Everyone in the world knows of Donkey Kong, so there’s not much I could say about the game that you don’t already know. Still, that’s not going to stop me from talking about it a bit.
In 1981, Nintendo popped this gem out into arcades everywhere. One of the most popular, highly rated, and often ported/imitated games, but unless you have the drive and determination of Steve Wiebe, or the hair of Billy Mitchell, it’s actually a difficult game. I think in the “King of Kong” documentary, Billy said that most people don’t get past the 1st 4 screens. That’s probably correct. I can’t imagine the amount of quarters I went through, sometimes just trying to get a sniff of the 3rd and 4th levels that I saw others get to as I watched over their shoulders. That changed for me, of course, as I got older and discovered MAME. Still, I don’t necessarily excel at the game, even today.
The concept of the game is ineteresting and silly at the same time.
For whatever reason, a huge gorilla is loose. Not sure where he came from; The zoo? Escaped from a secret lab? Jurassic Park?? All I know is that he is here, and he wants nothing but to kidnap a cute girl in a dress. Instead of calling the police or animal control, the local plumber decides to take it upon himself to rescue her. Armed with ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, and assumingly zero ninja skills, he finds her at the top of a steel structure. “Donkey Kong”, as he’s called, which I believe translates to “stupid monkey”, has taken a defensive stand at the top of this structure. As the plumber (from now on called Mario) ascends this structure, Kong starts rolling huge kegs of beer towards him, trying to kill him.
This seems like the work of a genius (not stupid) simian, possibly one of those in the old Flash comic books. For now, Mario can only jump over the barrels. When some of these kegs reach the ground floor, they have been known to catch fire (obviously from the alcohol inside). The odd part is it seems these firey barrels can actually defy the laws of physics and move upwards and EVEN CLIMB LADDERS! Along the way, Mario does find weapons in the form of an ACME oversized mallet. But, he never seems to use these on monkey, but to crush the barrels and put out the fires. When Mario eventually reaches the girl, Kong quickly grabs her and runs off. That’s a hell of a lot of work for no payoff, that’s for sure.
Screen 2 has Kong taking her to a factory that makes giant pies. Not only do you need to avoid these pies, but there’s more fire. Didn’t work the first time, but Kong is not giving up. You will find another mallet in which to put out the fires, as well as smash pies, but again cannot be used against the beast himself. Upon reaching the top, Kong will again escape with the girl, making Mario very heartbroken, Clearly he has fallen in love with the girl.
Then, on screen 3, Kong takes her to another steel structure, this one has a lot of missing parts making Mario do a lot more jumping. Kong just stands guard, beating his chest as you try to avoid the fire and a seemingly infinite amount of giant springs that try to knock you to the ground.
Again, after manuvering through this mad gorilla’s Bondish-like trap, Kong escapes with the girl. This is beginning to smell of BS. I’m not convinced I’ll ever get to rescue her.
Screen 4 is a bit different. A straight-forward steel structure that has 8 “pins” in it. As you walk/jump over these pins, you pull them out. More fire, but this time a blue color, meaning hotter and more aggressive. Again, more mallet-action or avoiding the fire, whatever seems easier. But, as you pull the last pin, the tower of steel collapses, and Donkey Kong falls 100 meters straight on his head. The girl is rescued, and it seems she also loves Mario. All is good!
There’s a reason this game is a classic. It looks beautiful, everything runs smoothly, fun as hell, and it’s story of the underdog that defeats the big bully and wins the heart of a girl.