In the early 80’s, master designer and all-round good guy Shigeru Miyamoto was tasked with taking Nintendo’s successes to the US. He had a small island nation’s worth of unused Radar Scope arcade cabinets to use, so with coder Gunpei Yokoi at his side, he created the classic Donkey Kong cabinet we all know and love. Though not scientifically proven, I am certain the number of coins put into Donkey Kong machines over the years, if stacked on top of each other, would reach the moon. It was a mega hit and introduced the world to two of Nintendo’s “Founding Fathers” – Mario (known then as Jumpman) and Donkey Kong (known then without wearing a tie). Truly, the success of that single cabinet spurred the creation of two of gaming’s mega-franchises: Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong.
The relative success of the two series has followed very similar paths. You know the ones? Left to right, with platforms, enemies and power-ups inbetween? The genre has survived the test of time, ever-returning with increasing graphical and technical fidelity. The Wii U launched with New Super Mario Bros. and the Wii played host to the latest Donkey Kong Country with ”Returns”. It’s crazy to think that as a seven-year old boy I played a SNES copy of Super Mario Bros. my dad had bought me until I wet myself, and fifteen years later I can be sitting on my couch playing New Super Mario Bros. Uthat I paid for with my own money and without any of the aforementioned bladder mishaps.
But which series has come further in that time? It would be hard to argue against Mario. Although Donkey Kong gave up his woman-stealing ways in the early 90’s, and Rare delivered a number of great Donkey Kong titles where a new Kong model made an appearance playing the hero, Mario has expanded his professional skills beyond simple running and jumping. What makes this interesting is the fact that Mario doesn’t subscribe to the clichéd “jack of all trades, master of none”, because very few Mario games have ever been bad, per se. Hell, there are a few educational Mario games on floppy disc somewhere in this set of drawers that I used to enjoy. As a racer (Mario Kart), a role-player (Super Mario RPG; Mario & Luigi) and a party host (Mario Party), the moustachioed plumber has been near-unstoppable. There are
few no series that come close to the success and variation in gameplay.
Of course, I have hardly even mentioned the rocket that launched the Mario star into the stratosphere – Super Mario 64. An absolute gem and a defining point in not only the series life, but video gaming as a whole. Its box art, with Mario in his winged cap high above Peach’s castle, is a beautiful analogy for how the experience was taken to grand new heights, while staying true to its roots. Donkey Kong may have been able to claim the title of that uber-successful arcade cabinet, but the Mario series catapulted gaming forward with the release of 64.
But where Mario went, the ape was sure to go too. Donkey Kong had seen great success with the Country series, establishing itself as one of the premiere games of the SNES era, and Rare wanted to go one better. Donkey Kong’s thrust into the 3D world even had the same title as the Mario game – Donkey Kong 64. So we’ve come full circle – first the two series are inextricably bound together in an arcade cabinet where Donkey Kong gets star billing and nobody even knows Mario’s real name – then they go their own way and forge their own success, one via Nintendo, the other Rare. Both put out quality titles consistently and enter the 3D era on par with each other. Then Super Mario 64 hits and from that point on, nobody ever forgets who Mario is, regardless of how exceptional any of Donkey Kong’s subsequent outings may be.
It’s disappointing to see Donkey Kong bow out in the first round, but the series is taking on a champion. It’s like Mike Tyson vs. Anthony Mundine. It’s a no-contest before the bell rings. In fact, it’s kind of embarrassing for Anthony Mundine to even get in the ring and purely out of respect not ask for the title fight. But Donkey Kong didn’t have a choice. The series has suffered very few missteps. Even Jungle Beat, which required a set of bongos, was a fascinating and incredibly underrated game that starred the red-tied ape. Yet, for all the positives, we’ve only had one Donkey Kong game in the last 6 years. Where’s he been?
In Mario games of course – Party, Kart and the various sports that the plumber is involved with – all play host to the character of Donkey Kong. We know he plays second fiddle to the most iconic video game character of all time and he never stood a chance, yet he is an endearing character.
And the winner is …
Once a villain and now very much a hero, the Donkey Kong series will continue strong as long as Nintendo’s still breathing. Unfortunately, the series won’t be continuing on in the VGFO tournament.
Surprise, surprise, Mario Bros. takes round 1 in the Heroes division of our Video Game Face Off Tournament! What are your thoughts on the decision? Chime in and let us know in the comments below!
Also be sure to follow the bracket for the latest in the tournament.