Donkey Kong is an action puzzle platformer by Nintendo for the Game Boy. Unlike the arcade game and later Nintendo Entertainment System port of the same name, this Donkey Kong features over 100 levels. It is mainly designed to show off its compatibility with the Super Nintendo Entertainment System’s accessory the Super Game Boy, which can allow you to play Game Boy games on your SNES with added color and sometimes bonus content. However, the version I played was the Nintendo 3DS virtual console version which emulates a Game Boy Pocket black and white display. The plot is basically the same as those previously mentioned. The giant monkey Donkey Kong has kidnapped Pauline, although this time he has some help from his son Donkey Kong Jr. too. Mario chases them through a variety of worlds filled with puzzling levels and boss encounters until getting to the final showdown with the titular terror.
The first four levels mirror that of the arcade game but with updated visuals and controls. Mario has a wide range of abilities this time around. He still moves at the same speed and can jump… man. In addition to this he can duck, then jump while ducking to do a handstand which will make him walk more slowly but his feet will protect him from certain falling objects. Jumping out of the handstand will propel you higher than a normal jump and jumping again with the right timing when landing makes Mario perform a second one of these big jumps. Afterwards he will have a short pause on the second landing. By moving in one direction and rapidly changing directions at the same time as jumping will allow Mario to perform a back-flip for a medium amount of height. There are a few distinct types of falling based on Mario’s height. There’s a normal fall that Mario can handle just fine and keep on going about his business. Then there’s a big fall which will cause Mario to roll upon landing rather than being able to stop himself. He either has to finish the moment of the roll or jump out of it with that momentum which causes a decently high jump. Falling too much further than that will make Mario face-plant into the floor and be unable to move for a few seconds. The final type of fall is a fatal fall. If Mario falls from too high up… well he’s only human and is as mortal to such a thing as any of us would be. He also has his Mario 2 ability to pick up and throw certain items and enemies. So Mario clearly has a lot of natural abilities at his disposal this time around.
After the first four levels you’ll enter all-new territory. You’ll go through linear, themed world maps filled with levels in groups of four. The first three levels in each set have a goal of getting the key and bringing it to the locked exit door where Donkey Kong has made his continuing escape. So you’ll have to platform your way through the levels, pick up the key, and bring it to the door in order to proceed. If you drop the key and leave it unattended for too long it will disappear and reappear in its starting position. There are also three items to collect in each level; a purse, a hat, and an umbrella. These are optional items for points but collecting all three will reward you with a bonus minigame after you complete the level. The bonus minigame will either be a roulette wheel or a slot machine giving you the opportunity to win some extra lives. Sometimes extra lives appear in the levels themselves in the form of hearts just like in Super Mario Land 2. You’ll also meet with a lot of stage obstacles you can interact with.
Each world seems to introduce a few concepts at a time, but the most common universal ones are conveyor belts, switches, custom ladders, custom platforms, springs, custom springs, and moving platforms. The switches usually control the direction of conveyor belts or platforms moving on a track but can also be used to open and close doors or form and deform bridges. Springs seem rather self-explanatory in that they allow you to jump to great heights. Custom ladders, platforms, and springs are all items you can activate by touching their icon. The game pauses and allows you to move the icon around in order to select where you’d like to place it. The custom ladders go all the way up and down from the current position until they are obstructed. The custom platforms do the same from left to right. The custom springs merely place springs in your desired location. All of these custom structures operate on a timer. After so much time has passed a custom structure will disappear. However, the timer gets reset to maximum if you set up another one of any kind before the first one expires. All of these structures will expire at the same time and once they do their icons will reappear in their designated areas. There are also a variety of enemies that you’ll encounter. Most can be killed. Some can picked up and thrown while others are harmful to the touch. Some you can even ride on. But of course, you will also have access to the classic hammer weapon which can pulverize nearly any foe. A new trick with this trusty tool is the ability to throw it directly up into the air and have it fall back down. This allows Mario to catch the hammer in the air to bring it up or down to other platforms as well as prolong its use. There’s also a time limit so you’ll need to figure out the puzzle of the level and execute it without dying all within the time limit. Death will merely result in starting the level over while a game over from running out of lives will send you back to your last save.
You can save after the fourth level in these sets. The fourth level is a boss encounter with either DK, DK Jr., or both working together. There are basically two types of these levels. One is simply reaching the mischievous monkeys at the end of the stage without dying. The other is taking them on in some kind of boss fight, which typically involves throwing their own barrels back at them. These are also timed levels. With each new world you’re given a new custcene of Mario chasing the Kongs that tends to give you a preview of new obstacles ahead, such as ice to slip on or vines to climb on. Once you’ve gone through every level, all that’s left is a final showdown with a super-sized Donkey Kong. Will Mario prevail or is DK king?
This game went above and beyond my expectations. I looked at what kind of game it was before getting it so I wasn’t merely expecting an arcade port either. But there are so many levels with a great mix of action and lighter puzzle elements that this game seems endless at times. It’s huge! There are lots of mechanics even just to Mario’s abilities that allow you to approach situations in multiple ways. The stage obstacles keep being reused and new ones are frequently introduced so the game doesn’t feel gimmicky nor does it get stale. It somehow stays so open and different that it’s hard to get bored. You’ll just want to keep playing to see what’s next. The controls also add into the challenge of the game. They are consistent and create a lot of tension. You need to know how Mario will react to your actions in order to play and execute the best route through the level. The timer keeps you from sitting around for ages looking for the exact window of time sometimes so it forces you into situations that are more challenging and risky. I love the encounters with the Kongs. These make it feel more like a Donkey Kong game to have him be so interactive and it gives your action skills a chance to really shine. It feels like not just a chase, but a struggle to try and rescue Pauline. Not to mention the awesome final boss fight. And the way the cutscenes after Kong encounters add flavor to the game while also previewing upcoming mechanics is delightful. It’s a ton of levels and a ton of fun.
I don’t have too many issues with this game myself, but I do want to be fair. The control is more of an evolution of the Donkey Kong games than the Mario games, so it may feel a bit sluggish and awkward to Mario players. The timer aspect can be a little bit frustrating at times as well. You can make lots of progress but get stuck on a tricky part and have to do it all over again because of the time. The amount of lives you get, on the other hand, are so abundant that they almost don’t even matter. I ended up with max lives for a long time during the game. Some levels just give you those lives in them so you don’t lose one when you fail and gain one when you succeed, should you choose to get them. You also get them for every 100 points which is calculated after each set of four levels. So with all the lives it doesn’t incentivize getting all of those collectible items for the bonus minigames. Those minigames also aren’t very fun and with only the two they get old fast. Basically everything outside of the levels themselves seems like it could use a little rethinking, but it’s nothing major or deal-breaking. I just wish they had come up with an alternate title to differentiate it from the arcade game.
Donkey Kong on the Game Boy is a great platforming game with light puzzle elements. It bring the classic style of Donkey Kong games to a whole new level and even inspired the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series later on. It’s a great underrated title for the Game Boy that’s worth throwing 20-25 bucks at if it looks good to you. If it wasn’t called Donkey Kong I might even call it a hidden gem. If you’re a Game Boy fan, a Donkey Kong fan, or just enjoy puzzle platformers then be sure to give the Game Boy Donkey Kong a shot. You’ll be hooked before you know it. Plus, you get an updated version of the arcade levels right at the start if that’s all you’re after on the go so… ya know… you have options. I never know how to end anything so… erm… touch monkey get Dankey?