I decided that the Basic Strategy section of these forums needs some love, so I wanted to try to write about something basic, yet useful, and seldom discussed. This is what I came up with, which I feel is sort of somewhere between basic and advanced -- it's the sort of thing that players begin paying more attention to when they get to an intermediate level with the game (or at least they should be!). Feel free to discuss.
Because of the nature of how the scoring works in Donkey Kong, including points gained between screens from the Bonus Timer, a player's scoring pace is derived from two simple sources: The Bonus Timer, and "beating the clock" techniques, tactics and strategies. These two concepts are somewhat complimentary -- in both cases, improving your scoring pace means playing the game with more urgency. You are either trying to rack up points as quickly as possible by beating the clock by as much as possible, or you are trying to "conserve" as much Bonus Timer as possible while scoring the same amount of points. There is a word that often describes the attitude of the player who pushes the envelope in these areas -- aggressive. But, to me, there is another word that often better describes the level of execution of the player, not just in terms of tactics and strategies, but in terms of basic techniques as well . . .
-- Efficiency --
In simplistic terms, efficiency means that you are covering more ground in less time, or scoring more points with less effort (a smaller number of moves) and so on. In a shooting game, for example, we might think in terms of hit percentages. But, in a platformer like Donkey Kong, efficiency can be somewhat less obvious -- but make no mistake, being more efficient with your movements results in a better scoring rate, and it happens in ways that are not always clear. These are the "hidden points" that can be more and more elusive as you try for higher and higher scores. I'll talk about a few techniques that people should think more about when working on their games while trying to stick to the basic / intermediate levels of play. I'm sure there are plenty of other examples which range from very basic to highly advanced, but here are a few to get the ball rolling:
I almost never see "cornering" in DK discussed explicity. It seems to be something that experienced players "just do" after a while without thinking about it. What does this mean? Just what it sounds like. It's moving around corners within the game. More specifically, it's moving onto and off of ladders -- the only way to make a 90 degree change in direction in the game.
As many Pac-Man players know, good cornering is essential to moving through the game efficiently -- in fact, even on levels where a ghost moves significantly faster than Pac-Man, if Pac-Man moves through a tight section of the maze and travels around a lot of corners as efficiently as possible, he can actually outrun the ghost in that section because Pac-Man is capable of moving around the corners much more efficiently than the ghosts. Basically, several pixels along the pathway are "skipped" while moving around the corner, essentially "speeding up" the character. Of course, in Pac-Man, moving around a corner efficiently is somewhat easy since the character moves forward on his own and the player can "lead" into the corner by changing the direction of the input way in advance so that the character will take the corner at the earliest opportunity. We have no such luck in Donkey Kong -- and yet, there is a similar concept at play when climbing onto a ladder.
When climbing onto a ladder in Donkey Kong, we do not have to be located on the exact pixel horizontally which contains the ladder. This is by design -- think about how frustrated a player would be if you had to turn your joystick upwards ONLY if you were standing exactly on the correct pixel! Think about how difficult it is to unplug a rivet while reversing directions without dying. This is what we would be going through constantly every time we wanted to climb up a ladder. So, the programmers allowed for some leeway, a range of possible locations which would result in climbing up the ladder if the player used the upward input.
As strong players, we can take advantage of this by consistantly turning up a ladder slightly before actually arriving at the ladder. This can save us several frames EVERY time we successfully perform this technique. It doesn't seem like much, but it DOES add up over time -- it adds up to saved Bonus Time on some screen types, and just generally more efficient play on other screen types. For example, on a barrel screen, we might turn up a ladder efficiently and just barely make it to the top in time to jump over an oncoming barrel -- otherwise we would have waited and the delay would cause us to miss the barrel completely for a loss in points. Or, we might corner our way DOWN a ladder JUST as a barrel is moving over the edge of our girder -- efficient cornering means that the barrel stays on the structure and we can rejump it for extra points, if we are a bit late with our cornering the barrel rolls off the structure and is lost. On a Pie Factory, good cornering might enable us to finish the screen with 6800 Bonus whereas it's much more common to finish with 6700. Really good cornering on the final turn up onto the adjustable ladder enables us to worry MUCH less about getting hit in the foot by a pie entering the screen a short distance away. On the elevator screens, this becomes absolutely essential in getting a "good jump" up Pauline's ladder, enabling us to outrun a much wider range of trailing springs than we otherwise would if we are turning this corner poorly.
Beware, however, that although the programmers clearly allowed for some flexibility when climbing onto a ladder, they failed quite miserably in doing the same when exiting a ladder -- especially at the top of a ladder. Many players who are used to other platformer games and begin to play Donkey Kong will lose lots and lots of lives due to "getting stuck on the ladder". This is due to a player's natural tendency to try to corner this turn efficiently and the game simply does not allow it. You need to be completely off of a ladder before trying to run along the next platform. Learning to do this consistantly with the best possible efficiency is just as important as good cornering -- every time you get stuck and then have to make the extra inputs required to "get unstuck" before moving on, you are costing yourself frames, and ultimately points.
Pay closer attention when turning corners and watch your scores rise.
. . . . .
This post is already getting much longer than I thought it would so I'll have to break this topic into multiple posts. More basic techniques to discuss include:
starting up a ladder