A Must-Buy Virtual Console Title

User Rating: 8.5 | Donkey Kong GB
Right now the 3DS is a system of "take what you can get" when it comes to games, so many of us are turning to DSiWare, older DS games, and even the slim pickings of the 3DS Virtual Console. I missed the original Gameboy…and the Gameboy Color, and though I bought GBAs for my kids, I did most of my handheld gaming on DS. So, I missed a lot of games, obviously. I had no idea about the depth of Donkey Kong on GB, but once I did some investigation, I knew I had to give it a whirl.

For starters, I absolutely loved March of the Minis on DS. Sure, it's a pretty different game, but it has a lot of the same basic gameplay mechanics I love. My main fear was going back to a game that would feel archaic in the same way many NES games now do. However, DK is one of those rare gems that holds up incredibly well to other contemporary puzzle platformers.

I love the fact the game has you run through the original four levels from the arcade Donkey Kong, a game that sealed my love of video games; can't tell you how many quarters I funneled to Nintendo back in the day. Honestly, though, those levels are my least favorite thing about the game. It's when you break into the more complex and challenging puzzle-platform levels that DK shows off its excellence.

The controls are a real treat for anyone who hasn't already experienced Donkey Kong from the Gameboy, since Mario has a few tricks not really found in any of his other games. Most notably, Mario can do a handstand to repel falling objects, as well as execute higher jumps. Mario is surprisingly fluid in his movement for a game made in 1994, even pulling off his now-signature reverse high jump. Donkey Kong offers a wonderful mix of Mario platforming, combining old-school level design with more modern Mario tricks and agility. The end result is simply a blast.

Though I found controlling Mario completely satisfying, the gameplay exhibits a few old-school frustrations. Collision is an issue here and there, especially when trying to jump to monkey tails, and there are ways to kind of screw yourself out of finishing a level. In some respects, Donkey Kong from the Gameboy still feels a little too much like Donkey Kong Jr. from the arcade. DK Jr. was an exceptional game for its time, but many of its shortcomings can be quite a turn off today.

Not to be overly critical – because I really have been having a great time with this game – but the difficulty is a bit all over the place. It's not that the entire game is either brutally difficult or terribly easy, but the difficulty seems to jump around wildly. Some early levels are very, very challenging, and yet, many later levels left me scratching my head as to why they were so ridiculously easy.

None of these issues are a deal-breaker, though. Donkey Kong is incredibly clever and offers pure fun that just makes you smile. That's the kind of gameplay I've always enjoyed the most, whether it's hard, easy, or offers no challenge at all (Animal Crossing). Donkey Kong is a feel-good game – end of story.

Animations are smooth, the art style is smart and attractive, and the sound effects are like one, big nostalgia sandwich. Although, having burnt myself out of the arcade Donkey Kong years ago, I can live without the original theme music. I've seen both the enhanced color version of the game and this one, and honestly, I prefer DK in black and white. To me, it has a more polished, old-timey look I can appreciate; whereas the color version just looks like a dated NES title.

The fidelity of the music deserves special mention, as it sounds absolutely stellar out of the 3DS' speakers – great stereo separation and excellent use of the sound processor of the time. Again, some of the original sound effects can grate on your nerves if you already spent years in the arcade playing Donkey Kong, but by and large, the game still sounds great.

There is something like 100 levels in the game, spanning a nice variety of themed worlds. There's a ton of content, and it's as fun today as I'm sure it was when it first released – I never played it before, and I'm having a blast. For $4 on the eShop, it's one of those games you absolutely want on your 3DS system menu. Nintendo recently released the 10 NES games from their Ambassador's Program, and though the original Super Mario Bros. is still fun to play, the rest are merely interesting novelties. Donkey Kong from the original Gameboy is proof positive that some old games actually do age well. It's fun, funny, and will give you plenty of bang for your buck.