Donkey Kong’s 32nd BirthdayTuesday 9 July 2013, by The Media Team
Two toys from the early ‘80s stir Gumtree’s inner child like no other: the Rubik’s Cube and Donkey Kong. The Cube, while undoubtedly a classic, feels now like a beautiful relic of a bygone era. Perhaps the last truly iconic physical plaything before the onset of the digital age. Donkey Kong, on the other hand, symbolises the dawn of that new digital age. And we’re here today to pay tribute to him.
32 years ago this week, Nintendo unleashed Donkey Kong as an arcade game. The hero of the piece was an everyman character: a carpenter called Jumpman. As often happens, practicality played a big part in design. Strange to report but the programmers back then found it impossible to draw a mouth, so Jumpman was given a moustache. Hair was difficult, too, so he wore a cap. In order to make his arm movements visible, he had coloured overalls. And that, dear friends, is how the legend that is Mario came into being – we spoke to his agent and he doesn’t respond to ‘Jumpman’, ‘Jumper’ or ‘Jumpy’ these days.
The game itself was both simple and revolutionary. Simple because it was a classic ‘good versus evil’ idea, whereby Jumpman had to complete a series of physical tasks to free a damsel in distress from the evil clutches of the giant ape, Donkey Kong. Revolutionary because it was among the earliest platform games, and the very first to feature jumping; it was also the first example of a complete narrative told in video game form.
Success stories rarely come about without one or two snags along the way – Gumtree’s annual Winter Ice Cream Fair is testament to that – and Donkey Kong was no exception. In 1982, Nintendo found itself the subject of a lawsuit issued by the mighty Universal City Studios. Universal argued that Donkey Kong was a copyright infringement of King Kong. Really? Large ape escapes, ape captures girl, girl is rescued – where’s the similarity there? Oh, yeah. Anyway, we’re legally bound to remind you that the judge ruled in Nintendo’s favour. After the case John Kirby, Nintendo’s lawyer, was given a $30,000 boat called Donkey Kong along with exclusive worldwide rights to use the name for sailboats. Way to go, John!
Following its success as a stand-up arcade machine, Donkey Kong quickly started appearing in home console and handheld formats. And that’s where it really began to spread like wildfire through our popular culture. Sequel games Donkey Kong Jr. and Donkey Kong 3, and the spin-off Mario Bros. (which grew into the supermassive franchise we know today), sealed the legacy.
From all of us here at Gumtree, happy birthday to the big ape and thanks for all the wasted hours.
Which other games or toys do you consider to be iconic?
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