(GB / Game Boy)

Donkey Kong (GB / Game Boy)

Game Review

Donkey Kong Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Marcel van Duyn

It's on with the King of the Kongs

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.

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User Comments (83)



pixelman said:

Yeah this game is pretty awesome. Seems pretty advanced for a Game Boy game too.



noblo601 said:

It's a fantastic game, I bought the actual cart about 1 month ago, it was incredibly addictive. Highly recommended!



Supremeist said:

I bought it and don't seem to enjoy it AS MUCH as other people do, but I still like it and don't regret purchasing. I guess It's cause I've never really been a big Donkey Kong fan. It's pretty challenging, too.



bezerker99 said:

I'd never played this game before but I downloaded and it's an absolute blast! The music truly is epic!

(Um...It's on like Diddy Kong?)



bboy2970 said:

@BalrogtheMaster: Yeah, what drdark said. This game is essentially the first game in the Mario VS Donkey Kong franchise. It just doesn't have it in the title. The GBA game plays almost exactly the same and is well worth checking out!




Game Boy games were/are just such quality and just so dang enjoyable. Lovely VC stuff! An all time great this.



HandheldGuru97 said:

I have never played a Donkey Kong game so this was my first. I find it sort of hard but good none the less. The music is incredible.



bboy2970 said:

A very well deserved score! I started playing this sucker for the first time yesterday and I really love it. Its amazing how tightly the game controls and how well it handles. Usually handheld games from this era frustrate me with controls and physics that feel very alien by today's standards. This game however really nailed it! I would have never expected such a complicated move set from a Gameboy game! Oh and yeah, the music is pretty much a masterpiece. Some of the best I've heard on the Gameboy.



yoyogamer said:

Although I do like the Mini Mario games, it would be cool if this series went back to it's platforming roots for 3DS sequal.

This game is a steal for $4.00, considering the NES version on the Wii VC contains 3 levels and costs $5.00...



ether_breather said:

I never got a chance to play this on Gameboy when it was released, so I grabbed it as soon as it was up on the eshop. DK '94 is a classic and I'm totally addicted to it!



Pj1 said:

@ Guybrush_Threepwood I agree with you! it would make it look awsome!



PSICOffee said:

Too bad they are making that Mario-Mini crap instead of another sequel to this. The GBA one blew me away when I first played it, and to no surpise as I found out later, this prequel was great too (even though I haven't finished it).



Kevin said:

How did this game NOT get a 10? It's one of the top ten best game boy games of all time!



EdEN said:

Still own my GB cartridge and a Super Gameboy... but maybe next year I'll get it along with my system.



ThomasBW84 said:

Tagline edited, as appropriate for a DK game!

Great review Marcel. I'm tempted, very tempted...



warioswoods said:

This game has far better level design and is more original than either Super Mario Land or SML2, if you ask me. It's the definitive Mario platformer for the GB. (The definitive Wario platformer might give it a run for its money... but that's another topic).

It's also fantastic to see the origin of some of these 3D-era Mario movies, particularly the turnaround-jump. I heard some players remarking that having those moves in a 2D Mario game was strange, in NSMBWii, but in fact they originated right here in a 2D game!



ImDiggerDan said:

When I spotted this on the eShop, I couldn't tell if it was this brilliant game or just a conversion of the original Donkey Kong arcade game. The videos and screenshots on there don't help.

For anyone who's not played this, I'd definitely recommend it. Very much like Mario vs DK, another must-download VC title.



Punny said:

I love this game! One of the best on the Game Boy. It's too bad it doesn't have the Super Game Boy enhancements, though. Still, I would highly recommend it.



komicturtle said:

I remember getting this game years ago and how much fun I had with it as a kid. Had to purchase this again so I can have it with me wherever I go with my 3DS.

I wish there was another Mario vs Donkey Kong that played like this- although, the way the games play 'now' are fun. But I enjoy the gameplay in this and MvDK(1) more.



NintyMan said:

I'll go ahead and post my impressions from the Donkey Kong thread.

I played this game for the first time today, and the twist at the end of the 100m level was really cool! Just when you think you've won, Donkey Kong doesn't give up and kidnaps Pauline again, and then the real game starts. As a fan of the first Mario Vs. Donkey Kong, I loved seeing the moves and ideas presented in this game that served as inspiration for that game. The tune that plays when Mario burns up, the backward jump, the key, and the level layout all make it very clear. Right now I'm halfway through the Forest world and am enjoying it so far!



Luffymcduck said:

I played Mario vs Donkey Kong in 2004 and discovered few years after that this game is kinda like a prequel to that series. This game has all the same cool moves that were also in the GBA Mario vs. DK. Very impressive for being a 17 year old Game Boy game. 9/10 is well deserved.



goobag said:

Watching king of kong got me back into all things donkey kong. I loved playing this back in the day! The original is so hard though. Can only get around 30,000 points on mame!



Tasuki said:

I got this game just for the Super Game Boy for the SNES. I was totally surprised when I first played this game cause I was expecting just a remake instead I got alot more. Easily one of the best Gameboy games ever.



akacesfan said:

I'm stuck on 2-7, but I'm loving this game so far! It plays just like the original Mario vs Donkey Kong for the GBA, and that was probably my favorite GBA game.



MeloMan said:

although the handstand aspect was removed from the triple jump
Yeah, that later became the treetop/flagpole handstand jump in SM64

This review was superb as this game is indeed essential and one of the best Nintendo games made, period. They were on to something good by the time MvsDK1 came out, but those minis are ruining everything. Welcome back to grassroots, everyone.



Retro_Gamer said:

I agree with this review saying it's one of the best Mario games ever made, it's defiantly a masterpiece in my eyes. I easily prefer it over the more lemmings-like Mario vs Donkey Kong.



Blaze said:

Nintendo really need to hurry up and sort out their conversions from $ 2 £ $4 is £2.47, NOT £3.60. Sorry about the moan, but now something relevant. Despite Nintendo's bad conversions, it's well worth £3.50. It'll keep you entertained for 15 minutes here and there, and is surprisingly addictive. As it says, a must buy, it's just sooo fun!



tripunktoj said:

I dont understand why this VC releases are getting lower scores than their original counterparts got in this same site for the GB 20th anniversary a year ot two ago.



Jamouse said:

I have never played it, but it is really that good?

Is it worth downloading even with Australia's ridiculously expensive prices?



Teh-Ray said:

I'm so glad they didn't forget this game, and released it for a newer generation of gamers with a 3DS!

Couldn't recommend it enough.



alLabouTandroiD said:

Yeah, this was one of my favourite GB games too. Seeing how quick you can get 99 lives was always big fun too.
And i cannot stress enough how great the sound effects are to me. Over the top fun for the win!
The exclusion of the Super Game Boy sucks for sure.



DarkEdi said:

No Super Game Boy features??? Another big fail of Nintendo´s VC (like no rumble when we use GC controls in wii vc)



NeoShinobi said:

I bought this game a few years back thinking it was just a straight port of the arcade game. It turned out to be a lot different and I loved it, but I would have still been fairly happy if it was just a straight port.



Gio32k said:

You know what, since the 3DS has a gyroscope. They could port over kirby tilt n' tumble if they wanted to.



WereBeaver said:

Haha I remember playing this when I was little, just thinking that it was the first 4 levels repeated. I just about crapped myself when I realized there were multiple worlds..



StarDust4Ever said:

"I just about crapped myself when..."

Ditto. I think that was the whole intent of doing it with the original levels that way. You think "Oh, another lame DK port" and then BAM!, just when you think you've bagged Pauline, the real adventure gets started!

I think I'll be playing this a lot on my 3DS. This game ranks up there, just as much a classic in it's own right as Mario Land.



Capt_N said:

Nintendo needs to add the obvious SGB features in, even if they bump up the price of SGB enhanced GB titles. I'm w/ Minjo_Master on that one. EDIT: Really, Nintendo needs to start pushing their VC services to the fullest of it's potential. & for the most part, it's simple things Nintendo needs to fix in their VC systems. I'd still purchase this if I had a 3DS. I used to own a used cart, then I so stupidly sold it to Gamestop for a handful of change(literally).



RedYoshi999 said:

I need to get a 3DS! (in fairness I have bought one but it never arrived) But I'm a little iffy about buying these GB games. I've never played them before and they are $6 at the lowest in Australia ($9 for Link's Awakening) I'm not too sure if they are worth it.



JakobG said:

God, I remember this game; one of the first I've ever played.
Might consider getting it.



Odnetnin said:

This takes what I found to be an overpriced, unfun arcade experience on the Wii and turns it into a charming, retro puzzle-platformer that's perfectly portable on the 3DS and my favorite game on the system at the moment.



Azikira said:

This has made a fine addition to my collection!

General Grievous quote ftw~



Rm88 said:

Guys, Nintendo is using a GB emulator for this. Adding the SGB feature would need a SNES emulator, and it seems like Nintendo is not planning to do one of those anytime soon. I'm perfectly okay with that, and I'm having a blast with the game.



SwerdMurd said:

one of the many reasons I liked Mario Vs. Donkey Kong (for GBA) so much. This is an absolutely stellar game, handheld or otherwise.



Bassman_Q said:

Yeah I bought the cart on eBay about a year ago. Definitely a must-have, though I never completed it.



Winter said:

This game is exellent! Truly one of the most thrilling rides for game boy and with Ocarina of Time it is one of the best games on 3DS!

I never played this. Considered buying this once. Tried the first "old" level, didn't like it, bought Wario Land instead. Was disappointed that this was the "only" game we got now, but it was well picked I think! Actually we are really lucky to get one great game instead of lots of trash like dsi ware. So far so good Dreading and longing for next thursday



Robo-goose said:

I actually found the gameboy cart for this earlier, and have been playing through it again. The controls and level design are much better than I remembered!
It really does deserve a 9-10, I am pleased with this review and score.



Ultra128 said:

Mario vs. DK on GBA was great. Glad I can now experience its predecessor.

I like the Mini-Marios and all, but it would be epic if they make another one of these types of games, where you're actually controlling Mario.



alvieao said:

I'm glad Nintendo released Donkey Kong '94 (Game Boy) for the 3DS Virtual Console. For a 1994 Game Boy title, Donkey Kong '94 has excellent visuals, a fantastic soundtrack, and timeless gameplay. Just when you think the game ends with the four arcade stages, think again! That's right, Donkey Kong took matters into his own hands and kidnapped Pauline again, sending Mario on a wild chase through nine worlds and 97 stages. Luckily, Mario's has brand-new moves at his repertoire, most of them which carried over to later Mario games. It's too bad we can't experience Donkey Kong '94 in Super Game Boy presentation; the custom border based on the DK arcade cabinet is awesome. Nevertheless, Donkey Kong GB is a very fun game that's worth downloading!



Freeon-Leon said:

First I was wondering if this game was that good, because it has 5 stars on the Nintendo eShop, After reading this review I downloaded the game and it surprised me. I mean, it's funny, challenging, long (It took me like... 9 - 10 hours?) and it has good music. I'd give it a 10/10, and for that time I would've given an 11/10.



Sam_Loser2 said:

This game shocked me with it's quality. I didn't expect the precision controls and engaging gameplay. Most of all I never thought there'd be 101 levels, especially with so much detail in them. Not to mention I'm on world seven and new gameplay features (icicles) are STILL being introduced. I would have given this a 10/10, and I think it's the best VC game on the eshop (maybe link's awakening beats it, but the game got me made a few times when I got stuck)



atariman said:

I agree with nintendo life. its awsome! I have the original Gameboy and have Donkey Kong for it. A 9/10 sounds right!



Vallu said:

I just downloaded this game only becauce it can save times and it's possible to replay already cleared levels. Thanks for the review!

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