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Reviewed by Jason Falconer
Gameboy (with Super Gameboy features)
Memorable arcade games like Pac-Man, Space Invaders and Pong, though classic in and
of their own right, don't even come close to Donkey Kong.
One need only observe the squat little man running back and forth, jumping madly,
to know that this was light years ahead of the other games. Hell, they didn't
even have humans in them! Looking back, perhaps those maddening jumps, rolling
barrels and ferocious fire demons are more a threat because of Jump-Man's limited
play control, not due to any inherent challenge. Of course, since then we've all
come to know Jump-Man as Mario, Mario has become the king of platforming, and naturally
he's learned a thing or two.
In this portable version, the storyline hasn't changed. A gigantic, semi-intelligent
ape in the title role has stolen Mario's love interest, Pauline (one can surmise things
didn't work out after Mario became world famous, because she doesn't appear in any other
game). But gameplay is vastly improved, as for a Donkey Kong update, small or
insignificant changes simply wouldn't do. Nintendo has increased the number of
levels from the original's 4 to an impressive 100, with most levels playing like an
action-platforming puzzle game where Mario must locate a key and make his way to a door.
These levels are broken up sporadically by boss levels wherein Donkey Kong
(and sometimes Jr) throw the proverbial monkey wrench into Mario's rescue operation.
The levels are all brilliantly designed, and allow the player to slowly learn Mario's
repertoire for maximum platforming efficiency. What begins as a simple platforming
excercise becomes a harrowing quest not unlike that of great kings of men.
The levels contain the usual assortment of hammers and springs, but Mario can jump three
times in a row, each one progressively higher, he can perform back-flips, hand-stands,
and grab onto wires (from which he can spin, gaining centrifugal force until he is sent
flying super high). There are also arrow blocks that when touched, allow the player to
position and build vertical ladders or horizontal pathways to success (presenting some
very challenging timing-based puzzles in and of themselves). Of course, its the combination
of all of these new skills that allow Mario to take on vast platforming challenges and
all-new enemies on his way to rescue Pauline.
Once Mario has found the key, it must be physically carried to the locked door.
If he drops the key, or is forced to throw the key to win his objective (such as
onto a conveyor belt to underpass an obstacle) he must collect it again before a
timer runs out (or the key resets to its original position). On top of that, there
is a clock ticking down and if it time runs out, its back to the beginning - and,
fairly rarely for this type of game, puzzles or challenges may take almost the entire
time given. Mario doesn't do too much dying in this game, but nonetheless there's a
near infinite number of chances to be won in the several slot-machine style minigames,
none of which subtract lives for losing.
To say that Donkey Kong '94 is light years ahead of the original is no exaggeration,
but only in terms of gameplay. The graphics are fairly simple even by Gameboy standards,
but feature some colorization if played on a Super Gameboy. The music is actually quite
catchy in a gamey sort of way. Played in brief spurts of three levels, its quite portable,
and most importantly, very fun. The latest version of Donkey Kong on Gameboy Advance,
"Mario vs Donkey Kong" takes most of its innovations from this version, without the fun
factor. With enough satisfying puzzle platforming to occupy anyone for many moons,
Donkey Kong '94 is the portable version of this classic to get.
Trivia: One of the original Gameboy games to feature Super Gameboy extras, such as the arcade
cabinet border, map colorization and unique palettes for each level.