dk0.gif['Green and Black Attack' is a new regular column by James Edwards taking a reflective look at Nintendo's original portable workhorse, the Game Boy. This week, we lionize Nintendo's winning reimagining of an arcade classic, 1994's Donkey Kong.]

If you've been keeping one horrified eye on Sega's latest Sonic the Hedgehog cash teat, you might have noticed the increasingly rubbery hero dashing around with a new girlfriend... a very human new girlfriend. While this isn't the first time interspecies lust has turned up in a platform game, it's a lot more consensual than Shigeru Miyamoto's 1981 design debut Donkey Kong, which saw Mario launch his gaming career and loose his girlfriend to a big ape. Donkey Kong 94 is a Game Boy remake of that game... for a few levels at least.

Monkey Magic

Chances are that even if you've only ever heard of Donkey Kong, you've got a great idea how the original arcade cabinet played: man loves woman, his pet ape gets envious and abducts her to a building site, man has to jump over a barrage of industrial debris in order to spank that chimp and win back the hand of his lady love. The game shows its age today, with stiff controls, a mere four screens of gameplay and punishing mechanics (even the tiniest of falls will break Mario like a cheap pencil), but Miyamoto's knack for instilling child-like glee shines through in every pixel and resonates with the every note of the excellently warbly sound track.

In a developing market inured to context-free shooting marathons, the game broke considerable amounts of new ground in terms of narrative and characterization, and will be shamelessly mined for its concepts until the sun expands and burns up the Earth like a big blue match head. That won't happen for billions of years!

[Clcik through for more!]

dk1.gifDonkey Kong had been ported before - to the Famicom, to most pre-NES game consoles in the West and to literally every microcomputer format under the sun - but Donkey Kong 94 (or Donkey Kong GB, whatever your poison) is a different kind of port, and quite an important game in its own right. Developed immediately prior to the seminal Super Mario 64, DK 94 was sort of a 2D testbed for Mario's new 3D moves like the triple jump (performed here with a handstand and ending in a gymnastic pose) and the backflip (performed by reversing direction mid-run and hitting jump).

These moves make Mario a lot more endearing than the invincible, anodyne Super Mario of the Mushroom Kingdom games - indeed, this is a full-on throwback to his original identity as a working-class hero from Brooklyn. He did day labour to get by and dates an ordinary girl named Pauline. The game shines light on just how insufferable some of Mario's more fantastic friends are, without getting grim and gritty doing it.

I Wil Sue Ape Escape

Mario's more vulnerable, too - he can survive longer falls than his arcade counterpart, but depending on the height he falls from he'll either be forced to commando roll, get knocked out or land on his head and kill himself, each backed up with its own expressive little animation. There are more ways for him to die than ever before - fried to a crisp (Mario turns black before sprouting a halo), crushed (Mario floats to the ground, flattened to the thickness of paper) or picked up and beaten against the floor by Donkey Kong (pretty self explanatory). These are all handled really well and are the antithesis to Bubsy the Bobcat and his ilk's forced demises. Mario is the underdog, pushing his frail, tubby body to the limit in the name of love. I like this guy a lot better than the bumbling goof who hangs out with monarchy.

dk2.gifIf all that Nintendo had updated was Mario's skill set, this would simply be a more forgiving port of a venerable arcade game. Herein lies Miyamoto's genius - after aping arcade Donkey Kong to the best of the system's abilities for the four original levels, the game spins the concept on it's head and unfolds into something entirely new - a massive puzzle/platform hybrid taking in around 100 levels set over nine different locales.

Donkey Kong carries Pauline off through the streets of NYC, through Egypt, to the polar ice cap, across an aeroplane and more, before a final showdown looms at his giant supervillain tower of doom, resplendent with a carved image of his own monkey head. Mario trails tantalizingly close behind him at every step of the way, showcased in neat little Pac-Man Theatre-style cinemas that bridge every boss fight and the preceding level. In a cool Miyamoto touch, these demonstrate the skills you'll need to clear the next batch of stages, slowly building up the player's skill set without becoming overbearing.

Dunston Checks In

Standard levels don't follow the Donkey Kong standard, although people looking for something closer to the arcade game will find the boss stages reward enough to soldier through them (they follow every three standard levels and comprise the entirety of the last area). Instead, Mario has to clear small puzzles with very little scrolling involved. Some elements are borrowed from Super Mario Brothers USA (a.k.a. Super Mario Brothers 2, nee Doki Doki Panic) - Donkey Kong is hiding behind a lock, and Mario has to carry a key to it. Herein hangs a dynamic strong enough to sustain an entire game. Some enemies can be picked up and thrown, and some objects can be turned into projectiles, although this becomes less common as the game progresses.

dk3.gifLevel design is strong, and some levels will really stump you. A key feature is Mario's minor "editing" power over the gameworld: touching specific icons pauses the action and brings up a cursor, letting you place ladders, temporary platforms and springs. These don't last forever, and timing becomes ever more crucial the closer you move towards the end game. Other factors like switches, conveyor belts and destructible walls are slowly introduced, as well as environmental elements like wind.

One level might require you to drop the key on a belt and rush between switches to guide it to the next accessible area, complicated by a timer that respawns the key back to the start if left abandoned for too long, while another sees Mario leaping from a fatal height and having to hit edit panels in the right sequence to create the equipment that allows him to survive. Another still requires him to dodge a hail of fire from gun batteries as he rushes to get the key. It's really prime Nintendo stuff, where planning and platforming dexterity walk hand in hand. Later jungle levels incorporate strong elements of Donkey Kong Junior, although Donkey Kong 3's gameplay mechanic of "continuous application of bugspray to [Donkey Kong's] bottom" is criminally excluded (thanks for the awesome quote, Wikipedia).

Guerillas In Tha Mist

Visually the game is amazingly coherent. The graphics walk a fine line between detail (traditionally something that lead to blurry LCD messes on the system) and tiny Game Boy design.The result is something that recalls the goofy charm of the old Game and Watch backgrounds and characters while still going easy on the eyestrain. Better yet, the game was fully integrated with Nintendo's Super Game Boy converter, allowing it to be played on the SNES with a border simulating the original Donkey Kong bezel and an improved palette. The depth of the title makes it ideal to be played in this way, while the short levels and measured save points make it an equally ideal handheld title. Music design is mostly taken from the original arcade machine's spot effects and metronomic beat, though some select later levels feature surprisingly pumping C64 style chiptunes.

dk4.gifThis game is something really, really special - a well crafted and comprehensive experience with a lot of heart, certainly one of the greatest games available for the system. Nintendo attempted to revisit the franchise recently with a Game Boy Advance sequel, Mario vs Donkey Kong (after an abortive first attempt, a port by the name of Donkey Kong Plus that was intended to be connected to the Gamecube for designing new levels), but fouled up much of what made the game appealing and special by implementing ugly pre-rendered graphics. DS sequel Mario vs Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis moves even further away from the core gameplay, becoming a Lemmings-styled puzzle title. If you want the authentic experience, pick up something Game Boy compatible and grab the original - you'll thank me for it later.

[James Edwards is endlessly frustrated by the diagonal barrels and has no website to speak of. He currently writes "Green And Black Attack"for Game Set Watch and not much else.]