This ad ran in ’82 promoting what would become one of the most iconic arcade games of all time and herald the arrival of a then-unknown Shigeru Miyamoto as a creative tsunami behind Nintendo.
Working with Gunpei Yokoi (who would later be regarded as the Father of the Gameboy), the two men created one of the earliest examples of a game that also featured a “story” told with small clips that played in between each stage. It even had an “ending” shot right before starting the whole thing over again on a higher difficulty.
It was a great platformer, tough but fair, and would go on to make Nintendo buckets of money and revolutionize the arcade scene. It would go on to be the opening shot for one of Nintendo’s oldest franchises with a number of spinoffs created for both the arcade and, eventually, consoles spawning a series of titles spanning different generations.
Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., and the Mario Bros. spinoffs were all at the arcades I went to. Even our local grocery store had a Donkey Kong arcade stand up in the “airlock” between the two sets of sliding doors, right next to the capsule toy vending machine. Both devices vied for two quarters I held in my hand, but saving a damsel in distress seemed a lot more fun than getting a mystery prize that might get lost in between couch cushions later. And none of the capsule toys came with their own theme music.
The game only consisted of four major stages, but each one was harder than the last with new challenges thrown into the player’s face. Spring weights hopped down from the top, conveyor belts delivered potential death, and a well placed hammer could allow you to smash barrels for extra points before disappearing. The randomness of the barrels and the timing needed to slip in between moving fail created a tension filled atmosphere that was both exciting and, occasionally, frustrating. Those quarters didn’t last very long, but I kept coming back if only to get enough points to put my initials in.
It’s surprising to see the kind of staying power that an older game like this has even today, but it’s probably safe to say that it also represents a kind of “perfect storm” for gameplay that has allowed its simple graphics and straightforward challenge to remain as fresh after so many years. It’s still being used as a benchmark for high scoring records as Billy Mitchell and everyone that has tried to (and who, sometimes, actually did) take his crown away can attest to, creating the basis for its own film – the King of Kong.
The ad below captured the feel of the game’s elements with the platforms, flaming barrels, and a Pauline who looks nothing at all like her pixel based counterpart except for the color of her dress. However, there was also something a little too familiar with the setup. Something that a big movie studio like Universal felt that they couldn’t ignore.
Universal soon embarked on a campaign in ’82 to sue Nintendo because of the perceived similarities to King Kong.
But Nintendo won that round, trouncing the big studio not once, but again when Universal appealed – and lost. It paved the way for Donkey Kong’s continued success and had shown Nintendo that they could defy the big names and win.
No one had heard of Nintendo before. But in the years to come, it would be impossible for many to imagine gaming without them.