DevelopmentThe game was designed as a Popeye game, however license agreements fell through and as a result Nintendo was forced to create their own characters.
LegacyThis is the game that changed the name of "Jumpman" to "Mario", a name which became one of the most famous in gaming history when the NES release hit the American market in 1986 featuring better graphics with more colors. It was popular enough to have a song inspired by it on the full-length "Pac-Man Fever" album - "Do The Donkey Kong". It also spawned a a Saturday morning TV cartoon based on it in the early 1980's and a breakfast cereal featuring sugary sweet corn cereal barrels.
Donkey Kong spawned two direct sequels: Donkey Kong Jr. and Donkey Kong 3. Mario Bros. is a spin-off featuring Mario. A sequel to the original arcade game on the Game Boy, simply titled Donkey Kong, pairs Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Junior. It starts with the same damsel-in-distress premise and four basic locations as the arcade game then progresses to 97 additional puzzle-based levels.
Nintendo revived the Donkey Kong license in the 1990s for a series of platform games and spin-offs developed by Rare, beginning with Donkey Kong Country in 1994. Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat (2005) is the latest in this series. In 2004, Nintendo released Mario vs. Donkey Kong, a sequel to the Game Boy title. In it, Mario must chase Donkey Kong to get back the stolen Mini-Mario toys. In the follow-up Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis, Donkey Kong once again falls in love with Pauline and kidnaps her, and Mario uses the Mini-Mario toys to help him rescue her.
In 2004, Nintendo released the first of the Donkey Konga games, a series that involves a rhythm-based bongo controller. In 2007, Donkey Kong Barrel Blast was released for the Wii. Super Smash Bros.: Brawl features music from the game arranged by Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka and a stage called "75m", an almost exact replica of its Donkey Kong namesake. While the stage contains her items, Pauline is missing from her perch at the top of the stage.
This iconic game has also seen a few non-electronic home conversions: Milton Bradley adapted it into a board game in 1982 and a card game in 1983; in 2008, a DK-themed version of Jenga also was released.
LicensingTaito offered a considerable sum to buy all rights to Donkey Kong, but Nintendo turned them down. Rivals Coleco and Atari approached Nintendo in Japan and the United States respectively. In the end, Yamauchi granted Coleco exclusive console and tabletop rights to Donkey Kong because he felt that "It [was] the hungriest company". In addition, Arakawa felt that as a more established company in the U.S., Coleco could better handle marketing. In return, Nintendo would receive an undisclosed lump sum plus $1.40 per game cartridge sold and $1 per tabletop unit. On December 24, 1981, Howard Lincoln drafted the contract. He included language that Coleco would be held liable for anything on the game cartridge, an unusual clause for a licensing agreement. Arakawa signed the document the next day, and on February 1, 1982, Yamauchi persuaded the Coleco representative in Japan to sign without running the document by the company's lawyers.
Coleco did not offer the game stand-alone; instead, they bundled it with their ColecoVision. The units went on sale in July 1982. Coleco's version is very close to the arcade, more so than ports of earlier games that had been done. Six months later, Coleco offered Atari 2600 and Intellivision versions, too. Coleco's sales doubled to $500 million and their earnings quadrupled to $40 million.
Meanwhile, Atari got the rights to the floppy disk version of Donkey Kong and prepared the Atari 800 version of the game. When Coleco unveiled the Adam Computer, playing a port of Donkey Kong at the 1983 Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago, Illinois, Atari protested. Yamauchi demanded that Arnold Greenberg, Coleco's president, shelve his Adam port. This version of the game was cartridge-based, and thus not a violation of Nintendo's license with Atari; still, Greenberg complied. Ray Kassar of Atari was fired the next month, and the home PC version of Donkey Kong fell through. This represents one of the few (if only) relationships Nintendo would have with Atari. At the time of this PC port, Nintendo was small in the arcade world and Atari was king. Years later in 1988, when Nintendo was king and Atari was small, Nintendo would sue Atari for coming out with a port of Tetris that was not officially approved by Nintendo.
Name originThe name Donkey Kong is not Japanese, as it is widely believed. Instead, it is a combination of two words: The first word is supposed to stand for something that is hard to deal with: A mule, or donkey. The second word stems from King Kong. Hence, Donkey Kong.
References to the gameThe influence on American popular culture can be shown with the numerous times Donkey Kong gets referenced in other media:
Re-releasesThe arcade version of Donkey Kong released in 1981 originally featured four levels. Due to memory limitations on the NES version pak, the pak had led to the removal of the Pie Factory level (which would have been level 2). Today the only way to play the game with the four levels is to play the game in its old arcade form. However the game can also be played as one of the challenges in Donkey Kong 64. The NES version was re-released as an unlockable game in Animal Crossing for the GameCube and as an item for purchase on the Wii's Virtual Console.
Universal lawsuitNintendo's success with Donkey Kong was not without obstacles. In April 1982, Sid Sheinberg, a seasoned lawyer and president of MCA and Universal City Studios, learned of the game's success and suspected it might be a trademark infringement of Universal's own King Kong. On April 27, 1982, he met with Arnold Greenberg of Coleco and threatened to sue over Coleco's home version of Donkey Kong. Coleco agreed on May 3, 1982 to pay royalties to Universal of 3% of their Donkey Kong's net sale price, worth about $4.6 million.
Meanwhile, Sheinberg revoked Tiger's license to make its King Kong game, but O. R. Rissman refused to acknowledge Universal's claim to the trademark. When Universal threatened Nintendo, Howard Lincoln and Nintendo refused to cave. In preparation for the court battle ahead, Universal agreed to allow Tiger to continue producing its King Kong game as long as they distinguished it from Donkey Kong.
Universal officially sued Nintendo on June 29, 1982 and announced its license with Coleco. The company sent cease and desist letters to Nintendo's licensees, all of which agreed to pay royalties to Universal except Milton Bradley and Ralston Purina.
Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Nintendo, Co., Ltd. was heard in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York by Judge Robert W. Sweet. Over seven days, Universal's counsel, the New York firm Townley & Updike, argued that the names King Kong and Donkey Kong were easily confused and that the plot of the game was an infringement on that of the films. Nintendo's counsel, John Kirby, countered that Universal had themselves argued in a previous case that King Kong's scenario and characters were in the public domain. Judge Sweet ruled in Nintendo's favor, awarding the company Universal's profits from Tiger's game ($56,689.41), damages, and attorney's fees.
Universal appealed, trying to prove consumer confusion by presenting the results of a telephone survey and examples from print media where people had allegedly assumed a connection between the two Kongs. On October 4, 1984, however, the court upheld the previous verdict.
Nintendo and its licensees filed counterclaims against Universal. On May 20, 1985, Judge Sweet awarded Nintendo $1.8 million for legal fees, lost revenues, and other expenses. However, he denied Nintendo's claim of damages from those licensees who had paid royalties to both Nintendo and Universal. Both parties appealed this judgment, but the verdict was upheld on July 15, 1986.
Nintendo thanked John Kirby with a $30,000 sailboat christened the Donkey Kong along with "exclusive worldwide rights to use the name for sailboats". More importantly, the court battle was a rite of passage for the company, teaching Nintendo that they could compete with the giants of the entertainment industry.
Contributed by Trixter (8745) on Dec 15, 1999. [revised by : Patrick Bregger (98671) and Sciere (227655)]. -- edit trivia