Donkey Kong ’94 (GB) Review

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The Short

Pros

– Essentially a sequel to the original arcade Donkey Kong

– Over 100 new levels done in the style of the original game

– New power-ups, features, and tricks

– Great music and challenging gameplay

– Smart save features and level sizes make this an excellent portable game

– Has one of the best Super Game Boy (SNES attachment) borders in the business

Cons

– Game still has some cheap deaths

– Controls may feel dated for those used to more modern Mario titles

He's finally back, to kick some tail.

He’s finally back, to kick some tail.

The Long

You know what game I like? Donkey Kong. It’s arcade classic in every sense of the word. Sure it’s controls feel a little old now and at times it is maybe a bit cheap, but it’s still a ton of fun and a great mix of skill, patience, and memorization that makes it great.

Now how do you translate a score-driven arcade classic to a portable system? Well, Donkey Kong on the Game Boy (also known as Donkey Kong ’94, because they used the exact same name as the arcade game for some reason) makes the attempt. Do they succeed in making what is essentially a direct, portable, console-style version of one of the most popular arcade games of all time?

They not only succeeded, they excelled. 

This seems familiar.

This seems familiar.

The game starts off with a brilliant bait and switch. It has an intro similar to the original arcade game, complete with a height measurement and DK bending the floors. You then play through the four levels of the original arcade game, in order, in what is a fairly faithful reproduction. But after beating them and expecting a prize…psych! Donkey Kong learned from his mistakes and runs off again, this time with 97 (!!) more stages for you to try and beat. That’s right Ninety-Seven! That’s a freaking lot of stages for a Donkey Kong game!

You advance on a world-map style screen, moving from stage to stage until finally fighting a boss. The stage goals are usually simple: collect a key to open a door, collect Pauline’s lost stuff (hats, shoes, etc) for more points, dodge baddies, yada yada. The trick is that, while this is clearly Mario, Donkey Kong rules apply here. Jumps require commitment and are delayed. Mario can’t fall a long distance or he’ll die. Movement is fairly slow and deliberate. Essentially, Nintendo made 97 stages that would have fit right in with the original Donkey Kong arcade game.

That’s pretty freaking awesome.

Insert Gandalf's "I have no memory of this place." here.

Insert Gandalf’s “I have no memory of this place.” here.

On top of that, the game adds tricks along the way. Each new world introduces a new style or technique you have to master. Mario learns how to do a handstand into a high jump, requiring some precise timing but allowing for more mobility. Some stages have switches that have to be tossed or bridges that must be created. New pickups and other items are also available. The game does an excellent job of easing you into these new powerups, often having the first level of a world be there to explain the ability, then throwing it into the mix with the rest of them.

All these power-ups fit well with the previously established movesets and rules of Mario from the Donkey Kong game, and blended with the new stages it all meshes together perfectly. The only downside is the general trickiness of the later stages and the lack of checkpoints; die during a stage and you start it all over. But that being said, most stages are single screen (making good use of the Game Boy’s limited real estate) puzzle and platforming rooms, so dying is often more the fault of you screwing up or having bad planning, not a fault of the game.

Small cutscenes at the start of each world explain new gameplay tricks.

Small cutscenes at the start of each world explain new gameplay tricks.

The game looks fantastic. It manages to maintain the look of the arcade (granted, dumbed down for Game Boy) while still offering a ton of new graphical stuff, like new floors, enemies, and items. The music is also really fun, with classic songs showing up alongside new ones that fit right in. In particular, the game looks really good on either a Game Boy Color, or (the best option) a Super Game Boy for the SNES. This makes sense, as the game was marketed heavily when trying to sell the Super Game Boy (all the screenshots in this article are from that), which adds a really spiffy looking “arcade cabinet” style border.

Plus...LOTS O' LEVELS

Plus…LOTS O’ LEVELS

If you loved Donkey Kong in the arcade, you absolutely must play this game. As an extension of the well-known classic, it not only succeeds at bringing a similar feel to a home system, but expands upon the idea in what is essentially a perfect handheld game. With stages being brief and challenging, as well as copious options to save, it’s a great game to pick up and play for brief periods (or long periods, seeing as it’s super addicting) and get some classic arcady feel that also manages to be fresh at the same time.

Of all the bajillion Donkey Kong games released, this one is by far my favorite. It’s now available on the 3DS eShop for only a couple of bucks, and should be an essential part of your collection. Original carts are also pretty easy to find (I mean, I found one) should you prefer to play it super old school (or in your Super Game Boy, i.e., the best option). This game also inspired the Mario vs Donkey Kong games on the GBA and DS, which were good but just didn’t match the originality and all-around awesomeness of Donkey Kong ’94. 

Five out of five stars. 

Though why Pauline needs so many umbrellas is still beyond me.

Though why Pauline needs so many umbrellas is still beyond me.

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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1 Comment

  1. It’s a shame the 3DS version doesn’t support the Super Game Boy features. Also that Nintendo stopped releasing old games on the 3DS.

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