Donkey Kong (Arcade) Nintendo Switch Review by SwitchWatch
Developer: Hamster (Originally by Nintendo)
Publisher: Hamster, Nintendo
Release Date: June 14th 2018
Price as of Article: £6.49 GBP $7.99 USD
Game was purchased for review
First released to the world in 1981, nine years before I was born, Donkey Kong was an arcade phenomenon. Indeed maybe if it wasn’t for the success of Donkey Kong, maybe Nintendo wouldn’t be where they are today. Its success helped shift the direction the company was going in to focus heavily on the video game market and eventually leading to them producing their own home consoles. Designed by a young, spritely Shigeru Miyamoto, this simple arcade game spawned two of Nintendo’s biggest franchises today and propelled the designer to be Nintendo’s most trusted leading developer. What he says goes. All thanks to Donkey Kong.
At over 35 years old, the Donkey Kong arcade game is probably one of the oldest games still for sale right now. It’s been a while though as this is actually the first time it’s been made commercially available since its arcade cabinet all those years ago. With it being so old, there is the worry of it not ageing well, as many games of the era often suffer from. But for me, Donkey Kong is actually still very playable to this day.
If you don’t know how Donkey Kong works, it’s very simple. The eponymous DK has taken a damsel in distress hostage, Pauline. Mario – or actually before he was known as Mario – chases after the great ape in an attempt at rescue. To do this he must platform his way through four single-screen stages and reach the top where the villain awaits. When you do reach the top you move on to the next stage. Beat all four stages then another cycle begins with the difficulty ramped up.
It’s tough – arcade tough. It’s not just jumping between platforms you have to do, but also avoiding barrels and springs that DK flings at you or rolls down the scaffolding. There are even fireball enemies wandering around in order to catch you out. There’s a lot of seemingly random elements that can scupper your chances. You really need to learn all the possibilities in order to secure your survival. I found it a mixed bag. Sometimes I’d power through deep in to the second loop, other times I’d get my behind handed to me in the very first screen. Either way, I’m very rusty at this one.
For me the gameplay holds up very well indeed. I thoroughly enjoyed playing this classic again, it’s been a while and it’s nice to finally play the real original rather than one of the hackneyed ports that’s often resold. I feel gamers of a certain age will appreciate this one a lot more than a younger audience, who may not put up with the difficulty and the slightly archaic jumping mechanic. Still, I think it’s still very playable if not quite as phenomenal as it once was, naturally. But neither is the first Legend of Zelda or the first Pokemon, and Donkey Kong is much older than those two.
While you’re playing, trying to survive, you’ll probably want to increase your high score, because let’s face it, that’s what a classic arcade game is all about. Donkey Kong is not for completing, but for racking up as many points as possible before you inevitably perish. To boost your score, you can do a couple of things. Firstly you can reach the top as fast as possible. The quicker you do it, the higher your bonus score. Then there are the items you can pick up laying around the place such as a purse or parasol. Finally, destroying enemies with the special hammer or successfully jumping over them will grant you points too. That’s a surprising amount of very simple stuff to do in order to boost your score. It’s actually fairly fun to try and work out which is the most efficient method to get the best score possible.
Since this is a port by HAMSTER I just want to mention the customisation that can be done to change the gameplay. The options aren’t quite as robust as the Neo Geo ports sadly, but that’s just how the original was. You can choose to have a few more lives per game (or less if you want) and also changing the score needed to gain a new life.
There are a couple of nice features present. You can choose between three different versions of the game, you can choose the original one, the second version that soon followed as well as the international version. I played all of them and honestly I could not see any stark differences between the three. I’m sure there are small little tweaks that I missed but I feel there’s nothing major.
Like all Arcade Archives games HAMSTER have included the Hi Score Mode as well as Caravan Mode. Unlike previous attempts I think Donkey Kong suits these games immensely. Hi Score gives you one credit to rack up the highest score while Caravan Mode grants you 5 minutes to get the highest score possible. Both are really cool and can be used to compete with people online via leaderboards. This is definitely a fun integration and adds a whole layer of competitiveness, even though I’m too pitiful right now to give this one a shot.
I’m going to talk about the visuals and audio in one section because let’s face it, there’s not a whole lot to say. It’s almost 40 years old so it is what it is. What I do want to talk about the visual options though. There are a lot of filters you can put over to add scan lines if you so want plus and, as is often the case with these classic vertical screen arcade games, you can rotate the Switch’s screen to play it in all its original glory. I love it and these features truly make me adore the Switch as a versatile gaming device. The audio is simple and brief but it’s so iconic that you’ll recognize every single sound in this game. I will say that in this port it does seem a little muffled and low compared to what I would like but it’s not a major issue considering. There have been complaints about the lack of different walking sounds but I would be lying if I said I noticed or cared.
For value, at $7.99 or £6.49, it’s probably more than what you were hoping for in regards to an almost 40 year old arcade relic. And those on the fence will probably not be up for that. For me and fans of Donkey Kong, as well as those who love playing games over and over again to improve their high-score, Donkey Kong arcade is priced nicely. An arcade cabinet of this bad boy will set you back a lot more than this faithful port on the Nintendo Switch.
Timeless arcade gameplay
Surprising depth in the scoring
Nice customisations and additions
Will be too old for some, really not for everyone