Retro Metro Volume II #3: Donkey Kong (Game Boy)

“He’s the leader of the bunch, you know him well
He’s finally back to kick some tail
His coconut gun can fire in spurts
If he shoots ya, it’s gonna hurt!
He’s bigger, faster, and stronger too
He’s the first member of the DK crew!
-The DK Rap

It’s that time once again—welcome to Retro Metro, Volume II. Today, we’re looking at a game notable for, for the most part, having nothing to do with all the other games that share its name.

The plot of the Game Boy version of Donkey Kong is the same as all the rest: Donkey Kong has captured Princess Pauline, and you as Mario (or Jumpman, if you want to stick with the arcade version) must rescue her. The gameplay, however, is where things get weird.

The first four levels (World 0) are the levels of the arcade game: 25m, 50m, 75m (this one fans of Super Smash Bros. might recognize), and 100m. There the gameplay is as usual: you jump over barrels, nab some hammers, and get to Donkey Kong. You also have a certain number of lives, and if you die, it’s game over.

Once you beat those four, it’s time for a completely unrelated game. First, you get some extra lives based on how many points you have, then you (have the option to) save, which happens every four levels. If you lose all your lives, you go back to the most recent save point, and start with four lives. Here I should note that Game Boy games have little, irreplaceable “save batteries” in them, which after a very long time die out. Mine hasn’t, and I’m playing this game on an actual cartridge, meaning these things last at least twenty-five years—you should be fine.

Now we get to the fun part. Each level is a puzzle: you have to get a key, and bring it to a door, which lets you continue chasing after DK (who still has Pauline). Beating levels includes some or all of the following:

  • jumping with A
  • picking up items and the key with B
  • throwing items and the key up with Up+B (if you throw a key up or get hit and drop the key, it respawns in its starting location after a bit)
  • riding on top of some enemies
  • climing up ropes, and swinging on them by holding B, then holding Up, the releasing B
  • swimming
  • pressing blocks that create temporary bridges (or sometimes a single square) at a place of your choosing
  • climbing up vines and evading the enemies on them (a la Donkey Kong Jr.)
  • not dying from getting hit by enemies/spikes and not having the Key
  • not dying from certain long falls (you survive more falls than in the arcade version, but you can still die from them)
  • not running out of time

Once you beat three levels like this, you fight a boss, which involves getting to DK himself (who, of course, escapes again) by either dodging springs and whatnot, or hitting him with his own barrels. All of this continues for 97 levels, making 101 levels total.

As mentioned, at every save point you get a number of extra lives based on how many points you have. You get points in three ways: collecting some special items (a purse, a parasol, and a hat) in each level, collecting all three of said items in a level to enter a mini-game, and by having lots of time to spare when beating a level. Additionally, the first level of each set of four contains a 1-Up. If you can get to it and not die, you then basically have infinite lives, as every time you die on that level you can just go and get the 1-Up again.

Now, we get to the graphics and audio. The music is pretty good, if repetitive, and the graphics are a markéd improvement over the arcade game, NES port, etc. All in all, quality stuff.

As for buying the game, you have some options. One is to buy the cartridge, which can conveniently be played on either an original Game Boy, or a Game Boy Colour. Also, this game is available on the 3DS Virtual Console, and I am sure there are many emulators for it.

Finally, a note if you, like me, decide to play this game on a Game Boy Colour. I would highly suggest pressing/holding Up+B when you first boot up the game, as the buttons you start with determine the colour palette of the game, and Up+B restores it to its original black and white.

Well, that’s all I have for today. Go have fun and always remember: if there’s a locked door and you have to solve a puzzle to get the key, just use a lockpick.