i played through donkey kong jr. earlier this year, and i finally filled in a gap in my video game experience by playing through the often-ignored follow-up, donkey kong 3 on NES. those two NES versions, along with the NES version of the first donkey kong game were all based on arcade releases, and they were all released at the same time in north america (june 1986).
although DK jr. has vague similarities to the first donkey kong game, the same can’t be said for this release. as has often been noted, in those early days carbon-copy sequels weren’t churned out with nearly the same alacrity as nowadays, and i came to DK3 with very little previous knowledge outside of seeing a screenshot or two. the first two games are platformers with an emphasis on running and jumping, but i was surprised to find out that DK3 is actually more of a shoot ’em up.
there’s a lot of interesting gameplay packed into the single-screen arcade experience. the setup is that DK has invaded “stanley the bugman”‘s greenhouse, and stanley, armed only with his trusty bug spray, has to get rid of DK and exterminate the bugs in order to save his plants. the player has to juggle several objectives at once: spray DK enough times to make sure he doesn’t descend far enough to attack stanley himself (thus losing a turn) (stanley can use his bug spray to push DK up off the screen and to the next level in every first and second level of a cycle, and get his head stuck in a beehive in every third level); spray individual bugs that fly around, each with unique behaviors; spray worms that crawl along and can’t be defeated but will pause if hit, often impeding progress; and in a mechanic somewhat similar to defender, make sure none of the bugs make off with any of the five plants, which provide bonus points if they’re saved. once per turn there’s also a can of super spray, the game’s equivalent of an uzi, that basically gives you a free pass through the next couple of levels.
in terms of the pace the game is pretty typical old-school arcade style in that there are only three levels and they loop pretty much infinitely. this game does introduce new enemies at various points, providing slightly more of a progression than some of the other games which increase difficulty by just adding more and faster enemies. like other classic nintendo NES games of the time, there’s a harder mode (“game B”) that can be selected from the start screen, and an alternating two-player mode.
as for the game itself, at first i found it completely foreign (nintendo has very rarely explored the the shooter genre), but after a while i enjoyed the game for what it is. the different bug types are easy to identify and are satisfying to defeat, and having to both manage DK and save the plants from the bugs makes the game feel more dynamic. stanley has more ability than the ship in galaga since he can not only run back and forth, but also move up and down a couple of levels vertically. the game has the usual bright and cheery nintendo exterior, and the game overall doesn’t have significant drawbacks. the first two stages are very similar while the third stage is too easy in comparison, and many times you can just jump in and defeat DK quickly. if you don’t manage to do that you end up spending a lot of time on the more challenging (and thus more fun) gameplay of dodging and defeating bugs, which would seem like a downside, but defeating all the bugs in a stage nets you more points overall, so for an arcade game it’s a reasonable design. (apparently in the arcade version starting with level 160 the game starts repeating only the first (and hardest) stage, although it’s not clear if this is intentional or what happens on the NES version.)
all in all i enjoyed it overall, and the game provides a fairly satisfying, if somewhat uneven, amount of challenge and fun. i wouldn’t say it’s become a great favorite, but it’s an interesting curio in nintendo’s catalog and should be more interesting to fans of shooters, classic arcade gameplay, and/or the donkey kong series, but i imagine most others would find this to be too old-school to spend much time with.
check out these villainous simian donkey kong 3 links:
– miiverse community
– nintendolife has reviewed the wii, 3DS, and wii u virtual console releases of the game. the 3DS VC review is the most positive of the three.
– entry at strategywiki.org, which includes a guide and descriptions of all the enemies as well as differences between the arcade and NES versions.
– the entry at mariowiki.com has much the same information but a few more tidbits
– entry on wikipedia