Not bad, but it should have been a lot better
By Ethan C. NoblesNovember 5, 2005
Remember how excited you were when you learned DK would be on the 7800?
At least DK is on the correct side.
Graphics are close to the arcade.
Gee, Mario sure has a big nose.
Donkey Kong for the Atari 7800 has
taken a lot of heat over the years, but it's really not that bad of a
game. However, it's hard to deny Atari kind of dropped the ball on this
release for a few reasons.
First of all, this game came out in 1988 – a whole six years after
Nintendo of America unleashed it on arcades. Is an “old game”
necessarily bad? Of course not! However, people were interested in
playing platform games on the Nintendo Entertainment System around 1988
and didn't give a hoot about Donkey Kong. People loved Mario the
plumber just find, but they were more interested in guiding him through
Super Mario Brothers and its progeny than trying to rescue a girl
from a huge ape.
Second, ever play the version of Donkey Kong for the NES? It
features better graphics, control and sound. Sure, it's no surprise the
NES version would be great because Nintendo invented Donkey Kong,
but Atari went ahead and purchased the license for the title. Why not go
to town? The Atari 7800 is at least as sophisticated as the NES, so why
not take the time to develop a fantastic version of Donkey Kong?
Third, the version of Donkey Kong released for the 2600 was
absolutely terrible. Of course, that particular version was released by
Coleco, and it was widely speculated Atari's direct competitor
intentionally made bad versions of games to make its own system, the
mighty Colecovision, look superior by comparison. So, Atari really
needed to crank out a fantastic version of Donkey Kong for the
7800. The company failed to do that.
What's truly amazing is how the version of Donkey Kong for the
Colecovision stacks up well to this one and is superior in a couple of
areas. Frankly, the sound in the 7800 version is terrible. The
background music sounds vaguely off-key, and the “squeaking” sound Mario
made in the arcade (and on the Colecovision) when he walked was replaced
by a high-pitched, obnoxious racket. Most of the music, in fact, sounds
off key and the sound effects are all irritating. Turn off the sound
when you play this game.
The graphics aren't bad, but Mario has a huge nose and looks a bit
compressed. He doesn't look bad, but he should have been cleaned up a
bit. The rest of the graphics are fairly sharp and undoubtedly look
comfortably familiar to any fan of the arcade game.
What's not familiar to arcade fans of Donkey Kong is the stiff
and sometimes-unresponsive control scheme. To be successful at Donkey
Kong, one must be able to move around without worrying about
fighting with the joystick. Mario, however, likes to suddenly stop when
going up ladders and the stiff controls often impair the player's
ability to time jumps accurately. After playing the game a few times,
however, one can get a fairly good feel for the controls. Still, they
are bothersome at first.
Another unpleasant surprise is the fact the final Donkey Kong
screen – the conveyor belt level – is completely missing. While that
particular screen was typically left off of home versions of Donkey
Kong, I can't help but wonder why that is. Certainly, that could
have been included here.
The levels included, of course are the ramp screen, elevator screen and
rivet screen. On the ramp screen (perhaps the most famous level from
Donkey Kong) the player must navigate steel girders to get to the
top of the screen and rescue his girlfriend by climbing up ladders. On
the way, Mario must avoid barrels (some of them on fire, even) which are
tossed at him by the dreaded Donkey Kong. On the second level – the
elevator screen – Mario must use elevators to make his way across
platforms while avoiding both bouncing springs and falling to his death.
On the final screen, the rivet screen, Mario must remove rivets by
either running or jumping over them while avoiding fireballs.
I know I've complained a lot about the 7800 port of Donkey Kong,
but it's actually close enough to the arcade version of the game to
satisfy most gamers, I suspect. It's still a challenging title which
requires the player to think up a bit of strategy to advance in levels.
Up to two players can take part in the fun, and there are three skill
levels available – standard, advanced and expert. The instruction manual
is thin and lacking in detail, but this is Donkey Kong -- any kid
from the 1980s ought to know how to play.