This Day in History – July 9th, 1981: Donkey Kong Arcade Game Released

By: Sean Sporman
By: Sean Sporman

On July 9th, 1981, an arcade game was released in Japan with the unique name of Donkey Kong. Not only was a major success for a company named Nintendo, it introduced two characters who endure to this day.

After the relative failure of an arcade game called Radar Scope, Nintendo assigned a young developer named Shigeru Miyamoto to design a new game. In what is considered one of the earliest “platform” games (where a player controls a character across various platforms) and one of the earliest games with a story, Donkey Kong was developed.

In the game, a user controls a character called Jumpman, who later become known as the iconic character, Mario. His mission is to traverse levels with multiple hazards to rescue his girlfriend, who would later be known as Pauline, from the grasp of the angry ape, Donkey Kong. Some of those hazards included barrels.

Nintendo's American division was unsure it would be a hit at first, but their misgivings would prove wrong. The game proved a huge hit in arcades across the world.

Before the launch of the Nintendo Entertainment System, home versions of the game were available on many systems such as the ColecoVision and Atari 2600. Later, a version would be launched on Nintendo's first home console. The franchise even spawned a short-lived cartoon that aired in the early 1980s on CBS.

Two arcade sequels, Donkey Kong Jr. and Donkey Kong 3, were later released. The franchise lived on with the critically-acclaimed Donkey Kong Country series on the Super Nintendo and what's commonly called Donkey Kong '94 for the game boy. Since then, the character has switched from antagonist to protagonist, appearing in many Mario-related series like Mario Kart and Mario Party as well as his own games, such as Donkey Konga and Donkey Kong: Barrel Blast.

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