You don't just play it, you feel it!
By Gregory D. GeorgeApril 29, 2005
Ok, so what if Donkey Kong is on the wrong side?
All four levels of rivets are here.
Here's a level that really takes some practice!
The elusive cement (or pie) factory. Not seen in the NES, Colecovision, or 7800 versions!
Imagine it's 1983...
I never got to spend too much time with the arcade version of Donkey
Kong. The only place I knew that had a DK machine was the
skating rink in the next town (which we visited weekly.) I was too busy
skating to play much, and even when I did, I stunk at it.
So, I bought the Atari computer version. I remember when I purchased it
for my Atari 400... I bought it from a little computer store downtown
(think Mayberry) that was loaded with Atari stuff. When I saw Donkey
Kong sitting there, I just had to have it. Amazingly, this is the
first game I remember buying that was $50. And back in 1983, that was a
lot of money!
The game is nothing short of amazing. Remember, at that time the
"pinnacle" of home video gaming was the Atari 2600. The Colecovision had
released it's good-looking, (but ultimately jerky version) of Donkey
Kong that omitted the cement factory screen. The 8-bit version was
better. It included the cement factory. It included the "How high can
you get?" intro. It even included the scene where Donkey Kong kidnaps
Pauline and stomps on the girders to misalign them. (To see that, just
wait a few minutes before pressing the START button.)
Graphics and animation are just about as good as it gets. Ok, so
successive video game systems like the NES and 7800 may have surpassed
the graphics, but those systems wouldn't be released for a few years
yet. And even compared to those versions, the 8-bit holds it's own. (The
NES is a great version too, but it also omits the cement factory.)
Mario is very well animated and moves very smoothly. Much smoother than
the Colecovision and 7800 Mario. You don't feel as if you are
controlling a character on the screen... More like he has become an
extension of yourself. I remember the old ad campaign... "You don't just
play Donkey Kong, you FEEL it!" A very accurate assessment!
The enemies have equally smooth animation. Barrels roll with perfect
fluidity and bounce realistically as they drop from girder to girder.
Foxfires look deadly as they chase you around the level. Springs become
almost hypnotic as you watch them bounce around and get in your way. And
Donkey Kong himself looks just as he should - rolling barrels, stomping
angrily and snatching your love just as you think you're going to get
that peck on the cheek for your bravery.
The music and sound effects are very good and similar to to the arcade. Jumping
produces the perfectly cloned sound effect from the arcade that we
expect. Smashing barrels and foxfires with the hammer recreates the
music and "wobbling" smash effect almost flawlessly. Donkey Kong beats
his chest reproducing the same sound he did in the arcade. Mario's death
music is perfect. Mario's signature walk sound is a bit different, but
it's not bad by any stretch. In other words, the music and sounds are very
good. Not perfect, but very good.
Gameplay is a category not something to be taken lightly. The original
arcade Donkey Kong was a sublime blend of fun and achievement. It
was fun to smash and jump over the barrels. It was fun to drop Donkey
Kong on his head in the rivet level. It also gave the player a sense of
achievement by allowing the player to get to the next level. To complete
this one and move onto the next. It was an accomplishment to beat Donkey
Kong and rescue Pauline. And all of these sensations are replicated
perfectly in the Atari 8-bit version of the game. Perfectly.
Controlling Mario is a breeze. Something I think the smooth animation
assists. Mario jumps at the precise moment you press the joystick
button. He climbs up and down ladders with ease and you don't even have
to be in that perfect location for him to start climbing. It's as if he
knows you want to go up that ladder even before you get to it.
One of the absolute best things about this version of Donkey Kong
is that it actually includes all of the four original arcade screens.
Girders, rivets, elevator, and cement factory are all squeezed into a 16K
cartridge. Something the Colecovision, NES, and 7800 utterly failed to
do. The other important thing those other versions failed to do was get
the screen order right. Well, if you don't have all 4 screens, it's
gotta get goofed up somewhere.
The only real knock against this version is that there is 1 fewer girder
on the first level. Which means Donkey Kong is on the opposite side of
the screen. This was a limitation in resolution and that's about it.
It's not a deal breaker on the 8-bit especially in light of the
Colecovision version which does the exact same thing.
So if you're looking for a great home version of Donkey Kong, you
can't get much better than the Atari 8-bit version. The graphics,
sounds, gameplay, control, levels, and screen order is about as faithful
as you'll find. Even when compared to more recent versions.