Classic Game Spotlight:
In 1980, Japanese game developer Nintendo was struggling to get a foothold in the North American video arcade market. One of its lead designers, Shigeru Miyamoto, was given the task to design an arcade game that could literally make or break Nintendo. The result was “Donkey Kong”, a huge success that not only defined Nintendo as a giant among video game makers, but marked the first appearance of everyone’s favourite plumber - Mario! (but that is a story for another issue)
Donkey Kong was actually the villain of the first game. Our hero was Mario, still a carpenter (not yet a plumber) and only referred to as “Jump Man”. Mario’s girlfriend Pauline (no, Mario had not met Princess Peach yet) had been captured by Donkey Kong and taken to the top of a giant construction site. It was Mario’s job to climb to the top of each structure, avoiding rolling barrels, fireballs, and other obstacles.
The game’s incredible success opened the door for two sequels. In “Donkey Kong Jr.” (released in 1982) the tables were turned. Mario had captured and imprisoned Donkey Kong, and it was up to Junior to come to Papa’s rescue. This game is notable for being Mario’s only appearance as a villain in video game history.
In Donkey Kong III (1986), Donkey Kong was back as the villain, this time antagonizing another character, Stanley the Beekeeper. The third game’s radical departure from the previous two outings proved not very popular with players, and no new Donkey Kong games were developed for almost a decade.
Donkey Kong made a major comeback to the video game world in 1994 with the release of the smash-hit “Donkey Kong Country” for the Super Nintendo system. Since then, Donkey Kong has rarely been out of the spotlight, making appearances in popular video game series such as “Mario Kart”, “Mario Party”, “Super Smash Bros.”, as well as the conga drumming game “Donkey Konga”.
Donkey Kong Trivia
* It is said that the name “Donkey Kong” was an attempt of the Japanese developer to translate the idea of a “silly monkey” (silly=donkey, kong=monkey).
* Universal Studios tried to sue Nintendo (but lost), claiming that “Donkey Kong” was a trademark infringement on their “King Kong” property.
* The original Donkey Kong from the 1980s arcade games is not the same character as the one in later games such as Donkey Kong Country or Mario Kart. In-game dialog reveals that the original (mischievous) monkey had aged to become “Cranky Kong” in later games, whereas the “new” Donkey Kong is, in fact, the (heroic) Donkey Kong Jr., all grown up. Who knew!
* Game designer Shigeru Miyamoto went on to create many other legendary games, including the Mario Bros. series and The Legend of Zelda.
Donkey Kong - Movie Star?
Finally, no discussion of the history of Donkey Kong would be complete without the mention of The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. The movie tells the true story of an avid Donkey Kong player's quest to break the game's nearly 20-year-old high score world record.
This stranger-than-fiction 2007 documentary has surprised many and is likely the best-reviewed video game movie ever, with an astonishing 97% meta-review score at Rottentomatoes.com. (Of course, given that other video game movies include the dreadfully awful Street Fighter and Super Mario Bros, that in itself is perhaps not such a big feat.)
If you are a retro game enthusiast, you will definitely want to give this movie a spin in your DVD player.