Donkey Kong Jr. – NES
Release Date (NA): 1988 (?) (original arcade release in ’82)
Rating: 5 out of 10
The sequel to Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr. is most well known for being the only game in which Mario (no longer Jumpman) plays the villain. Mario has obviously held a grudge since the events of the previous game, and has managed to capture Donkey Kong. Along comes Donkey Kong’s son, aptly named Donkey Kong Jr., to free his dad from Mario’s “evil clutches.” Superficially this title may seem superior to it’s predecessor, but ultimately it possesses a lot of the same flaws with few improvements.
Like Donkey Kong, the player has only 4 screens to play through. Instead of the building-inspired settings of the original, Donkey Kong Jr. takes place in the jungle (first 2 screens), some sort of electrical factory (3rd screen), and a brick structure partially resembling a building for the final screen. Mario now stands at the top of screen hurling items down, much in the same fashion as Donkey Kong does in the first. Junior uses jumps to get around, but added to his move set is the ability to climb on vines and ropes. When going up or down a single vine, Junior moves relatively slow, but if another vine is close enough, he can grab onto it and essentially straddle the 2 vines. In this position, he can move around much faster and be ready to commit to one vine or another should one of Mario’s creatures begin to descend. I think this additional gameplay mechanic is a great idea, but it doesn’t really do anything to overcome the problems with jumping and moving.
It is still far too easy to die. Again, one hit by anything results in a loss of life. Junior does seem to be able to fall a tad further before dying than Jumpan before him, although it’s still a terribly annoying facet of gameplay. Powerups are removed from Donkey Kong Jr., but it’s alright since they didn’t do a whole lot of good in the original. Replacing them are fruits. Once touched, these fruits fall and will destroy any enemy that they come in contact with. It’s quite hard to time any of these hits correctly, mostly due to the discrepancy between how slow Junior moves and how fast Mario’s minions fly across the screen.
Just as Mario once made his way up to rescue Pauline, Donkey Kong Junior now undertakes the same task, only to rescue dad from Mario. To get to the top, a lot of careful jumping is necessary, and one must have either some practice or luck with the vines. Moving around is sluggish at best making it more difficult than it should be to dodge enemies. Jumping feels unnatural as well, with Junior failing to clear jumps that seem more than possible. Considering how much jumping needs to be done in the game, it’s frustrating when the main character can hardly ever jump high or far enough. This usually leads to running through the stages as quickly as possible and hoping for a little bit of luck. Jumping onto or across vines can be troublesome as well. If the D-pad is pressed even somewhat incorrectly near the end of the jump, Junior will try to jump again from the side, sometimes resulting in his death and other times slamming him directly into an adversary. The second level has a particularly difficult set of jumps to properly execute.
As in Donkey Kong, these moves can be mastered with some practice, and after 4 levels there’s nothing more to see. Donkey Kong Jr. sees a much brighter and more varied color palette, and continues to excel in this area when compared to most games from 1982. Overall it’s merely a continuation of the former, but I suppose we all need games like these in our collections for posterity.
Reviewed by The Cubist
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