We’ve featured Space Panic elsewhere on this site as an example of the first of a certain
genre and indeed it was certainly one of the forerunners of the platform game. It pre-dates Donkey Kong but the latter also added to the genre. It seems a small thing now but Donkey Kong gave us the ‘jump’, something unknown in arcade gaming until then.
Donkey Kong was an early development project by Nintendo and it’s chief designer was Shigeru Miyamoto. Disappointed by audience reactions to Radar Scope, Miyamoto was hired to turn the project into something that would appeal to the U.S. market. There seems to be something stereotypically Japanese about the background story – a love triangle between a gorilla, a carpenter and a girl. The story does seem to ‘borrow’ some elements from the King Kong story, but a famous court case involving Nintendo and Universal Studios established that they (Nintendo) had not stolen the idea.
Miyamoto was not, in fact, responsible for the programming of the game – he was more of an idea’s man, suggesting game elements to his development team and receiving replies as to whether these were possible. Donkey Kong was therefore responsible for introducing elements into arcade machines such as the familiar rolling barrels, ladders and in particular, making the game multi-stage, meaning four different levels with different designs. It was also the first game with an in-built story-line.
The multi-level element was a real step forward although the development team originally regarded it as merely repeating the same level. After persuading them that it was the way to go, the game was eventually finished and tested. The main character, who was originally known as Jumpman, become known as Mario following the introduction of the game into the United States. Mario, of course, became the hero of the various Nintendo games featuring that character, beginning with Mario Bros.
Donkey Kong was a commercial success following its release in 1981 and led to a series of franchises which is still in development today. Most recently, Donkey Kong Country Returns was developed in 2010 for the Nintendo Wii.