You Should Have Played This: Donkey Kong ’94

Written by on January 29, 2013 in [, , , , ]

There’s a lot of games that fly under the radar. It happens now when you gaze upon Steam’s thousands of offerings, and it happened in the past with games just because we didn’t know anything about them. In those terrifying days before the internet you just had to go off of the box art. Which is how I wound up with things like Fester’s Quest as a child.

It’s also how I was pleasantly surprised by Donkey Kong, or Donkey Kong ‘94 to be exact. See, Donkey Kong ‘94 was pretty much the perfect Gameboy game when it came out, and so was the sequel (yup, sequel. Gameboy Advance. More about that later). It’s just as good now that it’s on the 3DS e-shop. This is why you should own it.

Go look at a review for a new Mario game. It’s ok. Take your time. Once you’ve found it, do a ctrl + f for “repetitive.” I’ve yet to see the topic not come up in a current discussion of Mario, particularly the latest offerings for the 3DS and Wii-U. Donkey Kong ‘94 was that different game y’all keep clamoring for. Mario had a series of handstands, flip kicks, and parallel bar moves he could pull off at the cost of a diminished jump. If this sound familiar it’s because this move set got lifted almost entirely for Mario 64. In terms of platforming, these changes made Donkey Kong ‘94 a slower-paced puzzle platformer in comparison to the “mash B and go!” focus that most of the newer Mario games reward. Donkey Kong is almost sedate. Or it would be if it weren’t so friggin’ hard.

Not Shown: Your infinite rage as a single mishap while getting that item or 1up costs you a life.

You die in Donkey Kong a lot. A lot. A loooot. One hit from most enemies will kill Mario, and there are no powerups. Falling too far will kill Mario outright, and falling a medium distance will stun him just long enough to fall off a moving platform into spikes or be eaten by a roving bad guy. There are extra lives, and even collectibles that lead to minigames that lead to extra lives, but these are positioned in ways that make the poison mushrooms in Mario: The Lost Levels look kind. I don’t want to imply that Donkey Kong ‘94 is some undiscovered Super Meat Boy. It isn’t nearly fast enough for that. The deliberate nature of the controls and enemy movements make this a far more deliberate game than the twitchy madness of a modern masocore platformer. It was a refreshing step away from the brutality of Super Mario Land, and still more than challenging enough to offer a sense of satisfaction for completing one of the short levels.

Donkey Kong ‘94 also perfected pacing in portable gaming well before we had handhelds with sleep states. The game was 101 levels long and offered a save after each level. A 300 second (often less) timer forced those individual levels to be short and sweet. It was a fantastic offering for a handheld that was often plagued by excellent games with few stopping points (Metroid 2 and Link’s Awakening come to mind as particular offenders here).

Overworld maps are rad. Because they let you save the game.

Kong ‘94 did get a GBA sequel that early 3DS buyers were treated to (otherwise it’s unavailable on the console). After that…it became lemmings. I’m not entirely sure why that change occurred, but it led to March of the Minis on the DS, and that game’s still alright. It’s no Donkey Kong ‘94, though. The original Gameboy title is still floating on Nintendo’s portable Virtual Console, and it’s still rad. You should probably get it.

The views and opinions expressed on this web site are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of The Married Gamers staff, site owners and/or any/all contributors to this site.


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Author: Zach Snell View all posts by
Hi there. If you're reading this you've probably read some material of mine. If you want more go here and read my stories about a guy who punches wizards.

One Comment on "You Should Have Played This: Donkey Kong ’94"

  1. Samantha Olvera January 31, 2013 at 12:13 am -

    I loved this game on my original Gameboy, still have it. But I just never have 8 AA batteries lying aroung to power that ancient monster. I might have to download it just for kicks.