Donkey Kong was the bright creation of one Shigeru Miyamoto. Originally envisioned to star, the now forgotten, Popeye the sailor man, Nintendo failed to license the IP and replaced Popeye, Bluto, and Olive Oyl with Jumpman, Donkey Kong, and Pauline. Donkey Kong grew so popular that Universal attempted to sue Nintendo over the similarities to King Kong. They were defended in court by one John Kirby… sounds familiar… and ended up cementing themselves as an industry giant. Jumpman would later grow into the world-famous Super Mario, and Donkey Kong would rebrand, but to begin my retrospective on Mario’s 35th anniversary, there was no better place to start than this pigsty.
Donkey Kong (Arcade, 1981)
The original arcade game is quite awful today. It would create two of gaming’s greatest titans, but there’s no fun in going back to it. You simply climb to the top, jump over barrels, and collect some bonuses. There are only three stages, and Jumpman is quite stiff to control. There’s no nuance or swiftness like Pac-Man or Galaga! Donkey Kong is a game everyone should try at least, but I don’t recommend you go seek it out for $8 on the Switch.
Donkey Kong (Gameboy, 1994)
Even as far back as the Gameboy Nintendo knew Donkey Kong demanded respect! Mario had been long established when Nintendo decided to remake Donkey Kong with a widely expanded scope. The game features a whopping one hundred levels and tons of new moves for Mario to perform. Being on the Gameboy, it doesn’t look great, but it plays ten times better than the arcade original. The summersaults and backflips would later be reused in Super Mario 64. Donkey Kong ’94 may not be widely remembered today, but you should absolutely seek it out for yourself. It’s a treat.
There’s no other choice than Donkey Kong ’94! The original is a rather nice humble beginning, but there’s not a single reason to go back to it in 2020. It is a game that I believe anyone who would call themselves a gamer should experience once, but I can’t imagine playing it over and over. Donkey Kong will have you for ten minutes and Donkey Kong ’94 will keep you for hours.