Donkey Kong‘s second level has become something of a legend thanks to its omission in nearly every home port of the game ever released. See, Nintendo (and ghost-writer development house Ikegami Tsushinki) went a little crazy with the game’s design, cramming four different stage layouts into the arcade board. While these mostly shared assets amongst themselves, the second level apparently featured just enough unique graphics and mechanics that it couldn’t easily be squeezed into cartridges — even those released a few years after the arcade version’s debut. So, this level ended up being cut.
Why this stage, you ask? Probably because it is by far the weakest level of Donkey Kong.
After the clear, directed design of the first level, stage 2 lacks a certain clarity of purpose. Some of that is clearly intentional. The angled ramps vanish, removing the player’s straightforward path to the goal and replacing it with a more open symmetrical structure that allows you to climb up on either side.
Oddly, the hazards this time have nothing to do with Kong himself. He slides back and forth at the top of the screen, but he doesn’t throw anything. He’s just kind of there, pounding his chest at you to no avail. Instead, the threats come in the following forms:
- Fireballs disgorged from the OIL drum suspended above a wire mesh in the center of the screen. Like the first stage’s fireball, these drift slowly in Mario’s approximate direction with just enough unpredictability to be incredibly dangerous.
- Piles of wet cement in basins that slide steadily along the screen on two different levels. These can be leapt or destroyed with a hammer.
- The stage itself: The second, fourth, and fifth floors are conveyor belts. It’s not just Kong and the cement piles that roll along the belts. Mario does, too. Walking in the direction of a belt’s movement causes Mario to advance at double speed, while walking against its flow slows Mario’s pace to a crawl. Additionally, the ladders linking the fourth and fifth floors constantly rise and retract, forcing you to time you climb carefully lest you find yourself stranded midway up as a fireball chases you up the rungs.
That’s a lot of factors to keep track of in a level so much more freeform than the first. Realistically, this would make a better third stage than second. (Edit: And in fact, Nintendo seems to agree; in the U.S. version, this stage doesn’t even appear until your third loop through the game.) Since it lacks a clear focal point beyond “get to Pauline” while forcing you to deal with so many moving objects, it can be overwhelming for a first-time player. While the ultimate objective communicates itself fairly well by presenting itself identically to the goal of the first stage, even that’s a little fuzzy.
To beat this stage, you simply need to reach the fifth floor without climbing into Kong as he slides overhead. Unlike the previous level, you don’t actually need to ascend to Pauline’s level; as soon you hit Kong’s floor, he escapes to the next screen. It’s an odd inconsistency; I can understand why they didn’t design it so that you’re railroaded up the right side of the screen, but I don’t think it works nearly as well as the other stages.
Of all the stages to drop from home ports, I can see why they axed this one. Even so, it actually loosely inspired its own Game & Watch (Mario’s Cement Factory). I guess even substandard Donkey Kong ideas are still pretty OK.