As Donkey Kong Country – Tropical Freeze swings onto Nintendo Switch, let’s take a quick look back at the game that kickstarted the legend.
1. Nintendo had branched into toy design in the ‘60s. Noting interest in the burgeoning arcade game business in the ’70s, it decided to dip its toe into the interactive water.
2. A handful of titles were developed with some success in Japan. Two that performed well locally were earmarked for export – Sheriff (79)and space shooter, Radar Scope (79).
3. Then-president of the nascent Nintendo America, Minoru Arakawa, convinced they were on to a winner with Radar Scope, went heavy on an order for the US.
4. By the time the game landed, interest in it had waned and Arakawa was left with a surplus of 2000 units!
5. Up that creek without a paddle, Arakawa conceived a ‘save my ass’ idea: what if Nintendo could build a new game that could fit into the Radar Scope cabinet?
6. A young toy design artist called Shigeru Miyamoto, whose only arcade game experience was a bit part on Radar Scope, was thrown the challenge…
7. Influenced by the Popeye cartoons, Miyamoto designed a game set around a love triangle and used the King Kong theme as a template.
8. The premise was simple: a giant ape steals a beautiful girl and climbs to the top of a building, leaving carpenter (yes, carpenter) boyfriend to attempt a rescue.
9. Miyamoto had great vision for the game. His lack of technical ability was left in the hands of programmer Gunpei Yojkoi, who also immediately saw the potential.
10. Donkey Kong introduced storytelling to arcade games, ushering in the first narrative cutscene. Its unique run and jump mechanic opened the doors to the possibilities of platform gaming.
11. Minoru Arakawa’s position as Nintendo president was saved and a gaming empire was born. The young Shigeru Miyamoto had taken his first step on a legendary career.
12. The game was retrofitted to the Radar Scope circuit boards and released in 1981. It was a raging success and after just 11 months, Nintendo had sold 60,000 units in the US, earning the company $180 million.