Donkey Kong 3 (NES) Review

2361670-nes_donkeykong3The Short


– Decently fun arcade shooter

– Music and sound effects are classic

– Platform idea for a shooter is clever and adds some interesting twists

– Very faithful to the original arcade game


– The original arcade game wasn’t that great to begin with

– Stiff controls, which worked for the first two games, falter here in a shooter

– The bugs’ patterns are maddening to try and figure out

– Like…it’s a game where you shoot Donkey Kong between his legs. That’s the game. Why.

Yes, this is actually a real thing.

Yes, this is actually a real thing.

The Long

If your first reaction to seeing this review was “Wait, what? There’s a Donkey Kong 3?” then you’d be in the majority. After the success of Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr, Nintendo decided to take the big brown ape on what would be his final arcade excursion in Donkey Kong 3: Galaga Edition. That’s right, this isn’t a platformer starring Mario or DK’s lovable if somewhat dorky looking son, instead you’re playing what is essentially a space shooter. And the enemy (aside from DK)? Bugs. Or bees, I guess, as they have hives. And little worms that block your path.

Really not swan song to end out on, guys.

DK summons pestilence from above, a sign of the oncoming ape-ocalypse.

DK summons pestilence from above, a sign of the oncoming ape-ocalypse.

In this game you aren’t Mario, but Stanley. Stanley, as you can imagine, is very well known in that he hasn’t appeared in a single game since Donkey Kong 3. Due to his purple hair and shoes I like to pretend that all the exposure to the toxins in the bugspray warped him, turning him into Waluigi, but that isn’t confirmed by Miyamoto yet and he won’t return my calls. So it’s pretty much 100% fact. Hey, denial = proof.

In Donkey Kong 3: To Bee or Not To Bee, you are charged with one simple task: shoot DK’s…um…tender spot. His nether regions. Between his legs, so to speak. Stanley (looking straight up while firing, must be quite the view) has this big dumb monkey in his zoo or something and needs to get him out. So the logical solution is to blast him over and over until he crawls off the top of the screen. Yeah, ok, it isn’t Mass Effect or anything but it gets the job done.

DK's most embarrassing moment.

DK’s most embarrassing moment.

You can’t reach him from ground level, as your spray has limited range. The game does, however, remedy this with it’s feeble attempt at platforming. As in, there is a literal platform Stanley is standing on (and it’s structure changes slightly between three variations as you play levels) and you can hop up or down it at will. Kind of different.

DK’s end game (aside from reaching the bottom of the poles and murdering you viciously), is agitating nearby bees’ nests. These bees are the size of a man and are way pissed off…but mostly pissed off at the flowers beneath Stanley. The bees’ll try and make off with them, and Stanley has to murder the nefarious insects in order to recover the plants. Lose all the plants, you die. Get hit by a bee, you die. And, of course, DK can crush you because he’s a monkey the size of Andre the Giant.

A laff a minute in DK3

A laff a minute in DK3

There’s a few more tricks. Shoot DK enough and he might drop a spray power-up, which gives it max range and pierces multiple enemies. This also carries between levels if you still have time left on it, which is nice. There are also obnoxious caterpillars that will block your shots and are unkillable unless you have the upgraded gun. The goal is, obviously, to get a high score, as the game just cycles with more and more bees (and varying types) until you succumb to an awful, bee-infested death.

Stanley, played by Nicholas Cage, in the film adaptation of DK3.

Stanley, played by Nicholas Cage, in the film adaptation of DK3.

There are multiple problems with Donkey Kong 3 that made it far less memorable than it’s predecessors. First, it isn’t a platformer, and while it’s a decent enough shooter the risk probably pushed most die-hard players away. Second, the bugs come off as unfair. Their patterns are only somewhat predictable, unlike most shooting games like Galaga where you can learn the patterns easily, and they’re such small targets they can be hard to hit. Third, your weapon sucks, and having to constantly fight a war of attrition with an ever-lowering DK only makes this all the more evident. And lastly, the game’s clunky controls don’t work in it’s favor at all. Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr.‘s movement and platforming feel archaic compared to modern games, but it was clear the game was built and balanced around that. I got none of this in Donkey Kong 3. Most of my deaths felt cheap or unavoidable, whereas in the previous two games I knew my deaths were always my own fault.

Point being, it plays clunky, feels unfair, and isn’t at all like the previous two games. And that was enough to doom it to obscurity (and essentially kill the franchise, save the Donkey Kong Game Boy game and later Donkey Kong Country games).

Stanley's enormous eye might be my favorite part of the game.

Stanley’s enormous eye might be my favorite part of the game.

Graphically it looks good, in both the arcades on NES. While I have very limited experience with the arcade version of Donkey Kong 3, the NES version felt just about arcade perfect, for better or for worse. Again, these machines are hard to find, so correct me if I’m way off track here, but it looks and sounds almost identical.

But it doesn’t really mean much if the underlying game is just a monkey’s worth of problems. While still technically mostly sound, Donkey Kong 3 feels like a chore to play and fighting for high scores just isn’t as engaging. As an added bonus, the NES cart still doesn’t save high scores, not that you’d be inviting all the cool kids on the block over to play some high-stakes DK3 anytime soon.

How the mighty apes have fallen, Donkey Kong 3 is a misstep in an otherwise perfect series of arcade games. Two out of five stars. 

He's the now-sterile member of the DK crew

He’s the now-sterile member of the DK crew


Author: Nathan Major

Spirit Shark: Hammerhead. Retro game collector, true ginger, and SNES fanatic. Goal in life is to become Karnov from the NES game Karnov.

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