Donkey Kong is an arcade game released by Nintendo in 1981. It is an early example of the platform game genre, as the gameplay focuses on maneuvering the main character across a series of platforms while dodging and jumping over obstacles. In the game, Jumpman (since renamed Mario) must rescue a damsel in distress, Lady (now named Pauline), from a giant ape named Donkey Kong. The hero and ape later became two of Nintendo’s most popular characters.
Donkey Kong is one of the earliest examples of the platform game genre; it is sometimes said to be the first platform game, although it was preceded by Space Panic. In contrast to Space Panic, however, Donkey Kong was the first platform game to feature jumping, introducing the need to jump between gaps and over obstacles or approaching enemies, setting the template for the platform genre. Competitive video gamers and referees stress the game’s high level of difficulty compared to other classic arcade games. Winning the game requires patience and the ability to accurately time Jumpman’s ascent. In addition to presenting the goal of saving the Lady, the game also gives the player a score. Points are awarded for finishing screens; leaping over obstacles; destroying objects with a hammer power-up; collecting items such as hats, parasols, and purses (apparently belonging to the Lady/Pauline); and completing other tasks. The player typically receives three lives with a bonus awarded for the first 7,000 points, although this can be modified via the game’s built in DIP switches.
The game is divided into four different one-screen stages. Each represents 25 meters of the structure Donkey Kong has climbed, one stage being 25 meters higher than the previous. The final screen occurs at 100 m. Later ports of the game omit or change the sequence of the screens. The original arcade version includes:
Screen 1 (25 m), Jumpman must scale a seven-story construction site made of crooked girders and ladders while jumping over or hammering barrels and oil barrels tossed by Donkey Kong. The hero must also avoid fireballs which generate when barrels run into the oil drum at the bottom of the site. Players routinely call this screen “Barrels”.
Screen 2 (50 m), Jumpman must climb a five-story structure of conveyor belts, each of which transports cement pans. The fireballs also make another appearance. This screen is sometimes referred to as the “Factory” or “Pie Factory” due to the resemblance of the cement pans to pies.
Screen 3 (75 m), Jumpman rides up and down elevators while avoiding fireballs and bouncing objects, presumably spring weights. The bouncing weights (the hero’s greatest danger in this screen) emerge on the top level and drop near the rightmost elevator. The screen’s common name is “Elevators”. This screen appears as an unlockable stage in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
Screen 4 (100 m), Jumpman must remove the eight rivets which support Donkey Kong. The fireballs remain the primary obstacle. Removing the final rivet causes Donkey Kong to fall and the hero to be reunited with Lady/Pauline. This is the final screen of each level. Players refer to this screen as “Rivets”.
The player loses a life if:
Jumpman collides with a barrel, fireball, flaming oil barrel, spring weight, cement pan, or Donkey Kong himself
Jumpman falls off the structure or through open rivet holes
The bonus timer reaches 0.
These screens combine to form levels, which become progressively tougher. For example, Donkey Kong begins to hurl barrels faster and sometimes diagonally, and fireballs get speedier. The victory music alternates between levels 1 and 2. The 22nd level is unofficially known as the kill screen, due to an error in the game’s programming that kills Mario after a few seconds, effectively ending the game. With its four unique levels, Donkey Kong was the most complex arcade game at the time of its release, and only the second game to feature multiple levels (the first was Gorf by Midway Games).