The History of Donkey Kong

On July 9, 1981, the world of arcade games changed forever. On that fateful day over 30 years ago, The Donkey Kong arcade platform game was released to arcades across the North American market. Everyone’s beloved ape, Donkey Kong, has quite an interesting history. Little did Nintendo know that this exciting game would become so popular and generate two of the company’s most popular characters: Donkey Kong and Mario.

The Story

If you’ve never played the original Donkey Kong arcade game, well then, you are missing out on one of the most classic arcade games in history! The historic ape barreled his way into our hearts from a vintage arcade game to becoming a top-performing video game franchise character.

The Early Days

Originally, Nintendo was in pursuit of a license to create a video game based off of the Popeye comic strip. Unfortunately, this attempt fell through, giving Nintendo the creative opportunity to design their own characters which could be used and marketed in later games. However, the characters in Donkey Kong greatly resemble those in Popeye. For instance, Donkey Kong resembled Bluto, Jumpman (now the world-renowned plumber known as Mario) resembled Popeye, and Lady (now known as Pauline) resembled Olive Oil. Game creator Shigeru Miyamoto also cited Beauty and the Beast and the 1933 film “King Kong” as significant influences on the plot and theme of the arcade game. Donkey Kong was actually one of the earliest classic arcade games to employ a story line throughout the game. Jumpman, a carpenter, mistreats his pet ape named Donkey Kong. In a fit of rage and frustration, Donkey Kong kidnaps Jumpman’s girlfriend named Lady upon escape. The player must then control Jumpman’s actions and rescue Lady by maneuvering around and avoiding various obstacles. Upon introduction to the United States and Canada, Jumpman’s name was changed to Mario, and Lady became Pauline. In addition to being fun to play, this game was also innovative! It was one of the first games to use characterization, cut scenes and multiple stages of game play.

It’s on like Donkey Kong

Upon arrival in the United States, Nintendo of America was not convinced that this particular platform game would be popular among arcade goers. Nevertheless, they were instructed to push the game into the market. With some translation tweaks and new cabinet artwork, the North American Distributors, Ron Judy and Al Stone began to sell the game to willing arcades and bars. The dynamic distribution duo convinced two Seattle, Washington bar owners to purchase Donkey Kong machines. Upon noticing that the machine was receiving $30 (120 plays) a day, they ordered more and nationwide sales began to explode. Soon after, Donkey Kong was in nearly every bar, arcade, and entertainment center in North America. In 1983, just 2 years after creation, the classic arcade game won the 1982 Arcade Awards ‘Best Solitaire Videogame’ award. From that moment on, the success of Donkey Kong skyrocketed. Donkey Kong, Mario and Pauline were featured on cereal boxes, toys, cartoon shows, clothing, board games and much, much more. Donkey Kong has appeared in other video games such as Mario Kart, and started a legacy of his own with video games including:

The Donkey Kong Country series

Donkey Kong 64

Donkey Konga

Donkey Kong Jungle Beat

Donkey Kong Barrel Blast

The Controversy

Earlier, we told you that Shigeru Miyamoto got some of his inspiration for the original vintage arcade game from the 1933 film “King Kong”. Well, this did not sit well with Universal City Studios, Inc. who decided to sue Nintendo Co., Ltd. on the basis of trademark infringement. Universal believed that too many consumers were confusing King Kong and Donkey Kong. Over a period of 7 days, the two entertainment companies battled it out in court resulting in a win for Nintendo. The court ruled that because Universal had stated that the plot and characters in King Kong were in the public domain in a previous case (Universal City Studios, Inc. vs. RKO General, Inc.), Nintendo was not wrong by using a similar plot. Trying to argue that they were not in the public domain, didn’t really help their case with Nintendo. Even with all of the surveys and ‘evidence’ collected by Universal, the judge stated that there was no possible way that consumers were confusing a comical ape in a video game with a ferocious gorilla trying to destroy the city. With no trademark to infringe upon in the first place, Nintendo essentially had the case in the bag from the beginning. From initial creation to battling it out in court, Nintendo has seen spectacular success with the classic arcade game, Donkey Kong. As the fifth most popular arcade game among collectors, this game will only continue to be successful. At the end of this month, the latest installment of Donkey Kong’s latest adventure, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, will be available for Wii U. Do you need assistance selling your Donkey Kong classic arcade game, or have you been looking to purchase vintage arcade games for your arcade or entertainment center? Auction Game Sales can help. Give us a call at 1-800-551-0660.