This was the video game debut of that annoyingly-cute Italian plumber Mario.

The plot: Donkey Kong has kidnapped Mario's girlfriend and stuck her (a la King Kong) on top of a structure. It's up to Mario to save her, and save her, and save her, etc... (DK was a "wave game" which didn't have an end, it just got harder and harder.)

Sequels:

  • Donkey Kong Jr.
  • Donkey Kong 3
  • Mario Bros.
  • Donkey Kong was an old arcade game released by Nintendo way back in 1981.

    The story

    This is the game that got Nintendo started in America (it wasn't their first American game, just their first hit). Designed by the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto, this game was basically designed to fill a bunch of leftover cabinets that they had made for the game Radar Scope (which flopped big time). This replacement game went on to shape Nintendo's entire future product line, and inspired well over a dozen sequels, and Mario (the hero of the game), has gone on to star in his own series of games.

    Rumor has it that the original title to this game was supposed to be "Monkey Kong". The story says that a hastily scribbled note (or fax), caused thousands of sets of Donkey Kong graphics (marquees, sideart. etc) to be created (instead of the correct title). It is said that they simply decided to change the game's name, rather than wait for the correct graphics. This rumor isn't true (or at least Nintendo denies it), but it is interesting nonetheless.

    This game had a guest appearance on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, where a young boy attempted to explain the game to Mr. Rogers (although the whole thing seemed like a cheap attempt to somehow be associated with a popular trend).

    The game

    In this game you play the part of Mario (in his first appearance, although back then they were still calling him "Jumpman"). The object is to climb to the top of a series of towers and girders to save your girlfriend "Pauline", who later became well known as "Princess Toadstool" or "Peach" in Japan (noder Milen says that the characters of Pauline and Peach are unrelated, which is possibly true, sources vary on this).

    Play is controlled with a 4-Way joystick and a single button. You move Mario around in his attempt to save Pauline, while avoiding the barrels, fireballs, and other dangers. You can move up and down ladders as well, while certain areas of the board will drop away after you walk over them. You can increase your score by collecting umbrellas, hats, purses and other bonus items that are scattered around some of the levels. The only weapon at your disposal is a hammer that you can grab, and use to smash enemies for a short amount of time (although you cannot climb ladders while wielding the hammer, limiting its use somewhat).

    There are four different levels to the game. The Girder, Elevator and Conveyor Belt levels cab be beaten simply by touching "Pauline" (who will be at the top of the screen, near "Donkey Kong" himself). Walking over all the visible rivets on the board beats the rivet level. Many of the levels will repeat themselves several times (especially the girder and rivet levels), before you finally see all of the levels.

    The Bugs

    On early versions of this game (any machine that displays "Nintendo" instead of "Nintendo of America" on the copyright screen, most of these machines will be red instead of blue), you could go up to the top of any ladder and sit there indefinitely without being hit by a rolling barrel. To do this you simply had to move Mario's hands to just over the top of the ladder. Any barrels will then roll over his hands without incident, and no barrels will come rolling down the ladder at all. (I myself prefer this version of the game, under MAME you can play this version by selecting the "Japan Set 2" romset for Donkey Kong).

    The Machine

    Donkey Kong machines came in one of four different cabinets. Two flavors of upright machines, plus a cabaret, and a cocktail thrown in for good measure. The cocktails and cabarets will mostly black and woodgrain, and were not excessively decorated. But the upright versions were.

    The red upright versions are actually Radarscope cabinets that have been factory converted to Donkey Kong. These are fairly rare (even though they were supposed to be the only Donkey Kong machines), and feature slightly different gameplay. The blue uprights (which are the most common), are a very rectangular affair, with quite a lot of artwork. They have orange-ish sticker style sideart (with Mario and Kong on them), with control panel, marquee, and monitor bezel graphics to match.

    This game does not use a standard arcade monitor. It requires a "Nintendo Compatible" monitor (a normal monitor will display the picture like that of a photographic negative). This simple little monitor change basically launched the entire Nintendo Vs. Unisystem later on. Because only Donkey Kong series games and Vs. titles would work on these monitors (forcing operators to buy conversion kits for those games instead of a competitors game).

    Where to play

    You can play Donkey Kong on just about any game console. The Super Game Boy, and ColecoVision ports were especially good, and Donkey Kong 64 even includes a version of this game in one of the bonus rounds. Or you can play one of many clones of this game that have been released for PC hardware (you can even download MAME to play the original version). There is even a 2 panel LCD Game&Watch version. This game is common enough that you may actually encounter a real machine out in the wild from time to time (my last sighting of one was in 1999).

    This game is very popular, but it may not be the best title to add this to your arcade game collection. The reason I suggest against it is because the game is very repetitive, and you may quickly grow tired of that $900 Donkey Kong machine that seemed so fun when you first brought it home. There is one good point to owning a Donkey Kong. That is the fact that all the parts to this game are available as reproductions (you can even purchase rebuilt boardsets and monitors from several sources. This means that you can pretty much build (or restore) a Donkey Kong from almost nothing, without even leaving your house (you will still need a Nintendo arcade cabinet to install everything in, but these are easy to find).

    Your Donkey Kong cabinet will easily convert to Donkey Kong Junior, Donkey Kong 3 or any Nintendo Vs. Unisystem title. You will only need the PCB boards for the new title, (and an 8-Way joystick in the case of Vs. titles). Just be sure and convert it back if you ever wish to sell it.

    Here we have the 1994 Super Game Boy version of the classic Nintendo game Donkey Kong (known as Donkey Kong '94 in Japan). Released in 1994, this was the first Super Game Boy title to feature expanded color pallate and borders. On a regular Game Boy the game played in the usual 4-"color" palette. The game begins as a port of the original arcade game and soon expands to dozens of new levels. In the beginning Mario maneuvers through four single-screen levels, dodging barrels and fireballs to reach the maniacal ape. However, at the end of level 4 instead of Donkey Kong falling to his death, the monkey gets up, snatches Pauline, and runs off with her. Here's where the game gets interesting.

    Mario resumes the chase, following Donkey Kong through the city, the forest, the pyramids, the ship, the iceberg, the airplane, and more until he reaches Donkey Kong's tower. In each level Mario has to find the key to open the door. Opening the door finishes the level. Every fourth level is a showdown with DK in the classic arcade-style level. Some of these levels require Mario to get to the lever to open the door that leads to Pauline, while others must be completed by picking up the barrels that Donkey Kong tosses in order to throw them back at the big ape.

    Mario isn't the weakling he was in the original arcade version. He can still jump, but now he can backflip, lift objects, swim, throw the hammer, catch it, spin around a highwire, and survive short falls. He'll need these new abilities to finish the game. There are also ladders and blocks that you can move, however after a few seconds they reset and disappear. Switches open doors and activate conveyor belts. There are also hazards, such as spikes, fire, bugs, falling blocks, and poison mushrooms. In later levels it's imperitive to use the levers to maneuver where rideably enemies, such as the ladybugs, travel so that Mario can catch a ride on them to new areas. There are also special items scattered around each key/door level. If Mario collects them all - parasol, purse, and hat - a bonus round will be available after the current level. There are two bonus rounds (a slot machine and a spinning wheel-type game) that can award 1-ups and other bonuses.

    The play control is tight and the sound brings back memories of the original Donkey Kong game. The graphics, both on and off the Super Game Boy, are sharp and easy to see. The DK Tower levels are the hardest of all, and finally give Mario a chance to strike back at Donkey Kong Jr. In fact, the DK tower levels are a series of confrontations with the ape and his son. This is an addictive action/puzzle game that will induce large amounts of nostalgia, and best of all its still easy to find in used game stores seeing as how it was released in 1996. It took ten years for a sequel to the game to come, this one for the Game Boy Advance and entitled Mario vs. Donkey Kong. The original Donkey Kong will keep you as busy as a monkey.

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