Friday, March 12, 2021

Game 243: Donkey Kong 3

It's easy to take for granted that after the industry-disrupting Famicom's release in July 1983, Nintendo started a new chapter and assumed its role as the home video game giant that we know today. Even in their early arcade-focused years, they were never as prolific as contemporaries like Namco, Taito, and Konami (though with Donkey Kong being a strong seller well into 1983, why would they need to be?), and it must have only seemed logical to abandon a shrinking, crowded industry in favor of an exploding one that they were primed to control. Indeed, the blog Before Mario makes this day a cutoff point, the moment where their toys and games era ends and their home console dynasty begins.

And yet, it's not at all accurate to say that Nintendo's arcade efforts ended here. The Famicom wasn't an immediate smash hit, and its worldwide release was years off. There was still money to be made in the arcades, and Nintendo kept manufacturing coin operated video games until 1992, but history tends to gloss over them.

Donkey Kong 3 was Nintendo's first post-Famicom arcade title, and the last of concern to Data Driven Gamer. Sadly, this chapter goes out not with a bang, but with a pssst.


The above video skips the first two loops and starts at level 5.

Donkey Kong 3 isn't especially well remembered. Ask a Nintendo kid about it, and they'll probably think you meant Donkey Kong Country 3. Maybe it's because Mario's nowhere to be seen here, and can't ride the coattails of its successors like Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. do. Maybe it's because its U.S. release coincided with the sharp decline of the video market. Maybe, though, it's because Donkey Kong 3 is repetitive, unbalanced, and kind of boring.

Donkey Kong's given up on kidnapping damsels and has moved on to terrorizing florists. You play one named Stanley. DK has invaded your greenhouse, and threatens your flowers by agitating the bugs. Armed with a tube of bug spray, you've got to blast them dead and drive the mad ape out by shooting enough DDT up his grundle to delouse a zoo.

It plays somewhat like Galaga, but there are some big problems with its execution. Your bug spray kind of sucks - it's slow, has poor range, and only two puffs are allowed on the screen at once. The bugs are unending, their movement is erratic, and you still have DK to deal with. Around the third loop, it gets nearly impossible to stay ahead of the madness and still have time to focus on Kong, who you need to be on the top platform to really have a chance of hitting, but this is where you are most vulnerable. Worst of all are the worms, which can't be destroyed, just stunned, and will crawl around on the platforms, denying you that area.

Miyamoto must have realized how unfair this was, because it grants a lot of mercies. Every time you die, you get a can of super spray which just tears through the bugs and DK, ending the level quickly and earning you a huge bonus. Provided you don't lose any flowers you can get 12,000-15,000 points easily, which gets you halfway to replenishing the life you just lost. And the third and final level of each loop is surprisingly tame in comparison to the first two, with worms that get in the way without killing you, and not too many bugs - you just have to watch out for when Kong starts flinging coconuts at you. I'd score about 50,000 points per loop, with 40,000 coming from bonus points. This wasn't quite enough to stay ahead of the two lives lost per loop, but kept me hanging on. Hanging on for longer than I had fun, and my last life was lost not from attrition but from boredom-induced carelessness. And I didn't feel like trying to improve my score.

GAB rating: Bad. Sorry Shiggy, but DK3 is weird and not very much fun, and I just don't have that much more to say about it. This one donkey bombed.

After Donkey Kong 3, Nintendo developed three more original arcade games before the NES's debut in New York; Punch-Out!!, Super Punch-Out!!, and Arm Wrestling. These are often considered predecessors to Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!, and their legacy lives in its shadow. In 1984, they debuted the Nintendo VS. System, an arcade board with hardware comparable to the Famicom. All of the games developed for it were based on existing Famicon titles. In fact, some games, like Duck Hunt, appeared in American arcades even before the NES's release! Nintendo's final independent arcade effort was the Playchoice-10, produced from 1986 to 1991, which simply contained a selection of unmodified NES games and allowed arcade goers to purchase minutes of gameplay.

Some miscellaneous thoughts on Donkey Kong 3:

  • This game uses the same PCB as the original Donkey Kong (and Radar Scope). It doesn't support the high-res sprites seen in Popeye, but with over double the ROM size of the first game, there are many more frames of animation. Kong himself is particularly expressive, and he does not look happy to be there.
  • Stanley's death animation is the stuff of nightmares.
  • There are only three levels, and the second one is skipped during the first loop. Unlike DK and DKJr, this also holds true in the Japanese release.
  • Earlier Nintendo games' music and sounds had kind of a muffled quality to it. DK3 sounds brighter and cleaner, more like the NES. The fanfare at the start also kind of reminds me of Duck Hunt's.
  • The game's rendition of Flight of the Bumblebee also reminds me of Super Mario 64's miniboss music, which did not originally make me think of said interlude.


  1. >"Donkey Kong 3 isn't especially well remembered. Ask a Nintendo kid about it, and they'll probably think you meant Donkey Kong Country 3."

    And here I was, wondering how did you get to DKC3 so fast when I read the title... I must confess I didn't know the existence of this game, but it seems like I didn't miss anything.

  2. Such a shame this is not a better game. Platformer combined with Galaga-style shooting has potential, Contra being the example that springs to mind for me.


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