30 Games Of April – Day 29

Developed by:Sun Electronics
Published by:Atari
Format played:Atari 2600

Following closely in the footsteps of Donkey Kong was this effort from Sun Electronics. Close enough to be clearly influenced by Miyamotot’s classic and yet distinct enough that it deserves more than to be written off as a clone.

We first looked at this here when looking, or rather listening, back on those soundtracks that stick with us through the gaming years. Superficially it is the same basic concept a Donkey Kong; get from the bottom of the platform to the top via platforms and ladders whilst avoiding obstacles. The gimmick this time round is that you are a mummy kangaroo trying to get to your baby. Quite why you still need to get to your baby in levels 2 and 3 after finding him on level 1 is anyones guess but hey, I guess it would make for a short game otherwise.

Like Donkey Kong, timing is everything here but whilst the core mechanic is the same, the implementation is quite different. There is no central antagonist for one, instead environmental and animal dangers stand in your way. As you move through the level a set of critters drift down the side of the screen. Periodically they cut into your level and chase after you, lobbing a projectile at you. Depending on its height you either jump, duck or punch the thing out of the air. If you get close enough to him, you can even sock the critter himself in the chops for extra points. Another reprobate lurks along the top, dropping bombs onto you and so part of the challenge is timing when to ascend ladders to ensure you don’t get hit. Contact with a projectile or a creature spells instant failure.

There are 3 levels in total, each offering a nice variety in layout and challenge. As a kid I remember this being devilishly difficult and indeed when first coming back to it I struggle to make it through consistently. The addition of a punch action means that jump is mapped to ‘up’ which for a game based around jumping and upward momentum is an interesting choice. The problem is that a tumble from even the slightest of heights means losing a life. No great shakes in the first level but by the second, when you are tasked with completing a number of short order leaps, all the while dodging projectiles, it is all to easy to get a bit excited and wrench the joystick up when you weren’t ready to jump, sending you plummeting to your doom.

Once you get your timings down the three levels are simple to complete, lacking some of the sophistication of Donkey Kong. In fairness of course I am comparing the arcade version of Kong to the distinctly less powerful 2600 version of Kangaroo. And so I flipped it round. The Atari version of Kong, graphically no match to the original, retains the complexity of layout, even if the gameplay itself is somewhat simplified. The 2600 simply can’t cope with the number of moving parts but, within the limitations of the hardware, does a decent job. The cabinet version of Kangaroo offers more graphical detail but, similar to Tutankham, the 2600 version, whilst more sparse, feels cleaner. The cabinet version is busy but also messy with garish colours and numerous graphical glitches and dropouts. The first couple of levels are virtually identical in terms of layout, the third switching this up a bit with a game of punch the monkey in the face.

A fun take on the Donkey Kong formula and a fine conversion to the humble 2600.

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