Insert Disk collects Donkey Kong Classics: Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. NES for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).
Today’s retro game review is Donkey Kong Classics: Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. NES for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). This retro gaming classic is perhaps the best known Nintendo video game. Over the years Donkey Kong has found its way on to multiple console platforms and delighted generations of gamers. This classics edition also includes the sequel Donkey Kong Jr. which is itself a Nintendo classic. So sit back and enjoy as we attempt to rescue the princes.
Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. I thought we would take a look at one of gaming histories best loved games, an important game, a fun game, an iconic game.
Join me today as we take a fond look back at Donkey Kong Classics: Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr for the Nintendo Entertainment system. Donkey Kong began life in the arcades all the way back in 1981 and by all accounts was a smash hit by everyone’s favourite Nintendo employee Shigeru Miyamoto. Subsequently just about every piece of hardware under the sun was given the home console treatment of the game.
I certainly don’t have all of them in my collection but do have some of the earlier releases including the Atari 2600 and ColecoVision editions. It is perhaps sacrilege to many Nintendo fans though that I talk about Donkey Kong in relation to anything other than the Nintendo platform. As such I’ll be concentrating on the Nintendo Entertainment System edition. Specifically I’m looking at the Classics edition which contains both Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr.
For those in the know you will be well aware of the on-going place Donkey Kong has in competitive gaming. The Billy Mitchell vs. Steve Wiebe saga seems to have been running forever at this point and even casual gamers around the world still enjoy pushing themselves for faster completion or higher score of the game. Personally I’ve never been part of that world although I dare say there are some games that I may be able to set a reasonably high score. A few years ago I thought I’d see what all the fuss was about with Donkey Kong. I had of course played Donkey Kong many times over the years but never tried serious speed runs as I’m more of a casual player, at least with this game. You can see the footage behind of some of my practice runs, sadly a lot of back tracking, missed items and un-optimised finish times. Never mind though Donkey Kong is all about the fun and I do still have a lot of fun with this game.
The game premise is deceptively simple. Donkey Kong has the princess and you play as a rather youthful Mario that must rescue her. Level one sees you on what the community call the Girder level. The premise is simple, get to the top and rescue the princess by climbing the ladders, avoid the barrels or destroy them by using the hammer. For bonus points you can also jump over the barrels. All in all a very simple concept. It looks easy but the pattern memorisation and controls make this somewhat of an art form to get right. Still, when you master it there is that glowing feeling of nostalgic satisfaction.
Level 2 is sometimes known as the elevator level or just Elevators. Here’s where things get tricky, it’s a case of learning the patterns and making those precise jumps to reach the end goal. Level 3 is known as Rivets. Again the main goal remains the same to rescue the princess. This time around though you will have to walk over several rivets to release them. Be careful not to fall down the holes they leave behind though.
There are of course bonus items to pick up and it’s almost certain that you will need to use the hammer to destroy the fireballs at some point. The level is a moderate challenge although perhaps a little more open plan than the previous levels actually making it easier to complete than the other two stages in my experience. Once you make your way to the top you free the princess and send Donkey Kong on a one way street to a bump on the noggin. After that the game simply loops back round and ups the difficulty a notch. What’s here is really great although serious Donkey Kong fans will be quick to tell you that the arcade version is still king. With extra level designs and slightly different timings to the programming. However, for the casual retro gamer I still find this home port good fun to prove your retro credentials with friends and that’s coming from a life-long Sega collector.
Perhaps more up my street though is the second game on the cartridge Donkey Kong Jr. This time around you play as Donkey Kong Jr on his mission to save Donkey Kong who has been captured and locked up by Mario. For a happy go lucky plumber he certainly hold a grudge and isn’t above animal cruelty. Seriously though, who has a bag full of these snapping creatures on hand to attach a young gorilla with? Although perhaps not a popular opinion which I’m sure will emerge in the comments I actually prefer Donkey Kong Jr as a gaming experience. Personally I find the level designs more engaging, the platforming takes a bit more skill and the overall experience more enjoyable. Let me show you why. Level one sees you already in the think of the action. You’ll have to climb ropes, make timed jumps and overall avoid a lot more enemies than in the original game. There’s also the extra mechanic of holding on to the vines. You can climb on one vine at a time to ascend or descend. However, if you hold 2 vines you can move up and down at much greater speed, this does come at the expense of making yourself a larger target area though so there is a strategic pay off.
Level 2 really plunges you in to the game play even further. You’re now introduced to a spring to get across large gaps and you will also need perfect timing to grab hold of moving vines this time around. Throw in to the mix a perpetual onslaught of egg dropping birds and you’ve got yourself all the ingredients for a very challenging level. Until you memorise the patterns that is.
By level 3 Mario has gone full on psycho by introducing an electrified grid in to the mix. It’s become yet another iconic level as you climb the ropes and make perfectly times leaps over the moving electricity bolts. It’s a clear step up in game play from the original game. If you’ve got the skills you can also collect the fruit to drop on to the electricity bolts. Some of the issues I have with the original Donkey Kong are that until the game loops the difficulty curve is reasonably flat. With Donkey Kong Jr each level introduces new elements and the timings become more specific.
The fourth stage of Donkey Kong Jr is perhaps the most iconic. Now that you have collected all of the keys you must unlock Donkey Kong. To do this you will be strategically pushing them to the locks whilst dodging the various birds and snapping enemies. Again what looks simple is actually very challenging until you know the patterns of the enemies. It’s exactly this type of pattern recognition that I have in mind when I think of games from around this time. There’s so much going on around you to onlookers it can look impressive but of course if you know the safe spots on the screen it becomes a different story. Once Donkey Kong is rescued Mario takes a bit of a nasty tumble from a height and the game loops with some incremental difficulty thrown in for good measure.
As a classics collection Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr work very well. Of course with this being a Nintendo Entertainment System release you are going to want to hunt down a boxed copy in as near mint a condition as you can. If you are looking for this game look for complete set which should include the outer box, manual, game cartridge and Nintendo cartridge sleeve. My edition sadly has a small imperfection but never mind as this is a game meant to be taken down and played. If you are in the UK looking for this PAL edition then £20 is achievable through the online auctions for a copy in reasonable condition. Perhaps up to £30 for a mint edition. For a North American NTSC release around $30 is still easily achievable online, on a good day as low as $20.
It’s been quite a while since its initial release so I would expect prices to have levelled out by now. However, mint in box black label editions or the individual games will perhaps continue to climb.
So, there you have it two Nintendo classics rolled in to one home cartridge. Whilst I’m nowhere near as big a fan of Nintendo as a lot of the gamers watching this video I can fully recommend this compilation played on the original hardware.It’s vintage gaming at its best.