Another rumble in the concrete jungle with this bad monkey wasn’t part of the plan

Donkey Kong (1994)

I’m gonna come right out and say it: planning is for losers. You can try and plan out every aspect of your life and meticulously try to follow it, but what is it all worth? Any plan has to be realistic and measurable, and that’s where things become depressing. Get married at age 25, kids at age 30, divorced by age 40, first suicide attempt age 45, incontinent by age 60. Good luck trying to plan against all that.

It’s also a well known fact that the best holidays, trips and nights out are spontaneous, unplanned. If you start planning these things, you’ll just fall into the mundane, the safe bets. Leave it all up to chance and that’s when things get interesting.

Planning out projects in work is a real drag too. It’s part of my job of course, but putting together those enormous Excel sheets and charts is a pain, and anyway all of that stuff just gets ignored a few weeks later in favour of the ever-changing whims of some director. If you don’t plan, then you can’t be hanged for something you forgot to do later down the line that was meant to be done. I would extend this to avoiding putting anything down in writing. That in itself sets an expectation, which is a form of planning, which is what we’re trying to avoid.

My dislike of planning even affects my writing, as it should. There’s writers out there who’ll have all kinds of interconnecting diagrams, a spider’s web of flow charts, a compendium of character bios, motivations, hand-drawn maps, cliff notes, languages, the lot. You’ll only tie yourself in knots with all that stuff, plan yourself into a corner.

None of that for me, if I’m writing then I’m sitting down with just me and a pen and paper, perhaps even chaining myself to the desk, Ernest Hemingway style, and if I start writing about a man taking a bus that eventually develops into a lone-wolf mission across intergalactic space against light-speed sex aliens, then so be it. That’s a lot more fun than assigning sexuality to characters and trying not to contradict yourself every five minutes. 

We used to have to write essays in school, and the teacher would tell us to plan it all out, beginning, middle and end. What?! You cannot plan that kind of creativity. That shit comes from the heart, or perhaps more accurately from the brain and from the fingertips, when neither one knows what the other one is doing.

An unplanned pregnancy is more fun than a planned one, not planning out your route makes for funner roadtrips, and I enjoy food and drink a lot more when I’m not stuck in the weight-loss regime, counting and planning out my calorie intake each and every day. 

Is it irresponsible to neglect planning things out? Well yes, but don’t you know that another synonym for the word “irresponsible” is the word “fun”? And depending on how palatable you find old Game Boy games, you may find 1994’s Donkey Kong a bundle of fun. Everything you initially see about this game is misleading, perhaps in the same way as I mislead people at work into thinking there’s a plan behind everything I do. The game’s name is Donkey Kong, the box-art has the old Kong design, Pauline and those familiar girders, and the first four levels closely resemble a Game Boy version of the old Billy Mitchell approved arcade classic.

But it’s time to back up a second – this game is usually called Donkey Kong ‘94, the last appearance of the big dumb ape before his Rareware redesign, and once you’ve put him on his ass after level 4, arcade style, he gets back up like The Undertaker, steals Pauline away and makes Mario go through a whopping 97 additional levels before he’ll give her up agai.

Whoa! That’s the hell of a bargain, and it gets even better when you learn that this is the first Super Game Boy enhanced game, meaning you can play it through your TV, and add a few colors and borders into the mix. Well hot dog, you know that makes all the difference.

Seriously though, that’s a lot more donkey meat to get stuck into, but there’s no way they could just saddle you with the clunky old arcade gameplay ninety more times. So, once the arcade stuff is over the gameplay opens up to a puzzle leve style, later continued in the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series for GBA and DS. it’s not about running to the end of the level here, or better yet flying over every obstacle and speedrunning the game like the wind. No, you’ve got to grab a key and unlock doors in each level, making it a game that’s a hell of a lot more methodical and planned out.

Uh oh, there’s that dreaded P-word againn. Well it’s true that, at the outset of every level in Donkey Kong ‘94, it’s probably more prudent to take a few moments to plan out exactly what you’re going to do, and then execute it. But, and I don’t have to ask this for you, where’s the fun in that? This game is a lot more entertaining if you just throw yourself into the action at maximum speed and worry about the consequences later.

Don’t worry about falling off a small height or anything, Mario can shrug off some shattered legs and broken bones a lot more easily here than in Donkey Kong arcade, where just going down the steps two at a time was enough to do him in. Although, falling from skyscrapers is still gonna flatten Mario, or at least leave him stunned on the floor all bandy-legged, so watch out.

There’s some chirpy music that you’d probably expect, loads of varied boss fights with big old Donkey Kong himself, and many save points and extra lives that keep the difficulty nice and lenient. I wouldn’t imagine that this game would have caused children in the backseat of the car to launch their brick Game Boys through the front windscreen, for example.

And actually, I didn’t have this game as a kid, and indeed I didn’t even know about it until many years later. That’s a shame, considering this game has serious longevity, variety and is fun to play. I wonder what could have happened here? Me missing out on a high-effort Nintendo game like this is like a fat kid not knowing what McDonald’s is.

My assumption is that Donkey Kong ‘94 was too clever for its own good, and that players and magazines alike didn’t see much to this game beyond a port of Donkey Kong Arcade. Hmm, well if I’m right about that, then you’d have to say that the marketing and promotion for this game didn’t really go to plan, did it? You see what I mean about planning? It’ll cost you dear, especially for big handsome draws like Donkey Kong.

25 February 2022

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