Donkey Kong Jr. (NES) Review

The Short


– Wholly unique sequel to Donkey Kong, starring his son

– Similar focus on climbing and jumping, but more on the former than its predecessor

– All four levels are intact in the NES port

– A bigger challenge than Donkey Kong

– Remains the only game ever where Mario is the bad guy


– Jumping in this one feels unbelievably clunky

– Falling even a short distance kills Jr. Guy would die tripping over a rock.

– Again, original cart does not have a battery save function

Jr, mixing it up.

The Long

After Donkey Kong made Nintendo truckloads of money, it was clear they needed a follow up that would pull that same kind of chowder. So in 1982, Donkey Kong Jr. showed up in arcades, mixing up the formula and switching up the gameplay. The most obvious change was that you were playing as Jr, rather than Mario, and in this one you were trying to save Donkey Kong from the nefarious Mario. Plot twist of the century.

I have some serious love for this game. It was one of the few in a local nickelcade that was both fantastic and also actually worked (the thing about nickelcades…about half the machines have buttons or joysticks broken), and I recall pounding nickels into this thing as my friend and I would compete for the top spot on the high score list. This was one of the rare instances in my life when I was astonished and completely pleased when I had the epiphany that “I can play an arcade game at home!” The only other instance of this for me personally is Sunset Riders

Anyway, what makes Donkey Kong Jr. so different? And why is it so awesome? Read on, and you shall see.

From jungles to electric shock…world.

The basic concept is surprisingly similar to Donkey Kong. Through a series of climbing and jumping you get to the top of the screen, all the while dodging crap the enemy (in this case Mario) is throwing down at you. However, a rather dramatic shift has been made from jumping to climbing. While Donkey Kong was big on mostly jumping and a few ladder portions, Donkey Kong Jr. is all about that, and even mixed in some strategy in the climbing.

See, in many instances you can grab one vine and shimmy up that, or if two are close you can grab both to go faster. This has two key changes. First, Mario sends most enemies down the vines, so grabbing two makes you a larger target. Second, your speed shifts. When holding two vines, you climb up significantly faster, but down a lot slower. When on one you slide down very quickly, but up is slow. The levels are designed about knowing when to use what balance, being able to change your vertical position very quickly an absolute must.

While different, both games still look similar, and fans of one can easily pick up the other.

The decreased emphasis on jumping is evident because one of the biggest frustration is Jr. jumps like total crap. Luckily most of the stages don’t rely too heavily on it, but the springboard at the start of stage two has been the cause of many inappropriate deaths. It can also be annoying to time when to drop fruit onto enemies (the only way to kill them now that the hammer is gone), seeing as even being remotely close drops the things. Ah well.

I personally found Donkey Kong Jr. to be tougher than Donkey Kong, but I suppose it’s a matter of playstyle. I also enjoy Donkey Kong Jr. a lot more than the original, so you have that as well.

Suck it, Mario.

Donkey Kong Jr. is a faithful adaptation of the arcade version, with all the levels, graphics, and sound effects being similar. As such it sounds and looks just fine, though it certainly is beginning to show its age, especially with the predominantly black backgrounds.

Still, Donkey Kong Jr. is great fun. Similar to Donkey Kong, you should pick it up on the Donkey Kong Classics combo pack, as you can get both games for a very low price point now. As an arcade classic it holds up very well, still proving to be very challenging while rewarding.

Just…learn to jump, Jr. And fall more than two feet without dying.

Four out of five stars. 

This is the one you want to buy. Not the originals.

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. I always did like how Jr. climbed up two vines.
    Also, we need more games where the goal is to kill Mario!

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    • Climbs up faster if grabbing two, but increases the risk of getting hit. Slower on one, less space to get hit.


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