Donkey Kong is one of those games that everybody should play just to show respect. It was the turning point that made Nintendo what it is now. Before this, they were a toy company with their fingers in several different pies (and by pie I mean love hotels, but we can get to that later) and they dabbled in video games because they were a hot new thing. Here is a little bit of history on the game that gave us Mario.

Donkey Kong Title Screen

The Team:

(Nintendo, 1981)
Director: Shigeru Miyamoto (Mario, Donkey Kong, Legend of Zelda)
Producer: Gunpei Yokoi (Game Boy, Metroid, Virtual Boy, Wonderswan)
Designers: Shigeru Miyamoto and Gunpei Yokoi
Composer: Yukio Kaneoka

Donkey Kong: a strange way to introduce a jumping plumber to the world.

Donkey Kong, the legendary Arcade title that served as a turning point for Nintendo. Without this game we wouldn’t have Mario, and really, where would video games be without Mario? The NES version has one less stage than the arcade version, which is a bit of a disappointment, but what can you do? According to a recent source, Nintendo of Japan’s then president Hiroshi Yamauchi decided to hold a contest within the company. First-time game designer Shigeru Miyamoto won that contest and they went with his project.

Radar Scope

Nintendo had failed to break into the American coin-op business with a game called Radar Scope, which was essentially a Galaxian knock-off (although I personally think it looks cooler), and after the failing to capture any kind of glory, they were left with a surplus of 2,000 cabinets. Trying to cut their losses, they decided to simply redesign the Radar Scope cabinets into something new. Enter Shigeru Miyamoto, the young illustrator who’s design had won over the president. He was helped by Nintendo Chief Engineer Gunpei Yokoi to supervise the project.

Donkey Kong originally started off as an attempt to become a Popeye game, but Nintendo couldn’t get the licensing, that’s why a love triangle that was similar to Bluto, Popeye and Olive Oyl was created. Not being bound to the characters from Popeye meant that they could use the same characters for other games in the future. Nintendo did actually make a Popeye game for arcades, Game & Watch, and NES later.

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Donkey Kong fell on his dome and Mario saved Pauline. Spoiler alert: They break up and he goes after Peach.

Donkey Kong fell on his dome and Mario saved Pauline. Spoiler alert: They break up and he goes after Peach.

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The Characters:

Donkey Kong starred a Gorilla named Donkey Kong, a handyman named Jumpman (later renamed Mario after Nintendo of America’s landlord Mario Segale. His name was also deemed to similar to Pac-man), and Lady (Later named Pauline, after Polly James, the wife of Nintendo’s of America’s warehouse manager, Don James).

People often wonder why Donkey Kong is named the way he is. Many people assumed it’s a mis-translation and was simply supposed to be named Monkey Kong, which would be a reasonable enough thing to assume, but really, the name Donkey Kong was intentional. Donkey implies that he’s stubborn, like a donkey, and Kong is a common name for a gorilla, obviously based on King Kong. That actually prompted Universal City Studios to sue Nintendo, but lost the case. This game was a first for many milestones. It was one of the first games to use graphics as a means of storytelling such as cut scenes, one of the first games to feature multiple levels, and was the first platform game to feature jumping.

Not only did Nintendo sell all 2,000 Radar Scope converted to Donkey Kong machines, but they had to fulfill more and more requests for more machines. The game won awards and was a completely success. Taito attempted to buy the rights to the game, but Nintendo eventually turned them down. Atari and Coleco fought for the rights, and Nintendo granted them to Coleco. Instead of selling the game on it’s own, Coleco bundled it with their systems, resulting in massive popularity for their console.

Donkey Kong Mini Arcade

They soon made ports of the game for the Atari 2600 and the Intellivision, as well as a mini-arcade version of it. Atari eventually got their own rights to the game as well. It was also ported to Game & Watch, and several different kinds of computers. It, and Donkey Kong Jr. are on a compilation cart for the NES. Donkey Kong was a launch title for the Nintendo Famicom in Japan, and was one of the original “black box” games for the NES. The “concrete factory” level is missing on the NES version, as were some of the cut scenes.

The missing level was eventually put back in for the Virtual Console release of the game available on the 3DS, and was also pre-installed on the 25th anniversary red Wii consoles in PAL territories. Donkey Kong went on to spawn several sequels, and is one of the most important video games of all time. There was also a cartoon called Saturday Supercade that featured Donkey Kong that lasted two seasons

In Summary:
Needless to say, the game is a blast to play. The simple controls and objective make it easy to pick up for any beginner, but almost impossible to master, even for the most seasoned video game veterans. In fact, there’s the infamous “kill screen”, a spot where you’ve gotten so far in the game it crashes and has to be reset. I guess they figured that nobody would ever get that far, but then again, who could predict that a game would still be so popular 30 years later?