Even when apes are angry and throwing things at you, they still retain a certain adorable charm which is why the big gorilla on a rampage in Manhattan is actually the tragic hero of 1933′s King Kong. Nintendo might have gambled on simian appeal but could not have foreseen the lasting popularity their Donkey Kong character would have for decades to come. The game, released in 1981, would spawn countless sequels, spin-off and imitators – and even launched the career of Donkey Kong’s nemesis, Jumpman.
Jumpman is now known as Mario the plumber but in the early days he had no name and a different profession: he was a carpenter. When Mario’s pet gorilla gets loose, he kidnaps his owner’s girlfriend, simply called the Lady but later known as Pauline. Mario had to track down the big ape and rescue his significant other while avoiding all the projectiles Donkey Kong hurled at him. It was simple, it was fun, it made video game history.
On the game’s first level (which is by now iconic and oft-referenced), Mario had to move up through zigzagging steel girders to reach the top. DK and Pauline waited at the top and the ape wasn’t twiddling his thumbs. He was throwing barrels that careened toward the plumber/carpenter/mustachioed hero, while fireballs rose up to meet Mario from the bottom. Hurdling the barrels and fireballs, Mario could make his way to the top and rescue Pauline… until Donkey stole her away again. On to Level 2.
The second level featured the same girders formed into a grid support by eight pegs, which Mario had to knock down (while avoiding fireballs again) in order to send Donkey Kong plummeting down. Two more levels included an elevator maze that had Mario hopscotching around the screen and then a number of conveyor belts to be traversed while dodging fireballs and lethal pies.
Nintendo had hoped Donkey Kong would help recoup their losses for an earlier unpopular game release, but little did they know that DK would swiftly carry the company to the top of the arcade and home video game world. The Nintendo Entertainment System became wildly popular in the mid-80s, championed by Donkey and Mario who are still sitting at the top of the heap, hurling barrels at the competition.
If you have fond memories of playing hours upon countless hours of Donkey Kong in your local arcade, or perhaps on your trusty NES, we welcome your remarks in our comments section. Share your trials and tribulations of facing this obstacle-hurling ape of iconic proportions, here at Retroland.