Welcome to day one of Man Vs. Donkey Kong. It’s a gray New Year’s Day here in Vancouver, and as promised, I’m playing through all 101 levels of the 1994 version of Donkey Kong for the Game Boy over the ensuing 101 days. I haven’t done much writing or gaming over the holiday break for reasons which I’ll discuss in subsequent posts, so I’m fairly eager to return to both.
First things first: in all my years of gaming, I haven’t really played much Donkey Kong. Donkey Kong falls into a category of games that I’ve probably spent far more time talking about, reading about, and thinking about–especially in the wake of The King of Kong–than I have actually playing it. And I’ve certainly never played this particular version of the game–the black and white, or rather, yellow and white Game Boy version–before. If you’d like to follow along at home, download the game via the eShop onto your 3DS for $3.99. Boom–you’re ready to go. Without further ado, let’s get started.
Level 0-1: The thing that I admire much about vintage games like this is that their premises are almost always downright elegant in their simplicity. There is an oversized ape. He has kidnapped a lady and hauled her to the top of a nearby building. And that pretty much sums up the narrative of the game. Nuance? Subtext? Socio-political messages? Leave that to the Kojimas of the world.
Once Kong reaches the top, he jumps up and down four times, and with each jump deforms the structure into the overly familiar Donkey Kong-style sloping girders. The ape promptly begins hurling pixelated barrels from his perch, some of which roll along linear routes while others go rogue and bounce their way down in a more unpredictable fashion.
As an incentive to get moving, a stationary barrel of fire/oil is positioned at the bottom of the girders. Linger around long enough, and an anthropomorphic fireball will emerge and give chase. On the second tier of the girder hangs the familiar hammer. Leaping into the air and connecting with the hammer gives Mario “hammer power,” which he can temporarily use to destroy and barrels in his path. Hammer power seems to last between 30 seconds and a minute; if anything, it seems to last far longer than it should. Hammer power is, of course, terrific with two minor caveats: 1. Mario can’t jump or climb which wielding the hammer, so he cannot make any progress up the girders while in hammer-power mode, and 2. hammer power will vanish without warning, often leaving a suddenly hammer-less Mario vulnerable to any barrels in the vicinity.
I like how some of the structure’s ladders are broken and can’t be climbed, yet how barrels can still come careening down them. How did I figure this out? The hard way, of course. In this game, everything is figured out the hard way, as there are few instructions–isn’t it all pretty self-evident anyway?–and whatever exposition the game features is always silent, vague, and mysterious. Example: Once I reached the top tier of the girders, DK simply hoisted the girl onto his shoulder and climbed through the top of the screen, out of my view, implying, I supposed, that another encounter would soon follow.
In fact, 100 more encounters would soon follow. And you’ll read about those encounters–every single one of them–right here in Man Vs. Donkey Kong.