Kong count #47 – Donkey Kong

To quote Philip J Fry: “I know that monkey! His name is Donkey!”


One of the most influential video games of all time, Shigeru Miyamoto’s 1981 Donkey Kong is crucial to the history of Nintendo’s foray into the medium. While the titular character (or, his descendants) went on to star in a huge franchise of games across multiple gaming platforms, and become one of the company’s most iconic characters, the player character in the game, the mustachioed “Jumpman”, was eventually renamed “Mario”, whose spinoffs made him the corporate mascot, if not an symbol of Japanese culture (seriously, the prime minister dressed as this character!).

If the idea of an oversized gorilla named Kong grabbing a blonde chick and scaling a tall structure seems a little reminiscent of King Kong to you, you’re not alone, as Universal Studios also took note, and sued Nintendo over it in 1982. Nintendo’s lawyers in turn argued that Universal themselves had previously made the case that King Kong was public domain when they had sued RKO only a few years prior, and the whole affair went down as one of the dumbest moments in video game history. Nintendo’s lawyer, John Kirby, was richly rewarded for how he threw Universal’s own case right back at ’em, and it’s rumored that he became the inspiration for a certain spherical pink gaming icon a few years later. Either way, American Kirby is hardcore.

Donkey Kong has had many sequels and spin-offs, cartoons and cameos, and I shan’t go into them here. However, I would like to recommend the excellent documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, about two men competing for the world record high score in the game. It’s from 2007, so the actual status is long out of date, but the drama and clash of over-the-top personalities (everyman Steve Wiebe against flashy, smug, 20-year-record-holding, basically-Seto Kaiba-incarnate Billy Mitchell) is completely engrossing.

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