(Originally posted on the defunct Blistered Thumbs community blog in 2012.)
1994 saw the release of the last classic Donkey Kong. On the Gameboy, it was also one of the earliest cartridges designed with the Super Gameboy peripheral in mind. It is easily one of the best in this puzzle/platformer hybrid.
PROS: Tons of levels. Gameplay additions improve a classic formula. Humor.
CONS: High difficulty on some puzzles.
WTF?: How the hell do Donkey Kong, AND Pauline fit through those tiny lock doors?
Long before he moved to the Mushroom Kingdom to slay Bowser, and have Toad tell him the Princess was in another castle, Mario worked construction. He also worked in a cement factory. Some have called it a pie factory. He also dated a woman named Pauline.
Before Super Mario Bros. Became a cultural phenomenon Mario was the protagonist of Donkey Kong.
Donkey Kong of course, was a puzzle meets platform game. Where players tried to get from the bottom of the screen to the top armed with only a jump button, and ladders. If you made it to the top of the screen you saved Pauline, and moved onto the next level.
Around five mainline Mario games or so later, Donkey Kong had become a star in his own platforming games. And while few would argue that these Country titles were indeed good games, many old timers including Cranky Kong became wistful for the classic gameplay DK starred in during the golden age of arcades.
Donkey Kong 94 answered their prayers. Not only does the game bring back the original stages from the arcade, but it then kicks into an entirely new set of stages
Like the earliest Mario games, DK94 is set up into sub-levels. For instance, what one might call stage 1 is actually several levels. Stage 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, and so on. Around halfway through each set of sub-levels is a mini boss stage. Every final sub-level is a boss stage. These stages are the sorts of things you would see in a typical Super Mario Bros., game which makes the fact you play as Mario work in the game’s favor.
In addition to mixing up the game with bosses, and mini bosses DK94 adds a few surprises in it’s regular gameplay. Mario no longer simply jumps, and climbs ladders. Now dashing back while running, and pressing jump will make him back flip. Some stages have tight ropes Mario can swing on.
There are bounce pads. There are even ladders, and girders you have to strategically place in order for Mario to solve puzzles, and move onto further stages. There are also a lot of new stage hazards, and new enemy types. Some monsters crawl along any adjacent surface, others require timing to barely make a risky jump over to progress through a stage.
And there are a LOT of stages. 101 to be specific. This game simply gives you a lot of value for the price of admission. Suffice it to say, you will be busy for some time. The original cartridge release had a battery save for this specific reason. Picking up the game pak now means there may be a chance the battery inside is dead so like many of these you may wish to have someone who knows what they’re doing open the cartridge, and replace it. Barring that, the game is available on Nintendo’s e-shop for the 3DS. Donkey Kong 94, was also one of the earliest Super Gameboy compatible games. As such, there are proper colors associated with every sprite, and playing on an SNES also puts a border around the screen with artwork reminiscent of the original arcade machine cabinet art.
As much as I tout this game’s many strengths, there are a few minor nitpicks. Some of the later stages really kick into overdrive, meaning people who play almost entirely puzzle games, and rarely touch platformers may be turned off by the difficulty. The game does fortunately hand out a lot of 1-UPs to compensate for this but for some it may grate. The other main gripe, and admittedly is mainly wishful thinking on my part is that there was no official Super NES cartridge made for it. Playing on the Super Gameboy adapter is indeed a lot of fun, but one can’t help but think what might have been.
Finally, as those in 1994 can attest, DK94 has confusing box art. Anyone who wasn’t reading EGM, Gamepro, Nintendo Power or other popular game magazines back then would have thought they were getting a really late port of the NES port of the arcade game.
Though years later Mario Vs. Donkey Kong would prove there is still a market for DK as a puzzle game, it still doesn’t have quite the same charm of classic Donkey Kong.
For those who missed it in the mid 90′s or younger folks wanting another classic under their belt, this version of Donkey Kong is easily one of the best.
Final Score: 9 out of 10 (Buy it now!)