Thursday, March 21, 2013

Donkey Kong Classics (NES) Review

Written: March 20th-21st, 2013
Year: 1988 | Developed and Published by: Nintendo

Disclaimer: Some of the screenshots I took are a little fuzzy, so I apologize in advance!
In the early 80's were a couple arcade games that were created by Nintendo that would go on to be successes for a very long time: Donkey Kong in 1981 and its sequel Donkey Kong Junior the following year.  They were so successful in fact, that they would be ported in pretty much all the consoles that were around at the time (albeit by different video game companies); so when Nintendo decided to port both of their games in 1983 for their Famicom console themselves, the reception on the adaptations were mixed at best.  A few years later the NES ports would be available for Western audiences to experience, and the reaction was just about as equal (i.e. "not as good as the arcade originals").  In 1988, for some reason, Nintendo decided to have their 8-bit adaptations of the games available in one package that is Donkey Kong Classics.  So, aside from a chance to play two ports of classic arcade games in one cartridge and the fact that there's a new title screen, does this two-game compilation add a lot to the games?  No, not really.  But has time been kind to these individual video game adaptations done by Nintendo?  That's what we're going to find out today.

Welcome everyone, to my first ever 2-for-1 Special review!  =D
How it's going to work is like this: I pick two games (whether they are part of the same series and/or are similar or not) and I review them back to back.  I'll talk about the earlier game first and then I'll discuss my thoughts on the next game.  Afterwards, in the end, I'll summarize my thoughts on both games and reveal which of the two games I enjoy the most. So what better way to start than with the first two Donkey Kong games.  Let's do this!

Donkey Kong (1981, 1983)
"Jumpman"'s my (old) name and jumping is
my game!
This was one of the first video games to incorporate a plot, as simple as it was.  The plot of Donkey Kong centers around Mario (then known as "Jumpman") who must save his female friend Pauline (then known as "the Lady") from the clutches of the eponymous gorilla Donkey Kong (who's always been known as "Donkey Kong"), the villain of the game.  Inspired by stories such as King Kong and Beauty and the Beast, it's not a very shabby plot.  Throughout the game you have to avoid the barrels he throws down at you, be careful not to get caught on fire by the fire enemies, and of course you must not get ambushed by killer trampolines.  You won't be reaching Pauline without having to evade certain obstacles along the way.

Lots of platforms abound here
Mario has got good controls.  He can move left and right, jump (but cannot change direction in mid-air), climb ladders up and down, and even use the hammer should he pick it up.  By grabbing the hammer Mario will be rendered invincible for a short period of time and attack the enemies that are in his way, however that only applies to the hammer itself since Mario can still be damaged if an enemy touches him.  The visuals and sound are decent (the title theme is catchy), and the animation is basic but cool.  Mario will be going through certain construction sites, and in the last stage he must dismantle the ground below Donkey Kong and make him fall down in order to save his friend.  Afterwards the game loops again only with slightly more challenge, like most games at the time did.

It's Hammer Time!!!
Unfortunately in this game Mario suffers from Spelunker Syndrome where he dies upon falling down more than a few inches.  Damn, what a way to go!  Why have this happen long before the game Spelunker itself comes out??  The game adaptation is pretty decent, even though the squeaking sound coming from Mario's shoes can really get annoying (thank goodness Nintendo decided not to keep it in the future games that starred as him).  A common thing when it came to ports of Donkey Kong were that the factory stage was missing, and this port is no exception.  On one hand, this was one of the first games that was made for the system, so obviously limitations had to be made; you have to start slow when it comes to new things.  On the other hand, taking into account how later on in the NES' lifecycle there have been ports that proved that they could handle every stage that was in the arcade (and more), it seems a little weak to me.  I don't mind personally that the factory stage is not here (or the fact that some cutscenes and animations were excised in the process), though I do have to wonder what it would've been like had the factory area actually been on there.  Oh, well, it's harmless entertainment, so I think it's a good adaptation; just not as great as the arcade title it originated from, that's all.

And now it's time for me to review the equally famous sequel: =)

Donkey Kong Junior (1982, 1983)
Climbing is essential here
Donkey Kong was such a hit upon release that there was no doubt that a successor would eventually follow in its steps.  Well, the following year it did in the form of Donkey Kong Junior.  And this time around the plot has taken a rather dark turn: now Donkey Kong is the one that's been caged down and captured by Mario, the hero of the first game.  Um, role reversal much?  However, the gorilla's son, Donkey Kong Junior, is free and will try to stop Mario and save his father in anyway he can.  In order to prevent the young ape to succeed, Mario will send out snapping crocodiles (Klaptraps, anyone?), two different types of birds, and even try to electrocute him by controlling electric sparks in his hideout.  Dude, what has he done to you to make you do such a thing?!  D=  And where does he get and store all his animals?  Well, it's off to save daddy, Junior!

Go, Junior, go!
Like the first game with Mario, the controls with Donkey Kong Junior are pretty good.  The young ape can move left and right, jump in the air (but can only do so in one direction), and he can climb too.  He cannot attack the animals personally, but by climbing towards a fruit it will fall down and if you timed it right, it will crush the enemy.  Donkey Kong Junior can also climb up and down, and you can choose to do it with one or two lines (i.e. ropes, vines, chains) at once.  If you choose to climb up through only one line he will go pretty slowly, but if you climb up both lines then you'll do it quickly; the opposite applies should you climb downward.  At the end of each stage you'll be obtaining a key, and in the final stage you have to place six keys in the upper platform where Donkey Kong will be rescued and Mario will get a taste of his own medicine.  After that the game will start again on a higher difficulty.

I'm shocked that Mario would stoop so low
The visuals are basic but are nice to look at.  Donkey Kong Junior displays good walking and climbing animation, and when he loses a life his eyes bug out (albeit in a cutely comedic way).  Mario looks all right, and Donkey Kong looks cool too, but if you ask me he looks a bit too happy to be held captive.  0_O  Unfortunately, should Donkey Kong Junior fall down several inches he'll lose a life.  The sound is decent as well (the title theme is nice), though the main character has a bit of an obnoxious walking sound.  You know how I said earlier that the first Donkey Kong had four stages in the arcade but in most home conversions there were only three of them available?  Well,...

Must retrieve all the keys!
...Donkey Kong Junior had four stages in the arcade, and what's different this time around is that it's got four stages in the NES home conversion; which really makes you wonder if a four-stage Donkey Kong on the NES would've been possible back then?  The original arcade game had some cutscenes and additional animation that were eschewed when ported to the NES, but outside of that it's really faithful.  Like the original Donkey Kong, I find Donkey Kong Junior to be fun and entertaining, and it's nice to play as a different character.  I find it fascinating how Donkey Kong went from being a villain to an innocent taken hostage all of a sudden.  In my opinion, this is also a good video game adaptation.  =)

So those were Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Junior!  So what are my thoughts overall?  To put it simply: I think they're both decently-crafted ports, and the two games are fairly entertaining enough.  I remember having first played the 8-bit Donkey Kong when I was little through the plug-and-play over one of my cousins' house in Italy, and what surprised me back then was that it looked just like the first introductory stages in the Game Boy game that shared the same name.  I wondered if I could do all the neat stuff I could do in the handheld; not the case.  That's what happens when you play something similar on the Game Boy beforehand.  As for Donkey Kong Junior (the NES version not the Game & Watch one), I never played that game until Christmas of '02, when it came packed in with the e-Reader I got for the Game Boy Advance.  Since then I really liked it, and it was a real surprise to me.

Donkey Kong is decent, and I think it's fun to play every once in awhile, though to be honest the NES port does not hold a candle to its superior successor Donkey Kong Junior as far as I'm concerned.  While it might be lacking some cutscenes and animations that were present in the arcade, I just feel that it's a faithfully great representation regardless.  I find it more fun to play as Donkey Kong Junior than as Mario as far as the early '80s Nintendo games are concerned.  As for the compilation Donkey Kong Classics, it's good, though I wish Nintendo could've added a lot to it.  By the time it was released, the NES proved that it could handle ports of arcade games very well and have most of what the arcade originally had.  Nintendo could've taken this opportunity and remade the first Donkey Kong from scratch and try to incorporate the infamous factory stage among other things.  It would've made more sense than to just slap two games together that were already available some years prior without changing anything about them.  Shame.  =(

Do I recommend you try Donkey Kong Classics?  Well, that's a bit of a mixed answer I'm about to give.  If you buy this game expecting for the aptly-named classics to have some updates, you may be disappointed, 'cause they appear exactly like they did when they first arrived on the console.  On the other hand, if you ever wanted to play the first two Donkey Kong games without having to resort to changing games when you're not playing the other, then this cart will deliver.  That's all I've got.  *shrugs*

Throughout the years the characters involved would evolve and appear in many games for decades to come.  Donkey Kong would become a hero in his own series of games, be Mario's arch-nemesis in the Mario vs. Donkey Kong games, and he would also be a supporting, playable character for a lot of spin-off games.  Donkey Kong Junior would be saving his father once more in the Game & Watch handheld exclusive Donkey Kong II, act as one of the characters who must be saved in the Modernized versions of Game & Watch classics in the Game & Watch Gallery series, and somehow get a chance to race in the hit Super Mario Kart as opposed to his father.  Mario would successfully expunge his lone role as villain by resuming to be a good guy from then on and never looking back.  And Pauline, ... well, Pauline is still the damsel in distress, so not much has changed about her, really.  =|

Regardless, Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Junior were very successful in the arcade way back when, and with two fun DK-themed titles under Nintendo's belt, there was no way that this series would head downhill after that.  No way at a--
...ooooooh, yeeeeah.  This game!  Maybe some other time.

Donkey Kong: 7.0/10
Donkey Kong Junior: 8.5/10
Overall Package Score:
Thank you for reading my review, please leave a comment!  =)
P.S.: I understand that the NES ports aren't exactly lauded, and I do know where everyone is coming from.  But hey, look on the bright side: I could've reviewed Donkey Kong Jr. Math instead.  ...  >=)  *Dracula music and laughter plays in the background*

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