Donkey Kong (NES)

Game Review

Donkey Kong Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Ron DelVillano

It's on like Donkey Kong

This year marked the 30th anniversary of the initial Japanese launch of the Nintendo Family Computer, more popularly known around the world as the Famicom. Among the landmark console’s launch titles was Donkey Kong, a port of the arcade hit that began Nintendo’s launch into video game history. Now, in the year of the anniversary of both the console and the game, the classic title finally lands squarely on the 3DS Virtual Console.

It’s probably safe to assume that most Nintendo gamers have played some iteration or incarnation of this game by now, but that doesn’t discount it as a title not worth talking about. As is the case with many arcade-games-turned-home-console, Donkey Kong is a sort of relic, and very telling of its time. The gameplay is kept simple, divided into only three stages that continuously repeat themselves ad nauseam. Though the stages themselves are not a chore to work through, the repetition of the short junctures is easily noticeable, making for an experience that grows tedious sooner rather than later. Such is the curse of many arcade-to-console ports.

Unlike the arcade game, this NES release only hosts three different stages rather than four. Of the three levels, two involve steering Mario – your character – towards the top of the screen where Donkey Kong holds Pauline – Mario’s pre-princess damsel in distress – captive, all while avoiding enemies and bottomless pits. The third stage is similar to the others in structure, but your goal is instead to remove eight rivets that hold the stage together simply by walking or jumping over them. Once all rivets are removed, Donkey Kong will plummet to the bottom of the stage, bumping his noggin and receiving what looks like a nasty concussion. After this the stages are then repeated at a slightly higher difficulty, continuing the process.

It’s far from a bad gaming experience, but it also does little to keep players drawn in beyond those who are adamant about obtaining their next high score. Beyond the missing fourth stage, the other noticeable difference with this NES port is the improved collision detection. While many leaps of faith in the arcade lead to Mario’s untimely demise, judging distances and spanning gaps is done with greater ease and accuracy in this version.

From the title screen you have the option of choosing “Game A” or Game B” modes for both 1 or 2 players. The difference between games A and B is an amplified difficulty, with Game B playing host to an increased number of enemies on screen. Unlike modern Nintendo games starring the plumber or gorilla, 2 player mode is not cooperative, but instead requires players to trade off the controller after each death to compete for a higher score.

While it may not be entirely fair to mention the outdated pixel graphics as they are, after all, from 30 years ago, it is worth mentioning that Donkey Kong features many iconic sound effects. From Mario’s walking and jumping sounds to the tune that plays as he wields his wily hammer, many gamers are bound to recognize the now legendary blips that give Pac-Man’s unmistakable “waka waka waka” a run for its money.

As with any of the previously released 3DS Virtual console games, this one has remained entirely untouched, excluding the ability to use save states and enjoy it on the go. This is yet another faithful port of a game that has made it’s way into so many homes before, meaning that anyone hoping for something new will be sorely disappointed. To fans of the classics, however: this one’s for you.


Donkey Kong may have legacy on its side, but the reality is that it's a somewhat shallow gaming experience. As is the case with many early NES titles, this one was ported from an arcade cabinet, repetitive gameplay and all. That being said, if played in short bursts, this is definitely a game worth having on hand, available to share with younger generations of Nintendo gamers who may not yet have had the opportunity to experience it.

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User Comments (35)



Bass_X0 said:

And may this be the final re-release of the NES Donkey Kong we ever see again.



Gridatttack said:

How about instead of re releasing the NES game, why dont they release the arcade version, with the pie/cement factory level that was cut out from the NES version. Even the GB game had it.
@Bass_X0 Agreed.



Windy said:

I guess Nintendo isn't making anymore 3D classics. Personally im not buying any of these unless they get the 3d Treatment. I've played them already and would like to see them in the cool 3d. Great for peeps who haven't played them before. I still think they would be much cooler in the 3d classics even for 1st time players



unrandomsam said:

I am never interested in old arcade ports unless they are on very obscure arcade hardware (If it was a cpu that nobody else ever used I can see why they wouldn't put in the effort to emulate that) and the port plays exactly the same. (Flicker and slowdown are not acceptable. Especially if the Arcade version didn't have them.)

That is why there is so few NES games I am interested in (Must be not an arcade port and not have a better version on the PC Engine / TG16).

Twinbee was good (Arcade sprites is a reasonable compromise with effort to fix it up).

I am not bothered about Super Mario Bros 3 being on the NES (And I prefer the lost levels on it)



DerpSandwich said:

I gotta hand it to you guys. You're troopers for reviewing this kind of stuff. I've lost track of how many versions of these games there are, and they're always the same, and I'm never interested. But you guys are journalists, dammit, and if there's something to report, you're there! Hats off to you for getting us all the details no matter what.



Undead_terror said:

I got original edition on my 3ds, the one that has the cement factory, so I won't need this.



StarDust4Ever said:

Do we really need like 5 reviews of the same game on Nintendo Life? Wake me up when Nintendo finally lets us buy Donkey Kong Complete Edition without it being a part of some limited time promotional offer.



Jazzer94 said:

@Windy I don't think this particular game needs a 3D edition I would prefer just having the arcade edition.



Pichuka97 said:

I have the original edition for the 3DS and the only way I'd pick this up for 3DS is if I had a crap ton of money to waste. The original edition wasn't even arcade perfect for crying out loud!! Oh well, I guess this is for people who missed out on that version of the game. Though the pricing for this game isn't very justified so I don't see many people rushing out to buy this version either.



Windy said:

@Jazzer94 You might be right but for myself im really more interested in 3D classics than I am VC nes games. I just wish they would start giving a bunch of TurboGrafx/PCE games the 3d Treatment But I doubt Konami who bought Hudson Soft is even thinking about it. They would look so cool! BONK 1,2 and 3 all in 3D would be awesome! Konami would make a buttload of money! I don't think we are going to see any of this. Sega is trying but it seems none of the other oldschool companies even care. I wonder if an operation Rainfall type of thing might work. Konami is sitting on some very cool 3D Classics Dynastic Hero would be an awesome 3D Classic!



unrandomsam said:

What I like about the 3D Classics is not the 3D but that the bugs are fixed.

(Kirby especially is definitely the best version).



Captain_Gonru said:

I'm surprised that, when comparing this to the arcade original, you didn't mention the missing animations. The most obvious one is at the end of stages, when DK grabs Pauline and carries her up to the next area.
I do like this version, as it's the one I played as a kid. But, at $4.99, even a fan like me may hesitate.



Obito_Sigma said:

Is it just me, or is everyone here complaining that they released this Donkey Kong NES game to the public for 3DS Owners? I don't care about 3D Classics or Original Editions, I like this version. This review is about the game that I bought, not for everyone to complain about. I downloaded the game the minute it came out on the 3DS Eshop, and I played it for about two hours now. It's very addicting and I love it.



r3d5 said:

1) "Compatible Features/Accessories : Displays 3D Visuals" - Listed under the descriptions of the game on the Nintendo eShop in the U.S. . 2) Video showing the game being played shows the 3D slider up, hinting that the game is a 3D game & 3) website for the 3DS game quotes "To enjoy the 3D effect of the Nintendo 3DS software, you must experience it from the system itself. All screenshots and videos on this website have been captured in 2D mode. Use Parental Controls to restrict 3D mode for children 6 and under." All these clearly indicate that the game is playable in 3D. Yet, the game is not. I called Nintendo about it and they said it's being looked into. I want to warn others about the seemingly misinformation & say the game is just normal 2D game with no 3D abilities. I hope its a bug and patched in the future. I also asked for a refund, but there is no answer about that at the current time. I am personally disappointed by this, I only bought the game because I thought it would be like Kirby's Adventure for example, with some 3D ability as the information above clearly says.



Quickman said:

I'm not sure why Nintendo insist on releasing these terrible arcade ports? The NES has games far more deserving of a VC release...



StarDust4Ever said:

It's not a "terrible arcade port". DK NES plays better than the vast majority of DK ports to other systems. Try playing the VCS (2600) DK arcade port. Also bear in mind the game came out as a launch title for Famicom in 1983 when all NES games were still limited to 16kb of ROM. The problem is the infinite rehashes of the same game over and over. I don't believe NintendoLife needs to review the same game 5 times.



tripunktoj said:

I got the Original Edition on 3DS (and IMO it controls like a dream with the Circle Pad) so I wont be getting this, not even as a future club.nintendo reward, but its great news the regular version is released for people who missed DKOE.



sc100 said:

The Original Edition version of this game rocks. I'm glad I picked it up when I could. This version is still fun but you really notice the differences when you're used to OE. I'm still holding out hope that Nintendo will one day release the arcade version. I figure if Earthbound eventually came out, there's hope for that.



Tasuki said:

I wish I could have picked up the original version but I didn't have the money at the time to buy any of the games to get that special. Still I just bought this for the Wii U VC for 30 cents and thats enough for me. I agree that this game is meant to play in short bursts. I dont know about others but I get bored of doing the same three levels again and again.



WinterWarm said:

Same score as WiiU version. Hmm, interesting.

Good review, I'm kinda on the fence about this, especially if I could buy Abyss and Bird Mania 3D for less than this, and both the games received higher scores... I'll probably buy it sooner or later, love VC after Shantae( favorite title).



Chris720 said:

Didn't Nintendo have the phrase: "It's on like Donkey Kong" copyright protected? Or at least trademarked so no one could use it unless authorized by Nintendo?



KnightRider666 said:

@StarDust: I love the Atari 2600 version of DK. To me, it's an entirely different game. Not to say it's the best version, but it holds a dear place in my heart.



KnightRider666 said:

@StarDust: Gingerbread man lol... So true. I remember getting so far in the game that around the 20th level the fireballs are relentless, wiggly back and forth very quickly and following your every move...



dimi said:

Nothing beats the original arcade version. Why they dont port this over the inferior NES ports? This game got the wa-wa-wa sound effects, (though they werent in DK arcade 1.0) when Mario walks or jumps?



Slayer said:

I thought this was for an Atari system, but NOW I figure out it's for the NES. This is very fun STILL, even though we have tons of other modern games that can be more fun than this. If I lived in the NES age, I would actually spend my money on a Megaman game, but we all still love the root of all Mario games.
EDIT: Oh, it IS an Atari game. Never mind.



Slayer said:

Hmm. 6/10 is a pretty good score. And the classics are triumphant again!



StarDust4Ever said:

@slayer "If I lived in the NES age, I would actually spend my money on a Megaman game, but we all still love the root of all Mario games."

You do realize that Donkey Kong was a 1983 port of the arcade game released as a launch title for the Famicom in Japan. A redesigned Famicom arrived as the NES in the US in select markets in time for Christmas 1985. Early Famicom ports were limited to 16kb PRG due to the fact that 32kb ROMs were still expensive in the early 80s. Years later, MMC mappers allowed expansive games with large complex worlds and graphical trickery that would have been impossible to implement on 16 or even 32kb ROMs. So, had you been a kid in japan in 1983, you would have been very happy to recieve Donkey Kong. You would have needed to wait a good several years later to enjoy the Megaman games (known as Rockman in Japan). Obviously by then Donkey Kong looked pretty dated in comparison. Even Super Mario Brothers looks dated compared to Super Mario Brothers 3 but that doesn't make it any less fun. Remember that retro games spaned multiple systems over several decades, so graphics naturally improved over time. Even on the same console, later releases generally tend to be more fleshed out and vibrant compared to earlier releases. I actually enjoy some of the earlier arcade ports to NES/Famicom compared to some later game releases due to the fact that they were simpler to play. Many later 8-bit games were overly complex or had punishing difficulty levels, yet still lacked the polish of the more advanced 16-bit game systems and beyond.



Yomerodes said:

The thing is, DK (94) for the Gameboy is available on the system, is actually kind of an exclusive (since it is not on wii, wii u, animal crossing GC, etc), is cheaper, and is like, 1000% longer than this game.



Poketendo said:

Already got if for my Wii. We got to pick a free NES game after the Internet Channel turned free and my dad was like "Oh wow it's Donkey Kong!" You're totally right. It's fun, in (very) short periods.

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