Video Game / Donkey Kong
The ape may get top billing, but we all know who the real star of this game is.note 


Classic 1980s arcade game from Nintendo. Introduced both Donkey Kong and Mario as characters.

While not, as is commonly reported, the very first Platform Game (that honor belongs to Space Panic), it was the very first to feature actual jumping. Didn't scroll at all, but involved a lot of jumping and climbing, and one level had moving platforms.

The storyline involved Jumpman (soon known as Mario) saving a Lady (later known as Pauline) from Donkey Kong, in an obvious reference to King Kong. Donkey Kong's main weapon seemed to be an endless supply of barrels, which Jumpman could, well...jump over.

The game is more-or-less single-handedly successful for saving the then-fledgling Nintendo of America. After having numerous arcade games tank, the then-president of Nintendo of Japan sent over circuit boards containing Donkey Kong. They installed the game in an old Radar Scope arcade cabinet and set it up at a nearby bar, the Spot Tavern. The first day in, it made $30. The next day, it broke down — too many quarters had caused a short circuit. Soon after that, Nintendo of America was assembling and shipping Donkey Kong machines all over the country, and the company was saved by this single game from Shigeru Miyamoto.

The Donkey Kong character's resemblance to King Kong led to Universal Studios filing suit against Nintendo, claiming trademark infringement. In an ironic twist, Nintendo's counsel, John Kirby, countered that Universal had itself argued in a previous case that King Kong's scenario and characters were in the public domain and the court agreed. Nintendo thanked Kirby by purchasing him a big sailboat, named Donkey Kong, with exclusive worldwide rights to use the name for sailboats.note 

In another ironic twist, Nintendo itself was found guilty of violating the copyright for the arcade game, and therefore cannot sell the original version of Donkey Kong for its consoles. To summarize, the original arcade game was written by a company named Ikegami Tsushinki on assignment, but the contract did not include ownership rights to the code. When Donkey Kong became a hit, Nintendo tried to make more boards themselves, and got sued for copyright violation as a result. A detailed report is available here.

The name itself resulted from Miyamoto's minimal knowledge of English at the time. He wanted to call the game "Stubborn Gorilla," (another name given, according to the "Mario Mania" player's guide, was "Stupid Monkey") to convey that the villain was not acting out of malice or with premeditation. With a pocket-sized Japanese/English dictionary, he latched on to "donkey" (as in the phrase "stubborn as a donkey"), and assumed from King Kong that "kong" meant gorilla. The name did give rise to a number of theories which attempted to explain its origin. One, which appeared on some of the cabinet labels, stated that Jumpman was in fact the title's Donkey. Regarding the other two characters: the NoA team named the hero after their then-landlord, Mario Segale, and eventually named the heroine after an employee's wife, Polly James.

The game's sequel, Donkey Kong Juniornote , inverted the villain/hero roles; Donkey Kong Jr. had to rescue his father from Mario's clutches. The lesser-known Donkey Kong 3 had an exterminator named Stanley trying to chase Donkey Kong away from his greenhouse with insect repellent.

After these sequels, Donkey Kong faded into the background; while the arcade games were ported to personal computers and Nintendo's own NES, he didn't appear in a major role again until 1994, with the release of two new games. One, also titled Donkey Kong but referred to by many fans as Donkey Kong '94, featured a shift to puzzle-platforming gameplay and inspired the later Mario vs. Donkey Kong series. The other, Donkey Kong Country by British game developer Rare, was far more successful and revitalized the character for modern audiences.

Donkey Kong also features prominently in the documentary The King of Kong.

Tropes in this game include:

  • Alternate Company Equivalent: The Sega arcade game Congo Bongo (aka Tip Top) is often considered to be a rip-off of Donkey Kong. In reality, the programming for Donkey Kong was outsourced to a company called Ikegami Tsushinki, who sued Nintendo when they felt they were not properly compensated for their work. Ikegami ended up developing a Donkey Kong-like game for Sega, foreshadowing the future rivalry between the two companies.
  • American Kirby is Hardcore: The boxart for the Intellivision port of the game turned the cartoonish Donkey Kong into a downright scary looking monster with glowing eyes and a macho buzzcut. Mario looks like a circus strongman holding a golden Mjolnir.
  • Animated Adaptation: The Saturday Supercade show, featuring none other than Peter Cullen as the voice of Mario.
  • Antagonist Title: The first and third games. The second game had Mario as the villain, with the titular Donkey Kong Jr. as the protagonist.
  • Anti-Villain: If the backstory is any indication, the titular Donkey Kong would qualify as a downplayed Type II.
  • Arcade Perfect Port: Averted. Most of the ports are faithful to the arcade version, but leave out 50m due to memory limitations. Some ports play it straighter, such as "Donkey Kong: Original Edition" and Donkey Kong '94, but even then there are graphical and audio differences. This is because Nintendo does not own the rights to Donkey Kong's source code, as explained above. The only truly arcade-perfect port is the one included in Donkey Kong 64.
  • Big Bad: The title character in Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong 3, and Mario in Donkey Kong Junior.
  • Breakout Character: Donkey Kong and Jumpman, who later became Mario. Pauline, not so much.
  • Characterization Marches On: This whole plot got started because Jumpman was (allegedly) an animal abuser. Quite a far cry from the kind-hearted hero he is now known as.
  • Damsel in Distress: Lady (Pauline) fills this role.
  • Derivative Differentiation: The original arcade game was born out of this kind of serendipity; Nintendo, still trying to get their foot in the American game market in 1981, tried releasing a standard Space Invaders clone called Radarscope in the arcades; while it did well overseas, it completely flopped in the US and left them stuck with thousands of unsold cabinets. This prompted them to place Shigeru Miyamoto in charge of improvising another game to replace Radarscope (while converting the unsold cabinets into new games) and, instead of making another cookie cutter maze or shoot em up, created one of the earliest note  and certainly one of the most important platformer games in history.
  • Distressed Dude: Donkey Kong in the second game, who was captured by Mario (making this the first, and so far only game where he is the Big Bad).
  • Drop the Hammer: The only way to break hazards or beat enemies; otherwise you must avoid them.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The damsel was Pauline instead of Peach, the antagonist was DK instead of Bowser, and, in DKJR, Mario (as Jumpman) was the Big Bad (and was arguably a Villain Protagonist in the first game, due to DK rebelling after being mistreated).
  • Expy: Initially conceived as a Popeye game until Nintendo was unable to secure the rights from Kings Features, the three central characters were instead made into new ones, Popeye becoming Jumpman, Bluto becoming Donkey Kong, and Olive Oyl becoming Lady. A Popeye arcade game did get made some time later. The Jumpman/Mario in the illustration artwork for this game still bears a vestigal resemblance to Popeye (in particular the nose, chin and squinty eyes) that becomes downplayed after Mario's Art Evolution.
  • Endless Game: It's four different levels, done in various sequences, over and over. To most players, the goal was to beat your previous high score.
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: Or maybe everything's worse with an ape.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Mario is the villain(!) in Donkey Kong Junior.
  • Fan Sequel: Has one in the form of Donkey Kong II: Jumpman Returns, abbreviated D2K.
  • Falling Damage: A very early example. If Jumpman falls through a hole in the floor, goes over the edge of a platform, or falls too far before hitting a surface while jumping onto or off of an elevator in Screen 3, he dies upon impact.
  • Fireballs: Some of the first enemies of the entire series!
  • Gender Flip: An amateur programmer created a ROM hack Donkey Kong: Pauline Edition for his 3-year-old daughter.
  • Inconveniently Placed Conveyor Belt: An early example exists in the 50m "Cement Factory" level (cut from most ports). The conveyor belts carry cement piles (which resemble pies, hence the level's long time nickname of the "Pie Factory") which Jumpman must avoid.
  • Invincibility Power-Up: The hammer, which lets you smash oncoming barrels and fireballs. Not quite invincible, though, as bad timing can lead to you getting hit while your hammer's in the wrong position or if you fall off an edge.
  • Jump Physics: Jumpman's jumping ability is rather weak compared to later games, and you can die if you fall above your jumping height. This also applies to Donkey Kong Junior in the sequel.
  • Just Friends: While some home port manuals unofficially described them as romantically involved, Mario and Pauline are actually said to be this in arcade materials and all subsequent appearances, likely due to Princess Peach taking her place as the primary love interest.
  • Kill Screen: Level 22; the timer is set so low that it is impossible to finish the level. Interestingly, the devteam did think to Cap the level counter at 99, so how did that oversight make it into the game?
  • Killer Gorilla: The titular character may be a subversion if his rampage is a reaction of frustration, if the rumor that Jumpman mistreated Donkey Kong in the first place is correct.
  • Mascot: What Mario would eventually become for Nintendo, starting with this game. Donkey Kong also enjoyed a big role in the limelight with his antagonist.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Or in this case, named by the port. The Damsel in Distress wasn't called Pauline until the NES version was released. She was originally an unnamed "lady".
  • No OSHA Compliance: It's understandable that a giant ape could cause a few collapsed walkways and broken ladders in a construction site, but who's responsible for letting him get up there in the first place?
  • One-Hit-Point Wonder: Jumpman himself.
  • Palette Swap: Blue barrelsnote  will spawn fireballs.
  • Protagonist Title: Donkey Kong Junior.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: A variation of Johann Sebastian Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor plays in the beginning of Donkey Kong Junior.
  • Puzzle Boss: Defeating Donkey Kong isn't as straightforward as jumping into him (of course, the Goomba Stomp hadn't been formulated quite yet anyway).
  • Revenge: Donkey Kong's reason for kidnapping Jumpman's girlfriend as he had enough being mistreated by Jumpman.
  • Sphere Eyes: Visible on Donkey Kong, even with his low-res sprite. They're more prominent on the cabinet artwork.
  • Shoddy Knockoff Product: Many, but most notably, Crazy Kong and Crazy Kong Part II.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Throw a Barrel at It: Donkey Kong's main, and only, method of attack.
  • Timed Mission: You gotta finish each level before the timer runs out. Notably, in stage 22 of the original, the timer is set so low that it's outright impossible to finish the stage.
  • Unexpected Gameplay Change: Donkey Kong 3 was this to the original series. It was a shooter game rather than a platformer, and starred an exterminator named Stanley rather than Mario. For this reason, it wasn't as popular as its predecessors.
  • Updated Re-release: The "Original Edition" designed for the 30th anniversary is a version of the game's NES release with 50m and the intermission cutscenes (originally removed due to space issues) added back in.
  • Villain Protagonist: Mario, while more of a Jerkass than a villain, fits into this role according to the alleged backstory.

Fry: Wait a second, I know that monkey, his name is Donkey!
Professor Farnsworth: Monkeys aren't donkeys. Quit messing with my head!