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Donkey Kong Review

Arcade SeriesThe second wave of Nintendo Game Paks is finally here, and leading the charge is Donkey Kong, which is a bit ironic since this game launched with the Japanese version of the NES (the Famicom) way back in 1983. The big ape took his sweet time! Most of our readers should be familiar with Donkey Kong as it was a smash hit in the arcades during 1982 and 1983, not to mention he’s starred in his own cartoon and even had his own cereal. This marks Nintendo’s first entry into its new Arcade Series of games, which promise to bring arcade games home. While it’s not quite the same as having the full arcade machine in your house, the NES version still offers up some fun gameplay.


Donkey Kong is the title that started the climbing game genre, where the player must reach the top of the screen to proceed to the next level. You play as Mario, the tiny Italian carpenter (turned plumber in later games) who is on a quest to save Pauline, the damsel in distress. The big gorilla at the top of the screen is, of course, Donkey Kong and he’ll throw obstacles at Mario to try and prevent him from scaling to the top of the screen. Luckily Mario is equipped with the power to jump over obstacles, climb ladders, and use his trusty invincible hammer to dispatch obstacles and enemies. Players earn points by successfully jumping barrels, using the hammer to destroy obstacles, and by picking up items scattered across the playfield, like purses and parasols. Bonus points are awarded by quickly making it to the top of the screen. In the arcade version of the game this was vitally important to earn extra lives and to try and beat the high score. Since the NES cartridge has no way of saving data, every time you shut off the Control Deck the scores reset, taking away some of the importance of achieving a good score. Perhaps you’ll want to snap a picture with a Polaroid of your achievement for posterity.


Donkey Kong was an amazingly fun and exciting game when it launched in arcades back in 1981, but five years later it has lost some of its luster, especially with the transition to the NES. Games have matured to the point where most gamers want more content from them. The original game wasn’t exceptionally long, with only four different screens to play. The NES conversion is even shorter as the second stage (the Cement Factory) has been completely removed, leaving only three levels to play through. If you’re at all familiar with the game and a halfway decent player, you’ll burn through those three screens in less than ten minutes. It’s unfortunate that an entire stage was removed, presumably for cartridge space considerations, when we’ve had bigger and longer games come out already, like Super Mario Brothers.


Graphically the home game holds up pretty well when compared to its big brother. The arcade original has more animations for Donkey Kong and Pauline, as well as short animated sequences between each level where the ape will grab the girl and run up the ladder. Little flourishes like Pauline’s text bubble yelling “Help!” and her looking from side to side in the fourth level have been removed entirely. Still, it looks better than any other home console release and the closest you’ll get short of buying an arcade machine.


Having played many of the other home versions of Donkey Kong, one of the most annoying aspects has consistently been the annoying sound effects and awful music. The NES version does a better job of mimicking the arcade sounds and isn’t nearly as grating. It’s still rather limited in scope and doesn’t feature a robust soundtrack like some of the other NES games do.

This level is missing from the NES.

Controls are simple and accurate with the 4-way Control Pad. The arcade features a joystick and a jump button, so I wasn’t sure if it would translate well to the pad. Luckily, it feels just fine and the A button feels great for jumping. It might just be me getting used to the NES’s controllers, and playing a ton of Super Mario Bros., but Mario controlled just as well here as in the arcade.



Donkey Kong makes the transition from the arcade to the home console just fine. He’s appeared on just about every console ever released, not to mention a host of computers. If you still can’t get enough of Donkey Kong, this purchase will be worth it. If, however, you’re like me and have graduated to more sophisticated games, then your money is better spent elsewhere.


Donkey Kong Review
  • 6/10
    Graphics - 6/10
  • 6.5/10
    Sound - 6.5/10
  • 7/10
    Gameplay - 7/10
  • 3/10
    Lasting Appeal - 3/10


The king of the arcade jungle swings over to the NES, but there are far better games on the system. This game is already five years old and its age definitely shows. Boring black backgrounds, single-screen levels, and a lack of content result in only recommending this game to the hardcore Donkey Kong fans out there. It’s not a bad game per se, it’s just not cutting edge. I was bored with it within 30 minutes.

User Review
7/10 (1 vote)


Added on August 15, 1986

Computer Entertainer Logo

Taken from the August 1986 issue:

Computer Entertainer - Donkey Kong

Computer Entertainer awarded Donkey Kong 3.5 out 4 for graphics and 3 out of 4 for quality of game play and entertainment value. It received a Recommended rating.

Computer Entertainer Review Guidelines:






♦ = ENTERTAINMENT PROGRAMS (1st set of diamonds = quality of graphics; 2nd set = quality of game play and entertainment value)

Any program for a given system is compared only to other programs for the same system. In other words, all C64-compatibles are judged separately from Apple. Some programs, which are virtually identical for multiple systems, will be so noted. When we review software for more than one system, we will note differences and which system we reviewed.

Craig Majaski

Craig has been covering the video game industry since 1995. His work has been published across a wide spectrum of media sites. He's currently the Editor-In-Chief of Nintendo Times and contributes to Gaming Age.

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