A Retrogaming Post


As I promised to JustJ, my next post is a retrogaming one!  I decided to make it about a single game, one that spawned many versions and was the first arcade game from Nintendo’s famed Shigeru Miyamoto, a new hire at the time who was charged with making a game that would be used in the many leftover cabinets of a game that didn’t sell so well.  In arcade terms, a conversion kit.  If you know any Nintendo video game history, you know this is the man who came up with the hot selling Super Mario Bros and Legend of Zelda series.  In video games, he is a creative genius.  But this post isn’t about Mr. Miyamoto, it is about his first smash hit called Donkey Kong.  While I was sort of a general arcade game junkie of the time, this one game was my absolute favorite.  For those who have been a long time away from the game, here is a short video of the arcade game in action:

I remember I was so jealous of a kid named Jason who was in my boy scout troop.  He was so good at the game that he could make it all the way to round four.  By that, I don’t mean the fourth screen, I mean the fourth level set which always started with the barrels screen and ended with the blue rivets screen where, once won, the feared ape would fall to his doom and the hero Mario, then just known as Jumpman, would rescue his lady only to start over in the next round.  Myself, I could only make it to round two or, on a very lucky day, round three.  Never past though.  But Jason made the game seem really easy.  Of course he was no King of Kong (see the recent movie about record setters Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe and their quests to maintain (in Mitchell’s case) or break (Wiebe) the world record on Donkeyt Kong) but still a world away from me.  If I made it to round three, Kong would hand my butt to me on the second elevators screen.


As a fan of the game, I owned or played several iterations of it in the next several years.  The first one was the Nintendo Game & Watch version.  Their Game & Watch games were sort of a precursor to their Gameboy system in the late 80s.  These games had set LCD graphics that allowed only one game per system.  You can see all of these lit up briefly at the start of the next video before the game starts.  Believe it or not, you can actually play this and other G&W games on your PC using simulators (LINK)- in fact, that’s just what is used in the video:

My favorite memory of this game is first playing it in school when a kid named John brought one back from a visit to Japan.  I was bummed that it was an import I couldn’t get until one day I actually saw it in the store and convinced my mom to get me one (it was likely a birthday or Christmas gift, I can’t remember)!  Cheesy as it was, I played it to death.  My eyes later opened really wide when a new video game system came out with Donkey Kong as a pack-in game- the Colecovision!  Up until this time we owned an Atari VCS (later rebadged “2600” when the 5200 was released) on which Coleco simultaneously released a far watered-down version of this title that would sell their own game:

It is almost certain they made this, and other Atari versions of their Colecovision games, laughably bad in order to make their own look even more superior in order to make sales of their console.  This game system was absolutely a Christmas gift- no affording this sort of thing during the rest of the year!  The graphics were not quite up to par, and a level was missing, but it still looked spot on to my juvenile mind!  Needless to say, I played this one to death too:

Sometime during all this, I was introduced to games on the Apple ][ computer.  Our school had them, and so then did the library.  I am not sure if there was an official version of Donkey Kong on it, but if there was I am sure I never played it.  However, there was a very difficult ripoff from the big software publisher of the time Broderbund called Cannonball Blitz, and the library had it.  I am not sure why the image in the video is all yellow- perhaps a bad camera recording a monochrome amber display?  There is only one other video that I could find on youtube of it running on an Apple ][ emulator on an Android phone, but it was small and the sound was very soft.

Eventually, following the infamous video game crash when people stopped buying game consoles due to the glut of shovelware (absolutely terrible games) that was released for the systems, Nintendo decided to test the waters with their brand new Nintendo Entertainment System that we all fondly call the NES.  Okay, it wasn’t really new as it had been sold in the Japanese market as the Famicom for over a year, but it was new to us!  Once again, the pack-in title caught my 15-year-old eye because it looked identical to the game I had been playing in the arcades- Super Mario Bros.  I asked for and received the cheap version (no light gun or robot) for my birthday.  However, SMB was really not the first game released for the system.  Remember, the Japanese had it for over a year.  However, one of their first releases was- you guessed it- Donkey Kong.  This version looked even more perfect than the Colecovision one, but for some inexplicable reason it was still missing the fourth level, the pie factory.  They also discarded the opening sequence.  If any version should have been complete, it was this one.  Donkey Kong Jr. had all four of its levels, so why not Donkey Kong?  Oh, well.  Anyway, I don’t recall ever owning this one, but I did play it, so here it is:

Donkey Kong of course lived on in an updated version for Gameboy, and in spirit in the Donkey Kong Country games for the SNES and Gameboy, Donkey Kong 64 for the Nintendo 64, and others.  In any event, that’s the end of this long post about one game over many systems- I hope you enjoyed it!

9 thoughts on “A Retrogaming Post”

  1. Hmm. I never really thought of PickAxe Pete as a DK ripoff, but now that I see it again you’re right (a friend of mine had an Odyssey2). Yes, I remember the cartoon. I also remember the breakfast cereal. I have an old DK beach towel laying around somewhere…

  2. ARRGH, I remember DK, One of the games I was never really good at. Wasted many a quarter at the arcade on that one. Always seemed so simple when watching others, why couldn’t I do that one>

  3. Donkey Kong was just one of the games I enjoyed on my Atari 2600. I didn’t play it all that much though, since I didn’t understand how the levels worked. I thought there were just the two levels, and then when I would get past the second, it would start over at the first level. I was not really about high scores at that time. My favorite Atari games were Superman, ET, and Maze Mania.
    In my young adulthood, my husband worked long hours, so I honed my skills on Diddy Kong Racing on the N64, finding all the hidden objects and opening all the secret levels and eventually beating the game. Does Diddy Kong count as an incarnation of Donkey Kong?

  4. @JustJ- yes, DK was hard- how far could *you* get? I guess counting boards, 175m (25m per board) was my limit, though 100m was the norm (making it to, but not past, the second level rivets screen).

    @Taylhis- Well, at least one person doesn’t think ET was the worst game ever made! I remember a Maze Craze, but there was probably a Maze Mania too. I think Diddy Kong would be more of a spinoff, but still related. But really, all the SNES and N64 games were really spinoffs as the gameplay was quite different so Diddy as much an incarnation as anything else.

  5. I’ve heard before that the ET game was considered bad, but just what was so bad about it? I liked most of the N64 games I played. The first Zelda (Ocarina of Time) was awesome!

  6. derek, Probably around 100m. My best games were Q-Bert, Centipede, Pac-Man and Space Invaders. I remember going to a local bar/arcade because they didn’t allow all the teenagers in. 🙂 I usually had high scores on the above games. Funny I could never get the same results on any of the home counterparts. Must have been the feel of the commercial grade controllers. Nothing could touch that track ball on Centipede.

  7. @Taylhis- I think it had to do with the game being about falling into holes- over and over- in order to find what was needed to win the game.
    @JustJ- Ah, I remember all of those games. I was more fond of Ms. Pacman though over Pacman. I remember at the teen center (now closed- sad) they had one on free play. One day I was able to get to the fourth maze- a very difficult feat. For space invaders, I was far more familiar with the 2600 version. I thought the arcade game was too hard and in boring black & white (yes, I know there are versions in pseudo-color using cellophane strips). It was one of the early games though, setting a formula for others to build on with the likes of Galaxian, Galaga, Gorf and the like. I can play it on MAME now, or Taito Legends.
    Did you know- Q*Bert had a knocker at the bottom of the machine that made it sound like Q*Bert hitting the floor if he jumped off the platforms?

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