Chances are if you’re a gamer, you’ve probably heard of the video game Donkey Kong. And no, I’m not talking about Rare’s (and Retro Studios’) excellent platforming “Country” series; I’m referring to Nintendo’s 1981 arcade classic. Before Goombas, before Koopa Troopas, before the Mushroom Kingdom and even before Mario officially got his name, Donkey Kong may not feature a lot of the characteristics we all associate with the plumber and the ape today, but it remains one of the most important video games ever created. Since it’s initial release though we’ve seen the lesser NES version pop up on the Virtual Console and NES Mini, but not until now have we had the chance to go hands-on with the original arcade code (officially at least).
Donkey Kong is a score-focused platformer where players take on the role of Jumpman or the character we all know and love now as Mario. With the giant ape kidnapping Lady (who would later be known as Pauline) you’ll need to make your way across four stages in order to rescue her. Unlike recent Mario outings, your abilities are restricted to movement and jumping with a hammer allowing you to temporarily swing away and destroy barrels in your path. In fact, Jumpman is far from the hero we know today, even a small drop ending in a game over. At only four levels it’s not the longest chase to defeat Donkey Kong, however, remember this is an arcade experience and here it’s all about accumulating as many points as possible. In fact, once you’ve bested the beast, you’ll be sent back to the beginning only this time with the difficulty increased. This will continue until you eventually exhaust all your lives.
Each of the stages has their own characteristics. The first and perhaps most iconic sees you climbing up slightly crooked red girders and climbing ladders. What may seem simple at first is made all the more difficult thanks to the unpredictability of Donkey Kong’s barrels he launches down toward you. The second throws conveyor belts into the mix and the third elevators. The finale is different still, its aim being to remove eight rivets from the stage’s structure instead of merely getting to the top like the others. Limited they may be but there is some variety on offer at the very least between each stage.
Continuing in the tradition of previous releases, Arcade Archives Donkey Kong features multiple versions including the original Japanese release, the updated release with some bugs fixed and finally the updated international version. The biggest difference between the Japanese originals and the international update is probably the difficulty, the latter kicking things up a gear far quicker. The stage order also differs, the international version having you repeat stages before ever actually getting to see all four of them.
Whatever version you’re playing there are a number of options you’re free to tweak whether it’s the game’s controls, visual related options such as the screen filter or applying a wallpaper or even game-related alterations including the number of lives. Just like other entries in the Arcade Archives line, being able to make the game easier or simply give it a retro look is greatly appreciated. Perhaps the best option of all though is the ability to rotate the screen so you can play with the Switch device in portrait (or if you’re feeling brave your television set).
Hi Score and Caravan mode make a return too, the former essentially a regular playthrough while the latter restricting your play to five minutes. Both of these modes track your highest score and both offer online leaderboards, with separate lists for the latest Japanese version and the international one too. It’s likely here where you’ll want to spend most of your time as you try to improve your score and rise up the leaderboards.
Donkey Kong is a true landmark in video game history and to some, that reason alone may be enough to check out this arcade classic. Sure the game is starting to show its age but with competitive leaderboards and a number of options and versions to try out, this is easily the best way to experience Donkey Kong.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Hamster Corporation