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Donkey Kong Junior Retro Review (Arcade)

Following in his father’s massive footsteps

I can’t lie. I wasn’t a part of the golden days of arcade gaming. Hell, my birth alone in 1983 is actually the cataclysmic event that caused the video game crash of the ’80s. While the world was infatuated with that pill popping menace who gobbled up fruit and ghosts or stopping invaders from above, I wasn’t even a twinkle in my parent’s eyes. That said, I have little room to wax nostalgic about the classic games of the early 1980’s, seeing as my first odysseys into the arcade scene came at a time when games were less about running from point a to point b on a single screen and saving a princess, or clearing a map, and more on the useful life lessons such as punching as many gnomes in the face as you can to steal their valuable potions (Golden Axe), or learning how to perfect your dragon punch to bring down an evil dictator (Street Fighter II).

That said, when I got a call last week to pick up a free Donkey Kong Junior cabinet from a friend I was excited by the prospect of owning a retro machine, though didn’t think it’d be taking all of my free time away from my Capcom and SNK cabinets.

Little did those World Warriors know they would be going on vacation, because since I played my first credit of Donkey Kong Junior, I’ve been trapped, not unlike the big DK himself inside Mario’s cage.

Donkey Kong Junior is remarkable in its simplicity, and also in its outright deviousness. The objective is simple enough- guide Donkey Kong Junior to the top of the screen to rescue your dad from a whip-wielding Mario (who seems more like an Indiana Jone’s obsessed Stalin than the lovable Italian plumber we know today). The path to your captured parent-primate is often filled with vines you must climb, platforms high above water you must jump across, and jump-boards which launch you to higher areas of the stage.  While you progress through the game’s four stages you’ll encounter a handful of enemies that Mario sends after you, such as red and blue Snapjaws who dart down vines after you, dive-bombing birds who rapidly descend to your level and dart rapidly towards you, and a multitude of environmental hazards to keep you on your toes. If any of these things touch you you’re as good as dead. Hell, Donkey Kong Junior can’t even fall the height of a single Gary Coleman and survive, so planning all of your movements carefully is the only way you’ll survive.

That’s not to say you don’t have any assistance, as nature’s candy, fruit, is by your side!

That’s right, Donkey Kong Junior has the ability to touch fruit that is hanging high above the stage on vines. When this fruit is touched it rapidly falls to the bottom of the screen, smashing any enemies beneath it. Hit multiple enemies at once and you’ll score a large points bonus helping you beef up your score. After all, that’s what these kinds of games are all about.

In my first hour or so of play, I experienced roughly two Phil Collins greatest hits albums worth of sadness and depression. However, after licking my wounds and coming back with a renewed sense of vigor (and a tasty beer), I was able to overcome the first three stages, leading me to Mario’s hideout, only to be dispatched quickly thereafter.

Much like other games of the Golden Era of the arcades, there’s no continuing in DK Junior, once you use your filthy ape kicks the bucket on your last life, it’s back to stage one. Any masochists in the audience should be pleased to know that once you complete the fourth level you’ll be sent back to the first stage, this time with an even more challenging difficulty.

Donkey Kong Junior is an infectious game. The challenge is intense but fair. You’ll never progress without pattern memorization and a bit of patience, but those who love a challenge and enjoy getting slapped around in the pursuit of high scores will surely love what Miyamoto’s second entry in the Donkey Kong series has to offer. Just bring plenty of tissues, you’ll need them for the soul crushing punishment you’ll endure trying to master the challenge within.


Final Verdict: 5/5

Available on: Arcade (Reviewed) ; Developer: Nintendo ; Publisher: Nintendo ; Players: 1 ; Released: August 1, 1982

Frank has been the caffeine-fueled evil overlord of HeyPoorPlayer since 2008. He speaks loudly and carries a big stick to keep the staff of the HPP madhouse in check. A collector of all things that blip and beep, he has an extensive collection of retro consoles and arcade machines crammed into his house. Currently playing: Dodonpachi Dai-Ou-Jou (Arcade), Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove (Switch), Neo Turf Masters (Neo Geo)
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