In 1994, Nintendo had a great idea; why not make a true sequel to the original Donkey Kong arcade game? The result is Donkey Kong for the Game Boy, originally known as Donkey Kong '94 during development.
When you first start up the game you might feel like you've been ripped off, as it starts with the exact same four stages you can find in the original arcade game - including the cement factory stage which was removed in the NES game – but with better graphics. Just as you begin to think that this was a waste of money and you’ve beaten the 'final' stage, there's a sudden twist; Donkey Kong isn't defeated just yet, but grabs Pauline and flees the construction site.
Mario now has to chase Donkey Kong through nine more worlds, with a combined total of 97 levels, before he can rescue Pauline for real. In most of the stages Donkey Kong will run through a doorway which he then locks, leaving Mario to search the stage and find the key before he can continue the chase.
In every fourth stage there is no locked door and key; instead, Mario must face Donkey Kong. Most of the time this simply involves reaching him while avoiding everything he throws at you, much like the original arcade game. In the final stage of each world you'll actually battle Donkey Kong, picking up the barrels or other objects he throws and hurling them right back at his face.
Depending on the world you're in, the regular stages will have various puzzles for Mario to solve. An example is the first world, Big City, where there are a lot of clothes lines and electricity cables; Mario can hang from these and slowly begin spinning around them, enabling him to jump off them at high speed and reach much higher places than with regular jumps. The other worlds are all vastly different, with completely different enemies, platforms, backgrounds, music and puzzles. You'll visit locations like a ship, a jungle, an airplane and an iceberg.
Speaking of jumps, Mario has expanded his array of moves quite a bit from the original arcade game. In addition to the standard jump, he can also perform back flips and a triple jump achieved by first doing a handstand, jumping back onto his feet and then jumping extra high. Both of these abilities would later return in Super Mario 64, although the handstand aspect was removed from the triple jump. Another positive change from the original is that falling from the smallest of heights no longer kills Mario; instead, he'll land square on his feet if the drop is slight. Should he fall from a high place however, he'll slowly begin to turn upside-down in mid-air. If he lands on his head, he's a goner, but if he falls on his side he'll be momentarily stunned.
Since Mario can pick up objects such as keys, you'd be inclined to think he can pick up other things as well, and you'd be right. As long as an enemy isn't covered in spikes, Mario can jump on top of them, much like in Super Mario Bros. 2 and will then be able to pick them up, unless, of course, they're too heavy. He can then proceed to throw them into a place where they can't pose any threat, or hurl them and take out multiple foes. There are also switches Mario can interact with, which will extend or remove bridges as well as open and close gates.
Another useful game element, which appears in a lot of stages, is the 'temporary platform'. In various levels you can find a little white square with an object pictured on it, picking one of these up allows you to place that object on any free space in the level. These temporary items also include ladders, springs and blocks. These remain on screen for about 8 seconds, after which they'll instantly disappear. However, if you manage to place another before the previous item disappears, both will stay and the timer will reset.
The original arcade game had a few items to pick up: hammers, an umbrella, a hat, and a purse. The hammers are still included but they have some new features; instead of being forced to wait until they disappear, Mario can throw the hammers into the air at any time with one press of the B button. If you're quick, this means you can actually throw it up to a higher platform and catch it there to continue your rampage. In addition to defeating enemies, hammers will also destroy certain blocks to create new passages.
The umbrella, purse and hat can be found in every single normal stage, though their only purpose is to provide access to an extra lives bonus game, if you managed to pick up three in the stage. This is mostly a waste of time, however, as after every four stages the total time you had left in each is converted into extra lives, usually netting you an extra five or six. As a result, even without the bonus games, you're practically guaranteed to have the maximum 99 lives halfway through the adventure.
The game is absolutely stunning when it comes to graphics and music. The various levels in all of the different worlds are incredibly detailed for a Game Boy game, and considering there's 101 of them, that's quite a feat. Mario, Donkey Kong (and Jr., who appears later on), Pauline and the various enemies are still quite simplistic in design, but they emit a certain charm which you can't help but love. Some of the music in the game is unbelievably good; the game's two final battle songs both go on for over a minute before looping, and just so happen to be two of the best pieces in the game. Each of the nine worlds has its own theme, in addition to various regular stage and boss battle tunes. In total, the game features over 40 different songs, pretty much unheard of for a Game Boy title.
Sadly unsupported in this version are the SNES based enhancements that were possible through the Super Game Boy. These included an awesome border around the screen resembling an arcade cabinet, colour graphics, changing Pauline's digitized yelps to actual screams of "Help!" and even upgrading the credits music to SNES quality. However, the usual 3DS Virtual Console features are included, such as the suspended state save when you quit the game, the ability to create a restore point, as well as the option to play the game it its original resolution. In terms of value and longevity, if the main game's 101 stages aren't enough to satisfy you, then you can replay any stage you've already beaten, although you can only start at every fourth stage in each world, and there's a 'best times' list featuring your best finishing times for each stage.
First impressions can be misleading. With 101 stages, Donkey Kong for the Game Boy is far more than just a simple sequel to the arcade game. It adds a metric ton of new features, while still managing to keep the ‘arcadey’ feel of the original. The graphics and music are outstanding for a 1994 Game Boy title and the game itself is just incredibly fun to play, even if you do receive an over-abundance of extra lives. It may not be part of the ‘main’ Mario series, but this is easily one of the best Mario games ever made. At a price of $4, or £3.60 in the UK, it should be an essential download for everybody with a 3DS.