Arcade Title (1981)
Aaron M. Holmes
Developed by Nintendo, and released originally in 1981 on the Arcade machine, Donkey Kong, is an iconic game of the 1980’s that became widely popular. It is only one of four titles to be included in the Nintendo Hall of Fame.
Donkey Kong was later re-released on the NES in 1983 on July 17th, in Japan, and in June in the US. Europe received the game on October 15th, 1986. In 1982 Coleco released a version of Donkey Kong with their ColecoVision gaming system. It was released on the Arcade, Nintendo NES, and Atari 2600.
This game has seen many releases over a variety of consoles, and even differences in how the levels have been designed. Some releases of the game feature 4 levels, while others feature 3, 2, or even 1 level played infinitely.
An interesting fact that surrounds Donkey Kong, is that during production, the original title was “Monkey Kong”, but due to a graphical issue in one of the computers, it appeared as “Donkey Kong”. The company that was producing all the box art didn’t want to change this mistake after it had finally been noticed, and the company was already in a rush to get the boxes out the door.
It is also because of this game, that Jumpman, later renamed Mario, helped resurrect the video game industry with the title Super Mario Bros., it was released in 1985, after the 1982-1985 slump, when video games suffered low sales.
Donkey Kong is Jumpman’s (Mario’s) pet, who has been mistreated to the point that he escapes and kidnaps Jumpman’s girlfriend, Pauline. Jumpman must now race after Donkey Kong while avoiding barrels and trouble bugs. He must also solve puzzles, in order to rescue Pauline!
The importance of the backstory for Donkey Kong seems to help in the initial attempt to achieve the primary goal of completing a stage or two, but after a while, it feels as if there’s no point to the story.
The game becomes more about trying to avoid the barrels and enemies, and about clearing each stage for the joy of watching Donkey Kong fall on his head each time, while, of course, achieving the highest possible score.
Back when Donkey Kong was released on the Arcade platform, the player would use a joystick for moving left and right, up and down. Up and down are used primarily for climbing ladders, while the left and right functions, in combination with the jump button, are used to avoid obstacles, or to jump gaps.
For the skilled players, every 5,000 points earned yields an extra life, thus lengthening the gameplay in case of an accidental life loss.
One of the primary rules for Donkey Kong is to progress through each stage to reach Pauline, and rescue her from Donkey Kong. However, each stage has different ways in which it can be completed. I have the stages outlined in the following section.
To successfully complete each level of the game, the player, using Jumpman (Mario) must avoid barrels, enemies and various other obstacles. He must climb ladders to rescue Pauline.
In stage 1, the player must avoid the Trouble Bug enemy and the falling barrels, both normal and blue, while climbing up ladders to complete the stage.
In Stage 2 the player must deal with a larger variety of challenges. The first, are pies that are being moved along on a conveyor belt, that the player must deal with in his attempt to climb upward. The next obstacles that appear are Trouble Bugs, that spawn out of a burning barrel. Finally, one must avoid Donkey Kong as he moves to the left and right.
Touching Donkey Kong will result in a life lost!
In Stage 3, the Player must jump over a course of elevators, all the while avoiding the Trouble Bugs and a new obstacle, the springs, in order to get to the top to clear the stage.
In Stage 4, the player must cross over panels (which are then removed) while avoiding falling or being hit by the fire enemies. Once all panels have been removed, the player must reach the top to rescue Pauline.
The Point system for the game is as follows:
Bonus points: 5,000pts and decreases in intervals of 100 over time. The bonus score is added when Pauline is rescued, but before the 5,000pts have been completely depleted! If the Bonus at any point reaches 0, the player will lose a life!
Trouble Bug: 100pts., Barrel: 100pts., Hammer Bonus: 300pts. per enemy, Misc. items – 300pts., Floor Panel Removal – 100pts., Umbrella – 300pts.
My general overview of Donkey Kong is that, considering how old it is, it still seems to hold quite a bit of entertainment, while still keeping me challenged at all times. Whether I’m playing a version with 1 stage, or a version with all 4, the game provides enough of a difficulty to keep me trying over and over for that high score!
The game, while simple, still provides an experience that makes me want to rescue Pauline from Donkey Kong each time I’m defeated. Each time I fail to rescue Pauline, I look at where I went wrong. Did I go too fast? Did I go too slow? Did I overlook something obvious that lead to my overall defeat?
With each play-through, I feel that I become a little bit better, even if I often suffer a humiliating defeat from a monkey throwing barrels at me!
Overall, this game in my opinion is about a 5/10.
While this game is compelling at times, the ultimate goal is to achieve a higher score.
The difficulty is also scaled in a way that the game becomes progressively more difficult.
Had I been around when this game was first released, I probably would rate this much higher. I came into gaming much later, and I have played over one hundred different titles. I am only able to see this game as “decent” with about as much replay value as there is the need to attain a high score.
Donkey Kong Wikia
Game Development Essentials: An Introduction (third edition) by Jeannie Novak
Classic Gaming Guide
“Best Before Video Games, Supersession and Obsolescence”