Video Game Memory Leak: Donkey Kong

Donkey Kong

Still not sure where you are getting all of the barrels.

Everyone knows Donkey Kong. I thought I knew Donkey Kong before King of Kong reignited everyone’s appreciation for the classic arcade game. Apparently, I never got very far in the game because the big monkey had a few surprises for me when we got reacquainted recently for a week long company arcade tournament.

The hammer is not invincibility

One of the original adrenaline rushes I remember from going to the arcade was the first time I picked up a hammer in Donkey Kong. The music changes and all of a sudden Mario has nothing to be afraid of as he maniacally swings his new barrel killer. At least that’s what I thought until a barrel killed me when my hammer missed.

DK Hammer

Take your sweet time with that swing. No worries.

“What do you mean it missed? Is this a glitch?” Nope, as euphoric as this power-up feels and as much as you just want to sprint through the level and destroy everything in your way. You can’t. You must be methodical. Barrels will routinely miss your hammer or hit you from behind. Plus, you are now moving slower, you can’t jump, and you are stuck on that level because you can’t climb a ladder either. Maybe Nintendo should have just gone ahead and literally made the hammer a double-edged sword because after only a few rounds, I was more scared of accidentally picking up the hammer than I was most of the enemies.

Wait, that’s a timer, too?

Playing for points changes things. Figuring out a good strategy takes a lot of trial and error. The BONUS points count down is always looming in Donkey Kong though, so I wanted to take that out of the equation.

One of the first things I tried was to see how long I could hang out on stage one and just jump as many barrels as I could. Sounded like an easy way to endlessly get batches of points. Plus, if I could master this skill, it’d only serve me better. After all, if I could jump more barrels than the BONUS points offered there was no real reason to carelessly rush through the level. It wasn’t easy, but I finally got in the zone and DK was cooperating by spacing out the barrels for me. I think he was just toying with me though, luring me into believing I was onto something. Then for no reason, I died. The BONUS points read all zeroes and I was livid. “Bonus does not equal “Timer,” Nintendo. Then, 1981 called and said it didn’t care.

He is winning
Did I mention Donkey Kong is hard? Here’s what else I took for granted:

  • Donkey Kong randomly gets really ticked off or bored when rolling barrels down the ramps and will haul off and chuck barrels straight down or diagonally across the stage. Usually right after you think you’ve figured out his patterns and you are dodging the normal barrels like a pro.
  • The firefoxes on the rivet stage (I was calling them fire chickens) are just mean and not worth jumping over because they can change direction much faster than Mario can.
  • This version of Mario is a wuss especially when it comes to falling from heights. I’m not even talking about high falls as anything higher than he can jump is sure to kill him instantly. Super Mario is embarrassed by this plumber

I have never seen these before

The iconic first stage of Donkey Kong is just that. It has been seared into our brains as the definition of the Donkey Kong arcade game. I had memories of other stages, but convinced myself that it was from sequels or from Donkey Kong, Jr. Plus, I couldn’t remember King of Kong featuring any game footage other than the ramp stage and the rivet stage.

Donkey Kong

Rivet Stage: Stay away from me fire chickens.

Level 1 has two stages, the ramp stage followed by the rivet stage. I was pleasantly surprised by the rivet stage and it didn’t take long for me to remember how to complete it. Level 2 has three stages, starting with the ramp stage. Then, I hit the first elevator stage and my brain collapsed in on itself as I started to realize how little I knew about Donkey Kong.

I was only able to get through the elevator stage after I restarted a few times. Level 2 closes out with the rivet stage, and I thought my discoveries were over. In a week of playing around 20+ games of Donkey Kong, I only made it to Level 3-1. As with the other levels, Level 3 starts out with a ramp stage. It’s probably a good thing that I wasn’t any better at the game because I don’t know how I would have reacted to Level 3-2 being a fourth stage type – the conveyor belt stage featuring cement pies. What? I don’t even.

Donkey Kong Arcade Challenge
Four of us played Donkey Kong for an entire week.
Here are the best scores we could manage:

Champ – 72300
2nd – 41300
Me – 37900 (Stage 3-1)
4th – 35600

Just take my money

I can’t imagine how frustrating it was to play Donkey Kong for points when your quarters were at stake. People say it is one of the hardest arcade games ever made. Maybe that’s why I didn’t remember much of it aside from it’s more iconic features. However, once you know the rules and patterns, Donkey Kong is anything but cheap. I have a new found sense of mad respect for this monkey.

Video Game Memory Leak – Revisiting retro games that we thought we knew at one time, and finding more than a few surprises.