
This review was published on 01/05/2017.
Donkey Kong Jr. Math is an edutainment video game developed and published by Nintendo for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Famicom. It was originally released in Japan on December 12, 1983, North America on October 18, 1985, and Europe on July 10, 1986. This is a spinoff from the Donkey Kong Jr. arcade game, which in itself is the sequel to the highly successful Donkey Kong that shook the arcade scene back in 1981. With Donkey Kong Jr. Math, Nintendo decided to use the popularity of the Donkey Kong franchise to sell kids a game about doing math. Predictably, this didn't turn out too well. Donkey Kong Jr. Math was a critical and commercial failure, earning itself the distinction of being the worst selling game in the NES' North American launch lineup. The game did so poorly that even Nintendo spokesman, Tom Sarris, admitted that it "wasn't a big hit." That's the understatement of the century.
For this riveting experience, you control either Donkey Kong Jr. or his pink clone. The game's action, or lack thereof, is viewed from the perspective of a sidescrolling platformer, minus the sidescrolling. Strangely, pushing the select button kicks you back out to the title screen. Anyway, similar to the original Donkey Kong Jr. arcade game, everything in this game revolves around climbing stuff, particularly chains. To grab onto a chain, you simply need to jump towards it and make contact. Once clasped onto a chain, you can press up or down on the Dpad to climb up or down it, and going all the way to the bottom of a chain causes you to let go. If there are nearby chains to your right or left, you can switch to them by pressing either right or left. Otherwise, pressing right or left on a chain causes you to drop off it in those directions. Unlike the original Donkey Kong Jr. game, you can't hold onto two chains at once to climb upwards faster. The controls are also notably less accurate this time around.
There are three modes to this game, the first two of which can oddly only be played with two players. The first mode is labeled as "Calculate A." In this mode, both players are in an area with water, tiny islands, and a giant platform at the top with chains hanging off it. Standing at the unreachable platform at the top is papa Donkey Kong, who holds up a sign with a number on it. The goal of this mode is for the players to use the numbers hanging on the chains and the mathematical symbols sitting on the islands to construct a simplistic equation that produces the number that matches what's on Donkey Kong's billboard. The player that matches his or her billboard's number with Donkey Kong's first gets a point, and eventually wins the game after getting enough points. Basically, it's a race to see who can add, subtract, multiply, or divide the fastest. The second mode, "Calculate B," is essentially the same thing, except more complex, as Donkey Kong often asks for negative numbers.
Even if you actually like math, the first two modes are riddled with problems that make certain to sap away any enjoyment you could possibly have. First of all, you're only allowed to select three things at a time in a specific order: a number, a mathematical symbol, and another number. There's absolutely no flexibility to this, so you can't get fancy with your equations. Secondly, the greatest number you can pick at a single time is nine. That means if Donkey Kong pulls out a huge number, you have to slowly make your way up there by repeatedly picking nine and the addition or multiplication symbol. If you go over what Donkey Kong wants, you have to use the subtraction or division symbols to dial it back down, but again, only in increments of nine. You can reset the number on your billboard back to the starting value by pressing the B button if you make too big of a mistake, but the whole thing is still extremely tedious.
Further adding to the annoyance is the fact that players are unable to pass through each other, meaning they can block each other from having access to specific numbers, or bounce off each other unintentionally. The latter of which can result in players falling into the water, killing them. The only actual consequence of dying is that it slows you down, but this is still irritating. Even more irritating is that collecting a number from a chain causes it to disappear, and it takes a while before a new number appears in its place. The numbers that appear on the chains are also random, so if you need a specific number and it's not available, you just have to modify your equation on the fly. Alternatively, you could try waiting for the desired number to eventually show up, but that gives the other player more time to beat you to the punch. All these clumsy mechanics get in the way of actually doing math, which is supposed to be what the game is about.
Of all three modes, only the third one is strictly single player. After picking this mode, there's an interactive menu where you make Donkey Kong Jr. climb on a chain to pick the type of mathematical problems you want to solve. This ranges from simple addition to long division. You can make the game automatically solve math problems for you, but that doesn't award points. Actually inputting answers is highly problematic, however. There are rows of empty boxes where the numbers go, and to input a number into each box, you must climb the chain beneath the appropriate box. Depending on how high up you are on the chain, you input a number from one to nine, but you have to get off the chain at the appropriate height to actually input the number into the box. Also, you're only able to enter a number into the box the bird is currently flying under. As with the other modes, pressing B erases everything. The process of inputting answers is so convoluted and time consuming that you may as well stop playing the game and do math in real life instead.
This game is notoriously bad. The only thing this game accomplishes is make the process of doing math even more tedious than it already is. If you love math, this game will make you hate it, and if you hate math, you'll hate this game. It's completely unintuitive and controls like garbage. Donkey Kong Jr. Math is a prime example of how not to design an edutainment game.
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