When I first played this title, I believed that it was a form of a remake. Also known as Donkey Kong ’94, Donkey Kong for the Game Boy was actually a far more developed game than the original. Expanding on several gameplay functions this title deceives the player by opening as the original title does. We are presented with the same four construction site levels from the arcade. We believe that we are looking at an enhanced, portable version of one of the most beloved gaming classics of our time. However, as these stages are completed, instead of looping around to the beginning as we would expect, the game is simply getting started. The mammoth ape grabs Pauline again and escapes, this time running into the city. It’s here that the game expands from the original concepts into an ambitious action puzzle/platforming title.
Donkey Kong ’94 was also the first game to feature enhancements when played using the ‘Super Game Boy’ peripheral. This ingenious device allowed gamers to play Game Boy titles on the Super Nintendo console. This enabled enhanced visuals, improved sound effects which utilized the SNES soundcard and attractive decorative borders that embedded relevant images from the games along the side of the screen.
The game spans 101 stages featuring nine worlds, as mentioned previously, this title adds new dynamics to the classic formula. The basic premise of most levels is fairly simple: get the key to the door to advance to the next level. These keys are found dotted across the screen and are carried in a lovely nod to Super Mario Bros. 2. In a form of reinforcement, Nintendo iterates over this concept, again and again, implementing some truly inspired puzzles along the way. The player will encounter a variety of obstacles and objects to keep a sense of variety in each level to bring a fresh feeling to each stage. Ladders, platforms, and springs can be placed where needed. Every four levels there’s a boss battle with Donkey Kong himself, he throws his trademark barrels or causes random objects to fall on Mario from above. After beating this insane monkey, a short cutscene will play, these serve to introduce new mechanics such as a new moveset or puzzle to solve. The game then, thankfully, allows you to save your progress.
Mario has a number of moves to be learned through this process. He is able to side-flip and triple jump along the stages. It’s been claimed that this is the first form of these moves which appeared later in Super Mario 64. The control mechanics of the game are implemented perfectly and new move options are taught one by one so as not to overwhelm the player. Our kidnapped heroine is not quite helpless, she has dropped three items to help Mario win extra lives. Collecting the parasol, purse, and sunhat will enable the player to access a post level minigame to win more lives. These minigames alternate from a roulette-style wheel or a slot machine.
The visuals aren’t the most attractive on the handheld system, the visual style is fairly simple as it’s designed for the Game Boy’s four shades of gray. If you don’t like the old-fashioned pixelated style this game’s graphics may not appeal to you. However, if you enjoy the 8-bit aesthetic, the animations are cartoon-like and feature a form of charm. Many of the enemies Mario encounters are original but seem a little random. There’s spitting seed plants, a variety of animals and some creatures crafted from the elements. They don’t really fit the environments but never really detract from the overall experience.
The sound design is grating, each step Mario takes features a strange squeak and Pauline’s screams for help pierce your ears. There are some nice audio touches such as the callbacks to the original arcade title but overall the soundtrack is forgettable.
This 1994 release of Donkey Kong for the Game Boy succeeded in expanding the original arcade game’s concepts into 101 stages of fantastic puzzle orientated platforming action. It’s a bit of a forgotten classic on the Game Boy and never really received the recognition it deserved.
Chris McAuley is a Northern Irish born author, comic book and gaming columnist who has now branched out from talking about comics to helping create them. An acclaimed colourist for 2000 AD and Marvel he has worked on flagship titles such as Judge Dredd, Roy of the Rovers and Hulkverines. Chris also has a commitment to the Indie scene being an inker and colourist for ‘The Lang Way Hame’ a Scottish comic which is tipped for an award later this year. With close ties to heroes of the industry such as the ‘Godfather of British comics’ Pat Mills and Spawn creator Todd McFarlene,