Despite that the very first Donkey Kong is a classic, its sequel was the one that I was eager to give a shot. Admittedly, I am quite familiar with this entry, except for its original form. The only ways I could experience it as a kid were through the Game & Watch edition, a strange personal computer my father owned, and the NES port. Luckily, Hamster rereleased the arcade adaption for the Switch similar to its predecessor. Putting my nostalgia aside, I am looking forward to seeing how much Junior could improve upon his father’s legacy.
As a neat twist on the last instalment, Mario takes on the role of the villain this time around by having captured the giant gorilla Donkey Kong, with his son Junior setting out to rescue him. The plot is yet again just there to get the adventure started, which I am all for. Playing as the little ape, you can jump and climb vines, with falling from great heights or touching anything harmful causing an instant death. This might not seem like a huge upgrade from the previous title initially, but then you notice how clinging onto one or two ropes alters your speed tremendously.
Holding onto one line makes you go down faster and grabbing onto two at the same time makes you ascend quickly. This is an important trick to master for dodging enemies, and alongside your jumps being stiff and you having the ability to make the fruits fall on opponents by touching them, the tiny hero becomes engaging to control! Further supporting these details are the tremendous levels, since every single one of them is designed to take good advantage of his moves.
Three of the four stages will have you clambering through varied layouts in order to reach Donkey Kong, all forcing you to evade swift beasts and leap carefully towards different platforms. In fact, there is a good number of animal types to be aware of, such as crocodiles descending on ropes, birds flying towards you, and electrical sparks in the third area that go alongside the floors. All are dangerous threats with patterns that will test your reactions. The final room is the biggest challenge of them all, where you have to push all of the keys present upward to release DK from his cage, which is no easy task due to the foes to avoid.
Similar to its predecessor, there is an interesting setup in Donkey Kong Junior that starts you out with only level one and four, with each run adding one more to the mix. With this and solely having three lives by each credit that will restart the game and your score the moment they are used up, this is another arcade title that thrives on its entertainment and does not steal quarters unfairly. The four stages are distinct, the upgraded mechanics are enjoyable, the fiends are diverse, and the challenge is high. It certainly can be repetitive with no more locations to visit and I do wish there were more moving platforms than only one in the entire playthrough, but this is still an enthralling experience.
Gameplay Score: 8/10
Yes, the black backgrounds return and are not exactly pleasant to look at, but everything in the foreground is. Two areas provide nice jungle aesthetics, one has a surreal electronic vibe to it, and the finale is a neat callback by being set in a construction site where Donkey Kong is chained to multiple locks. It all adds to make the variety solid, and the strong colours of the enemies and environment make it all delightful to witness in motion. Another thing boosting this project’s charm, is Junior’s different facial expressions depending on if he is climbing or getting hurt.
I also adore the sound effects of the actions occurring, such as the birds diving, the hero climbing vines, and the electrical buzz that is hypnotising. These are also enhanced in two of the four places because of the lack of music, but this is a strange contrast to when the melodies are actually being played. All are truthfully memorable listeners, whether it is the cute triumphant tune of reaching Mario, the rhythmic and tense climax theme or the catchy beat of the intro stage. It should be stated though that both takes on this setup are simply different styles that work on their own. However, it makes me wonder if an option for having the soundtrack on or off overall would better strengthen the mood due to a more consistent structure.
Presentation Score: 6/10
Due to improving upon the last instalment tremendously, I find it quite odd that this one is not called Donkey Kong 2. This sequel has more to its charm, platforming capabilities, and level design, making me enjoy it far more than the first entry. It does cause me to wonder what would have happened if this got a reimagining version similar to what happened with Donkey Kong on the Game Boy, but regardless: this original arcade title is still a blast to play and easy for me to revisit.