Milton Bradley took a risk in 1982 with the board game version of the classic and hugely popular Donkey Kong title, attempting to translate Mario's barrel-jumping adventures as best they could without the help of a video game screen. Strangely enough, there have been a few board games based on arcade triumphs that were actually pretty good. I'm not sure Donkey Kong falls under that distinction, but they certainly gave it the college try.
The translation was very much a literal one - everything you did in the video game, you did with your dice and cards. Playing as Mario, your goal is to avoid barrels and fireballs while racking up points with your trusty (and dare I say, embarrassingly oversized) hammer, and the first person to make it up to poor captive Pauline gets a big bonus and a sure victory. Obviously, you needed at least two players to engage in a Donkey war, but the game could be utilized by up for four players, all playing with little figural Mario markers in differently colored overalls. I gotta tell you - conceptually, the Donkey Kong board game wasn't piquing my curiosity, much less getting me to bring back that 'hoo hoo' cheer fans of Arsenio Hall made famous. I held out hope that actually playing it might bring a heavier and more favorable reaction. We'll see.
Come on, at least the box looked promising. A comical ape carrying a busty blonde, chased by a gruff plumber who's dodging man-sized fireballs. ON BIG PLANKS. Milton Bradley knew that any normal type of board game couldn't do Donkey Kong justice, so we were bribed with a large action toy of the big monkey himself. It was disguised as an integral game piece, but when you're handed a plastic monkey whose arms can be pushed down to chuck little hollow barrels? Make no mistake, it's a toy. Today's article presents a firsthand look at the Donkey Kong board game, indicative of simpler times when children were easily amused by dice, fold-out boards, and backup dice.
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The playing field looked almost precisely like the arcade game, complete with the ladders, platforms, oil drum, and the damsel in distress. While there aren't many pieces to set up, things still seemed a little too intricate for me to take on without first consulting the instructions. It'll seem unfair, but that's Strike One as far as I'm concerned. And I'm concerned pretty damned far. If there's one thing I hate reading more than articles about how we're spiting the French by renaming our potatoes, it's instructions for board games. Monopoly's an exception - those instructions are a part of modern literature. The same can't be said for this criminal ape with a taste for human crotches.
In the interest of giving the game a fair review, I tossed aside my misgivings like a chewed off fingernail and picked up the instruction sheet. Something seemed odd. You know those cliche television show scenes where a sickly-yet-demanding spunky old lady hands someone in her family a 'short' shopping list, only to reveal that the list rolls down for approximately six feet? When I finally got the forty-six pages of these instructions unraveled, I could've sworn I heard the Cosby Show's laugh track playing in the other room. And that other room DOESN'T HAVE A TELEVISION. It was creepy and eerie! And macabre! Rudy!
I'm pretty sure the Mayo Health Clinic's Guide to Heart Surgery is a shorter read, but in DK's defense, the Mayo Health Clinic's books rarely include illustrations of monkeys throwing barrels at people. I read as much as I could take, and opted to wing the rest. After all, how hard could figuring out Donkey Kong's board game really be? I was positive that 35,000 of the manual's 36,000 words were merely side jokes and musings that didn't include any pertinent game-playing info. Besides, who could be bothered with boring paper when there's this big plastic monkey toy waiting to be fiddled with? Meet Donkey Kong...
Admittedly, this was a pretty cool feature. DK's right arm was hollowed out so you could fill it with barrels, while the left arm could be pushed down to make Donkey perform his sleight of hand barrel-appearing magic tricks. Kind of diverts attention from how mundane the rest of the action was. If you really thought about it, there isn't a game in the world that wouldn't benefit from the addition of a Donkey Kong figure that spits barrels. Imagine this thing as a Scrabble letter dispenser - kids everywhere would've learned words like 'ornithology' and 'epididymis' by age six. This really took the sting out of having to read the instructions. All 68,256 pages of 'em.
I've always been of the mind that if we're playing a character whose sole purpose is to rescue some princess or other type of esteemed female victim, the girl needs to be moderately attractive. Unless there's a big cash reward being offered. We've talked about this before in the old Nintendo Pinball game review - Mario had to rescue the most God awful, putrid looking beast in that bonus stage. I didn't see the point in trying. Now we're playing as Mario again, and if he's going to go through all this trouble hopping over fireballs and thwarting apes, the chick better be worth the effort. With that, here's Pauline...
HUBBA HUBBA HOT HOT HOT HOMINA HOMINA
The Mario 'pawns' are interesting. You get the classic red, and a green one so you can sneak your Luigi worship into the game. The baby blue and yellow varieties land a little further from the realistic touch, but it doesn't matter much anyway since they all look like Popeye. Their expressions are all wrong, too. Mario looks more like he's about to correct someone's pronunciation than a guy preparing to leap barrels and fight gorillas.
I can only assume that the yellow pawn was reserved strictly for third wheels and kids who didn't have any other friends.
There's the oil drum, complete with four 'fireball pawns,' which will ultimately end up scattered around the board, acting as obstacles for Mario and Yellow Mario. Oddly, the fireballs are moved in the same fashion as your player piece - through the magic of a dice roll. If you come in contact with one of 'em, you're forced to use one of your cards to either fight or flee. The fireballs can actually be of service; they're capable of destroying the barrels waiting in Mario's path.
You wouldn't believe how poorly they explain all this in Chapter 17 of the manual. Five paragraphs are spent detailing how to place the label stickers on the fireball pawns, but only three hidden words sum up exactly what they're here for: 'fireballs trap Mario.' Good to know. Despite this, the sparkies aren't unleashed until a new barrel comes into play, and that only happens when the big ape at the top of the board smacks his arms around.
Kong is controlled primarily by rolling the scary red die. If you land on a number, he'll do all sorts of crazy monkey shit and half the game board will either be on fire or covered in barrels. Your only hope is to make a 'Kong Rests' roll, which puts the gorilla into a state of dormancy where he can't throw things or perform any sort of battle cry. There's also a regular white die included with the game, but that one didn't say anything about Donkey Kong going to sleep and was thus terminally uninteresting and undeserving of being photographed.
The main point of the game isn't to save Pauline, but rather to achieve more points than the other players. In that sense, the design is way flawed. The person who first makes it to the top won't necessarily be the winner, and it didn't take long for the players to see the benefits of just sticking with chasing those barrels and fireballs to get consistent bonus points. In this case, Yellow Mario is faced with a fireball obstacle. Luckily drawing the 'jump' card, he avoids being burned to death and racks up an impressive hundred points. This game sucks.
In trying to perfectly recreate the motif of the arcade version, Milton Bradley damned themselves from the start. There's just no way to make it more fun than the video game with cardboard and plastic, so why bother? The most successful arcade-to-board transitions have been the ones who simply used popular elements from the quarter-ops while adding their own personal touches. Donkey Kong failed to do this, and not even the glory of a barrel-chucking monkey toy was enough to persuade kids into believing that they were having fun. In searching for an upside, the only thing I can come up with is how well the plastic barrels work as bullets when you want to pretend your mouth is a machine gun. Even better than Tic-Tacs, and you don't have to feel bad about wasting food.
Worst of all, saving Pauline is impossible. You can get up there easily enough, and yeah, you'll get a reward of 500 points for doing it. But she'll still be stuck to that monkey pole, so all you can really do is offer moral support during your brief post-game victory celebration. Mario doesn't get a kiss, or even a few flashing heart graphics over his head. He gets nothing. In the Donkey Kong board game, Pauline is a perennial prisoner who seemingly will have no choice but to piss herself when the time comes. Poor Pauline. Mario doesn't seem the least bit sympathetic, either - he's giving her the old 'I told you not to go near that big monkey' scowl. What a dick. I'm glad Milton Bradley didn't waste one of their more enjoyable games on such a fucktard.
Overall: Not worth playing, and definitely not worth tracking down. The only benefit I got out of this thing was a new monkey toy to put on our wall unit. Everything else was a complete letdown. Maybe Donkey Kong was just too difficult to translate from the arcade to a board game home version. Maybe it couldn't be done. Personally, if I was gonna try it, I'd skip the first one and move right to Donkey Kong III. Now there's a video game I'd be willing to try playing with cards and dice. Especially if the goals remained the same...
I love spraying insecticide up gorilla asses. Especially if I get to knock out the world's two largest beehives as a byproduct of doing so. Eh, the beehives really don't have anything to do with it. I just love spraying bug poison at Donkey Kong's exhaust pipe. Come on, Milton. Come on, Bradley. Give us the game we really want. Forgive us our trespasses.