Late to the Party: Donkey Kong (1994)

Y’know, I’m starting to gain a little optimism when it comes to Nintendo’s evolving digital distribution infrastructure. My 3DS is quickly gaining legitimacy off of its digital library alone in which I’ve been able to find a lot of value. Part of that has been stumbling upon classics like the 1994 Game Boy version of Donkey Kong.

As of this typing, a download code for Donkey Kong on the 3DS eShop is still free for anyone who has a Club Nintendo account and 100 coins attached. Even I only decided to get my code after people told me it was apparently one of the “staple” Game Boy games. Some say it’s the only really good sequel to the 1981 original.

I ignored Donkey Kong for 18 years because whenever I saw the box at the store I assumed it to be some crappy handheld port of the original arcade game, having the same title and all. Eventually I forgot the game existed altogether. Well, the first four stages of this puzzle platformer basically are the original arcade game… and then it adds nearly 100 more.

I’m still not past the shock of how tightly-designed this edition of Donkey Kong is, and how well the whole package holds up today. Being a Game Boy game it doesn’t throw too many complex control mechanics at you as you try to either make it to Donkey Kong or unlock the door at the end of each stage, but the way it uses its mechanics makes the game eventually become more complex than I remember original Game Boy games being. It’s just typically excellent Nintendo level design. In terms of puzzle platformer structure, it actually reminds me one of the 3DS eShop’s best games – Pushmo.

Actually, what really caught me off guard was seeing what looks like the predecessors to a lot of the abilities Mario uses in his 3D adventures like Mario 64 and Galaxy. Most notable among these is his side jump. Even the way Donkey Kong games the system of earning extra lives is reminiscent of Galaxy, with its various post-level minigames and items to collect.

One of my favorite things about Donkey Kong has been its audio design. Even if this game were made again on a modern HD console, I wouldn’t want Mario’s walking sound to be any different. I swear the noise the game congratulates you with upon jumping over an obstacle is one of the most gratifying noises I can think of in a video game, right up there with the headshot sound from Gears of War.

The only part of Donkey Kong I’d say might look “outdated” is its technical graphics, and even then it displays pretty efficient use of pixels. Donkey Kong himself has just enough detail to show exactly the emotions and animations he needs to in each cut scene of him narrowly escaping Mario in comic book fashion.

So far, this game by itself has been able to draw the bulk of my attention back to a dedicated handheld for the first time in years. If Nintendo can keep things up with more Club Nintendo deals and more sales through this whole 8-bit summer thing, they just might have this whole digital distribution thing down.


  • I hope Clint Hocking (design lead: Splinter Cell Chaos Theory and Far Cry 2) ends up somewhere that can really make use of his talents after leaving LucasArts.
  • Dishonored is sounding more and more like what a stealth game is supposed to be: 
  • I’ve done another custom box art: Assassin’s Creed III:
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