Disk 4: the Mario disk. Three out of the four games here involved the world’s most famous video game character (besides Pacman, possibly).
The debut of both Donkey Kong himself and Jumpman, later renamed Mario, Donkey Kong was, and is, an arcade classic. You play as Mario, working as a construction worker in the days before you went into the plumber business with your brother Luigi and got sucked down a toilet to the Mushroom Kingdom. Here you’re just in boring old Brooklyn, where escaped ape Donkey Kong has kidnapped your girlfriend, Laura Ingalls Wilder (named Pauline in the game, but come on; look at that dress!) Your mission is to dodge barrels, peeved-looking fires, jumpy pogo-weights, and other random obstacles to win back your pioneer girl and give that ape what-for! Hammers help you crush the barrels and obstacles flying around, but unfortunately you can’t climb ladders with a hammer, so the game mainly consists of running and jumping. In the final level you undo rivets under Donkey Kong’s platform, which flips him upside-down and sends him flying to an ignominious end 100m below. The “bump” sound made as he hits the ground is less of a bone-breaking splat and more of a “I just hit my head on the doorframe!” whump!, which, actually, sounds more painful.
The Atari 8-bit version is known not only for giving Mario blue hair and a pointy nose, making him look vaguely like a moustachioed witch, but being the only home version of the game that included all four levels found in the arcade version! That’s right, in addition to the barrel-throwing, pogo-weight-jumping, and rivet-removing levels, you can also play the “pie factory” level, omitted from other home gaming systems that licensed the game. I read somewhere that they’re actually supposed to be cement containers, but man, do they look like pies. Deadly, deadly pies.
Donkey Kong was, of course, a ground-breaker in many ways: one of the first platformer games as well as the introduction game of two beloved characters (Pauline was presumably omitted from later games due to her inability to float, pull up turnips, and command entire legions of loyal fungi). But how does it stack up today? It acquits itself admirably, in fact. The easiest difficulty is easy enough for casual gamers to try it, but the later levels (as speed increases) are enough to challenge a hard-core player. In fact, thanks to Haley’s helpful comment on the previous post, I have been made aware of a movie based around getting a high score on Donkey Kong, called The King of Kong.
If you’ve never tried Donkey Kong, give it a shot, if for no other reason than to smash giant barrels with a hammer. I think we’ve all had days where we’ve wanted to do that.
Donkey Kong Junior
Mario’s back, and this time, he’s violating the laws of PETA. After Donkey Kong failed to keep his damsel in the last game, Mario (strangely dressed in Wario’s color scheme here) locked the poor guy up, chaining his arms and legs so he was no longer able to hide his man-boobs. You play as Donkey Kong Jr., the giant primate’s cute lil’ son, trying to free your father from his imprisonment. Unfortunately, somehow Mario acquired the ability to command alligators and giant blue birds, and as we all know, a monkey-child’s arch-nemesis is the dreaded giant blue bird. Eventually you must unlock all the keys to Donkey Kong’s cage, which allows Donkey Kong to escape and kick Mario’s behind, sending him flying off-screen to presumably conk his head on a doorframe.
Donkey Kong Jr. employs the same kind of technique as the previous game: get to the top of the screen just so your nemesis can whisk his captive off to the next level. In this game, however, there’s more focus on climbing up and sliding down poles and avoiding animals. While Junior can’t really jump worth beans (as you may find out on the second level, where he’s required to jump across some sort of stump-looking things literally inches apart and still regularly miss), his climbing skills are unparalleled, especially with two hands on two poles, which looks uncomfortable but seems to work for him. The game’s jump, climb ‘n dodge approach is just as fun as the original, so I would recommend this game for anybody who liked the first one. Of course, the game might’ve ended differently had Pauline been in it, pleading with Mario to let Donkey Kong go, and then staring into his eyes for hours on end while Mario got eaten by dinosaurs and giant grubs, eventually escaping to form an elementary-school rock band and become a sub-par Mexican wrestler to impress a nun.
While this is the only game on the disk not to feature Mario, it obviously has similarities to Donkey Kong. You play as some red guy with a hat, hunting down the ape Bongo. Why? He doesn’t have your girlfriend or anything. According what I can figure out it’s because he enjoys throwing coconuts at you, which look more like watermelons. This version of the game only has two levels. First, you climb up the stairs, avoiding the watermelons, but not the monkeys for some reason (they don’t really do much of anything besides look cute). When you reach the ape, he flees across a river that you have to jump across, using sandbars and fish as stepping stools. If you reach him again he flees back to the mountain and you’ve got to climb up to him again and again, until you finally reach the Ninth Circle of Hell, where Satan himself sits, frozen, ready to hurl a watermelon at you.
Despite having only two screens, Congo Bongo was a pretty fun game. The watermelons were hard to avoid, since they didn’t actually moved, but flashed from one spot to another like they were animated on one of those old LCD hand-held games (like the famous Game & Watch or Tiger Toys games), so you had to learn how they moved. Also, the isometric view was unique for its time and added a bit of a challenge. Plus, Bongo doesn’t have the man-boobs that Donkey Kong seemed to possess, so it’s a little less disturbing that way. Give it a try, but after you’ve beat the second level there’s not much to go back to.
Mario got sick of construction and ape-hunting, so he teamed up with his brother Luigi (played by John Leguizamo) to rid the sewers of turtles, crabs, and flies. This is done by jumping underneath one and flipping it over, then disposing of the flipped-over creature. (The crabs must be hit twice while the flies jump and are harder to hit). Occasionally a fireball flies in from the side of the screen and burns you up, or as it looks like, covers you in mustard. As the levels go on the creatures get more numerous and varied, and later on googly-eyed blocks of ice start freezing the platforms, making it harder to stop moving. Every so often a bonus coin level comes up where you’re supposed to grab all the coins before the time runs out.
Mario Bros. is a pretty fun one-player game, but it’s the two-player mode that really shines. You can either work together to rid the screen of pests, or, more commonly, try to screw each other over and knock each other around and even into enemies. This type of play ended up being so popular that it was incorporated into many later Mario games, most notably Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario All-Stars, and all of the Super Mario Advance titles. Mario Bros. also introduced many of the elements that would later be used in Mario’s next NES adventure: Luigi, turtles, pipes, and not looking like a witch anymore. Although, with the command that Mario had over alligators in Donkey Kong, Jr., you’d think he’d have full control over any sewers in Brooklyn.
That’s it for side 1 of disk 4. Join us next time for the second side, which features Track ‘n Field (or Los Angeles 1984 Games), Cosmic Tunnels, and One on One with Dr. J and Larry Bird. See you then!