Donkey Kong

Donkey Kong

Retro Coin Op Synopsis

The little game that started it all for an ex-playing card company called Nintendo. Not only did Donkey Kong lay the foundations of a video game empire, it introduced the world to two of the arcade world’s biggest stars, both of whom have built careers lasting to the present day: Donkey Kong himself and his arch nemesis, a mustachioed Italian plumber named Mario.

Back in his Donkey Kong days, Mario wasn’t actually the Mario we’ve come to know and love. At the time, the character was simply known as “Jumpman” (the “Mario” name came out in later promotional materials), and he never even came anywhere near a leaky pipe or an angry Koopa Troopa. In fact, he was employed as a carpenter at the time, at least until a giant ape named Donkey Kong kidnapped his girlfriend Pauline.

On the game’s first level, Mario moved up through levels of steel girders to reach Donkey Kong and Pauline at the top. Not one to give up without a fight, DK threw barrels down at the plucky plumber, while at the same time, fireballs moved up toward Mario from the bottom of the screen. Mario had a pretty impressive vertical leap (enough to get over the barrels and fireballs), and at certain strategic points he could grab a hanging sledgehammer and strike back, earning bonus points. But even if Mario managed to cross the platforms and climb the ladders up to his lady love, the reunion would be all too brief. Donkey Kong merely snatched the woman away again, carrying her up to the next level.

On the second level, the steel girders now formed a grid, held together by eight support pegs. Donkey Kong and Pauline were again at the top, but this time, Mario was out for primate blood. By walking across the individual support pegs, Mario knocked them out one by one, trying to avoid and/or hammer the blue fireballs that moved back and forth on the grid. Once all the supports were gone, Donkey Kong fell straight down on his ape noggin, and the happy human couple was reunited.

Unfortunately, Donkey Kong was a very resilient simian, and after “couple time” was over, the ape was back to his old tricks. Two more levels were included in the game, popping up at regular intervals during gameplay. In the “elevator” level, Mario leaped his way across a maze of elevators, careful not to ride too long or he would be smashed against the ceiling. In the “conveyor” level, the mustached wonder hopped onto moving conveyor belts, where fireballs and dangerous pies were aplenty, again riding toward his sweetie.

An innovative game with charming cartoon graphics and a compelling storyline, Donkey Kong also helped launch one more career: that of programmer Shigeru Miyamoto. Nintendo had come to the young genius-in-waiting with a large problem. The company had tried to enter the video game arena with a Space Invaders clone called Radarscope, which had failed miserably. Nintendo was left with a warehouse full of Radarscope machines with no buyers, and they wanted to help soften the economic blow.

Using the Radarscope hardware, Miyamoto designed Donkey Kong, and Nintendo’s original failure turned into a colossal hit. Donkey Kong and Mario got their own breakfast cereal, a segment on the cartoon Saturday Supercade, a number of arcade clones (including Falcon's Crazy Kong, which added a few extras to the mix) and countless video game sequels both in the arcade and on home systems. Many of these became gargantuan successes in their own right: Donkey Kong Jr., Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong Country and more, most designed by Miyamoto himself.

Mario became Nintendo’s official spokesman during the 8-bit home system renaissance of the Nintendo Entertainment System, eventually becoming even more recognizable among American youth than Mickey Mouse himself. Both ape and man remain superstars today, riding out the ups and downs of the video game world in a pair of truly legendary careers.

Arcade Machine Release History

1981 - Donkey Kong
1982 - Donkey Kong Jr.
1983 - Donkey Kong 3

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