Donkey Kong turns 40! - article

Donkey Kong turns 40! - article

Donkey Kong's curmudgeon hasn't been seen around that often lately. But when the most famous gorilla in video games appears, beating his fists against his chest and leaping between the draperies of vines, he is as imposing and smashing as ever.

Today he is among the heavyweights of Super Smash Bros and from time to time he is the face of some Nintendo rhythm games (the Donkey Konga).

In 2014, like a lost creature freed from a state of hibernation, ready to remind everyone of its power, it gave the Wii U one of the deepest platformers of recent years, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.

Recently, in Super Mario Odyssey, we saw him fidget in the streets of New Donk City. A section of Metro City that pays homage to the origins of the Kong family and that in a masterly way reminds us of the steps forward made by the platformers, from the distant 9th July 1981 until today. In fact, even if Space Panic (1980) is considered the first climbing game, it is thanks to Donkey Kong, his sequels and the number of clones that tried to imitate him that since 1983 the term, now consolidated, of platform video game has spread. Donkey Kong was a fundamental pillar of our medium, his forty years correspond to the life of Nintendo as we know it today.

In Donkey Kong (1981) Mario and Pauline also appear for the first time. In those years, getting your hands on Donkey Kong's cabinet was equivalent to touching, without realizing it, the future of video games. On the surface, on screen, a mustachioed man struggles against a miniature King Kong, who is holding poor Pauline hostage. Each game began with the woman's cry for help (a simple Help!) And with the rush of the jumping carpenter, Jumpman, to her rescue. Avoiding flames and rolling barrels he had to reach the top of the obstacle course, never fast enough to prevent Donkey from escaping in one of the following three levels.

Behind the scenes, in the meantime, several epochal events took place. We've already mentioned one of them: Donkey Kong is a tipping point in platforming history. But that's not all: Jumpman will be renamed Mario, in honor of his resemblance to Mario Segale, an entrepreneur who had rented a factory in Minoru Arakawa, the then president of Nintendo. Thus was born Super Mario.

In addition, Shigeru Miyamoto, the father of video games, for the first time had a role as director and could use his characters in an original work. Miyamoto is the first to give a video game an explicit narrative dimension and a story that can be defined as complete. Although here we are still talking about the simple events of a damsel in distress, represented with a style that owed so much to comics (especially to Popeye), today we know how much the plots of the plot of the great story-driven works can extend.

Donkey Kong Country (1994) uses pre-rendered backgrounds. The name of the game, says Miyamoto in several interviews, is due to an error. According to the dictionary consulted at the time, "Donkey" was a term for stubbornness. In fact, the most direct and immediate translation is "mule". When the mistake was pointed out, Miyamoto decided not to change, confident in the musicality of the name. "Kong", unsurprisingly, refers to King Kong instead. It is no coincidence that the plot of the game recalls the arrival of the great ape in Manhattan and on the Empire State Building.

But how was Donkey Kong born? In 1979, of the three thousand Radar Scope cabinets, prepared for the western market, only a thousand had been sold. It was necessary to readjust the unsold in a new hit game, try to limit the damage and find a way to compete with Taito and Namco. Miyamoto had been given the daunting task of saving the fortunes of Nintendo of America. The design of Donkey Kong takes place with the help of Gunpei Yokoi, inventor of the D-Pad and fundamental for the development of the Game Boy. Taking care of the audio, in addition to Miyamoto himself, was Hirokazu Tanaka (Pokémon).

Taking care of the programming and the technical side was Ikegami Tsushinki, a development team that worked behind the scenes. The breakup of Nintendo and Ikegami was immediate, because Nintendo took advantage of the contractual and legislative shadows on who could have the game code, producing by itself additional copies to be placed on the market. To add salt on the expensive injuries and on the lawsuits pending with Ikegami, Nintendo then chose, as a new partner, Iwasaki Engineering. With this company he extrapolated Donkey Kong's code (initiating further lawsuits) to produce Donkey Kong Jr. and Donkey Kong 3.

Donkey Kong 64 (1999), by Rare, didn't have the luck of Banjo-Kazooie and exceeds with the collectibles. Ikegami will focus his efforts on Sega, a company he had previously collaborated with for Zaxxon. In 1983 he will make Congo Bongo, a Donkey clone in isometric view. The clone war begins, from Crazy Kong (under Nintendo license) to the most cheeky Killer Gorilla, Jumpman, Cannonball Blitz, Logger, King Kong and so on and so forth.

But returning to the canonical chapters, Donkey Kong Jr. is one of those unexpected sequels, very different from its predecessor and in many ways ahead of its time. Miyamoto chooses to give additional character depth to the characters, making Mario the villain of the situation this time. Junior must save his father by jumping from vine to vine and avoiding wild animals.

The importance of this title for the franchise is more than what a casual player can imagine: the current Donkey Kong, as Donkey Kong Country has made clear, is in fact the young monkey of this chapter, while the villain of the original is the current Cranky Kong. In the Mario universe, someone gets old, someone else is eternal.

Donkey Kong Country Returns (2010), released on Wii and unveiled at E3, was an unexpected return. The semblance of morality given to these ape-like characters makes them, unlike the iconic Bowser, suited to take on the role of occasional heroes. It is not uncommon to see them intent on saving their clan and their jungle from unexpected threats, such as Vikings from distant lands or the fearsome Kremling crocodiles. As for the gameplay, however, Donkey Kong becomes a real testing ground, so much so that Donkey Kong 3 renews its mechanics once again, implementing a shooter component.

Although Kong is not certain today part of Nintendo's main strategy, in the past it has told other great videogame stories: that of Rare and that of David Wise. Rare, a studio that is now in the Microsoft stable and seems to be working on Everwild, has been an integral part of Nintendo's strategies in the past, from porting cabinet games to Donkey Kong Country, the third best-selling game in the world on Super Nintendo, after Mario All-Stars and Super Mario World. It's hard to imagine past generations of gaming without thinking about Rare, their Donkey Kong 64, Perfect Dark and of course Banjo-Kazooie.

David Wise is the composer of Donkey Kong Country and a regular guest of the franchise. His ambient songs are melancholy, evocative, relaxing and do not lack a creative use of percussion. An atypical sound combination in a platform but that fits perfectly with the playful rhythm of the Donkey Kong Country, sometimes slow but more often fast games due to the rocket barrels, the wagons on rails and the secret passages, in line with traditional jumps Super Mario level.

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Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (2014) is a complex platformer with a more unique than rare atmosphere. In 2004, with Mario vs. Donkey Kong, a series of commercially successful spin-offs begins on Game Boy Advance, especially on portable consoles such as Nintendo DS and 3DS. In this puzzle-platform, the rivalry between the two protagonists was re-explored, in short but sometimes complex levels (real squares of environmental puzzles). Originally it was a tribute to Donkey Kong for Game Boy (1994), a title that has remained in the hearts of many fans. The latest of these spin-offs dates back to 2015, with a chapter designed to be sold in double copy, 3DS and Wii U.

The characters that Miyamoto was inspired by in the 1980s are far from the tastes of today. Donkey Kong, as well as Popeye and King Kong, recall a distant era, with animated series with simple plots and the adventurous atmospheres of a different cinema, without the great special effects we have today. Nintendo is aware of this: it has managed to transform Mario into a lasting icon but with Donkey Kong it has chosen another strategy. Donkey Kong is today like a lost treasure, jealously preserved but without any spotlight. But we always remember that there would be no Nintendo without the success of Miyamoto's first test.

At the moment, there are rumors of an animated series about the king of the jungle and a new game developed by Nintendo EPD (the studio behind Super Mario Odyssey ). To find the classics, however, in addition to finding them in the inevitable NES Classic, you can take advantage of the game libraries available with the Nintendo Switch Online subscription. Donkey Kong always comes back: "bigger, faster, even stronger".

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