Pretty much the title that started that started it all for everyone’s favourite game designer Shigeru Miyamoto. The main character Jumpman was later realised to be Mario and I don’t think there’s a person alive who doesn’t know him by now. Starring in over a hundred games it’s interesting to pay a visit to what started it all and see if the game still holds up today.
The NES version of Donkey Kong is one of many ports to home systems of the DK Arcade game however it does miss one of the later stages, the cement factory. It does make up for this by having a couple of difficulty options from the main screen reminiscent of the old hard switches on the Atari 2600’s, game A or B. Game A is the standard game running about, jumping over barrels whilst game B changes the dynamic of the whole game by having lots of floating fireball enemies and turning all of the barrels that hit the furnace at the base of the screen into these as well.
It adds quite a bit of variety as game A can be played by concentrating on the timing of barrels, whilst B requires some skill to work your way past the fireballs that aren’t restricted by floors or objects, they go anywhere they please often resulting in a complete change of tactics or even having to run to earlier parts of the stage to avoid them. Being a port of its arcade cousin the game is bound to be limited at least visually but what’s on offer isn’t anything to turn your nose up at the graphics are simple but functional lacking the sharpness of the arcade yet everything is still as it should be (bar the missing stage!). Jumpman/Mario is just as nimble as his arcade counterpart and the speed of the game may be slightly off in comparison it does more than an adequate job of replicating the arcade machine you never really find yourself thinking it’s anything less than the same game.
There’s a reason this is called Donkey Kong Classics though and that’s because it also includes Donkey Kong Jr on the same cartridge. Sequel to DK this time you have to contend with freeing DK from Jumpman’s clutches. It sounds like more of the same except the stages are built with climbing in mind with Jr able to scale quickly upwards between vines. Jumpman spends most of his time throwing spring loaded alligators your way in a similar fashion to DK’s barrels but this time round they can move up and down the actual vines. Being a larger character than Jumpman means Jr takes up a lot more space when he jumps but it also has the added benefit of being able to grab vines whilst in the air. Makes for a very interesting redesign of the first game and adds a lot more depth.
I have never played DK Jr at the arcades and without a handy MAME installation I can’t try it but if half the attention in porting it as the first game then I don’t doubt it’s a good version worth tracking down. It’s not that difficult to find either with most copies selling for a few quid on eBay. It’s surprising that there are 2 games on the cartridge and it must have been well worth the money back then with most NES games being short, difficult and quick to play. I may even be tempted to track the third game down at some point.