Donkey Kong 3: Dai Gyakushu
As the NES version turns 35 (!!), a look at this home computer obscurity.
Stanley the Bugman doesn't get enough respect. Sure, he's no Mario Mario, but he's blown more smoke up Donkey Kong's ass than the leaping plumber ever could. Of course, I mean that semi-literally. In Donkey Kong 3 - the NES port of which is 35 years old today - Stanley's bug-spraying antics transformed the Donkey Kong gameplay into something of a shmup. It's a challenging, rewarding, lovely-looking and fun to play game. But I'm not here to talk about that.
More pressingly, there was a sorta-sequel named Donkey Kong 3: Dai Gyakushū (Great Counterattack) released for a few Japanese home computers - NEC's PC- 6601 and 8801, as well as the Sharp X1 Turbo, and it's the latter I've found myself playing. Developed by Hudson, it recalls the more well-known (but still obscure) Super Mario Bros. Special with its relatively smooth gameplay and clean visuals. There's a pleasantly dark look to the whole thing, in fact, which lends it a rather thick atmosphere while still retaining a sense of Nintendo polish.
Progress in Dai Gyakushū feels like a journey; you travel through distinct named areas, starting with "On the Highway", moving on to "On the Strange Bridge" and then "On the Country Road". In this sense it's a little less authentically Nintendo - and less so when you reach "The Aliens" with its jarring, somewhat shocking background image.
The shooting gameplay differs from the original Donkey Kong 3 with the elimination of the raised platforms that allowed you to choose Stanley's vertical elevation. This lends a much more simplistic, straight-up Galaga feel to the proceedings as Stanley moves left and right on a flat plain to shoot out the bugs and push back Donkey Kong himself. Every few levels there's a bonus stage tasking you with taking out all the insects in a formation as it flies past - even more shades of Galaga. It's derivative in that respect, but the added pressure of keeping DK away means the levels take a while to clear and require a lot of attention to be paid for any hope of success.
One fairly big issue with the game is the precision needed to land a hit on Donkey Kong - I could swear his hitbox is only a couple of pixels right, and it's right between his legs. I'll avoid the obvious, puerile joke, but it can be a little irritating to have to position yourself quite so carefully given the knockabout, arcadey nature of the gameplay. Still, it's a fun curiosity, and thanks to the efforts of one Famiac, you can try it out for yourself.