Cave paintings, the blues and peach baskets: Donkey Kong then and now
You ever go back and listen to an old blues record? Like one of the Robert Johnson ones from the early 20th century, where you can hear him tapping his foot on the floor of a hotel room as he records the music that will transform the planet? You listen to it now, and it sounds impossibly primitive, but without it, no Rolling Stones, no Led Zeppelin, no Guns n’ Roses, no Black Keys, no rock n’ roll.
It’s the same with cave paintings compared to later masterpieces, James Naismith’s peach basket layups compared to LeBron James’ windmill dunks: the forefathers are simplistic where the descendants are complex, but you needed the forefathers to break the ground.
I’m no video game historian, but I was alive and sentient when Donkey Kong hit the arcades in the 1980s. I may be remembering this wrong, but it seems that it was in the third wave of games, after Space Invaders and Pac-Man, and it immediately became one of my favorites. (Until Robotron:2084 came along. Now that was a badass game.)
But while I shrugged and took on the role of the plumber Mario and tried to rescue the princess from the evil ape Donkey Kong, I didn’t much concern myself with the backstory or the plotline. (Donkey…? Whatever.) I climbed ladders and smashed barrels and dodged fireballs until that stupid monkey either escaped, came tumbling to the earth, or overwhelmed me. Always, eventually, the latter.
This, then, is my experience with Donkey Kong:
Now, compare that with the senses-shattering melange that is Donkey Kong Country Returns for the Wii, the latest game in our dads-and-daughters review:
Yeah, I’m totally out of my element.
Now, whoever was playing the ape there in that second video is pretty much on my level: run around, see what’s what, let the game dictate the pace to you. My kids, naturally, have no such patience for that. On a primal (ha!) level, they understand how to work with the ever-scrolling screen, how to use a combination of attacks and maneuvers to sprint through lush compu-jungle with nary a sideward glance. (They try to withhold their snickers when I tell them that on “Donkey Kong,” we had one stick and one button, and we liked it that way.)
You know the basic idea here: proceed through a side-scrolling adventure in search of … well, I wasn’t ever clear on that point, but that may be because my daughter insisted on zipping right through every cut-scene so we could get right to the action. And there are so, so many ways to die in the jungle, but the partner arrangement allows Donkey and Diddy Kong to bring one another back to life repeatedly. It’s helpful if you’re trying a particularly difficult move, or if your kid is out of the room and you can’t figure out how to get on top of that spinning grass wheel.
Anyway, if you’re looking for a way to get your older kid to feel in control of the mission, by all means snap up DKR for the Wii. Just be prepared to hear a sigh and those dreaded words: “Dad, I’ll get you through this. Just give me the controller.”