With the massive success of Donkey Kong around the globe it was inevitable that it would eventually get itself a sequel. Donkey Kong Jr was nothing but that. However, despite being the sequel to what must be the most popular arcade game at the time (aside from maybe pac man) this one doesn't seem to get as much attention as the original. Even though the console port of this game was released alongside the console port of Donkey Kong. Is there a reason for this? Theres really only one way to find out. This is my review of Donkey Kong Jr.
But before I begin, as the title says, I'm reviewing every mario game that I own. While this definitely doesn't include all of them, it still includes a fair chunk of them. Ever since i was young I've always enjoyed Mario games and I always felt a certain sense of nostalgia when playing them. So i'll just say don't worry, i'm still gonna talk about a pretty big chunk of them. And also, sorry if your favorite doesn't get talked about. Also just warning you, there are some parts of my reviews where I talk about my nostalgic connection to some of these games. If you're not into that, skip maybe the first paragraph or two.
Anyways, back to the review!
Unlike the original, I didn't even know about this game's existence until when I was about 7 and I was browsing through the wii shop for fun. I came across this game's listing and decided to check it out. I didn't buy it, but the fact that Donkey Kong had a sequel was interesting to me. I wouldn't actually get to play the game until years later when I was staying at my uncle's house. My uncle had an original N.E.S. and an original copy of this game, along with Super Mario Kart and The Legend of Zelda. That's when I first got to play this game. I can't remember if the next time was when I got my N.E.S. classic or when it came out on N.E.S. online. So either way, thats kinda my history with this game before replaying it for this review.
The story of this game is that after the events of Donkey Kong, Mario (no longer known as jumpman) kidnaps Donkey Kong for revenge. This leaves his son, Donkey Kong Jr, to rescue him. The player takes on the role of Donkey Kong Jr.
Okay, lets address the elephant in the room here, yes, Mario is the antagonist in this game. So far, this is the only game where he is the antagonist. It does feel really weird seeing Mario, the all around good guy helping everyone in need regardless of their past, being viewed as an antagonist on his own free will. I could very well see some people wanting to play this game just to see this role reversal in it of itself.
Aside from that, continuing what I said from my review of Donkey Kong, the detail of Donkey Kong being the current Cranky Kong and Donkey Kong Jr being the current Donkey Kong is still a really nice detail and it also serves as a reason as to why hes so nice in some games and a jerk in others. Gameplay:
Like the previous Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr cycles through a set of stages that repeat itself after the player beats the last one. However as opposed to Donkey Kong, which only had 3, this game has 4 stages. Like the previous game, this also gives this game the feeling of repetitiveness and knowing what to expect as the original did. Also like the previous game, this one also gets harder each time you beat a cycle of stages. The objective of the first 3 stages is to get Donkey Kong Jr up onto the top of the stage so that he can free his dad. In the process avoiding a plethora of obstacles that Mario sends down to prevent him from doing so. The objective of the last one, however, is to get Donkey Kong Jr to free his dad by pushing 6 keys into their keyholes, much like how the previous game mixed up the gameplay of the last game. Like the last game, this also provides a safety net for players as now they know what to expect while also keeping things fresh with the increase of difficulty. This has the same upsides and drawbacks as the original, being that while it doesn't provide a ton of new content, it does keep the player motivated to see how long they can go on.
Before we look at the 4 stages individually, there's one thing I'd like to talk about. One of the biggest differences between this game and its predecessor is that instead of climbing up ladders, the player must climb up ropes instead. They can either just latch onto one and climb up it solo, which takes significantly longer, or they can climb up two at once, which is a lot quicker. However, as many of the enemies in this game scale up and down the ropes as well, this leaves you even more open for enemy attacks. I think this is possibly the most creative and intriguing part of this game. It really makes the player stop and think on what they plan on doing. It's also fairly obvious that the rest of this game is designed around this concept, especially the last stage. I'll talk more about this concept's impact on the game later.
Now let's look at the 4 stages individually:
This stage consists of a series of ropes and fruit hanging from them, as well as some enemies that Mario sends down to make things more difficult. The lack of difficulty on this stage really helps the player figure out the whole climbing up ropes mechanic. The player must cross the screen onto a platform at the other end using mostly one of two ways. The first way is climbing up the frist set of ropes to the top of the platform in order to jump off and get to the next one. The second way is jumping from platform to platform at the bottom in order to get to a shorter pair of ropes at the end, where they must switch between two of them in order to climb up the last set and get to the final platform. This is typically guarded by another enemy that Mario sends out, thus leaving the player to find a way to jump over it. This introduces the idea of climbing and jumping nicely and even manages to teach the player efficient ways to combine them.
Hanging on some of the ropes are fruits. Touching one of the fruits causes it to fall, and any enemies it falls on die and get added to your score. Personally I would view this as the bonus items for this game. As by the time you actually climb up the rope, you likely don't need the enemy gone. Also this is a good time to mention to mention something that I actually completely forgot about in the original Donkey Kong review, and it also applies to this game. The score does serve a little big of a significance in that if the player reaches a certain score, they get a bonus life. This also serves a reason to get the bonus items if you're close to a certain score. On the topic of the fruits in particular, this is the only benefit you most likely will gain out of them on this level, a score boost. But still, its pretty harmless, and not enough to take away from the level. I just really wish that they could serve a purpose beyond that,
The enemies in this stage are interesting. Some of them spawn as the stage begins and some of them are spawned in by Mario himself. The ones that are spawned in by the level typically start off on some platform and begin to scale the ropes, kinda like how the fireballs and barrels scaled the ladders in the original. Like I said earlier in the bit about climbing, this adds an interesting risk-reward factor into the game that separates it from the original. The ones that Mario spawns in however likely stay on the top of the platform right by where he is. Like the barrels in the original version, this causes the player to pay attention to when Mario last spawned an enemy in and predict when he will next.
Overall, like the first level in the previous game, it's pretty good at introducing the main mechanics of the game to the player and also leaves room for more chaos later.
In this stage, the player must jump on a springboard onto a platform so that they can then hop off that platform onto a moving one. Then the player must climb up a bief set of ropes onto another platform, where a moving rope will move towards and away from the player. Then they must time their jump onto another moving platform where they must do another timing challenge to hop onto another moving rope with retracts inwards and outwards. The player must then hop onto another set of ropes and climb across multiple sets of ropes before climbing up a final one and onto a platform. From there the player must hop over a hole and over some enemies before they can reach the goal. This more complex version adds some more variety, although it does not entirely help the gameplay much, Ill show you why.
Let's start with the springboard. That damn springboard. Honestly I think I could mark the game down an entire number for this thing alone. In the original, there was a bit with some levers that could really screw you over if you don't know what you're doing. The springboard is that times 10. You could either jump really high and try to touch the moving platform above, thus skipping the entire next section of this segment. However you could also lose a life if not done properly from fall damage. If they left it at that, it would be fine. The problem is that they don't, and even if you aren't entirely trying to take that risk, just using it to get to the next platform is risky enough. If you don't press the jump button at the right time, it wont give you enough air, causing you to fall and lose a life also. There have been more than a couple periods of time where I have lost all 3 lives and got a game over on just this thing alone. Something like this really shouldn't be in a game with such a limiting number of lives in my opinion. Its pretty frustrating and is just one huge screw over.
The next part of this level isn't much better. Once the player jumps over a moving platform and climbs up some ropes, they have to deal with a moving rope as well. Jumping onto this thing by itself is a little challenging, but right above it there's a hole that enemies can fly down into, and some can even drop eggs right where you need to jump onto the rope. While this does add some challenge into the level, it's not that bad if you know how to pay attention to how every other enemy drops an egg. It's the next part that pisses me off. Once you grab onto a moving rope, you have to drop down onto another moving platform where you must grab another moving rope which is constantly retracting in on itself. Like the springboard, this alone is a fine idea, but the screwover comes in two parts. The first is that depending on when the moving platform moves close enough to the rope and depending on when the rope decides to retract, it could take FOREVER to get into a decent position. Since the game has no time limit, this is a slight annoyance if anything. The bigger problem is that once the player has already grabbed onto the rope, it could retract while they're still on it, sending them falling to their death if they are not lucky enough to have the moving platform underneath them. While this does cause an incentive to shake a leg, there really is almost no way to tell when it's about to retract. The only way to know is if it hasn't retracted in a while, this could be incredibly frustrating since the player might figure that since they're already on it that it won't retract. Very annoying.
After that however, the rest of the stage goes pretty smoothly. The fruit returns in this stage, with the same premise of racking up bonus points like in the first stage. However there is one thing about the fruit in this version that I always thought was a strange decision. So there's a banana and an apple in the first and third vine, that's okay. But in the sixth vine there's a fruit that's all the way at the bottom. Considering that rarely does an enemy swing by that low and the fact that there are no enemies anywhere else on the stage, what purpose does this serve? Sure, you can try to get an enemy that swings that low, but more likely than not the players are just going to die as soon as the enemy touches them. It could be just there for bonus points, maybe there was some scrapped enemies that it could have gotten, but who knows? Either way, it really doesn't take away from the gameplay.
The enemies are all sent down by Mario in this level, with none spawning anywhere else. They all consist of birds that fly out in front of him before flying down a hole and switching direction, where they fly across the ropes that the player needs to climb up on the second part of the stage. Occasionally they’ll drop an egg that makes timing your jump for the first moving rope for the first part of the level harder. I already talked about that earlier however. So the way that they move across the ropes for the next part of the level however really puts a lot more emphasis on the importance of moving quickly and carefully from rope to rope. It also highlights a feature that will be really important later on, the fact that if you are climbing two ropes at once, you slide down slower. So if you're sliding down one rope, you'll move faster. This causes the player to have to find another comfortable place and time to get their second rope back. This is especially important here because the enemies don't all move in the same place, and the more sets you beat, the more radically different they spread themselves. Once the player navigates through them, they have to jump over some more that Mario sends at them in order to beat the level.
Overall the first part is kind of an experimental train wreck, but the rest is a fun climbing challenge.
In this stage the player must get from one side of the stage to the other by walking over a large beam which has multiple little spark balls running on it. Once they are on the other side, they must climb up a set of ropes to get to the next platform. This continues until they are at the top. From there they must make their way over to Mario, and the stage is over. This stage focuses more on jumping than anything else, in fact, I think this stage includes the least climbing out of the 4 stages. It's not bad, it's just different.
The spark balls are probably the most interesting part of this stage, they move around the beam constantly and the player must jump over them. The red ones spawn at the start of the stage, However there are some blue ones that Mario sends out however, and those can travel from platform to platform. One interesting part that I'll admit i've lost more than my fair share of lives over is the fact that if one of them is traveling above you and its right where you need to jump, you will lose a life if you touch it. This causes the player to be careful not just of what they are jumping over but where they are jumping as well.
Another thing worth noting is the fruit in this level. The fruit is spread over 3 platforms with one on each of them. This is the only stage where using it to kill one of the enemies is actually helpful to the player, as they all circle all around the platform.
Once the player climbs up to the top and hops over some sparks that Mario spawns, the stage is beaten.
Overall better than the last stage, even if it doesnt involve very much climbing.
In this stage, the objective is to push 6 keys into the keyholes in order to win. The player does this by climbing underneath the keys until they are at the top of the platform. Along the way, the player must dodge enemies which come in two separate forms. Once all six keys are in the keyholes, the level is beaten.
Remember how earlier I said that this is probably the stage with the most focus on the climbing element of the game? Well with the combination of enemies all coming at you and the struggle of pushing the keys up into the keyholes, this really is the stage of the game that will put everything you learned previously to the test. If you ask me, I honestly think that I prefer this final stage to Donkey Kongs because it does a much better job of utilizing the game mechanics. The first thing to note here is how this stage uses a combination of enemies from the first two levels of the game in order to make things interesting. While the claptrap things move up and down the ropes like in stage one, the birds fly across like they do in stage two. This makes to really push the players skills at climbing to the limit combined with the keys.
Another thing I have to note here is the two fruits in this stage. If the player plans on using the fruit to their advantage, they will have to purposefully avoid using certain parts of the rope for some time, which I think is probably the smartest use of them thus far. This also might be the straw that breaks the camel's back for some players and will cause them to just neglect the fruit and its use entirely.
Once the stage is beaten, there is a brief cutscene of Mario and Donkey Kong falling off of the platform (presumably to his death…though I think that's canotically impossible) with Donkey Kong Jr catching his dad and leaving Mario on the ground before it loops back to the first stage.
Overall very good and climatic level with a nice way of putting all of the previous skills to the test.
The two player mode from the previous game also makes a return here. There really isnt any changes made to it, it's just two players who alternate turns. I'll repeat what I originally said about this, since the stages are too small to have two people running around on the same one at once, and too big to work on a split screen, I think that this is the best possible option.
Like I said in the original Donkey Kong review, you really can't expect games in the 80’s to look as good as games today. However even then, I think Donkey Kong Jr could look a little better. I say this mainly because it doesn't have that neon effect that Donkey Kong has. Sure, the last two levels get close to matching it, but the first two just use too many different colors instead of sticking with the same ones like the original Donkey Kong did. For some, this might not be a bad thing, but it is for me, and this is my review after all.
The sprite work in this game is okay, kinda like in the original, nothing to really write home about. I think my personal favorite is Donkey Kong Jr’s jumping sprite. Since he was probably a tough character to design-especially with the limitations of the N.E.S.-getting that level of expression must've been hard.
Something else I have to note is in stage 4, there are little chains for 4 of the 6 chains that Donkey Kong is locked up to. 2 of them don't have any. I've always wondered why that was. Sure, you could say that they had to make room for Mario to stand, buty they could've just put him on top of Donkey Kong's cage or something, and that still does not provide an excuse as to why they didnt put a chain on the other one.
So while maybe the graphics in this game are a tad bit of a let down for me, they work fine. Music:
Kinda like the original Donkey Kong, the music in this game is mostly overshadowed by sound effects from the objects on the screen. The music that DOES shine through (which is really only the first and last stage) however sounds a lot more kiddy in this version than it does in the original Donkey Kong. This is especially true for the first stage of the game.
The second and third stage pretty much have their music consist of sound effects only. Stage twos is just constant-but fairly pleasant-beeping while stage 3 has a bunch of electrical noises. This isn't really a bad thing, at least in this game all of the music is distinct from each other.
The last stage however feels like the first stage but remixed a bit to make it more dramatic. Like the final stage in the previous one, I like how it feels like it fits in but distinct enough to make it dramatic. Again, this was most likely due to the lack of other tools than intentional design, but I don't really care.
The sound effects in this game are alright, the only one I have to note is Donkey Kong Jr’s walking sound. I like how it constantly moves up and down in this version as opposed to Jumpmans in Donkey Kong where it just changes pitch every time he takes a step. I don't really have a preference for one, but I just think that they're both cool.
So what do I think of this game overall?
As a sequel to Donkey Kong, it definitely does its job. It takes the original premise and adds to it in its own way.Like I said before the climbing aspect is the most interesting part of it, and really the rest of the game toys with that concept. If you really aren’t into that, then you’re probably not going to like this game very much, that’s just the truth. However going back and replaying it, I can definitely see why this one isn't as loved as the original. Not only does having Mario as a bad guy just feel off, especially nowadays, but just doesn't have the charm that the original does. By no means is this a bad game, but there are some weird choices and screwover moments that hold it back from its true potential. Overall, i'm gonna give this game a 3 / 5
Ways to play this game today:
Kinda like Donkey Kong, there are a bunch of obscure consoles that this game is released on. Which is why im only gonna go into detail about the main 5 or 6.
.If you have an original N.E.S. and a cartridge to go along with it like my uncle, you can play it that way, as it’s the way that it was intended to be played. But im gonna assume you dont have that. .If you downloaded it off of wiishop, you can play it that way. But wiishop is closed in 2021 so you'd need to have already downloaded it. .If you have a wiiu or 3ds, it's available on eshop for 4.99$ plus tax. Which I think is a good price for this game. .It's one of the 30 games on the N.E.S. classic addition, but I wouldn't buy it just for this game alone, although if you don't have an N.E.S. It's probably the closest you can get to playing this game the way it's intended (this is mainly the way I played it for this review). .If you have N.E.S. Online, it's one of the games available. But like the N.E.S. classic I really wouldn't buy it for this game alone. (While I didnt use this way as much, I still used it a fair bit.)
Like with Donkey Kong, the way that I would recommend playing this is on the eshop. It's cheap and if playing it the way it was intended is really important to you, you can get an N.E.S. classic controller and play with it like that. If you don't own a wiiu or 3ds, it was taken off of eshop for whatever reason, or you just down like spending money, you could probably find it online somewhere.
So what do you think? Do you agree or disagree? I'd love to hear what you think, so don't be afraid to tell me. Anyways that's all for this review, and happy gaming.
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