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Donkey Kong - The Atari Times

Donkey Kong

You don't just play it, you feel it!
by Gregory D. George

April 29, 2005
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.

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!
Donkey Kong
System: 8-Bit
Publisher: Atari
Genre: Action
Graphics Score: 90%
Sound & Music Score: 90%
Gameplay Score: 95%
Control Score: 100%

Final Score: 99%

Reader Comments for Donkey Kong

Yes indeed... by Greg B. on 2007-10-01 21:39:04
This was by FAR the best-playing home version of Donkey Kong ever made. I also paid $50 for it back in the day and considering how much I played the thing, it was (my parent's!) money well-spent.

The Colecovision version of the game is one of the most overrated pieces of software EVER. Besides the fact that the girders were the WRONG COLOR, that version was choppy, had terrible control, and only had 3 screens out of the 4. I used to know a few colecovision owners whose jaws dropped when they saw the Atari version of this...
DK Atari 8-bit is the best home version ever ! by Level42 on 2008-10-12 13:51:32
Simply put: this game was the last push I needed to decide to buy an Atari 600XL instead of a Commodore 64. Everything in the review here hits the spot. The Colecovision was SO over-rated esp. because of the sluggish controls.

This one is SMOOTH, captures the feeling of the arcade version and has it all !

I'd like to know who programmed this, it's such a shame Atari didn't allow the programmers to put there name in the games...
Great game by Randy Johnson on 2014-07-22 17:22:08
I bought this game off of my friend thirty years ago for $35.00 and I still have it. It's one of the best Donkey Kongs that was made. It's almost as good as the arcade version. It has all four screens and the screens are arranged in the same order as the US version of the DK arcade game. The Atari 400/800 Donkey Kong even has the How high can you get intermissions.
Atari went to a great amount of effort to make this game. It's too bad that they didn't do the same with the Atari 400/800 Donkey Kong Junior.
... on his heel by Gregory D. George on 2014-07-23 22:28:55
Always thought that DK had stepped in poo in this version because of the brown pixel on his heel. :D
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