TORONTO – On July 9, 1981 Nintendo changed the video game landscape forever with the release of their arcade puzzle-platformer, Donkey Kong. The game, which is still played in competition today, challenged players to move a little man up a series of ladders while dodging barrels being thrown by the title character in order to rescue his girlfriend at the top.
Not only did the classic game give us the barrel-throwing ape, but it also introduced us to Mario (originally known as Jumpman); easily one of the most iconic characters ever created.
Thirty-three years later and Donkey Kong and Mario are still going strong. Nintendo released the extremely fun (and difficult) Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze earlier this year for the WiiU console, and the two both appear in the latest Mario Kart, also on the WiiU. There’s also news that a Mario vs. Donkey Kong game is coming in the near future.
To celebrate the game on its 33rd birthday, here’s a list of five things you might not know about Donkey Kong.
Donkey Kong was created to help Nintendo break into the North American market
Nintendo had been around in Japan for over 85 years when they decided to get out of the playing card industry they were famous for and dive into video games in 1975. By the time 1981 rolled around they had some success at home, but were far from being the household name they are today in North America.
To fix this, they assigned young rookie designer Shigeru Miyamoto to make a game that would appeal to Americans. Inspired by the love triangle in Popeye (with Kong in place of Popeye’s nemesis, Bluto), Miyamoto came up with the idea for Donkey Kong.
WATCH: Footage of Donkey Kong being played
The game was an immediate smash hit and took North American arcades by storm. As Donkey Kong fever spread across the United States and Canada, Nintendo cashed in on the success and the game was ported over to home systems like the Colecovision, Apple II, Intellivision and the Commodore 64.
Donkey Kong was the first game you could jump in
Believe it or not, jumping was not a feature in video games before Donkey Kong came along. Needless to say, the ability to jump between obstacles changed gaming forever. Could you imagine Super Mario Bros. without jumping? Crazy!
The name Donkey Kong is bad translation
Ever wonder why Donkey Kong is called “Donkey Kong”? Creator Shigeru Miyamoto thought the word “donkey” meant stupid in English. Because of the popularity of the King Kong films, “Kong” was a common term for ape in Japan. Wanting him to be called “stupid ape” Miyamoto put the two words together. Nintendo’s American counterparts originally laughed at the name but it stuck and the rest is history.
Nintendo almost got sued by Universal Pictures over the game
Universal Pictures considered Donkey Kong a trademark infringement of their King Kong films. The case was thrown out by Judge Robert W. Sweet, who ruled that Universal had no right over the King Kong name or the characters and story as the studio had fought another case against RKO Pictures claiming the plot and characters were in the public domain. Universal tried to appeal the decision but it was upheld.
Donkey Kong competitions are so popular a documentary was made about them
Since Donkey Kong hit arcades people have been competing to get the highest score. Billy Mitchell held the top spot for close to 25 years with a score of 874,300.
The 2007 documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters tells the story of Mitchell and Steve Wiebe, the man who knocked Mitchell from the top with a score of 1,006,600 (according to Twin Galaxies, which tracks video game scores, Mitchell’s last recorded high score was 1,062,800 in 2010. Wiebe beat it two months later with a score of 1,064,500).
Competitions are still popular (even rapper Eminem is hooked on getting a high score) and today Hank Chien sits at the top with a score of 1,138,600 (Wiebe and Mitchell hold the 6th and 7th spots).
WATCH: Trailer for The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters