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Video Game / Donkey Kong

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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 a carpenter (later plumber) named Marionote  saving Lady (later renamed Paulinenote ) from Donkey Kong, in an obvious reference to King Kong. Donkey Kong's main weapon seemed to be an endless supply of barrels, which Mario could 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 circuitnote . 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 could not sell the original version of Donkey Kong for its consoles. To summarize, the original arcade game was written by a company named Ikegami Tsushinkinote  on assignment. Either that, or Nintendo made the game themselves using hardware made by Ikegami, depending on who's telling the story. Either way, the contract did not include ownership rights to the code. When Donkey Kong became a hit, Nintendo either tried to make more boards themselves or simply used the code (illegally, according to Ikegami) to create Donkey Kong Junior, Donkey Kong 3, Mario Bros., Popeye, and possibly other games. In any case, they got sued for copyright violation as a result. A detailed report is available here.. However, this finally changed with the release of the arcade version on Nintendo Switch, as part of Hamster's Arcade Archives series.

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 Mario 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 Junior 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 commonly referred to by the production title 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, Ikegami ended up also developing this gamenote  for Sega, foreshadowing the future rivalry between Nintendo and Sega.
  • 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, plus Frank Welker as Donkey Kong Junior in his own segment.
  • Antagonist Title: The first and third games. The second game had Mario as the villain, with the titular Donkey Kong Junior as the protagonist.
  • Arcade-Perfect Port: Averted. Most of the ports are faithful to the arcade version, but leave out 50m due to memory limitations. Some versions play it straighter, such as "Donkey Kong: Original Edition" and the Game Boy Donkey Kong, 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 64note .
    • This trope is finally in effect in 2018, with the release of the original arcade versions of DK and DK Jr on the Switch under the Arcade Archives series. Though they are technically not ports, as they are emulated versions of the original arcade games.
  • Big Bad: The title character in Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong 3, and Mario in Donkey Kong Junior.
  • Breakout Character: Donkey Kong and Mario. Pauline, not so much (well, at the time).
  • Captain Obvious: The original instruction card combines this with Department of Redundancy Department, but was unintentional in both cases:
    "Jump button makes Jumpman jump."
  • Characterisation Marches On:
    • The Mario of the present would certainly never be as spitefully vengeful as in Donkey Kong Junior. Compare how he forgives DK for even bigger slights in the Game Boy Donkey Kong and Mario VS Donkey Kong.
    • Conversely, the early DK is more animalistic and violent, harassing carpenters/plumbers and gardeners for no explained reason.
  • Damsel in Distress: Lady fills this role.
  • Depending on the Writer: Most of the time it's official that the Donkey Kong of this game became Cranky Kong later, but rarely they "forget" this and act like the "present" DK was there all along. There's also the matter of whether Cranky is the current Kong's father or grandfather. The current line as of Donkey Kong Country Returns is he's his grandfather, which bears asking exactly where Junior went.
  • 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 only game where he is the Big Bad so far).
  • Drop the Hammer: The only way to break hazards or beat enemies; otherwise you must avoid them.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The damsel was Lady instead of Peach, the antagonist was Donkey Kong instead of Bowser, and, in Donkey Kong Junior, Mario was the Big Bad. The third game doesn't even have Mario at all; the protagonist is Stanley.
  • Excuse Plot: The ever popular "Guy chases after other guy who kidnapped his girl".
  • 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 Mario, Bluto becoming Donkey Kong, and Olive Oyl becoming Lady. A Popeye arcade game did get made some time later. The Mario in the illustration artwork for this game still bears a vestigial resemblance to Popeye (in particular the nose, chin and squinty eyes) that would vanish when Mario got his more familiar redesign.
  • 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.note 
  • Evil Living Flames: The first Mario game of all is also the first to feature this type of enemy, in the form of fireballs with eyes that hop out of burning oil drums and chase after Mario as he tries to reach Donkey Kong.
  • 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 Mario 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.
  • Game Mod: Donkey Kong: Original Edition has been confirmed to essentially be an official example of this. Nintendo essentially took a ROM of the NES version and programmed in a few missing elements of the arcade version.
  • Gender Flip: An amateur programmer created a ROM hack Donkey Kong: Pauline Edition for his 3-year-old daughter.
  • Gratuitous English: Not in the game itself, but on the arcade version's instruction card:
    "If Jumpman reaches top, Donkey Kong takes the lady higher up, and structure changes shape."
    "When a certain structures have been cleared, Jumpman saves the lady."
    "Extra Jumpman when you gain a certain points."
  • Grey and Gray Morality: The early Mario and DK games treat the duo as something of a Tom and Jerry-esque slapstick rivalry duo, which is more pronounced in the cartoon.
  • 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 Mario 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.
  • Invincible Minor Minion: The Springese, due to appearing solely in a No-Gear Level (see below).
  • Jump Physics: Mario'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 Lady 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 dev team did think to cap the level counter at 99, so how did that oversight make it into the game?
  • Mascot: What Mario would eventually become for Nintendo, starting with this game. Donkey Kong also enjoyed a big role in the limelight.
  • No-Gear Level: The elevator screen has no hammer.
  • 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?
    • Forget the barrels and jacks, what kind of oil spawns living fire monsters?
  • One-Hit-Point Wonder: Mario 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 onto him (of course, the Goomba Stomp hadn't been formulated quite yet anyway).
  • Retcon: The manual for Donkey Kong Land suggested Big Ape City as the setting of these early games. Super Mario Odyssey instead posits New Donk City as the location of Mario and DK's feud.note 
  • 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: Donkey Kong is named after King Kong.
  • Sudden Sequel Heel Syndrome: Mario in Donkey Kong Junior.
  • 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 a shooter game rather than a platformer, and starred an exterminator named Stanley rather than Mario.
  • 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.

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


Example of: