Released: October 1985
US Cartridge ID: NES-CA-USA
Supported Peripherals: Controller
ROM Size: 192 kilobit
Mapper: NROM-128 (16k PRG, 8k CHR)
Following Atari’s greed driven implosion of the entire market segment a few years prior, Nintendo of America sought to establish a presence by differentiating itself as much as possible from its forbearer. To make the NES seem less like a videogame system, accessories like R.O.B. and the NES Zapper were released to appeal to children’s interest in high-tech toys. Furthermore, to convince parents that the new hardware was indeed a worthwhile investment, a lone title in the 18 game launch line-up bore the image of brilliant red graduation cap, signifying its membership in the Educational Series. Donkey Kong Jr. Math, Nintendo’s ”contribution” to the cognitive development of young children, was widely considered the weakest of the NES’ first wave of games, epitomizing the somewhat myopic approach of Nintendo’s marketing machine during the early 1980s. Much like R.O.B., Donkey Kong Jr. Math was soon regarded as a misguided attempt to do something different, and the Education “Series” never became a series at all, but an abandoned experiment to be relegated to the footnotes of Nintendo’s annals, and as a reviled cash grab when rereleased on the Wii Virtual Console in 2007.
As a forerunner in the burgeoning “edutainment” field, Donkey Kong Jr. Math sat alongside notable quality PC software that emphasized learning while still providing an entertaining experience: the Stickeybear series, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? and The Oregon Trail had all proven that the confluence of appealing characters, entertaining graphics, and implicitly meaningful learning moments could motivate kids to want to study. Donkey Kong Jr. Math, however, did not successfully recreate the experiences provided by these popular PC titles.
Upon booting, the player may choose from three exciting modes available to engage and mold young minds: Calculate A, Calculate B, and +-x÷ Exercise. Calculate A requires Donkey Kong Jr. to use simple arithmetic to reach the number held up by his father on a placard at the top of the screen. Using the same control mechanics as Donkey Kong Jr., Junior must climb vines and hop small pitfalls while collecting the appropriate operands and operators to reach the number required for the round; these may also be chained together if the answer requires more than a single operation to complete. For example, if Donkey Kong holds up “+87,” Junior can correctly answer by stringing together 9 x 9 + 6, 9 x 8 + 6 + 9, or any other appropriate combination. Calculate B plays the same way, but is intended to be more difficult by introducing large negative target numbers to reach.
Both Calculate A and B can be played as competitive two player matches, with the first player taking control of Junior as the second player directs Junior’s hot-pink albino twin, the imaginatively dubbed Junior II. This mode of play pits the two brothers against one another in a race to solve given problems the fastest, with the winner of each round being awarded an apple, an apparent sign of validation and approval from “Papa” Donkey Kong. The first player to claim five apples wins the game.
Because there is no specific two-player game mode provided, the second player can join in at any time by picking up the second controller. The single-player method of dealing with Junior II, however, highlights one of the most significant flaws of the Calculate mode: due to the complete absence of any artificial intelligence routines in the game, Junior II will remain catatonic in the corner for the entire duration of the game. Though the questions aren’t particularly compelling game content, friendly competition does provide some motivation to play; without this sense of competition, Calculate becomes a cumbersome fill-in-the-blank worksheet, demanding far more time and effort than the purple mimeographed exercise sheets students in the 1980s were subjected to (and preferred to sniff rather than to read).
+-x÷ Exercise is a miserable excuse for education or entertainment, providing actual worksheets to players looking to improve their skills through practice. After selecting the type of problems to solve, Junior must climb chains to lock in numbers. However, he is required not only provide the answers to the questions, but also to show his work! For example, if presented with “774 x 22”, merely inputting “17028” will make Junior cry, lose points, and force him to fix his mistake. The only way to correctly solve the problem is to work the problem out longhand on screen (meaning that the first line must read 1548, the second must read the same way but indented one space in from the right, and the third and final line will read 17028, the actual answer). While reinforcing the process of finding the answer is useful, the inability to show carried numbers negates a large part of its intended purpose. Finally, the lack of two-player competition and the inability to fix an input mistake render the +-x÷ Exercise a soul-crushing experience that will actively teach young students to hate math.
Donkey Kong Jr. Math‘s graphic and sound resources have been recycled wholesale from Donkey Kong Jr., though they effectively eliminate the variety that made Donkey Kong Jr. a visually compelling title. The sound is standard for a first-generation NES game, with the occasional bleep or bloop that might or might not meaningfully correspond to the on-screen action.
Donkey Kong Jr. Math was far outclassed by its edutainment peers when it was originally released in 1985, and time has done little to obscure its complete lack of merit. The game’s failure to educate or to entertain justifiably places it among the worst selling first-party Nintendo releases of all-time. Those looking for a good time would be better served by counting lint bobbles on their Christmas sweaters, and parents seeking a valuable math aid for their children ought to consider whether or not they really love their progeny before providing them with Donkey Kong Jr. Math. It really is that heinously awful.
|Donkey Kong Jr. Math
|Donkey Kong Jr. Math
|ドンキーコングJR.の算数遊び (Donkii Kongu Jr. no Sansuu Asobi)
Donkey Kong Jr.’s Math Play
|ドンキーコングJR. / JR.算数レッスン (Donkii Kongu Jr. / Jr. Sansuu Ressun)
Donkey Kong Jr. / Jr. Math Lesson