DK Vine: Honourable Mentions: 2A: Donkey Kong Precursors (Main Games)

2A: Donkey Kong Precursors (Main Games)

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The arcade era games that were released or planned for release in arcades or on mainline Nintendo consoles or handhelds. So you might not think Donkey Kong Jr. Math is a "main game" but the categories work better like this. Come on, I'm trying my hardest here.



Donkey Kong (1981, Arcade/NES/many consoles and home computers)

What is it?  
Lotta sweat flying around there. Must be all the flaming barrels.

Donkey Kong is the origin of Nintendo's success and the DK series. This early single-screen platformer introduced Mario and the stubborn Donkey Kong (later renamed Cranky Kong), along with Pauline who later reappeared in DK '94 and the Mario vs. DK series. Its success guaranteed ports to many and various systems (too many to list here), including Nintendo's fledgling home console the Famicom/NES, in the days before they decided to keep their properties exclusive to their own systems.

The toothy grin was taunting players even at this early stage.
The messaging in some pre-"War on Drugs" media may seem anachronistic to modern audiences, although cannabis is now becoming more accepted by society.
BET YOU'VE NEVER SEEN THIS BEFORE. NOBODY EVER BRINGS IT UP, DO THEY??


Why is it mentionable?

Besides being the origin of one of our favourite snarky DKU characters (although in a slightly more antagonistic role), and laying the platformer groundwork, the influences are obvious. Barrels are a mainstay of the series, and the theme of conflict between raw nature (DK) and industrialisation (the carpenter Mario and the man-made environments) carries through to the DKC games. It also sets up the dynamic of the Kongs' rivalry with Mario and his ilk that persists through the modern DKU. DKC's title screen sets up right away that it's a reaction to this rather primitive game and its reputation, while also establishing the title screen music from the NES port as Cranky's enduring theme. The girder aesthetic and setting have been referenced several times, most significantly in DKL and DKCR, with the MvDK series taking it on whole hog. The Dragnet-inspired villainous riff from the intro is also musically quoted in DK64's Creepy Castle. Really, I don't have to tell you where we'd be without this game. Talking about Spyro the Dragon or something, probably. Oh yeah, and the whole thing's playable inside actual DKU game Donkey Kong 64.

More Info:

Nintendo of America's page for the Virtual Console re-release on Wii U
Flyer for the arcade version and site hosting a scan of the manual for the NES version
Mario Wiki's general information about the game
DK Vine thread discussing the Arcade Era in general



Donkey Kong Jr. (1982, Arcade/NES/many consoles and home computers)

What is it?  
"Want this key, kid? Come on into my unmarked, windowless van and I'll give it to you..." I'm sorry, Mario just looks really government watchlist-y, okay?

The sequel to the successful Donkey Kong interestingly turns the formula on its head. Hero and villain are swapped, with the perspective switching to DK Jr, who would grow up to become "our" Donkey. Junior must fight Mario and his minions to save his "papa" from imprisonment. It's also a single-screen platformer, but with more of an emphasis on vertical climbing and strategic combat with enemies. Like its forebear, it was ported to many platforms at the time with varying levels of authenticity.

Note the first in-game use of stars inside the Os (the first game used it on cabinet artwork). Note also Mario's cruelty, represented by his whip... I think it's supposed to be a whip, anyway.
Spot the elements that will later cause weird continuity issues.
Also the first appearance of fan favourite character The Banana™.


Why is it mentionable?

On the surface, it's the game that introduced the character that would become Rare's version of Donkey Kong, the reason for this site's existence (although Junior did previously cameo in the Donkey Kong Game & Watch). Looking deeper, we have the first instance of heroic Kongs, which would become the norm for the most part, as well as the close (if sometimes fractious) relationship between Cranky and Donkey. The game's Snapjaws likely inspired DKC1's Klaptraps, as well as reappearing in MvDK, and with a decidedly Klaptrap-like look in Yoshi's Island DS. DKC2 borrows the double-climbing action from this game, along with the "kidnapped DK" plot. The snippet of Bach's Toccata & Fugue that the arcade version uses was also incorporated into DK64's Creepy Castle theme. DKCR and DKCTF contain remixes of the cute little jingle for their secret final levels, and both reintroduce a very similar enemy to the Sparks in their DK Island Factory areas. Even bananas make their first appearance in the series here, although used as a weapon, and it's the first instance of a jungle environment.

More Info:

Nintendo of America's page for the Virtual Console re-release on Wii U
Flyer for the arcade version and site hosting a scan of the manual for the NES version
Mario Wiki's general information about the game
DK Vine thread discussing the Arcade Era in general



Donkey Kong 3 (1983, Arcade/NES/only a couple of home computers)

What is it?  
His coconut attack, can fire in SPURTS... okay, it was an obvious one but it's just catchy as hell! Sorry, catchy as heck.

This sequel takes a different tack than the progression up until now. Firstly, it's a shooter/platformer hybrid with more focus on shooting incoming insects with bug spray to protect some plants, while managing DK's position by shooting him in the crotch. Second, the plot is back to Cranky as the villain, but with a new protagonist, Stanley the Bugman. This somewhat undermines what the series had been building, and as a result it feels a little out-of-place and is less well remembered. DK even looks different!

The first time Cranky has looked really, well, Cranky. But you would be too if someone was giving you a pesticide enema. (You're welcome for that mental image.)
Ladies and gentlemen, the plot. *golf clap*
THERE'S THE MONEY SHOT. Like the view, Stanley?


Why is it mentionable?

DK3 does continue the theme of nature rebelling against development and captivity, with DK breaking into Stanley's greenhouse. Apart from that, the gameplay and aesthetics were largely forgotten as the series went on, until Tropical Freeze featured the stage layout from this game in the background of Fruity Factory, along with Stanley's spray gun. In a parallel universe perhaps Stanley would have gone on to greater things, but here DK3 wasn't very impactful. Sorry.

More Info:

Nintendo of America's page for the Virtual Console rerelease on Wii U
Flyer for the arcade version and site hosting a scan of the manual for the NES version
Mario Wiki's general information about the game
DK Vine thread discussing the Arcade Era in general
DK Vine thread celebrating Stanley the Bugman



Donkey Kong Jr. Math (1983, NES)

What is it?  
This one. Simple addition I can do. Get that long division out of my face.

The very first spin-off to the Donkey Kong series was an edutainment title, heavily borrowing the mechanics and aesthetic of its namesake, DK Jr. Old Donkey Kong is here to pose mathematical problems for Junior, who climbs ropes and such to collect the right numbers to solve them. Doesn't introduce much new to the fictional universe, apart from the 2-player mode's Pink DK Jr., who to this day still baffles us (is it Swanky? Candy? Funky? A weird pink clone created by Master Hand whilst bored? WE NEED TO KNOW).

Hm, something clever to say... that "A" looks really wide, doesn't it? Nailed it.
Collecting numbers from gorillas... now I'm having A*mazing flashbacks. Thanks, Ben and Alastair.
I believe this is the first instance of that pose for DK, which was reused in DKCR and DKCTF for background statues holding a Wii Remote/Gamepad. So that's good isn't it.


Why is it mentionable?

This game introduced to the Donkey Kong series the stigma of edutainment that it never quite managed to shake, even today. No wait, that's not right. The only other time the series has had so much to do with numbers has been... the Japanese trading card game? Being basically DK Jr. with more numbers and less Mario, there's not much new here; the most noteworthy aspect is, again, showing the Kongs' relationship and Cranky's commitment to raising his son/grandson right and educating him. In that way it establishes Cranky as the smart one and DK as, shall we say, an (enthusiastic) academic underachiever, which is also represented in DK64 and other games.

More Info:

Nintendo of America's page for the Virtual Console rerelease on Wii U
Site hosting a scan of the manual for the game
Mario Wiki's general information about the game
DK Vine thread discussing the Arcade Era in general




Donkey Kong no Ongaku Asobi (Aborted 1983, NES)

What is it?

Following the edutainment theme (and in Japan, naming convention) of DK Jr. Math (as well as a Popeye game for learning English), Nintendo planned to release an interactive music game featuring DK, Mario, and Pauline, plus Junior, with copious girders representing the first game. The extant screenshots from a Japanese gaming magazine's preview show the gang playing the well known (in Japan) children's songs "Doggy Policeman" and the Japanese translation of "I've Been Working on the Railroad". It was never released. The title as shown on the title screen translates to "Donkey Kong's Fun with Music".

"Donkey Band" sounds a bit rude, doesn't it? Sounds like "bum"! Sorry, I just watched Blackadder.
Glad to see Pauline wielding a hammer, decades before this "feminism" thing (warning: this statement contains sarcasm).
Now, a gorilla playing a double bass I can accept, but a blue-collar worker on a grand piano? Inconceivable!


Why is it mentionable?

This is interesting as an indicator that Nintendo was trying different things with Donkey Kong even at this time. The idea of a rhythm/music game with DK characters became a reality years later with the Donkey Konga series, with mixed results (the use of stock children's songs are also common to both). And while Junior would later use bongos more frequently as an adult, we see he started with a drum kit here; more of a deep cut is Cranky's double bass which Retro may have picked up on when giving him the very same instrument in the ending coda to Tropical Freeze!

More Info:

Mario Wiki's general information about the game
DK Vine thread discussing the Arcade Era in general



Donkey Kong 3: Dai Gyakushuu (1984, PC-8800 and other fun '80s home computers)

What is it?

In the 80s Hudson Soft ported several Nintendo games to the popular home computer platforms in Japan, probably the most famous being Super Mario Bros. Special. These "ports" were inferior technically to Nintendo's own NES conversions, but unlike other conversions of the time by other companies, they added weird new content and gameplay systems, enough to be considered expansions or even sequels. Donkey Kong 3: 大逆襲 (Dai Gyakushuu) was one of them, being made available for computers such as the PC6001, PC8801, FM-7 and Sharp X1. It significantly changes the gameplay of DK3 by stripping away the greenhouse setting with its plants to protect and the ability for Stanley to jump, and modifying enemy behaviour accordingly.

Nintendo games on floppy disk. What an age we live in. Thanks to the nindb blog for the picture. Sorry it's cut-off, it's the best I could find.
Some of the backgrounds are digitised photos, others are basic lineart. The game doesn't pick up right where DK3 left off, but in America. Maybe it's implying that the Saturday Supercade episode with Stanley is canon. (Thanks to the nindb blog for the screenshot.)


Why is it mentionable?

More important than the gameplay changes is the new story this game appears to tell. Stanley the Bugman is now pursuing (or being pursued by) DK Senior holding two parachutes, on a whirlwind tour of various bizarre locations. From a highway in the desert, to a city, to the Nazca lines, to outer space and various planets aboard a UFO, meeting aliens along the way! Some of the bugs from the original game return, apparently in service to DK now. Apart from being another well-deserved starring appearance for our favourite fumigator, this game marks Cranky's first trip to space, and is a pleasingly bonkers escalation of the conflict seen in Donkey Kong 3 proper (if there's one problem with Donkey Kong 3, it's that it's not bonkers enough, right?).

More Info:

Overview of the game, and the source of the images here
Gameplay footage of the slightly more graphically impressive Sharp X1 version
Footage of the PC-6601 version, showing every level background and title
DK Vine thread discussing the Arcade Era in general




Return of Donkey Kong (Aborted 1988, NES)

What is it?

This game was announced in Nintendo Power but never materialised. It's been speculated that it's merely an alternate name for the "Donkey Kong Classics" combo NES cart, or maybe an enhanced remake in the vein of the Japan-exclusive "Return of Mario Bros." It could have even been an early stage of the project that would come to be DK '94. Not much else to say, so let's move on...

More Info:

Mario Wiki's general information about the game
DK Vine thread discussing the Arcade Era in general



Donkey Kong (1994, Game Boy)

What is it?  
No funny caption today... I'm sorry, I just love this art.

The last hurrah for the arcade series before DKC relaunched the franchise soon after, DK '94 (as it's commonly known) starts by recreating the events of the first arcade game, before greatly expanding the scope. Mario has new abilities, there are many new environments and enemies, Junior appears in his only antagonistic role, there's boss battles with Cranky, and the gameplay is generally more puzzle-y and strategic, with keys and switches and building ladders. It's much more meaty than the original outing, and has several significant Super Game Boy enhancements.

Is this Cranky's first instance breaking the fourth wall?
Let's just talk about that border. Gosh, it's really nice and colourful, isn't it? Yeah.
I love Junior pulling that lever with a big smile. He's just happy to be there.
This picture is really sweet too. I've got the feels you guys. Thanks to Supper Mario Broth for the picture, saved me playing through the whole game.


Why is it mentionable?

As an update to the arcade Donkey Kong, it fleshes out that story and the relationship between the four principal characters. One interpretation has the events lead from our world into the Mushroom Kingdom (Cranky uses a Super Mushroom to grow in size), thus bridging the gap between Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros. How this meshes with the events of DK Jr. and Mario Bros. is unclear. So while this game does enhance in some ways the story of the pre-DKC events, it also muddies the water somewhat. The timing of its release and use of the updated character design for the younger Cranky that includes a tie means that DKC is less of a clean break for the series, and may contribute to the popular confusion that still exists about the character of Donkey Kong; exacerbated by his portrayal in the Mario vs. DK sub-series, the direct legacy of DK '94 (the first MvDK title even started as a remake of this game). At least this, the final instalment in the DK series before DKC, has an ultimately sympathetic characterisation for the original big ape, as the ending screenshot shows. Worth noting as well are the world archetypes, which include ruins, jungle, forest, glacier, sailing ship... sound familiar? The first proper world, Big City, is also strongly implied to be revisited as Big Ape City in Donkey Kong Land.

More Info:

Nintendo of America's page for the Virtual Console rerelease on 3DS
Site hosting a scan of the game's manual
Mario Wiki's general information about the game
DK Vine thread discussing the Arcade Era in general


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