Donkey Kong (Arcade/NES) - The Giant Ape That Saved Nintendo
Shigeru Miyamoto, lead video game designer for Nintendo is widely accepted as the Godfather of the video gaming movement in the 1980's and many say he is the greatest video game designer of all time. His credentials? Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Star Fox, F-Zero, Ice Climbers and Donkey Kong. Ever heard of those?
Donkey Kong, which launched the golden age of arcade gaming and kept the video game industry alive and thriving. Riding the coat tails of Space Invaders, arcade gaming took a turn for the better and developed new technology that captured the attention of gamers. Miyamoto began his legacy working on a game for Popeye the Sailor Man. The hero, Popeye, would compete with his oversized brut companion named Bluto for the affection of leading lady Olive Oyl. Popeye was a raspy voiced, simple but easily excitable man with an unforgettable chuckle. To take on the Goliath-like villain, Popeye relied on his all-natural-gluten-free-no-hormone-performance-enhancing-drug: spinach! Upon shotgunning a can of spinach (raw!), Popeye would become imbued with strength, vigor and fortitude, rushing head on into battle with Bluto and always coming out the victor. The game style was simple in nature but challenging to master, making it an instant hit. Players were tasked with reaching the captive prisoner by avoiding obstacles thrown by the villain. Timing jumps and climbing ladders were all one could do to avoid the onslaught of debris sent their way.
When licensing fell through with the Popeye game during development, Miyamoto decided to keep the game structure in place but change the characters. In place of Popeye, was an understated "jump man", who took on the angry behemoth gorilla Donkey Kong. Loosely translated, Donkey means "stupid" in Japanese. Lastly, Olive Oyl was turned princess, held hostage by the large ape. The stage was set, the characters made and the Donkey Kong game was born.
As the game grew in success, Nintendo started to grow and their humble beginnings as a hardware and software company grew in tandem. Lead with their titan success in Donkey Kong, MCA Universal stepped into the picture and sued Nintendo for the rights over the use of a similar large and cantakerous large ape named King Kong. Lawyering up, Nintendo held their ground and brought in Howard Lincoln to defend them, stating that the producing company didn't have the rights to the ape they claimed to have. Universal also went after other licensees, such as Caleco and Atari, many who opted to settle instead of going to court. However, Nintendo confident of their position, held their ground and were acquitted by the court. They were also awarded over one million dollars for legal fees. DK continued made lots of money with the consumers while the market was sparse and Nintendo caught fire. After the legal fire was stamped out, Howard stayed on at Nintendo as Senior Vice President and Miyamoto was set free to innovate and create some the industry's legends as we know it.
Perhaps everyone in the world who knows about video gaming, also knows about Mario. But less people recognize that Donkey Kong was first the poster child for video games. In fact, Mario wasn't named until later in history, after the landlord of Nintendo of America's headquarters, whom mysteriously no one ever met. This is the stuff of video game lore. Something to read to your children night. Teaching them about the days of your youth filled with pumping arcade cabinets full of quarters without a care in the world. Ah, yes, nostalgia. Sweet, beautiful, rich nostalgia.