a review of Donkey Kong 3
a videogame developed by nintendo R&D#1
and published by nintendo
for the arcades, the fujitsu micro 7, the nec pc-8801, the nintendo entertainment system, the nintendo gameboy advance e-reader and the nintendo wii virtual console
text by Eric-Jon RÃ¶ssel Waugh
It’s been said that each of us only has one tune to play; all we ever do is change the way we play it. It’s also been said that Donkey Kong and Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto’s tune originates in his personal hobbies, filtered through a love of Japanese and Western fairy tales. The Legend of Zelda has its roots in the fields and caves behind Miyamoto’s childhood home. Pikmin comes from Miyamoto’s garden. And Donkey Kong 3 is based on the premise that it is fun to spray DDT up a gorilla’s asshole. While being attacked by bees.
Miyamoto sure must love his spray gun, since there’s little else to do in the game. The first level consists of three horizontal platforms, arranged in a trapezoid formation. Pressing up or down causes Stanley, gawk-jawed cousin to Mario, never seen again outside the trophy case to Super Smash Bros. Melee, to hop up or down a level to avoid the raging insects. All the while, his nozzle is aimed skyward, at the looming gorilla sphincter above.
Let Donkey Kong slide all the way down, and you lose. If he climbs high enough, he’ll knock down a super spray can that, if fired up his ass, causes him to climb even higher. The occasional worm may crawl off a leaf, to slide across one of the three floor levels. You can’t kill the worm; only stun him, and that only lasts a second. Along the bottom are flowers, that you’re meant to guard against bees. The only penalty to losing flowers is that your score bonus will be lower at the end of the level.
The second and third levels are exactly the same, except the floor is arranged in slightly different patterns, a new insect or two is eventually added, and the super spray can is absent. The actual play mechanics and goal remain the same: avoid getting stung, maybe guard the flowers if you feel like it, and pump the gorilla’s ass as hard and as fast as you can.
Donkey Kong 3 is, like its contemporaries, a game of attrition. As you play, the game is meant to get harder and harder, until you can no longer keep up with the demands put before you. The problem is that the game starts off more confusing than difficult and never really gets harder. When you die, it will either be because you have yet to figure out that there is no point to doing anything other than shoot the gorilla in the ass or because, once you have mastered this trick, there is nothing further to keep you alert.
There is no strategy to play, except perhaps when you realize that jumping toward Donkey Kong can increase your rate of spray. As in Space Invaders — from which this game borrows more than it does Donkey Kong 1 or 2 — only one “shot” can persist on the screen at any moment, so the sooner a shot is absorbed the sooner you can fire again.
Donkey Kong 3 is the “lost” Donkey Kong game — the game that Nintendo and everyone else keeps forgetting. You never see it re-released, you never see it referenced, you never hear anyone talk about it. The reason is that it’s as much fun and about as wholesome as lighting a birthday candle on your chest and covering it with a jam jar.
The Donkey Kong series of videogames has played out kind of like the Jaws film series. The first game, with its high concept and story-based design, inspired twenty-five years of game development — much as Jaws did to Hollywood. The second game involves the revenge of the first game’s villain, by way of a relative; it wasn’t as good, yet it introduced a few new ideas. The third game is a flimsy B-level production, later written out of continuity, in which the villain now takes revenge on a distant relative of the original hero.
When I read that that Jaws 4 (The Re-Re-Revenge?) is supposed to be the worst action movie ever made, I’m a little disappointed that Miyamoto dropped the monkey at this point. The worst action game ever has to be a hell of a lot more entertaining than this. Donkey Kong 3 is just tedious. Tedious and weird. It’s not even worth the curiosity. Go play Donkey Kong 64, and consider yourself lucky.
–Eric-Jon RÃ¶ssel Waugh