Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

This overlooked Game Boy game is the missing link in Mario’s evolution

Art: Donkey Kong for Game Boy/Nintendo
Art: Donkey Kong for Game Boy/Nintendo

Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?


Donkey Kong ’94

I recently made the transfer from my junky old 3DS XL to one of those new 2DS XLs, and the switch has got me digging through my very small collection of 3DS Virtual Console games. The one I’ve latched back onto is the oft-overlooked Donkey Kong for Game Boy, commonly known these days by its more specific working title, Donkey Kong ’94. It’s a fascinating artifact, a game that tricks you into thinking it’s just some lame Game Boy remake of old-school Donkey Kong, only to reveal it’s an entirely new, brilliant puzzle-platformer once you’ve beaten the original game’s levels.

Even the game it turns out to be isn’t quite what it seems. On the surface, it’s a mixture of Donkey Kong with the puzzling and object-lifting from Super Mario Bros. 2. You enter a stage, and you have to reach the key and carry it back to the locked door at the start, probably collecting some Donkey Kong-esque bonus items along the way. (Collect them all and you can win some extra lives.) But on a deeper level, I could never shake the feeling that it’s a missing link between the limited run-and-jump move-set of Mario’s oldest adventures and the expanded acrobatics he developed during his Nintendo 64 days. Two of the more advanced moves from Mario 64 are taken straight from Donkey Kong ’94: the backflip, performed by suddenly changing direction and immediately jumping, and the high jump, performed by jumping while crouching. (Technically, pressing jump while crouching puts Mario into a handstand. Another press of the jump button from that position executes the big leap, but it’s close enough. This is also another link to Super Mario Bros. 2, which included a super-jump you charged up by crouching.) Besides the fact that these maneuvers add a ton of depth to an otherwise relatively simple game, it’s just so amazing to think it was a freakin’ Game Boy title that laid some groundwork for Mario’s move to 3-D. People did some astounding things with that little wonder.

[Matt Gerardi]

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

Who would have thought that the most emotionally resonant video game of 2017 would be about a bunch of jackasses trying to murder each other on an island? But awkwardly titled streaming sensation PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds offers up far more than just the thrill of victory or the pain of defeat. I’ve felt more fear, camaraderie, and despondence crawling my way across Erangel than I have from any scripted experience I’ve played in months: jumping at footsteps, cheering on my friends, and cursing out whoever just shot me. Even comedy gets a turn; just last night, my half-naked avatar spent five minutes chasing another guy in his underwear around a field, desperately trying to pop him with the rickety-ass revolver I’d scrounged off a kitchen floor. I chased that guy until I was out of bullets, then turned around and fled before he could realize the tables had suddenly turned. Any game that can offer up Three Stooges meets Battle Royale has got to be worth the hype.

[William Hughes]