With the upcoming release of the Nintendo Entertainment System: NES Classic Edition (NA) / Nintendo Classic Mini: Nintendo Entertainment System (EU), we're going to provide short profiles of all 30 games included on the system. This time around we look at Donkey Kong, a tale perhaps more complicated than it should be.
For such a simple game Donkey Kong has an oddly complex history, perhaps because its arcade served as the beginning of a new era for Nintendo, a tipping point. Yet change takes time, so as a result this one has more ports than you may realise, and this mini NES may not even have the best console version. Yep, it's complicated.
Most Nintendo fans know the basic history of how the original Donkey Kong arcade came to be. Having enjoyed success with arcades in Japan, Nintendo had struggled in the lucrative North American market. Company President at the time, Hiroshi Yamauchi, saw potential in a young Shigeru Miyamoto, and tasked him with producing a game to take over from the struggling Radar Scope in North America; that was a title that had succeeded in Japan, notably. With supervision from Gunpei Yokoi, Miyamoto's vision for a detailed platformer began to take form.
Though incredibly simplistic by modern standards, what became Donkey Kong was innovative in 1981. The focus on characters and inspiration from comic strips was far different from character-free action arcades of the time, with 'Jumpman' (who became Mario) attempting to rescue Pauline from the big ape, Donkey Kong. As is well documented, it was originally planned to be a Popeye game, but the delay in obtaining rights prompted Miyamoto to improvise and create a new trio of characters.
The game was a smash hit at arcades, taking off and giving Nintendo a key step into the North American market. As we said in the intro, though, this was a transitional time. Before the Famicom arrived with this as a launch title in Japan, Donkey Kong was ported to a lot of systems. It was first licensed to Coleco, which ported it and bundled it with the ColecoVision in 1982; it was a major hit for Coleco, helping to shift plenty of systems. Coleco then helped port it to a variety of other consoles (pre-NES era), with game sales apparently seeing over $5 million go to Nintendo in royalties. It's an intriguing point in Nintendo history, when its most notable games were regularly ported and sold on other hardware; naturally that changed once the Famicom and NES established themselves. As a side-note, there's also a Game & Watch version.
The money and rights issues around Donkey Kong didn't stop there, either. In this fascinating article on Gamasutra, there are details on a forgotten man that was heavily involved in the original arcade - Ikegami Tsushinki. If Shigeru Miyamoto was the creator and the innovator, it seems that Tsushinki was the quiet force that did the necessary technical work. He reportedly dealt with practical matters of programming, and actually created the arcade boards and units.
As the arcade took off in the US, particularly, Gamasutra reports that a 'custody battle' ensued as Nintendo started to tackle extensive demand for units by producing them internally. The dispute was over the Donkey Kong manufacturing rights, and whether Tsushinki's contract meant he was the only party legally allowed to produce the units; by making cabinets themselves Nintendo didn't have to pay a notable fee for each from Tsushinki. The legal argument even revolved around the code, which Tsushinki had apparently produced, and which had seemingly been reverse-engineered when Nintendo started manufacturing its own arcade unit boards.
According to Gamasutra, "in 1990 a court ruled that Nintendo did not have the rights to Donkey Kong's code, and the two companies settled out of court for an undisclosed sum." It's an interesting backstory that Tsushinki, so little known, had such a key part in the game's initial creation and remained tied to it years after the game had drifted to the periphery.
Moving to the NES port, it originally lacked the Cement Factory stage, having three levels instead of the four in the arcade. Aside from that it's a good version, though the Donkey Kong: Original Edition download is based on the NES game but with all four of the arcade's stages. The weird part is that the 'Original Edition' has had varied distribution methods in the last couple of generations; depending on region it's been bundled with Wii hardware, been distributed via Club Nintendo, and included as a 'reward' for buying a specific number of applicable games. The promotions varied.
Yet we can't find any indication on Nintendo's official pages that the 'Original Edition' is the one on the Mini NES; as the system is pushing for authenticity, it seems likely that it'll be the three-stage version originally released on the hardware.
This is a welcome (and inevitable) inclusion on the mini NES. In reality it's the arcade original that has a rich history and remains key in popular culture, with the ongoing battles over the world record (and the popular 'Kong Off' events) leading the way. When telling anyone about the rich history of Nintendo, however, this game will be a good place to start on the cute little system. It's the game that took Nintendo to a new level of success in video games, and features the debut of the character that went on to become the company's enduring mascot.
Ha, clever title.
What more is there to say? This was one of my very first video games I played in the Arcade and the fact that Mario is still around in my life tell the rest. A true classic, hope the NES mini gets the revised edition.
I hope the NES mini is the "Original Edition"
There's like no point in continue releasing the first NES one if the better version already exists.
I had the original Donkey Kong Game and Watch. I remember taking it to show and tell in the mid-nineties and my classmates asking if it was a Game Boy.
Games like this have history, yes, but they should be public domain cause every kid with gamemaker can do this on an afternoon.
Anyway, after checking google (i knew i saw this somewhere before) its virtually public domain anyway.. so if you cant wait until then, just play the freekong.org version www.donkey-kong.com ...and yes, Nintendo is aware of these sites.
@Captain_Gonru Hmmm, well, there's some of truth to be found, since the NES got the 3 stage level.
Also it seems the original edition is a ROM-Hack which added the missing level (which was cut due to supposedly 'system limitations') according to the TCRF:
I like the port, but I think the arcade original is better in a couple ways. It's a lot more challenging, and features more of an incentive to keep going since you don't get to see 75m or 50m at first. The sound effects also pop out more.
Too bad Nintendo doesn't own the code to the arcade versions of the Donkey Kongs though. Would've been awesome to see official home editions of them unscathed.
Don't see myself playing this a lot on the NES mini because I'm not someone who likes to beat my own high score everytime. I also think this game hasn't aged very well compared to the other NES games. On a side note, I'm really glad that they took a new turn with the series by realeasing Donkey Kong Country, after all the ports and remasters of the arcade Donkey Kong. IMO the Country series is the best platformer series of all time, with each entry scoring at least an 8 out of 10.
Maybe we can get a Game Boy Mini with the 1994 game someday. This one... the novelty wears off quickly.
I swear, someone at Nintendo must have an intense phobia of cement.
Definitely going to be one of my highest played games on the NES Mini. Such a great game to play when you just want to kill some time.
I remember living for this game when I was 5 years old. I got the WIIU VC and I was like yuck. Boring. I don't know what I was thinking back then. Maybe I wanted to be like my brother. Who knows. I do know the gameboy version is really good and has like 100 levels.
I love Nintendo and all, but I already have a NES. I also have Virtual Console on 3DS and Wii U... I might pick up a NES Mini Classic one day, but I'm in no rush whatsoever.
I really like the Gameboy version of DK.
Donkey Kong still annoys me to this day because of the random patterns on Level 1. Some days I can beat the first level instantly and other days I get killed every time on that level.
My favorite all-time Donkey Kong game is Donkey Kong 3 !
The first time I ever played this game was as an extra in the N64 classic Donkey Kong 64 and because of that I still enjoy this game whenever I get a chance to play it. That isn't very often though since I don't own it on with Virtual Console service, as a game like that without online leaderboards just doesn't hold a lot of long term value for me, despite it being as iconic as it is. Add a version with those and I am sold hands down, but knowing Nintendo that will likely never happen.
@samuelvictor I agree with you, the game boy one is amazing! It was a really pleasant surprise to discover it and it became my favourite Mario game after purchasing it for my 3DS.
However, is it a port? I thought it was a sequel.
Ah... The beginning of Mario.
With Damsel in Distress plot as usual.
One thing to point out - Ikegami Tsushinki isn't a person but a company. In full, Ikegami Tsūshinki kabushiki-kaisha would translate to Ikegami Communications Co, Ltd.
@DarthNocturnal it's a museum piece, but DK94 is actually a proper game. Actually my favorite Mario title.
The NES port of the game is terrible, but be thankful if they don't include the Original Edition. The pie factory is broken and impossible to clear once the pies reach a certain speed. There is no limit on the number of pies on the screen, so if there are too many the sprites become invisible. This results in phantom pies that are on the screen that you can't actually see.
I never actually knew about Tsushinki until I read this article, but now I see why Nintendo NEVER pushes the actual original arcade version. Nothing will ever replace that to me and that will always be the definitive version for me. Thank goodness I can get a fix of it in DK64, otherwise I'd have to rely on seeking an arcade cabinet (Though ironically, there is a multi-arcade game, single cabinet containing the original DK at my local laundromat )
I plan on making room one day in my house to store some old school arcade games & this will be one of the first cabinets I get. A true classic in gaming, the sounds from that machine still make me smile.
As a Donkey Kong arcade fan, this was a really great article! However, I'm fairly sure Ikegami Tsushinki was a developer/company, not simply a single man.
The story behind DK and it's confusing history are something I always find interesting and exciting to learn about! New info and stories seem to come to light every few years!
I believe some new stories about the original Donkey Kong game were published at the following address earlier this month:
Hi everyone, I need some help here. I remember on the first stage of the arcade version of Donkey Kong, at the very beginning you could run to the right and climb the first ladder, but when you got to the top of the ladder, you could tap the joystick (once, or was it twice) so Mario still had his back to you. Then, you jump to the right and if you were lucky, instead of Mario ending up in a heap and dying, he literally traveled through the screen and you completed the stage - you were then on the second stage.
We used to call this 'jumping through' but I've never seen any reference to this online at all, but I promise you in some versions it did work.
I grew up in Blackpool in the 70s & 80s so spent a lot of time in arcades
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