Why You Should Play Old School Donkey Kong Again
Happy 40th Anniversary to the Original Gorilla
Nintendo’s 800-pound gorilla in a 300-pound cabinet arrived in arcades across America forty years ago this summer. And by 1981’s end, Donkey Kong had hoisted the Japanese electronics company on his broad shoulders and carried Nintendo to the top of the North American video game industry. Forty years later, DK still holds up and it’s worth another play when you have the time. Or if you have Billy Mitchell kind of time then go ahead and try to break the current record score of 1,272,700. There are plenty of free Kong sites and online emulators for you to determine how high you truly can get.
This game was a revolutionary kind of fun. First of all, it was one of the earliest known platform games. Called a “climbing game” at the time, a platformer is a video game genre where the player’s objective is to navigate through a particular environment in order to reach their goal. The environment, in this case, is a dangerous skyscraper construction site filled with uneven girders, flaming oil drums, conveyor belts whipping cement pans around and falling metal springs. How this site passed inspection even before a giant primate broke in and started terrorizing stuff is beyond comprehension. But, who cares. It’s more addictive this way.
And as for your goal, your objective is to rescue a damsel in distress named Pauline. Pauline has been kidnapped by Donkey Kong who carries her higher and higher up the incomplete skyscraper in order to avoid your noble, courageous approach. And if this all sounds familiar, according to a 1982 ruling in Nintendo’s favor against Universal Studios copyright infringement over King Kong (no relation), it shouldn’t. So rest assured you’re playing an original concept!
On this fortieth anniversary of this monumental arcade classic, do not forget that Donkey Kong was the first video game that revealed a fully developed story as you played. This might seem like standard status quo today, but in 1981 this changed gaming as we knew it. Sure, Pac-Man had cut scenes but what did they mean really? That the ghosts were people in costumes? Was Pac raging out and swallowing Halloween outfits? No one will ever truly know.
On the contrary, Donkey Kong climbs ladders and smashes steel beams right from the start. And you know exactly what you need to do about it. Through a combination of cut scenes and game play you make your ascent to the ultimate face off between you and the great ape where you avoid sentient balls of fire (no game can be perfect) and remove rivets that will send DK falling to his final demise. Poetic, right? Pauline is rescued and you are her hero. Hopefully, you collected her lost belongings along the way in order to score some literal bonus points.
Oh, and in case you weren’t aware, Donkey Kong is the debut video game of a little- known protagonist who goes by the name of Mario. Yes. That Mario. Only he preferred the nickname Jumpman at the time. But that was just a phase. Before the New York handyman was exterminating vermin in city sewers and rescuing princesses from fire breathing turtle lizards – to be honest, even before he and his brother were tossing bottles onto delivery trucks – this guy was out here saving ladies from stubborn monkeys. Whenever destiny called, Mario answered. And, if you didn’t already know, here are a few fun facts about everyone’s loveable hero plumber. Mario sports a mustache only because it was more difficult for developers to put a mouth on a sprite at the time. And he wears those overalls so you, the player, can see his arms move and swing during gameplay. That’s how Mario got his look. Pretty basic for an icon, huh?
But it is because of these radical moments in gaming history on this fortieth anniversary of legendary designer Shigeru Miyaoto’s platform classic that 1981’s Donkey Kong should forever be remembered as the arcade game that changed everything forever. Go ahead and beat your chest, DK. You deserve it.