Donkey Kong Review

Even for its time, the Nintendo Entertainment System version of this all-time classic wasn't nearly as good as the 1981 original. So why pay for it now?

Donkey Kong is one of the most significant Nintendo games ever made. Created by the legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, Donkey Kong was one Nintendo's first huge video game hits outside of Japan. The original arcade version dates way back to 1981, and about five years later, a stripped-down translation of the game was among the first to ship for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Now all this history can be yours through the Wii's Virtual Console service, which offers a perfectly accurate translation of the NES version of Donkey Kong. Unfortunately, that version was far from arcade-perfect, having been stripped of one of the four original arcade levels. You can still see the prehistoric basis for many more action games to come from playing Donkey Kong, but regardless of its importance in the history of gaming and whatever nostalgic value you can glean from the NES version in particular, it's not fun for long.

Major plot spoiler: Donkey Kong eventually gets what's coming to him.
Major plot spoiler: Donkey Kong eventually gets what's coming to him.

The title of the game, of course, refers to the belligerent ape that's kidnapped the fair Pauline. It's up to Mario to avoid Donkey Kong's assault and make his way to his lady friend. The gameplay boils down to running left and right, climbing ladders, and jumping over gaps and to avoid basic hazards. Donkey Kong's first level, in which Mario must climb a series of girders while jumping over barrels cast down by the giant gorilla, is ingrained in video game culture. However, there are two levels besides that. The second one involves jumping between some moving platforms while avoiding fireballs. And in the third one, you finally get to show Mr. Kong the business, by detaching the platforms he's standing on and causing him to take a nasty spill for all the trouble he's caused. Unfortunately, the NES version of the game is missing the arcade version's second level, so essentially it's missing a quarter of the original content. The graphics and sound also aren't as lively as the arcade version, though the music and sound effects are still pretty catchy.

The structure of the game couldn't be any simpler. You play the game's three stages in order, and if you beat all three, you go back to a harder, faster version of the first one. This repeats until you run out of lives. You have the option to play a two-player mode, but all you do is alternate with another player. The underlying incentive behind the game is to earn a high score, but since this is a no-frills port of the NES game, don't expect online leaderboards or anything like that. It's too bad Nintendo didn't release the arcade version of Donkey Kong instead, though in fairness, they do call it Virtual Console. At any rate, unless downloading Donkey Kong for the NES for 500 Wii Points ($5) seems like a complete no-brainer to you, you'd best give this one a pass and leave it to the history books and the fond childhood memories.

The Good

  • A perfect translation of the NES version of an iconic classic

The Bad

  • This NES version is missing one of the original arcade version's four levels
  • Simplistic gameplay won't keep you busy for long
  • This version looks and sounds inferior to the 1981 arcade original

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