Skip to main content

Donkey Kong Jr. Math: Ready for some long division?

To market the Famicom in mid-80's America, when video game had become a dirty word to retailers, Nintendo branded it an "Entertainment System." Advertising strongly emphasized the R.O.B. and Light Gun. It wasn't a video game system, it was a fancy robot and video gun toy! Which also happened to play video games. This is also why they redesigned it so that the cartridge went into a hidden slot, so that it looked like a VCR instead of an Atari VCS.

Similarly, Donkey Kong Jr. Math was supposed to prove the NES could also be educational. All "Black Box" games were divided into series, but DK Jr. Math ended up being the sole title in the "Education Series"! However, it wasn't Nintendo's only foray into educational gaming. In 1994, they released five educational titles starring Mario for the Super Nintendo, two of which also appeared on the NES (Mario Is Missing! and Mario's Time Machine).

The main game of DK Jr. Math ("Calculate") works with one or two players. The second player (a pink version of Junior!) is always there, but if you play by yourself, he just sits there. The game is better with a second player since it's a race. You can choose an easier mode (A) or a harder mode (B), which uses larger numbers as well as negative numbers.

Your goal is to use arithmetic to make the number held up by Donkey Kong. Numbers from one to nine randomly appear along vines, with four operator symbols on platforms. You move Junior to a number, then an operator, then a second number. The sum or product of your numbers is then displayed at the top of the screen. Then you select a new operator and another number, and your number at the top is changed accordingly. For example, if you select 9, then ×, then 8, 72 shows at the top. Then if you select +, followed by 2, your number becomes 74. The first player to make their number equal to the target receives an apple. The first player to get five apples wins.

Choose your pain.

The other game mode ("+-×÷ Exercise") has one player solve ten math problems. You select the type of problem from a menu of ten options: addition (2, 4, or 6 digits), subtraction (3, 4, or 6 digits), multiplication (1×1 or 3×2 digits), and division (2 digits). Once in the game, you increase or decrease the digits by moving Junior up and down vines. Each base is a different vine, so you start on the rightmost vine, then go left one vine for the tens, left another vine for the hundreds, etc. If you get a problem wrong, you have to fix it to proceed. If you get a problem right the first try and do it quickly, you can score up to 100 points, Unless you've practiced long division recently, you may find scoring the maximum possible 1000 points in that mode difficult! Nor can you use a calculator, since you fill out the calculation digit by digit manually. Just like in school, you have to show your work! Since it's an educational title, there's no way to "beat" the game, although scoring 1000 points in each problem type would exhaust what the game has to offer. The game doesn't have anything beyond two-digit long division, so it's only suitable for elementary-age children.

The game's first mode is sort of fun if you have a second player, but the other mode is more effective as math practice. I had both my 10-year-old and 8-year-old play this. The older gave it a B because she thought it was good, "but the controls hard to get used to," which is true. The younger gave it a C+ and commented that playing it would be more fun than doing math problems normally.

The concept of educational games goes back to the early days of video gaming. One of the very first games was The Oregon Trail, which has had a long afterlife! Computers have had a huge effect on education, but not because of games. Video games aren't especially helpful to teachers. They can't replace traditional instruction and practice. Games are not part of work; they are for entertainment during free time. As such, educational video games don't really make sense; children would rather play normal games when they are allowed to do so after school. Nevertheless, DK Jr. Math achieved what Nintendo wanted (which was primarily a marketing ploy), so by that metric it was a success!

Grade: F

Gameplay: Barely qualifies as a game (6/20)
Theme: Uninspired concept and characters (12/20)
Controls: Controls are solid, if occasionally irritating (12/15)
Difficulty: Too easy, little challenge (12/15)
Graphics: Recycles DK Jr. graphics (12/15)
Sound: Little music, annoying sound effects (5/15)

Linked Reviews
"As a retro curio and a unique, surprisingly fun two-player experience, DK Jr.’s after-school special still adds up."
— Morgan Sleeper, NintendoLife, 4/10

"The Donkey Kong licence might tempt some people but this really isn't a proper Donkey Kong game."
— Damien McFarren, Virtual Console Reviews, 1/10

"While it may be a little helpful in learning arithmetic, the experience is shallow and not too interesting as an actual game."
— Pat Contri, Ultimate Nintendo: Guide to the NES Library2/5

"It's a curiosity at best, a historical relic of Nintendo's early days, when they hadn't yet landed on the concept of quality and polish as the primary distinguishing traits of their software."
— Jeremy Parish, NES Works

Stats
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Educational
Release date: June 1986

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past: 30th anniversary

Hard to believe it's been thirty years since The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past came out on the Super Nintendo, yet here we are! A Link to the Past is in contention for the title of Best Nintendo Game Ever . It perfectly reinvented, reimagined, and revolutionized everything great about the original Legend of Zelda . First off, the story is expanded, with five pages devoted to it in the manual, including background mythology not included in-game about the three gods that made the Triforce. The opening cinematic tells of a war centuries earlier, which resulted in seven wise men sealing the Triforce away in the "Golden World." When the game begins, the boy Link awakens on a dark and stormy night, hearing the voice of Princess Zelda in his head, asking him to rescue her from the dungeon of Hyrule Castle, where she's been imprisoned by the evil wizard Agahnim. Link finds his uncle, wounded, who gives him his sword. Link's first task is to rescue Zelda, then lead h

The Legend of the Mystical Ninja: A whimsical adventure in Japan

Growing up, I played The Legend of the Mystical Ninja at my best friend's house (though I was bad at it), and I had been looking forward to trying it again. It's an unusual, fun adventure game. I recently learned that in Japan Legend of the Mystical Ninja was preceded by three Famicom games and followed by three more Super Famicom games, none of which were localized for the West! The Japanese name of the series is Go for It, Goemon! It's based on a 1980 Japanese arcade game called Mr. Goemon. The emulation community put out fan translations of the Famicom games between 2009 and 2017. Surprisingly, no translations of the Super Famicom games existed until 2020, all three created by the same people . The series takes places in early-modern Japan. It has a light-hearted anime aesthetic. The titular character is a spiky-haired kid named Goemon. If a second player joins the simultaneous action (highly recommended), Goemon is assisted by an older, overweight ninja named Ebisumaru.

Street Fighter II: 30th anniversary

Thirty years ago today Street Fighter II made the transition from arcade to living room on the Super NES. Although quickly eclipsed by its two successors, for one year it was the hotness. It would be hard to overstate how popular Street Fighter II was in the early 90's. Its predecessor was downright bad, but Street Fighter II invented the PVP fighting genre as we know it. Its roster of eight characters was a huge step-up from Street Fighter's two (Ken and Ryu, who returned for the sequel). The next iteration of the arcade game, Street Fighter II: Champion Edition, which hit arcades just as the SNES port arrived, let you play as the bosses as well, increasing the roster to twelve. A false rumor said a secret code would let you play them at home as well. While that wasn't true, there was a code (↓, R, ↑, L, Y, B) to let both players choose the same character for a mirror match. A prime strength of the game is how interesting each character is: the American airman Guile (think