The Game: An oversized gorilla kidnaps Mario’s girlfriend and hauls her up to the top of a building which is presumably under construction. You are Mario, dodging Donkey Kong’s never-ending hail of rolling barrels and “foxfires” in your attempt to climb to the top of the building and topple Donkey Kong. You can actually do this a number of times, and then the game begins again with the aforementioned girlfriend in captivity once more. (Coleco, 1982)
Memories: Almost every line of games has one: a clunker that tanks so hard that it leaves a crater, and serves as the nadir of its entire genre. But given that Coleco was banking its entire video game empire – whether on the Colecovision or on cartridges for the Atari VCS and Intellivision – on Donkey Kong, you’d figure that this would be the one game they would make sure to get right.
To put it charitably, everything that Coleco had gotten right with Pac-Man, Galaxian and Frogger was done wrong here. Donkey Kong is a barely-playable train wreck of a game whose sole saving grace is the low volume of its sound effects. In a medium (fixed-graphic TFT matrix games) where the concept of “collision detect” is already in danger of becoming a casualty, Donkey Kong is extremely frustrating, with Mario being susceptible to being killed by objects that may not seem like they’re an immediate danger.
It could also be that the real Achilles’ Heel of Donkey Kong in this format is that it tries to do something that none of the other Coleco mini-arcades – with the possible exception of Ms. Pac-Man – had to do: Donkey Kong has two distinctly different playfields, meaning that the machine’s graphics (such as they are) have to be vague enough to construct both settings. Ms. Pac-Man, since it’s only changing around generic maze elements, has a much easier time of this; Donkey Kong has to change the positions of ladders and other elements, and this causes most of this game’s headaches.
But regardless of the reasons behind it, Donkey Kong in this form is barely enjoyable. The cabinet graphics are somewhat faithfully reproduced, and it’s one of the more colorful Coleco mini-arcade machines to look at, but while that might enhance a collection piece, it doesn’t help game play. With dismal game play and none of the game variations that grace most of the other Coleco machines, tabletop Donkey Kong is better looked at from afar than played.