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 must rescue a damsel in distress, Lady, from a giant ape named Donkey Kong. The hero and ape later became two of Nintendo’s most popular characters.
The game was the latest in a series of efforts by Nintendo to break into the North American market. Hiroshi Yamauchi, Nintendo’s president at the time, assigned the project to a first-time game designer named Shigeru Miyamoto. Drawing from a wide range of inspirations, including Popeye and King Kong, Miyamoto developed the scenario and designed the game alongside Nintendo’s chief engineer, Gunpei Yokoi. The two men broke new ground by using graphics as a means of characterization, including cut scenes to advance the game’s plot, and integrating multiple stages into the gameplay.
Despite initial misgivings on the part of Nintendo’s American staff, Donkey Kong proved a success in North America and Japan. Nintendo licensed the game to Coleco, who developed home console versions for numerous platforms. Other companies cloned Nintendo’s hit and avoided royalties altogether. Miyamoto’s characters appeared on cereal boxes, television cartoons, and dozens of other places. A lawsuit brought on by Universal City Studios, alleging Donkey Kong violated their trademark of King Kong, ultimately failed. The success of Donkey Kong and Nintendo’s win in the courtroom helped position the company to dominate the video game market in the 1980s and early 1990s.