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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thursday Night At The Arcade - Donkey Kong

Today's blog topic is about a gigantic buffoon of a would even say that he's nothing more than a huge ape who has one hell of a temper, and is not above throwing things at people just to get his way.

I'll talk about that for a second, but first, I want to talk about a particular Christmas memory that is associated with this blog post.

I guess in some instance, this kind of leads to a rather interesting point about patience...and how that one particular Christmas was one where I had to go and learn the value of patience.

It was Christmas 1991, and it was already a year that started off tough. It was the first Christmas since my grandmother passed away, and it was really rough on my mom. In fact, there were presents wrapped up underneath the tree from my grandmother, as she had started her Christmas shopping just four days before she died. So, to see presents under the tree from her knowing that she was not able to see us unwrap them was a bit of a sad reminder. At the same time though, it was nice to see them, as in a way, she was there with us in spirit...and I think I wore that sweatshirt that she gave me until I outgrew it!

And Christmas 1991 was the year that I got the StarTropics video game, which I blogged about exactly two weeks ago, so that was a nice surprise.

But Christmas 1991 was also one that I remember as being incredibly frustrating as well. Partly because of my father's job.

For thirty-one years, my father worked for a major Canadian railway. He worked on repairing train tracks, fixing signal lights, clearing tracks of debris. He really worked hard, and he really came into his own during natural disasters, such as an ice storm that we experienced back in 1998.

Unfortunately, as part of my dad's job, he was expected to be on call for duty whenever he was asked. Because train safety was very important, and because the railway wanted to ensure that all the trains got to their final destination as efficiently as possible, the company made sure that response to potential problems was handled swiftly and quickly.

And as it turned out, at five in the morning on Christmas Day, 1991, my father was called into work. Turns out that one of the train tracks was blocked by some obstruction. And it wasn't a quick fix either.

So, you can imagine what happened next. Dad got called away to work on Christmas Day. And since my mom insisted on waiting until the whole family was there to open gifts, we couldn't open presents that Christmas until he came back home.

He didn't return home until almost ONE O'CLOCK IN THE AFTERNOON!

That sucked. By one o'clock, everyone else must have been playing with their various toys and games for several hours. Instead we had to wait.

Surprisingly enough, I handled myself well. At least compared to my sister, who was kind of in a pouty mood over having to wait to open presents. But I think her anger was more directed at me because I woke her up early on purpose thinking that Dad would be home in an hour or so. Hey, I was 10, I had no concept of time back then.

Though, seeing the disappointment on our faces, my mom attempted to offer up a compromise. She allowed us free access to our stockings, as well as allowed us to open up one present to tide us over until Dad got back home. So, I ended up searching through the tree to find a gift that didn't resemble a clothing item (believe me, I was at the age where I could tell the difference between clothing and toys in wrapped packages), and found a small box that I thought would be perfect to unwrap.

What I found was this.

It was one of those electronic hand held games...the ones that we had before the Nintendo DS and the PSP. This one was a version of the popular video game classic Donkey Kong.

And to my surprise, that game did hold my attention for several hours. To my mom's delight, I would think, since she was probably getting annoyed with us asking when Dad was coming home.

Though, I also remember a couple of years ago when I got my Intellvision for Christmas (which you can read about here), one of the games that I played was the original Donkey Kong game, which again was enjoyable.

That's what this blog entry is about. Donkey Kong, and the many variations of the Donkey Kong video game series over the years.

And it may surprise you to know that Donkey Kong inspired one of the most popular video game series of all time.

The date was July 9, 1981. That was the date that Donkey Kong first appeared in video game format. Released by Nintendo four years before they struck pay-dirt with their home consoles, Donkey Kong was a game that could have been described as one of the first platform games ever made. Well, at least that's what MobyGames states, and I'm going to go with that as my main source of information for this blog entry.

The game featured Donkey Kong as a giant ape...and in this game, Donkey Kong was the main villain. He had kidnapped a damsel in distress who happened to be the love of the hero of our game, a jumping man named...Jumpman.

Not exactly the most original name out there, but fear not. He'll change his name, get a makeover, and become a super star in no time.

Anyway, the game mechanics of Donkey Kong are simple. You, have to jump and bounce over various traps that the big galoot of an ape has placed. These traps include rolling barrels, fireballs, conveyor belts, elevators, and other scary things. Apparently, Donkey Kong doesn't like sharing his toys with others, and this includes Jumpman's girlfriend. And because of this, Donkey Kong wants to turn Jumpman into Deadman.

That isn't good.

Relax, though. Jumpman has many tools that he can use to put one over on Donkey Kong. With tools such as hammers that he can use to destroy obstacles, as well as his own jumping ability, Jumpman's quest to the top doesn't need to be as impossible as the ape thinks it is. The final level of the game takes place at the top of the massive tower where Donkey Kong is keeping Jumpman's girl prisoner. The only way to defeat him is to destroy the rivets holding up the platform that Donkey Kong is standing on. If you do, Donkey Kong will plummet to his doom, and Jumpman and his love are reunited...and it feels so good. At least until the game starts all over and you have to do it all over again.

Now here's how Donkey Kong ended up kicking off a major franchise. You may have noticed that Jumpman has somewhat of a physical resemblance to Super Mario. That's because in 1985, the character of Jumpman evolved into what would become the Super Mario character, which as you know became Nintendo's official mascot. I would assume that the lady love of Mario then was probably the inspiration behind Princess Peach. Hard to say though.

But lest you think that Mario overshadowed Donkey Kong in popularity, think again. Between 1981 and 1986, three Donkey Kong games were produced by Nintendo, one of which was a juniorization of the game known as Donkey Kong Jr.

Donkey Kong Jr. also appeared as one of the characters you could choose from in the 1992 Super Nintendo game, Super Mario Kart.

But then in 1994, Donkey Kong really took off in popularity as the series was revamped and redesigned for a newer audience.

On November 21, 1994, the video game Donkey Kong Country was released for the Super Nintendo. The game was definitely not your grandfather's Donkey Kong. Redesigned by video game company Rare, the game was designed to be more like a Super Mario game. Levels set in various backgrounds, locations, and difficulty. Some levels took place in a jungle. Others in a mine cart speeding down a track. Some were underwater. Some were even in a winter wonderland, such as this example below.

The main difference was that the artwork and graphics in the game were incredible. Definitely one of the best looking video games in all of the 1990s, and one of the first to use pre-rendered 3D graphics. The game was promoted in a rather revolutionary manner. Anyone who had a subscription to Nintendo Power magazine during 1994 received a video cassette previewing Donkey Kong Country, which showcased levels, as well as provided tips for reaching bonus worlds. The video was only fifteen minutes in length, but it was enough to create a largely positive buzz for the game. When the game was released, it sold very well, eventually selling eight million copies worldwide.

And the game was fun to play as well. You could play as either Donkey Kong, or Donkey Kong's newly created nephew Diddy Kong (who might I add was no relation to Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, or whatever name Sean Combs goes by these days). The main plot? Donkey Kong's cache of bananas have been stolen by a group of bad guys called the Kremlings (who kind of resemble a breed that's half human/half crocodile. Luckily, Donkey and Diddy can follow the trail of bananas through each level to make their way to the head Kremling in King K. Rool, who roams the game on his pirate ship, the Gangplank Galleon.

Even more fortunate is that Donkey and Diddy have loads of friends to help them. Some of them come from the Kong family. Funky Kong can fly Donkey and Diddy to any world they desire. Cranky Kong may be cantankerous and stodgy, but has some valuable tips for making it through the game in one piece. And, the surprisingly seductive Candy Kong can help you save your game.

There's also animal buddies that can help you out as well. Enguarde the Swordfish, Expresso the Ostrich, Rambi the Rhino, Squawks the Parrot, and Winky the Frog are available for you to ride provided you can break open the right barrel to release them.

The game was so successful that two more sequels were released in 1995 and 1996 respectively, and a game was also released for the Nintendo 64. They too were enjoyable to play, and introduced a slew of new characters and animals (though they replaced Candy Kong with the more grandmotherly Wrinkly Kong, which wasn't a change I could get into).

And just recently, a version was released for the Nintendo Wii called Donkey Kong Returns. It's a game that I haven't played yet, as I don't own a Nintendo Wii, but I'm sure it's just as good as the ones that came before it.

Not bad success for a guy who initially started off as a villain.

And, you know, I guess I have to thank Donkey Kong for helping me understand the virtue known as patience. Eventually, Dad did come home, and we all got to unwrap our presents from Santa and everyone else...and I keep thinking to myself that Donkey Kong game made the waiting so much easier to deal with.

Of course, there's the whole issue of me needing something to keep me distracted to avoid boredom, but that's another issue for another day.

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