Do I really need to introduce this? It’s Donkey Kong, but on the Game Boy. Warning: some changes were made when porting from Arcade to Game Boy.
You play as Mario in the archetypical battle of man vs. damn dirty ape, because this one won’t keep his stinkin’ paws off your maybe girlfriend (it’s assumed, until Mario later trades in this generic-lady-being-kidnapped-by-a-monkey for a princess-being-kidnapped-by-a-lizard. Based on the character art for her in Super Mario Odyssey, we know Mario’s girlfriend from Donkey Kong went on to strangle cats). You have to hop and climb your way through the stages to rescue her.
Of course the 4 stages you get are based on the arcade, though I’ve read they were scaled back a little to fit on the Game Boy. I wouldn’t know, I’ve only played Donkey Kong on two non-consecutive Atari systems and the Colecovision. I had the e-Reader version but I haven’t touched it in 15 years and probably lost most of the cards.
Anyway, unlike the other iterations of Donkey Kong I’ve played, there is a timer on these stages. Once you’re past the 4 from the arcade, you go on to another 93 stages. I didn’t count; I had to rely on the internet to tell me. They predictably ran out of ideas along the way and repeat the first stage, but with a different art pattern (castle instead of construction project). Some stages also allegedly came from Donkey Kong Junior, who himself appears in this title to help his pep-pep.
The stages get more complex as you progress. Your main task after the first four, aside from in the boss battles, is to move a key from one part of the stage to another, similar to some levels in the American Super Mario Bros. 2. Each stage after the first four and excluding the boss fights also give you three items dropped by your girlfriend: her purse, parasol, and hat. It’s worth the trouble to collect all three of them in each stage, as doing so gives you a chance to get more lives in one of two minigames. One is a slot machine, the other is best likened to a roulette wheel or wheel of fortune. If there is a pattern for when you will get a certain minigame, I don’t know it.
In addition to more stages, Mario has more moves. He can swing from a thin line (a taut rope or power line). Another one of the new moves would go on to show up in Super Mario 64 in a modified form- when he leaps onto his hands and then bounces very high. He can do that either stationary or in motion. He can throw barrels like Dash O’ Pepper, and when standing on his hands he can even stop barrels from hitting him, and then throw them afterwards. We also have the opportunity to see Mario swim. I was hesitant at the first such occasion, since in the original versions of Donkey Kong any fall into a pit meant death. I assumed the water pits were the same, and was pleasantly surprised when they weren’t.
Just like Mario’s Picross, Donkey Kong is enhanced when played on the Super Game Boy. Unlike Mario’s Picross, it really is enhanced. You get more than just a unique border- stages and maps are colored. Donkey Kong and your girlfriend are sometimes colored. Mario… either changes his race (it is fluid you know) or gets jaundice. While I enjoyed the SNES’ presentation, portability was needed for me to complete this game.
Most of the time, things are not so difficult. At least for me. However, there were some stages (such as the final boss) that definitely qualified as difficult. But it’s not as difficult as its successor, Mario Vs. Donkey Kong. Very similar in gameplay- no doubt in part because originally it was to be a remake of this game- but with a much greater difficulty level. I got stuck somewhere in there over a year ago and never looked back.
Unlike Mario’s Picross, I have some criticism here- Nintendo seems to have run out of boss ideas the year this game was released, 1995 (despite the release date, this game is usually referred to as “Donkey Kong ‘94” because that was its title in development). The final boss battle has Donkey Kong taking a super mushroom or two and growing to gargantuan size. Basically, this is the Gamma battle from Mega Man 3, or the Wily battle from Mega Man IV. Donkey Kong’s head sits in the middle, and he attacks with his hands. But that’s not the real reason I cried foul. In 1995, we have another battle where a traditional Mario villain is supersized and mostly in the background: Bowser. This was the year Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island came out. And the villains are fought in a similar way too- chucking objects at their heads. Why couldn’t we have had a gigantic robot Kong of steel instead?
The game passes the time. The puzzle elements kept me coming back, because I didn’t want to be outwitted by yet another Mario Vs. Donkey Kong-style game. I managed to wrap things up in a week or two of intermittent playing, if that is in any way useful for gauging how long it would take to beat the game. At least you come away from this with more knowledge than I had going in- this isn’t a straight port of Donkey Kong to the Game Boy. Yes, I did think that when I saw it in the store (used, no box, no manual, two excuses).