The Virtual Console appears to be a fool-proof concept on the surface. If stores like Hot Topic and 80’s Tees are any indication, retro is in and there’s nothing more retro than old videogames. The Wii could provide gamers with the ultimate fix, by providing old NES, Super NES, Nintendo 64, and other old console games for relatively low prices. What gamer wouldn’t take advantage of this? There are people who bought a Wii solely for this concept. It seems like nothing could go wrong, right?
Well, not quite.
The Virtual Console does, in fact, have a chink in its armor. And nothing makes that chink more glaring than Donkey Kong, originally released for the NES, available for 500 Wii Points.
Just about everyone and their mother knows the story behind Donkey Kong. The giant gorilla Donkey Kong has kidnapped Pauline and dragged her atop a series of girders. Only Jumpman, later to be re-named Mario, can save the day and foil the big ape, thus kicking off a rivalry that contines after 25 years. Yes, upon closer inspection, it’s a near knock-off of King Kong, but it’s classic 80’s simplicity at its best. The 80’s, after all, represented those blissful days when plots could be as simplistic as possible and still sell thousand of copies based on gameplay.
And gameplay is indeed intuitive and simple. Using the Wii-mote, Gamecube Controller, or Classic Controller, players jump across girders, avoiding obstacles like barrels and fireballs as they guide Jumpman up ladders to the top of the highest girder. Gameplay is generally responsive, regardless of which controller is used. Of course, since this game was released during the days before Mario got his jumping legs, falling off any girder to the ground below will often result in a cheap death. This Mario is hardly super.
But while he can’t use his jumping skills to win the day, Mario does have a hammer at his disposal. Hammers eliminate obstacles in front of the bouncy plumber and provide near-invulnerability. Yes, falling still results in death. Oh, the cold hard ground is ever the ruthless killer.
The graphics are primitive for the time, but are still nearly arcade-perfect. The NES managed to capture the graphics of the old arcade version very well, re-creating the pixelated ape for console players. Jumpman looks just like he would a few years later when he would appear in Super Mario Bros. The music may be repetitive, but the hammer theme is still fun to this day. None of it is special, but does provide a feeling of nostalgia for those who grew up on this old school style of game music.
So then what’s the chink in the armor alluded to earlier? The grahpics and music translated over. The game still plays just as well as it ever has. It’s just like the old NES game. So what’s the problem?
The problem is, it’s just like the old NES game. That is not a good thing. Donkey Kong was a classic arcade game, but the NES version was watered down significantly for memory purposes. Levels were omitted entirely and gameplay grew repetitive quickly. Playing the same levels over and over was a major letdown for old school gamers who wanted their arcade Donkey Kong, but Virtual Console owners are being given the NES version. This also highlights a problem with the Virtual Console itself.
The Virtual Console is designed to provide perfect duplications of classic games, meaning those who want extra content will be left out in the cold. Gamers will have to download their old games, as is. Meaning inferior console translations of certain titles will be on the menu. Donkey Kong is just the beginning. Imagine what happens when the universally-reviled Super NES version of Mortal Kombat hits the Virtual Console. Yikes! But that’s a topic for a different day.
Donkey Kong is hardly worth 500 Wii Points. Repetitive gameplay makes this title worth a pass. For those that want their Donkey Kong fix, seek out the 1994 Game Boy version of Donkey Kong, which features the same gameplay, but also boasts a large number of all-new levels. But leave this version of Donkey Kong in the jungle where it belongs.