For reasons we can't quite fathom, the Game Boy version of Donkey Kong has never been re-released in the 17 years since it first came out to high praise. Now it's finally emerged again as an eShop Virtual Console title, and we're happy to report it's still fantastic.
The first level is identical to the first level of the original arcade Donkey Kong game. Complete it and you'll see a screen suggesting there are only three levels left. Is this just the arcade game? It was good, we can't deny that, but £3.60 for only four levels? Surely Nintendo wouldn't be that stingy?
Of course not. When you finish the fourth level and - as in the arcade game - Donkey Kong falls down, seemingly defeated, he grabs Pauline and legs it off the screen. Mario gives chase and follows DK through a door, where you then start on World 1-1 (it turns out that the first four levels are World 0). What follows is another 97 levels of puzzle platforming excellence that pretty much lay down the groundwork for the Mario Vs. DK series.
Donkey Kong takes the best bits from previous Mario games - the invincibility hammer from the original game allows Mario to bash opponents on the nut, while the ability to pick up opponents and items and chuck them around is straight out of Super Mario Bros. 2. Mario even has a few fancy moves that would later carry on to Super Mario 64, like his backflip and his triple jump.
Kong And Short Of It
This is as much a puzzle game as it is a platformer. Once you get used to how Mario controls in the first few levels, it steps up the pace and starts throwing in some head-scratchers. By the end of the second world (out of nine in total) you'll be flipping switches, riding on enemies to get to unreachable areas, chucking keys onto conveyor belts and collecting special power-ups that freeze the action and let you lay down a ladder or bridge for a limited time.
Also dotted throughout are boss battles, which chuck different challenges at you each time. The first sees you trying to reach Pauline while avoiding objects raining from the sky as DK jumps up and down, while the second is an homage to Donkey Kong Jr. in which you climb vines while avoiding nasty Claptrap enemies.
The boss fights are great fun and their variety means you'll look forward to each one just to see what's coming next.
The only thing that stops us from giving Donkey Kong a Gold Award is the lack of a Super Game Boy mode. This was the first game to use the SNES attachment that turned the game full colour and improved the sound, so not getting to play like that is a real missed opportunity.
Even in its normal monochrome mode, though, Donkey Kong is an absolute bargain at £3.60 because there's at least 10-15 hours of great gameplay in there.