how quickly you swim. None of these serve to make the lock&key areas any more interesting.

By collecting special items in lock&key stages you can access a casino event, either a roulette or a slot machine, after the stage which can provide extra lives. You also gain additional lives based on your remaining time from each of the stages from that section when you clear out a DK fight (it's one additional life per 100 seconds then one for the remaining increment). This naturally makes it very difficult to run out of lives. If you do, I suspect it just takes you back to the first stage after you last fought Donkey Kong since the game boasts a save feature (with three separate save files). From the save menu you can also choose to replay previous sections... if you want to. It's really disappointing that they wouldn't just let you play any stage you want since once you know the solutions to the lock&key stages they're even more boring than the first time around.

The general controls work well enough. While there seem to be a bunch of jumping tricks, you probably won't need half of them. The most useful is a sort of backflip done when running in one direction then hitting the opposite direction and jump at the same time. It catapults you much higher than the other jumps. By holding down then jumping you can do a hand-stand, which is necessary to stopping falling object (specifically barrels later on) and by hitting jump while handstanding you can perform a slightly higher jump. Certain objects (key, barres, etc) can be lifted by hitting B although your movement is restricted while holding them. Swimming functions like in the normal Mario games in that you hit jump to swim and do nothing when you need to sink.

The sound isn't anything memorable. A few of the sound effects are neat but the general background music is nothing special. It's really nowhere near as cool as the music heard in the Donkey Kong Country series. The graphics are about what you'd expect from a Gameboy game. That includes passable likenesses of the main characters, Mario, Pauline, Donkey Kong, and Donkey Kong jr. Most of the generic enemies aren't recognizable (ie, not something I recognize from other Nintendo games). There's a Thwomp-like thing in the game but they didn't even get creative with the sprite; instead it's just a generic, large stone-thing that functions like a Thwomp. Most of the other enemies are animals of some sort (like a squid that's not a Blooper). Even when the enemies serve a similar function it seems like we'll get a new sprite in places. It would have been nice to have seen more of a central theme. Another graphical note is if you pick up the 3DS version it doesn't seem to have the option to add in color like the cart was being played on a Gameboy Color. It's something that really should be offered, especially since we have the options to switch to the color of the original Gameboy and original game resolution.

The game has limited replay value. It doesn't even offer an alternate game scenario where you can play as Donkey Kong Jr trying to rescue Donkey Kong (a la Donkey Kong Jr, which came out in 1982 so it would have an intuitive, low effort addition). The only real replay aspect is trying to beat previous times or scores, which you can pull up by hitting select and start at the same time. This option pulls up a list of times by area, section, and individual stage with a time listed for each. It's a fairly nice display, with images of Mario in the blank spaces.

Overall, I found the Donkey Kong stages really fun. The problem was wading through all the dull lock&key stages to get to them. They basically serve as filler to pad out the game. And, strange as it might sound, I actually would have preferred them be left out entirely. The only other issue is that the game's difficulty is usually fairly low although it really makes the last fight more exciting as it represents a decent challenge. Donkey Kong (GB) isn't a bad game, but it's padded with a lot of garbage. It really should have stuck to the core principles, basically meaning nothing but Kong.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 06/14/12

Game Release: Donkey Kong (US, 06/23/11)


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