We suspect that Shigeru Miyamoto and some veteran colleagues in Nintendo will be raising a glass this weekend in honour of Donkey Kong, as the arcade arrived in Japan on 9th July 1981 - 35 years ago. It was its impact in North America when it landed at the end of that month, however, which proved particularly vital to Nintendo and Miyamoto-san's future.
Nintendo had multiple games and arcade cabinets before Donkey Kong, but it was this arcade that acted as a major breakthrough for the company in North America, a key market. It was also the first game developed by Miyamoto-san, working alongside the equally gifted and more experienced Gunpei Yokoi. It was revolutionary at the time, with multiple unique stages - which was a big deal at that point - and even a simple narrative. It was these unique features along with demanding gameplay and impressive visuals that made it a smash hit on the arcade scene.
Donkey Kong has endured as a character, as has Mr. Video / Jumpman, who would evolve into the all-conquering Mario by the time the NES rolled around. Pauline was the damsel in distress at this time, with the characters (and plot) reportedly inspired by the likes of King Kong and Popeye.
It's no exaggeration to say that the Donkey Kong arcade, and its notable success, were true game changers for Nintendo. It not only brought financial success, but provided a key breakthrough into the Western video game market and established Shigeru Miyamoto's credentials in the eyes of then President Hiroshi Yamauchi. As a franchise Donkey Kong is still going strong, too, with the most recent release being the excellent Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. The games have changed a lot, but the importance of DK has not.
As for the original, its legacy lives on in the continual battle for the world record score. Though now a little out of date in terms of the lead contenders and overall scene, the following video by the Motherboard channel (from 2013) is worth a watch.
Happy 35th Birthday, Donkey Kong.