Donkey Kong – C64 vs Arcade

0 Donkey Kong Title Screen

I’ve been thinking a bit about content to post since my games are all in storage and there obviously is no work being done on them. As you may know from my previous posts, I recently dug the Commodore 64 out of storage to give me something to occupy my time. So, for the next few posts, I’m going to take a look at original arcade games and how the Commodore 64 version compares.

Since my games aren’t accessible to me and I don’t have a video capture device for the Commodore, I’m going to do all of my comparisons via emulators. MAME for the arcade portion and VICE for the C64 portion. I chose my favorite game, Donkey Kong as the first candidate. I’m going to try and hit the games I own first, so we’ll be taking a look at the C64 ports of Dig Dug, Donkey Kong Jr., Ms. Pac-man, Track & Field and Centipede first, and then games I previously owned like Elevator Action, Missile Command and Jungle Hunt. If the games are still in storage and there is no real “arcade” work to do, I’ll continue with other arcade vs C64 comparisons, including some that aren’t really comparisons rather a showcase of how far things have come (Leaderboard Golf vs Golden Tee).

In each of the series of pictures below, I’ll show the Atarisoft C64 version first followed by the arcade version and point out some of the differences. The biggest difference for Donkey Kong will be the orientation. The arcade version ran in a vertical orientation, meaning the screen was taller than wide.  The C64 version, running on a standard 4X3 monitor is wider than it is tall.

Once we load DK on our disk drive and type in the commands, we reach the title screen. One obvious difference on the C64 version is the ability to pick a difficulty level. As you press F5, the image under the “Donkey Kong” title changes. The image represents the level that will come up second. All levels start out with the barrel level. The barrel image proceeds like Donkey Kong normally did in the USA, barrels then rivets, etc. Pressing F5 causes the image to change to a spring bringing the elevator level up second. Pressing it again changes the image to a fireball and the cement factory comes up second.  The barrels are thrown more “wildly” in every option but the barrel image.

Another difference is the “How High Can You Get?” graphic in the arcade version which is absent in the C64 version. The difference in vertical vs. horizontal orientation becomes more apparent as you play the levels.

Moving to the rivet level, there are a couple of differences right off the bat, mostly in gameplay mechanics. Obviously, again, the “How High Can You Get?” screen is absent. On the third girder level of the arcade version, you can grab the hammer on the left side of the screen by jumping off the girders to the left and bouncing back into the playfield. This doesn’t work on the C64 version, resulting in your death. Additionally, in the C64 version, the top girder with Peach never falls down for her and Mario to reunite. Instead, it stays floating in the air and Mario somehow magically ends up there….

On the elevator level, I was surprised that the “shortcut” works on the C64 version. That is, jumping from the second elevator on the right (the one that goes down) to the short platform somewhat in the middle of the screen. The spring patterns are completely different and moving even an inch from the top of the ladder on the C64 version will quickly get you killed.

The cement factory level plays fairly faithfully to the arcade version with the exception of the speed of belts. To sound cliche’ it feels like Mario is walking in concrete the entire time. It’s just not very responsive. Obviously another element missing from the C64 version is the entry of initials after getting a top 5 score.

Overall, it’s not a terrible port. It has many elements of the original arcade game albeit in a different screen orientation. It’s certainly better than the Atari 2600 port. Overall, the game feels sluggish, the collision mechanics are entirely different and it’s difficult to control. I found myself many times struggling to get Mario to go up a ladder as the game detected that I wasn’t “absolutely” underneath it. This led to much frustration and made the game that much less enjoyable. There was a second release of Donkey Kong that attempts to more faithfully recreate the “arcade” experience (especially screen orientation and the “How High Can You Get?” screens) but it also has it’s flaws. Perhaps we will cover that port in a later article.

My next post will be a review of a beercade in my hometown. I recently returned home for a class reunion (the year will remain a secret) and had a chance to spend some time in a fairly new establishment downtown. My phone was actually charged this time and I was able to get some decent pictures.  Until then, game on…..

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