Insert Coin #1 – Don Doko Don

I loved arcades growing up. While I’ll always have a soft spot for my Atari 2600, Commodore 64 and Super Nintendo, the arcade is really where it was at for me. In my humble opinion, nothing beats the sights and the sounds of an arcade and being in a room filled with like minded gamers. So with that, I’m really excited to present a new column titled “Insert Coin”, where I’ll be covering some of my favourite arcade games and also shining the spotlight on some of the more obscure and lesser known titles that you may have not run into before. I might even try to coerce some of my Retro Domination cohorts into also sharing some of their favourites!

For the first edition of Insert Coin, I wanted to share with you a game that I just recently came across called Don Doko Don. Made by Taito and released in 1989, Don Doko Don is a one or two player co-operative platforming game in the same vein of Bubble Bobble or Snow Bros. You play as a mallet wielding bearded dwarf (or possibly a garden gnome…it isn’t really clear) out to rescue his girlfriend, who has been captured and whisked away to the dragon’s castle.  Just for once, why couldn’t she have been taken to a Starbucks so we could discuss her release over a cup of coffee and a danish? But alas, I digress.

As I mentioned previously, the gameplay in Don Doko Don borrows heavily from one of Taito’s other hits in Bubble Bobble. You’ll use your mallet to bop your enemies over the head and once they’ve been incapacitated, pick them up and throw them at the other enemies to take them out. Along the way, you’ll also have access to power ups in the form of potions which will grant speed boosts and increases in power amongst others, and you’ll also occasionally come across different type’s hammers including one which also acts as a projectile so you don’t have to always get up close and personal with your opponents.  Once you’ve cleared a level, you’re then magically transported to the next stage….but just like in Bubble Bobble, take too long and you’ll be greeted with a flying devil cow thing that will dart around the screen and try to make your life a pain.  You’ll eventually make your way across five different areas or ‘zones’, with each zone consisting of ten stages that culminates in a boss fight on the tenth stage.

The difficulty curve in Don Doko Don starts off at a fairly low level with earlier stages able to be cleared pretty quickly and without too much trouble. But as with most arcade games, the difficulty does begin to ramp up fairly quickly the further you progress. On the default settings of the game, you’ll start off with three lives on a medium difficulty setting, with additional lives being awarded at 10,000 and 100,000 points, however all of these options can be tweaked.

Visually, the game is bright and colourful with sprites having a very cartoonish look to them, which suits the tone of the game perfectly. Each zone that you visit will have a different theme ranging from a forest setting featuring angry, angry fire breathing mushrooms, to an ice area featuring yeti’s and icicles, to some kind of strange bakery featuring pie wielding koala’s and mice armed with spatulas. I couldn’t make this stuff up even if I tried! The sound in Don Doko Don is decent with some fairly catchy and upbeat tunes to match the game’s visuals, but it doesn’t have that one great memorable theme that you would normally find in some of the great arcade games back in the day. Bubble Bobble, once again I’m looking at you!

All in all, Don Doko Don is a fun but forgettable arcade game. If you looked for it in any arcade, it would almost certainly be one of the games lost amongst all the blockbusters of yesteryear: that one cabinet that people would rest their drink or bag on while they waited for their turn to play the latest iteration of Street Fighter 2 or Final Fight, but also with enough charm to catch the attention of the odd passerby who had a hand full of change and was just looking for a game to play.

If you’re interested in trying out Don Doko Don but don’t have access to an arcade machine or can’t be bothered fiddling around with MAME, the game did receive a ports to both the NES and NEC’s PC Engine, and was also included in the Taito Legends 2 compilation for the Playstation 2, Xbox and Windows PC.

If you have a game you’d like to see covered in ‘Insert Coin’, please feel to send your suggestions through to [email protected]!  In the meantime, please check out the below video for a quick recap and for some gameplay footage!