In 1981, Nintendo released a game which – whilst fairly slow on the uptake, did end up being one of the most revolutionary games yet. It featured different designed levels (even Pac Man the year before had the same level repeated), cut scenes, boss fights and powerups, all staples of games today. It also introduced two characters to the world.
Mario, and the game title chracter – Donkey Kong.
The game became an eventual success, as the game was fun, simple, non-violent (they were clamping down with all the violence in Space Invaders at the time) and addictive. So it was a little shock that a true sequel, one that took the original formula and expanded it (yes I’ve ignored Donkey Kong Junior & Donkey Kong 3), came out quietly, 13 years later, for Nintendo’s Game Boy.
One of the first games that used the power of the new “Super Game Boy”, a plug-in that allowed you to play game boy games on the SNES, Donkey Kong 94 as it became known as started off pretty pedestrian. You’re on the first original Donkey Kong levels, and need to climb to the top of each one before advancing to the next stage. Pretty pedestrian stuff really to begin with, and nothing except nicer graphics, a few “1up”s dotted here and there, and more forgiving jumping meant that it was different.
However, completion of the 4th level, the traditional “end” in the previous game, made for Donkey Kong to jump up, and once again captures Pauline. Mario is then forced to trape around the world (by that I mean generic areas such as forests, cities and the like), chasing Donkey Kong through a midst of feindish puzzles.
Yes, this is more of a puzzle game than a platform game. Each stage involves you getting a key to a door. Sometimes the key is right next to the door, and you have to work out how to get to them both. Other times you have to take the key from one side for the screen to the door on the other side. Fairly simple, with few other bits and bobs such as switches, moveable platforms & swimming pools. However, they’re organised in such a way that produces some devilish puzzles, as well as enemies such as bugs, barrels and oil flames.
Mario isn’t without his upgrades, he can now backflip & handstand to deflect barrels & leap to unheard of heights. These are usually found accidentally, however when they are first needed, the game provides you with a handy cut scene explaining how to carry out the new move and what to use it for. Of course, to progress through the later stages of teh game, you’ll need to use the move in a way it isn’t intended to.
And therein lies the beauty of this game. It’s almost Lemming like in it’s charm. It’s easy to learn, tricky to beat, and the regular save games mean you don’t lose too much of your game should you quit (it’s every 4 levels, so can be a bit annoying at later levels). It keeps enough of the original features (such as the items you need to collect, though this time they lead to a bonus game) to make it familiar, yet changes enough to make it more modern. The music is memorable, if not particularly orchestral, and the graphics look great on both a regular and advanced game boy. All in all, a fantastic game, well worth seeking out, as it wasn’t a commercial success. However, sitting down with everybody’s favourite monkey for a couple of days is a great way to pass time. Check it out.