You know I’ve never stopped to really examine just how much I really like single screen platformers. In my mind it is easy to dismiss the “genre” since I got more than my fill of it during the Atari 2600 days. But later games such as Bubble Bobble, Snow Bros. and even Joe & Mac Returns really brought the genre into the modern era kicking and screaming. Where these games largely disappeared on consoles they still flourished in the arcade with the occasional console port. Taito’s Don Doko Don is a game I only learned of in recent years and have grown to love since then. Don’t let the similarities to Bubble Bobble fool you, Don Doko Don can stand on its own and is excellent.
You can’t really blame Taito for using their Bubble Bobble blueprint when creating Don Doko Don. The two games are near identical in gameplay with a few exceptions. Bob and Jim don’t blow bubbles but instead use mallets to flatten enemies. Once pancaked you can pick them up and toss them at a wall or their friends to take them out. It’s actually kind of funny in that you can pick up three or four at once and chuck them simultaneously. If you wait too long flattened enemies will get regain consciousness which is similar to the bubbles bursting in BB. Although the mallet is your only weapon it can also be used to destroy parts of the environment which will topple and crush anything below (hint, hint).
Defeated enemies drop fruit for points while random power-ups spawn in the center of the screen. The list is far smaller than Bubble Bobble unfortunately but no less potent. Potions will increase your movement speed and power. Power is actually a useful stat as it allows you to throw enemies through walls and multiple objects in one toss. The different hammers don’t show up until later, which kill enemies in one hit or allow you to toss them for some ranged attacks. The Book of death stops time and kills all enemies and surprisingly crops up often. The book of Smash will flatten everything on screen for a short while. One last element from Bubble Bobble has carried over; there is an invisible timer and if you take too long a winged imp arrives and seeks you out. It’s easier to avoid him here since he moves in a figure eight pattern but is no less nerve wracking once you hear that sound.
Since the brothers don’t have the power set of their contemporaries or the variety in power-ups the game has to impress through strong level design, which it has in spades. The game has a rich cast of enemies that changes every few stages. That’s long enough to introduce their special attacks than place them in uniquely laid out rooms that will see you rubbing up against the invisible clock frequently before moving on. That it managed to keep up this pace on excellent fashion right up to its conclusion is a rare sight. As much as I wish there were a few more items s o you weren’t stuck with the stock hammer the varied level design made it a non factor since I was still having fun.
Because the levels are less gimmicky than in similar titles Don Doko Don is easier and moves at a faster clip. There are many levels that provide the all powerful book from the start that eliminates all enemies in one swipe. It’s not uncommon to wipe out every enemy with a well placed throw either. Not that I’m complaining; I’ll take this over bullshit like stage 58 in bubble bobble any day. The boss battles are the only real source of frustration in my opinion. You would not expect such large and stationary creatures to pose much of a threat but the time limit is short and the game isn’t very forthcoming with extra lives. You can still zerg it but what self respecting gamer enjoys doing that?
Don Doko Don follows a similar structure to Capcom’s Snow Bros with 5 worlds consisting of 9 single screen levels followed by a boss battle. While I do somewhat miss the content overload of having 100 levels 50 is more than adequate and from a pacing perspective better. Sometimes less is better as the game does not overstay its welcome. For those that want more there is an alternate path after the first world that leads to the Reverse World, another set of 50 levels. Not that I want to get your hopes up to much but these are simply arrangements of the main game but at least there is an alternate ending for your trouble.
Don Doko Don turned out to be a pleasant surprise. I’ll be the first to admit that if I had seen that box art in Toys R Us back in the day I wouldn’t have given it the time of the day. I probably also ate glue back then so that shows what I know. I had never even heard of the original arcade game so I came to this blind. What I found was a game similar to many beloved classics yet unique enough to stand on its own. Platforming fans have another one to add to the list.