Donkey Kong: Nintendo’s Legendary Arcade Unit

Donkey Kong the 1981 arcade game
Yeah!

A major classic here and one of the most iconic video games of all time! Donkey Kong is a 1981 arcade game that set the foundations for the platform genre.

Donkey Kong—The Arcade Game

Designed by Shigeru Miyamoto and Gunpei Yokoi, the game stars a giant ape and a character that looks like Mario from Super Mario Bros.

Well, that little bloke was unnamed to begin with. But later got the title Jumpman. Obviously, his name was later switched to Mario and a legend was born.

However, back in 1981 Nintendo wasn’t a household name. The business’ former president Hiroshi Yamauchi hired Miyamoto in 1977.

And it was at that point things started to change, as the young industrial designer creative genius and imagination worked wonders.

With a budget of $100,000, Miyamoto focussed on a love triangle rivalry that was along the lines of Popeye, Bluto, and Olive Oyl.

It was an ambitious project that took up a total of 20kb (outstanding for he time). And the result was this!

The idea is a basic damsel in distress, with the Princess Peach character kidnapped by Donkey Kong (the giant ape).

As the player, you traverse the environment, jump over barrels (the first instance of jumping in a platform game), and try to rescue the human female.

Obviously, King Kong was an influence for Miyamoto. And that decision eventually led to the bizarre Universal City Studios v. Nintendo lawsuit that Nintendo won.

Basically, the film studio claimed it had the rights to King Kong and Nintendo breached copyright.

But it emerged King Kong was in the public domain. Something Universal City Studios had a different lawsuit about years earlier to prove was the case. But had forgotten about.

Anyway, that legal shenanigans aside the game was a smash hit. With its revolutionary concepts, it wowed gamers and proved highly addictive.

As an arcade unit, many a pub going sort would pound endless bits of loose change into the machine. A legend was born!

It was so popular it, of course, was ported over to many games consoles of the era. Such as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Game Boy, and Atari.

Even in today’s retro gaming fan base, Donkey Kong commands a lot of mystical respect.

There was even a documentary about the world high score: The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.

So, the game is very iconic. All the little sound effects by Yukio Kaneoka have gone down in legend. Heck, we visited a retro gaming bar in Manchester last year and Donkey Kong was there.

The success of the game led to inevitable sequels, of course. But also a longstanding franchise for Nintendo.

Especially on the SNES, where Rare turned the character into a modern day platforming icon of lore.

Donkey Kong—The Series

In 1982, Nintendo launched the official sequel—Donkey Kong Jr. There was also Donkey Kong 3 in 1983.

After that, Nintendo entered the home console market with the NES and dominated the industry for many years.

It eventually handed the franchise over to its close business ally Rare, who created the landmark title Donkey Kong Country (1994).

The use of pre-rendered graphics was a remarkable moment in gaming, even if the title is a bit weak gameplay wise. Something Rare fixed for the outstanding sequels.

And, happily, Retro Studios has the franchise these days. The last outing was the masterpiece Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.

There will be more, we should imagine. But it all harks back to 1981, when Mr. Shigeru Miyamoto was charged with making a brand new set of characters.

In turn, this led to Donkey Kong and Super Mario. And we must be thankful for the latter in particular.

7 comments

  1. Loved playing this at the Arcade.
    Will the Arcades ever come back? What about Pinball?
    Perhaps it’s time to open up an Arcade, “for that retro experience”.
    Do people like retro, anymore?

    Liked by 1 person

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