Donkey Kong was the first game designed by Shigeru Miyamoto. Nintendo of America had many unsold Radar Scope arcade games and asked for a new game that could be shipped as a conversion kit for those cabinets. Nintendo asked its designers for game ideas, and the idea by Miyamoto (who had previously designed the case for the Color TV-Game Block Breaker console) was chosen.
The original concept was to be based on Popeye, but Nintendo couldn’t acquire the rights at the time. So, the broad character types were given to new characters. Popeye the Sailor became a carpenter, Bluto became the carpenter’s pet gorilla, and Olive Oyl became the carpenter’s girlfriend.
The carpenter was originally named Ossan (a nickname for a middle-aged guy), then Mr. Video, as Shigeru Miyamoto intended him to be an everyman character to use in any game that he created. When Donkey Kong was released, he was named Jumpman for the Japanese release of Donkey Kong, and Mario for the North American release. This name, as well as Mario’s Italian-American heritage, came from a man named Mario Segale. He was the landlord of a warehouse which was rented at the time by Nintendo of America.
Mario’s pet gorilla was named Donkey Kong, chosen because the designers wanted to signify that he was a dimwitted creature. In 1984, Universal sued Nintendo over the name, which they claimed infringed on their “King Kong” trademark, but Nintendo won the case as their lawyer, and future chairman, Howard Lincoln, noted that Universal themselves proved that the plot of “King Kong” was in the public domain in a court case against RKO Pictures in 1976.
Mario’s girlfriend was named Lady for the Japanese release of Donkey Kong, and Pauline for the North American release. This name came is said to come from a woman named Polly James, who was the wife of Don James, the warehouse manager at Nintendo of America.
Mario’s trademark hat, overalls, and mustache were designed to overcome the limitations of the hardware of the time. This design made it easy to distinguish his arm and leg movement, as well as his face. It also gave the game a unique aesthetic compared to the other games of the time period.
The object of the game is to have Mario climb platforms in order to rescue Pauline from Donkey Kong. Mario must dodge the barrels thrown by Donkey Kong, as well as other obstacles in the way. Once Mario completes a stage, Donkey Kong will carry Pauline off to the next stage. Each stage is presented in meters, with the game asking Mario how high he’ll be able to get. The four stages are named by height: 25m, 50m, 75m, and 100m. Once 100m is completed, Mario will reunite with Pauline, only for Donkey Kong to kidnap her again and the game will repeat the four levels again. Like other arcade games of the time, the game gets harder as it goes on and the object is to get the highest score.
The game was ported to many systems, including the Atari 2600, Intellivision, Colecovision, Atari 8-bit computers, Nintendo Entertainment System, TI-99/4a, IBM PC, Commodore-64, VIC-20, MSX, ZX-Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Coleco Adam, Famicom Disk System, and Atari 7800.
Outside of the original arcade version, the NES version was the most accurate of the versions, except for the missing 50m, or factory stage. This version was emulated on the Nintendo 64 (in Animal Forest), e-Reader, Game Boy Advance, GameCube (in Animal Crossing), Wii, Nintendo 3DS, Wii U, Famicom Mini, and the NES Classic Edition.
A more arcade accurate version for the NES called “Donkey Kong: Original Edition” was released in 2010 for Wii in Europe pre-installed on red Mario 25th anniversary Wii consoles. It was later released on 3DS in 2012.
The game remains a classic and is worth playing even today. The best version remains the original arcade release, which was finally emulated in its entirety by Hamster as part of its Arcade Archives line on the Nintendo Switch on August 16, 2018.
4 out of 5