DONKEY KONG JR.
DEVELOPED: Nintendo / Iwasaki Giken
RELEASE DATE: 08/1982 (JP, Arcade), 1982 (Worldwide, Arcade), 07/15/1983 (JP – Famicom), 06/1986 (US – NES), 06/15/1987 (EU – NES)
ALSO ON: Atari 2600, Atari 7800, Atari 8-bit computers, BBC Micro, ColecoVision, e-Reader, Famicom Disk System, Intellivision
FEATURED IN: Animal Crossing (Gamecube), Virtual Console (Wii, 3DS, Wii U), Famicom Mini, NES Classic, Nintendo Switch Online
Donkey Kong was Nintendo’s most successful arcade game – and probably most successful video game product – to date. Want some numbers? Here’s some numbers for ya: $280 million dollars in two years. That’s almost $800 million today. From one arcade game. That’s not Grand Theft Auto V money ($6 billion and counting), but few games in the world were as successful as Donkey Kong in the early 1980s. A sequel was assured and was eventually released for the arcade in August 1982 in Japan, a year and a month after the original Donkey Kong.
Not sure how wise it was to release Donkey Kong Jr. at a time when the original Donkey Kong was still selling like gangbusters. But Nintendo saw an opportunity to milk the now-franchise while it was still hot (or still full of milk? I dunno). Thankfully, Miyamoto and crew were more than up to the task. Donkey Kong Jr. holds up better than the original and is a surprisingly subversive sequel.
With Snidely Whiplash as Mario!*
After the events of Donkey Kong, Mario drops the mic and throws Donkey Kong into a cage for kidnapping Pauline. Rather than just giving DK to a wildlife rescue and calling it a game, Mario flaunts the big ape’s capture in front of his child. This is abhorrent behavior, far worse than Donkey Kong’s male posturing in the original. One could argue DK was acting out of instinct when he took Pauline to the top of those construction sites. Mario’s just a spiteful jerk.
You got this, Junior…
While Mario’s busy choking on his own rage, Donkey Kong Jr.’s pluck carries him through the game’s tricks and traps. Adorned only in a white onesie, he climbs across vine after vine with grace, panache, and a surprisingly sunny disposition. Just look at that winning smile as he scoots up the vines. Sensational!
Swag on a milli!
Obviously in 1982, Mario wasn’t the heroic, optimistic do-gooder that he is today. Nevertheless, it’s surprising that Nintendo flipped the script and made Donkey Kong‘s protagonist the bad guy. Mario clones, imitators and haters would later perpetrate crimes in Mario’s name in future games, but Mario’s own record has remained clean as a whistle since Donkey Kong Jr. I suspect Nintendo wants to keep it that way.
Even more painful than it looks.
DK Jr.’s winning personality and stronger stage design makes Donkey Kong Jr. the superior of the two classic DK games. The 2nd and 4th stages in particular take full advantage of DK Jr.’s simian characteristics and are a joy to play. Unlike the original DK, Donkey Kong Jr. is also a complete experience, with all four stages from the arcade intact on the Famicom version. Sure, you won’t be spending any long hours with this one (unless you travel back in time to 1983 Japan and DK Jr. is all you got), but at least Mario gets his.
All is right with the world.
*thanks to the Arcade Flyer Archive for this snazzy DK Jr. flyer!