Review by bradleyoXD

"Guess what Jumpman can do?"

I love Donkey Kong - it was brilliant in 1981, and it's still a blast to play here in merry ole 2007. It may be deemed unoriginal today, but Mario's original jumping shenanigans was one of the first platformers ever. A typical arcade game was either a Pac-Man clone or a Space Invaders clone; but Donkey Kong changed people's views on what an arcade game should be. Sure, DK isn't perfect, but you'll have a lot of fun playing it.

Rather than landing you straight into the game, Donkey Kong opens with a cut scene (the first cut scene in video games!). As a moody theme plays in the background, the titular ape, Donkey Kong, climbs up a ladder to the top of a large framework of girders. He places his prize next to him. His prize is a beautiful woman in a pink dress called Pauline (not Princess Peach...). Who will save her? Her boyfriend, Mario, of course!

Mario starts at the bottom of the construction site, and works his way up to reach Pauline. Once he reaches her, Donkey Kong quickly grabs her and climbs up to the next level. There are four levels in total... although that sounds very short by today's standards, back in 1981 Donkey Kong was considered to be longer than previous video games. Once you've reached the top and saved Pauline, you're back at the bottom - rinse and repeat.

Reaching Pauline is simple - move left and right with the joystick, and press the button to jump. Obstacles are avoided by using this jump mechanic, although it does require a bit of practice. If you press the button, Mario will simply jump upwards. However, moving left/right and then jumping will allow Mario to jump to the left/right. This lack of horizontal mobility in mid-air is a bit annoying, but after a little getting used to, it didn't cause any problems.

To reach higher levels, Mario will have to climb up ladders by pushing the joystick up. While this works fine, Mario has no way of avoiding obstacles while climbing. It does feel a little unfair when a barrel randomly rolls down and crushes Mario, but this is only a minor flaw.

While the mechanics are incredibly simple, the level designs are a lot more complex and are very clever. The first level is pretty straightforward, with Mario simply working his way up while jumping over barrels thrown by the evil ape. The second level however is very different from the first, representing a factory with conveyor belts carrying pans of cement. Mario is still jumping and climbing, but his movement is affected by the conveyor belts. It's a very interesting concept.

The third level again presents another challenge. There's a much bigger focus on jumping this time, as Mario rides on an elevator and jumps across platforms while dodging large spring weights. In the final level, Mario must remove the girder supports, causing Donkey Kong to fall. All of the levels are expertly designed, and ensure that the game doesn't get repetitive too quickly.

There are a lot of little extras in the levels too - grabbing the hammer will cause Mario to enter a temporary hyper mode (similar to eating the large pill in Pac-Man), giving him the ability to destroy enemies and rack up points. There are also items that Mario can pick up to gain points. These items are usually placed in hard-to-reach places. Mario can't hang around forever though - there's a timer which spells doom if it reaches 0. You gain bonus points for beating a level - finishing quickly will earn you more points.

There are a few quirks in the design, however. You'll get points for jumping over obstacles - sometimes. Now and again I'd leap over an barrel, yet I would end up gaining nothing. Mario will plummet to his death if you let him jump down from a high level - but sometimes Mario would die regardless of the height. I once jumped from one platform to another, with a height difference of one inch, but frustratingly, Mario would die anyway. However, these are only minor niggles that only occur occasionally, and don't detract from the experience.

While it looks very primitive today, you can't deny that Donkey Kong looked great in 1981. The colours are very vibrant, injecting the levels with lots of life. Mario's animations are very simple, but very fluid. And who can forget Donkey Kong's facial expressions? There's a lot of attention to detail in this game. The heart which appears over Mario and Pauline's heads when they are reunited, promptly broken when Donkey Kong snatches her. Pauline's cries for help. The halo above Mario's head when he dies. Donkey Kong's laughter when Mario is killed. They're simply brilliant, and add a lot of personality to the game, something that was missing from past arcade titles.

There's no slowdown or lag either, which is remarkable considering the amount that's going on in each level. All in all, the presentation values of this game are great, even today.

However, the sound in this game is a mixed bag. Sound effects-wise, Donkey Kong delivers, with sounds for Mario's movements, and laughter effects for DK. There are a few notable tunes, such as the moody theme at the beginning and the "how high can you get?"tune. But every other tune in this game is very repetitive and forgettable. Music was simple in 1981, but when Nintendo is so renowned for producing brilliant and ambient tunes, it's a pity that their first successful game has so many boring tunes.

It was a long game in 1981, but that doesn't make up for the fact that you can complete this game in 5 minutes. While the third level does provide a challenge, anyone with a fair amount of skill should be able to complete this with only one or two hitches. It's a suitable set up for arcades, but playing it on a console will make it clear that Donkey Kong is very short (I'm playing the Donkey Kong 64 arcade emulation). The game will get steadily more difficult every time you complete it, but after saving Pauline I didn't really have the incentive to play through it all over again.

Conclusion

Donkey Kong is a brilliant achievement. Nintendo really outdid themselves with this game. It's quite easy to pick up and not-so difficult to master, but the level design is inspired. And you'll have a heck of a lot of fun while it lasts. It isn't long by any stretch of the imagination, but Donkey Kong is one of those games that you'll occasionally pick up and complete. There will be a few hardcore gamers that'll spend hours achieving insanely high scores - if you're that kind of gamer, you'll undoubtedly love Donkey Kong.

Donkey Kong is a classic - play it now.

80%


Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 10/01/07

Game Release: Donkey Kong (US, 07/31/81)

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