Donkey Kong

Characters in video games? You're having a laugh.

I'm faaairly certain that the first time I encountered Donkey Kong was on my Game Boy, way back when. It was simple, it moved smoothly, it didn't make too much sense and you were often caught out by physics-defying barrels thrown by an angry gorilla, but it was fun. It held my attention for a while, not that I ever completed it.

Fun Times

Donkey Kong introduces us to a hero, Jumpman (as played by Mario), a villain, Donkey Kong, and a - dare I say it - damsel in distress called Lady (who if you bothered to ask for her name was called Pauline) . The villain kidnaps the damsel, the hero comes to her rescue, the villain tries to thwart the hero. It's dead simple, and then you start playing the game.

Our dear friend Donkey smashes the stage up and starts chucking barrels towards you. Sometimes they roll, sometimes they're dropped, and sometimes they descend the very ladders you're climbing up because that's just what they do. And then, when they reach the bottom, they turn into fireballs with eyes, because why not.

They can be smashed by hammers or jumped over by the revolutionary video game invention of the day, jumping. Climb the level, reach the damsel, see the villain run off with her again, climb the next level.

In my oft played Game Boy version, the stages would get bigger and include different challenges and methods of navigation. Locked doors need keys, and keys need to be thrown ahead of you before you can climb ladders, but take too long and the key would reset its position. Ladders and platforms were joined by wires you could hang from, and falling too far was not advised.

There are 101 different stages in this version, both platforming and boss stages. I sure didn't get through them all as a kid.


I know the original arcade version or the other version I played, from the NES doesn't have this much content, nor arranged in the same way. I know this only through reading however, because it's harder to play. You learn the hard way what kills you. Enemies, obviously. Falls, if far enough. Falls if not far enough. Getting squashed. Merely touching parts of the stage. Too many fails and it's right back to the start, thanks for playing.

Fond Memories

All that said, it's hard to get annoyed by such a well put together game. The characters and overall art style are timeless, and the music and sound effects are right up there with Pac-Man. I didn't have a huge collection of titles for the Game Boy, but any time I took it somewhere, Donkey Kong was more often than not in the case alongside it. Super Mario Land was probably in the Game Boy itself, but Donkey Kong was nearby, ready for a quick game.

Final Word

The determined gamer will try to perfect their skills, get used to the timing, have a database of things that you should avoid in the stage lodged in their brains and so on, and will have fun with a classic. The rest of us would be better suited to the Game Boy version, with it's smaller but still challenging stages, and a plot we can all get behind.

For a gaming scene that perhaps looks to be full of spaceships shooting aliens, it's nice to break away and have to think a little bit more, and with platformers like Donkey Kong you do just that.

Fun Facts

Thanks once more to programming problems, the arcade Donkey Kong is unwinnable thanks to a kill screen. Level 22 allows you to play for a few seconds before killing Mario on the spot.

Donkey Kong, developed by Nintendo, first released in 1981.
Versions played: NES, 1983, via emulation.
Game Boy, 1994, via emulation and childhood memories.