Donkey Kong

aka: DK, Donkey Kong-e
Moby ID: 574


1001 Video Games

The Arcade version of Donkey Kong appears in the book 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die by General Editor Tony Mott.


The game was designed as a Popeye game, however license agreements fell through and as a result Nintendo was forced to create their own characters.


  • In 1981, O.R. Rissman, president of Tiger Electronics, obtained a license to use the name King Kong from Universal City Studios. Under this title, Tiger created a handheld game with a scenario and gameplay based directly on Donkey Kong.
  • Crazy Kong is another example, a clone manufactured by Falcon and licensed for some non-American markets. Nevertheless, Crazy Kong machines found their way into some American arcades during the early 1980s, often installed in cabinets marked as Congorilla. Nintendo was quick to take legal action against those distributing the game in the U.S.
  • Bootleg copies of Donkey Kong also appeared in both North America and France under the Crazy Kong or Donkey King names.
  • In 1983, Sega created its own Donkey Kong clone called Congo Bongo. Despite being in isometric perspective, the gameplay is very similar.
  • Clones on the TRS-80 Color Computer include Donkey King and Monkey Kong
  • In 1983 Tomy produced an electromechanical game called Kong Man that was based on Donkey Kong It was 15 inches tall and sold for £15.99 The object of the game was to negotiate a steel ball from the bottom of the structure to the top, avoiding a variety of obstacles. It was similar in game-play to Screwball Scramble and can occasionally still be found on eBay


This 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.


Taito 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 origin

The 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.

Mario's profession

On the back cover of several early versions - including the Arcade, Apple II, Atari 8-bit, Commodore 64, and MSX - Mario is referred to as a carpenter, while the Game Boy Advance box version and subsequent Mario games state that he is a plumber.

References to the game

The influence on American popular culture can be shown with the numerous times Donkey Kong gets referenced in other media:

  • In 1982, Buckner and Garcia and R. Cade and the Video Victims both recorded songs based on the game. Artists like DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince and Trace Adkins referenced the game in songs.
  • The game was referenced in an episode of Fairly Odd Parents.
  • In the movie, Billy Madison, Billy refers to Donkey Kong as the best video game ever, combating a 1st grader who said Mortal Kombat was the best.
  • Donkey Kong is referenced in the Futurama episode Anthology of Interest II. The episode consists of three shorts; one of which involves Fry asking the "what-if" machine "what if life was more like a video game." In the short, Donkey Kong is one of the aliens that invades Earth. Mario also makes an appearance as the ambassador from Italy.
  • In a 1997 episode of The Simpsons TV show titled "The Springfield Files", at the Noiseland Arcade, Donkey Kong sits in a chair on top a stand with a sign saying "Friday Meet Donkey Kong in Person." While holding a cigarette, DK picks a bug off his leg and eats it. Then, the Manager walks by and sees noone is there to see DK and says "Sorry Donkey Kong, you're just not a draw anymore." Kong replies angrily by throwing a barrel on top of the man knocking him down. "Hey! He's still got it!" observes the man from the ground.
  • The 2007 motion picture documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters explores the world of competitive classic arcade gaming and tells the story of Steve Wiebe's quest to beat Billy Mitchell's world high score in Donkey Kong.
  • Even today, sound effects from the Atari 2600 version often serve as generic video game sounds in films and television shows
  • In the 1983 episode Smaller Than Life from the TV series Magnum P.I., a kid is seen playing Donkey Kong on an Atari 800.


The 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 lawsuit

Nintendo'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.


  • The Intellivision version of Donkey Kong (programmed by Coleco) doesn't work on the Intellivision II system. Why? Mattel had the EXEC (the operating system of the Intellivision) purposely changed to look for a bit that third parties don't use when programming copyright info in their games. This also affected a couple of other Coleco releases for the Intellivision.

  • Jumpman/Mario's design was decided upon largely because of the graphical constraints of gaming hardware at the time. He was given overalls to make the movement of his arms easier to see. A mustache made it easier to see his nose. The cap keeps one from noticing that his hair wouldn't move when he'd run and jump.


  • Game Informer Magazine
    • August 2001 (Issue 100) - #60 in the Top 100 Games of All Time (Poll)
  • Killer List of Videogames
    • Third Most Popular Arcade Game of All Time
    • #25 on the "Top 100 Videogames" list
  • Nintendo Power
    • #148 Best Game Made on a Nintendo System
  • Retro Gamer
    • September 2004 (Issue #8) – #77 Best Game Of All Time (Readers' Vote)
  • The Strong National Museum of Play
    • 2017 – Introduced into the World Video Game Hall of Fame
  • TeleMatch
    • Issue 04/1984 – Computer Game of the Year 1983 (Readers' Vote)
    • Issue 04/1984 – #2 Hand-held/Minigames of the Year 1983 (Readers' Vote)

Information also contributed by Ace of Sevens, Andrew Shepard, Chris Chidester, EboMike, gamewarrior, Guy Chapman, Jeanne, Joshua J. Slone, Nélio, PCGamer77, piltdown man, Pseudo_Intellectual, Robbb, Satoshi Kunsai, Scaryfun, WildKard and FatherJack .

edit trivia · view history

Know of any trivia we're missing? Contribute.

Trivia contributed by Trixter, Sciere, Patrick Bregger, FatherJack, theclue, SoMuchChaotix.