I thought I would play this to show my boy a bit of gaming history. He might only be 3 but he loves Mario and Mario Kart and he enjoys watching me play Donkey Kong Country.
So I boot it up, start tucking into the first level, explaining the concept to him, giving him some of the history of the characters and their evolution. After a few minutes of intense game play my boy turns to me, full of hope. With tears of pride forming in my eyes I turn to him, reaching out to pass him the controller, this beautiful bond between father and son only possible through the power of videogames as he turns to me and says, ‘Daddy, can we play proper Mario now?” Kids, eh?
My fondest memories of Kong are actually with the clamshell Game & Watch version, which at some point in time must have been foolishly donated to a relative or chucked. Neither Donkey Kong or Mario need any introduction of course, although many younger gamers may not be familiar with their origins. Mario, or Jumpman as he was known here, must navigate a series of platforms and ladders whilst avoiding projectiles lobbed from the titular Kong or dislodging platforms to send him plummeting to his doom, all in your attempts to rescue definitely-not-Princess-Peach Pauline.
Coming from the ‘Golden Age’ of gaming, this is simplicity itself and yet the craftsmanship of legendary director Shigeru Miyamoto is evident even here. Put this into the hands of a gamer of any age or any ability and not only would they understand what to do but with patience and practice, they will get better. Run along, climb up ladders, jump over things. That’s all there is to it.
I’m utterly awful at it. I thought I would breeze through the first level but it took me countless attempts to get my timing down. The devil is in the detail; barrels will generally follow the ledges but they may also bounce down the ladders too, often when you are trying to climb them. Sometimes they come two at a time to throw you off and more than once I found myself on the final platform, close to victory, only to panic as another object came tumbling towards me, throwing myself feebly into the rumbling keg of despair. Later levels switch things up. Each looks straightforward to start with, Kong not always throwing anything at you but chuck in moving platforms, fiery demons and angry cement pans and things are always kept interesting. You can grab a hammer to help you out, giving you a limited time attack, but be warned that you can’t climb or jump when hindered with the extra weight. If you do reach the end, be prepared to loop back to the beginning with the difficulty incrementally increased.
There were a couple of moments of frustration. My jump wouldn’t quite be long enough or I’d get stuck half way up the ladder, unable to move quickly enough to either complete the ascent or get out of Dodge before being struck by a barrel. But on the whole you recognise these are more your own errors of judgement than fault of the game, success coming from learning the routines and getting your timing down.
Still fun. Still challenging. Still Mario