Donkey Kong is one of Nintendo’s most well-known characters. But before he was bounding across levels in Donkey Kong Country, he enjoyed the simple life, throwing barrels at Mario on the NES. I’m a big fan of the superb SNES platformer, and now it’s time to check the series’ humble beginnings.
Although I hadn’t played much Donkey Kong before this review, I’d seen the opening stage hundreds of times. For those unfamiliar with the premise, The goal is simple. Reach the top without taking a barrel to the face. Mario feels great to control. Jumping is super precise, and while Mario has less momentum than in the platformers, it’s a good fit.
A retro treasure full of surprises
After a few goes, I beat stage one. Gameplay-wise, there’s not much to say, although I didn’t expect Donkey Kong to hurl barrels straight at me when I got close! The stiff controls I mentioned did take a while to get used to, but I think ‘modern’ movement would take away from the experience rather than enhance it.
I was taken aback by Stage 2 as I assumed the original Donkey Kong was a single stage on a loop. Instead, the 2nd is littered with hazards. After some practice, I found this stage easier than the first. There are no barrels to avoid, and obstacles are more predictable, but this is where I ran into something I never expected.
To my surprise, there’s fall damage in Donkey Kong. Not only that, Mario can’t fall far at all. Navigating the pitfalls is easy enough, but lining up the jumps so Mario survived was tricky.
Stage 3 took me a few tries to figure out, as the goal was to knock out the yellow blocks on each platform instead of reaching the top. That said, once I learned what to do, the level was pretty straightforward, and I quickly looped the game for the first time.
Donkey Kong: classic gameplay or dated mechanics?
After clearing Stage 3, you’re whisked back to the start to do it all over again, but the obstacles move faster. This boost brought its own challenges as I started running into barrel patterns I couldn’t avoid. Although I’m sure these death traps are of my own doing somehow, I couldn’t figure them out.
Looping levels, with the only goal being a high score, is a dated mechanic, but that’s not a bad thing. I know there’s an incredible amount of skill in playing Donkey Kong at a high level, but the game didn’t grab me the way I hoped it would. That said, I have little to complain about and will try my luck with the sequels in the future.
Donkey Kong: Donkey Kong is hard as nails, but the simple premise and solid controls make the title age remarkably well. There's a layer of complexity I couldn't break during my time with Donkey Kong. That said, even though the game isn't for me, it's a pleasant experience with no glaring faults. – yatesa
Anthony is a freelance writer and has worked in the industry for three years. He’s furiously competitive and is always looking for the next big multiplayer hit. Anthony is a passionate PS1 collector and firmly believes in playing games in his collection rather than letting them collect dust on a shelf. He is also passionate about speedrunning and always looks forward to the next GDQ and ESA events.