#24 Donkey Kong

Posted: 16th February 2015 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , ,

403rd played so far


Genre: Platform
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1981
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo

Perhaps inevitably, gaming would start riffing on movie stories. While not the first, Donkey Kong‘s inspiration is obvious form the name – King Kong is already referenced in the name, and the central image of an ape climbing a skyscraper holding the female love interest captive makes as much sense in a game as it does in a movie.

Of course, any gamer worth his salt (at least of our generation) has played this game, so there’s little more needed for introduction. Personally, I played the PC version of this game a lot – on a boot only floppy (couldn’t run from DOS, didn’t need it) whose mechanics I never found out, but that made the game extra special.

Our Thoughts

It’s odd to get back to a game you used to play loads when you were younger – it must have been nearly two decades since I last played Donkey Kong, but I almost instinctively still knew what to do. At the same time, my reflexes were off – possibly down to slightly different timings between versions, but probably just as much down to my nervous system having degraded over the years. Still, I remembered the strategies and remembered enough of what to do, showing what I wanted to remember.

The game itself then remains as good. The first platformer on the list (I wouldn’t dare say the first one ever, although it looks close) feels, compared to platformers created later but that we played earlier, better in its controls. Jumping is predictable and straightforward – any time I missed, it was because I guessed wrong – and allows you to pull off some tricky feats if you know what you’re doing.

What helps is the variety the game has included from the start. The first, by now familiar level starts with you climbing a construction site while jumping over barrels thrown at you by the titular Donkey Kong. The last level – and second at the lowest difficulty level – instead gets you to walk over blocks holding the construction site together until it collapses and the gorilla drops to the floor. It uses the same mechanics – down to the blocks being as wide as your jumping distance, similar to the double barrels occasionally thrown at you in the first level – but feels entirely different.

Later difficulty levels, aside from upping game difficulty, introduce more levels in between the standard first and last ones. The elevator level is the one I remember (seeing as it came up when I started the game on a higher level on the PC version) with some more annoying jumps and different ways to die, and another one using conveyor belts. As much as these levels share mechanics, each only adding one or two of their own, they all feel incredibly distinctive with what seem like quite different goals.

What is as impressive is the look of the game. While simple, a lot of the look of the game seems to be retained through the different stories (Donkey Kong himself one of the most notable inconsistencies between them). This is testament to the thought out designs of them – the construction site look means most of the platforms are a few (easily drawn) lines that can be refined as needed. Mario has had a lot of thought gone into his design, from the hat being used to avoid animating hair to suspenders making it easy to distinguish the arms. It all transfers easily, and although it’s not always great, the look of the games is pretty nice.

Probably one of the strangest things here really is that it seems like later platformers didn’t learn a lot of the lessons from this game. The controls are tight enough that it’s weird so many other games mess them up (and not to just add difficulty). Even the graphics feel so well thought out. It’s no wonder Super Mario Bros. and its successors came out so well after it.

Final Thoughts

Okay, now what gamer has not played the original Donkey Kong at some point in their lives? I first played it on a keychain which acted a bit like a Game and Watch. I still have it somewhere but it needs a new battery. Still stands up to this day if you ask me.

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