If you're not familiar with the video game version of the old King Kong scenario, you're a sorry excuse of a gamer. Donkey Kong is one of those truly old games from the ancient era from when games were games, and nothing but. In the early 90's, Nintendo created a Game Boy version of Donkey Kong to attract your father as a fan, just in time for Donkey Kong's revision and transformation from the original antagonist of Mario - yes, THAT Mario - into the hero of his own series, and a straight-up good guy.
The Donkey Kong your dad played on the Game Boy isn't the Donkey Kong your grandfather played in the arcades. Grandpa's arcade original was four levels long, and according to Donkey Kong champion Billy Mitchell in the documentary The King of Kong, the average game of the arcade original lasts under a minute. If you've ever played that version, you know that it's one sadistic little fucker. Your dad's version on the Game Boy has undergone a difficulty downgrading, going from sadistic all the way down to being merely merciless.
The Game Boy version of Donkey Kong still has the same story as the original version: Pauline gets kidnapped by a giant ape named Donkey Kong, and it's up to Mario to climb up girders, jumping over barrels and pies to rescue her! The Game Boy version gives newcomers all the goodness of the original four classic levels from the original Donkey Kong. The difference is that, after beating them, the game doesn't repeat; instead, as the legendary quote artist Anonymous once said, the REAL game begins! Donkey Kong kidnaps Pauline all over again, and there are now nearly 100 more levels to go before Mario can earn that carnival booth kiss from Pauline.
The following levels aren't just more barrels and girders, either. With Donkey Kong Game Boy, Nintendo spends the rest of the game after the first four levels ripping apart and rebuilding the entire engine that made the arcade version such a blockbuster. There's no more jumping and dodging your way to the top of the screen here; now you have to work your way over to a giant key and carry it to a door. Donkey Kong being Donkey Kong, doing that is a LOT harder than it sounds. There are various enemies and weird obstacles standing in the way, all meant to show off just how evil Nintendo programmers can be when they've really got their heads in a game.
Each level has a theme of its own: City, desert, forest, airplane, and there are several more. Mario's job is to blaze his path up to the key and carry it back down to the exit door. Donkey Kong is strictly a puzzle game, and so getting the job done is going to require some difficult mental dexterity. Adding to the wonderful pleasure of doing this is a timer and the fact that the key jumps away and disappears, only to reappear in its original spot if Mario isn't able to keep it hand. That's not a bad thing if the key falls into a spot where Mario can't pick it back up, but most of the time, if you need to rid Mario of the key in order to perform some other necessary duty, the frame between letting it go and its disappearance and reappearance can be disturbingly short.
There are enemies in Donkey Kong too - besides the titular ape, I mean. These enemies are inconsistently created. Sometimes, the kay can be used as a weapon against them. Sometimes, they can be used to step to greater heights. Other times, they'll kill you no matter where you touch them and are immune to everything in the game. And Donkey Kong remains the star enemy of the hour. Every four levels, you have to either climb up to him with him flinging shit (metaphorical shit, I mean) at Mario, and sometimes you have to collect barrels and throw them right back at him. The obstacles in Donkey Kong can be brutal as well, and there are times when the game's difficulty feels padded. Hell, there are a few levels in which Mario has to make his cross-screen journey by hanging on the tails of monkeys, and for some reason the monkey tails are just plain difficult to get a firm hold on. You'll want to be careful with some of the platforms because they'll disappear and never return. There are also switches scattered around several levels which will need to be strategically thrown. It's one of the Great Laws of Video Games: If there's a switch in the level, it WILL be thrown at some point.
To help him out, Mario was given a handful of new moves: A handstand, and god only knows just what that's supposed to accomplish, and a backflip. The backflip helps Mario jump higher. Mario has also been granted greater immunity from falls than he is in the arcade classic. Instead of instant death if he falls a length greater than his height, he'll either perform a roll to keep from getting hurt, get stunned briefly, or die. This helps make the classic levels a little bit easier, but then again, the classic levels feel a little bit dumbed down anyway. The graphics in them look different, and Mario's new moves fully function in all four of them.
The graphics are better than their arcade counterparts. They're brighter, which is probably a result of the Game Boy opting out of a backlight. Donkey Kong looks more like his Rare-designed Donkey Kong Country-era form, complete with a little necktie. A lot of the action is shrunk down to size in order to be able to get more sprites and obstacles onto the screen at the same time, and they perform well. There's no slowdown because the animation is tiny. The sounds have been reproduced perfectly, with the jumping over barrels sound from the original replicated to jumping over a lot of different things. It's a nice little addition, but it's inconsistent. The music is good but overshadowed by the sounds.
The controls are where things start to get problematic. The d-pad and jump work just fine, but what in sam hill is the handstand for?! You can get a boost jumping out of a handstand, but then again, that's supposed to be what the flip was for. A flip which, by the way, works only half the time at best and is activated by trying to press the jump button and the button which would send Mario opposite the direction he was facing at the same time.
I love this version of Donkey Kong. It's imaginative and cleverly designed. It's also immensely frustrating because you can only save the game every few levels, but when you keep getting killed off anyway, that hardly seems to matter.