Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Donkey Kong Classics (NES)

Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: Memorable characters, fun for a few minutes
Cons: Really short, almost no replay value

Donkey Kong Classics is a compilation that contains both the original Donkey Kong game, as well as the sequel Donkey Kong Jr. Despite having both games on the cartridge, it still only requires maybe 10 minutes to play through as both games are exceptionally short. Donkey Kong contains a whopping 3 levels, and Donkey Kong Jr contains an additional 4 levels. Each level encompasses a single screen from a side-view and requires you to make your way from the bottom left starting area up to the top.
In Donkey Kong, you play as Jumpman (the original Mario) and have to rescue your girlfriend Pauline from the big ape. Apparently he's climbed to the top of a building, so you go through 3 levels working your way up. In the first level, you have to climb a series of ladders up some angled platforms while dodging barrels that Donkey Kong is rolling your direction. Stage 2 has smaller platforms, more ladders and a couple of elevators to work your way up. Instead of throwing barrels, you now have to avoid some type of bouncing objects that the ape throws at you. These are mostly easy as they all move exactly the same. There are also a couple of fireballs that move about, climbing up and down ladders that you have to avoid touching. In the last level, you have 4 large platforms with 2 yellow rivets on each one. Jumping over the rivets removes them, and when they're all gone Donkey Kong falls to the ground and lands on his head, you save your girlfriend and then... you start over back on the first level and do it all over again.
In Donkey Kong Jr you play as, well, Donkey Kong Jr. Your job is to rescue your father, Donkey Kong, from the evil villain Mario who has him trapped in a cage at the top of the screen. In the first level you climb across the screen on vines and work your way up to the top while avoiding little alligator looking enemies that Mario sends towards you. The second level has a spring board on the bottom to launch you onto a moving platform, and a bunch of chains instead of vines. The alligator enemies have been replaced by birds that will occasionally drop eggs on you. Third level is some type of electric level that makes very little sense. There's just a few platforms made of electricity, and little red and blue sparks move around them and you have to avoid the sparks as you climb to the top. It's really easy, but doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of the game. The final level just has 8 chains hanging from the top of the screen, and 6 of them have keys on them. You just push those 6 keys up into the holes at the top of the screen, then Mario and Donkey Kong come crashing down. You catch the ape, and let Mario hit the ground and die. After this... you start over back on the first level and do it all over again.
There are single player and 2 player modes, each with 2 difficulty modes. Mode A is easy, while mode B is slightly more difficult. In 2 player mode, the first player will play until he dies and then the second player will start his turn. It doesn't matter if you beat a level, or even beat the whole game - you keep playing until you die. The main competition, other than completing the game, is to see how many points you can get. You get points for jumping over enemies, killing them with the limited duration hammer power-up (Donkey Kong), dropping fruit on the enemies (Donkey Kong Jr), as well as bonus points for finishing the level as quickly as possible. Since you can continue to play over and over again after you finish the game, racking up your score as high as possible would be the ultimate goal of the games.
The graphics are simplistic, but these games are ports from arcade games made in 1981 and 1982. Keep in mind, the original Super Mario Brothers game wasn't released until 1985. The game actually doesn't look that bad; the characters are easily recognizable, there are some basic character and enemy animations and a (limited) variety of game levels. I think they would have been better off to update the graphics before sticking the game on a Nintendo cartridge, especially since neither game made it to North America until 1986 when there were much better looking games available. The sounds are hit and miss. The sound of Mario's footsteps and Donkey Kong Jr's climbing sounds are a little too high pitched and repetitive, and they really annoy me. On the other hand, some of the synthesized background music really good and pretty memorable. That strange level 3 in Donkey Kong Jr has some faster blips and beeps that fit the level design so nicely, even though the level itself seems out of place it's one of my favorites.
Overall this is an average game, but it's certainly a classic that has helped lead the way for future platformer games. Pick it up for a buck or two if you can find it, otherwise pass because the length and replay value of the game don't make it worth much more than that other than as a collector's item.

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