Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts



Donkey Kong


Somewhere in the muddled and very hazy memories of my early childhood in the 1980s lies a very fond memory. Well, "fond" may not be the best term. At best, it was endearing but that's only in hindsight as I think back to it now. It was more a memory of frustration and annoyance more than anything: cute to think of now, but at the time was the bane of my existence. It involved a large barrel-tossing gorilla named Donkey Kong who had just snatched up my girl, only now do I know her name to be Penelope, and it was up to a little guy in overalls to rescue her. However, I didn't play this in the arcade where it was one of the most popular games, nor did I play it on the Nintendo Entertainment System. In fact, the little tan-box NES wasn't even out yet (or I at least hadn't got one yet). Nope, I played this on a little screen that was maybe half the size of your cell phone in your pocket right now.


One tiny joystick and a button. That's all you needed.


Most likely this little arcade-cabinet which was just the right size for a Mogwai came into my possession through a garage-sale find. I don't recall exactly, only that I remember playing the hell out of it. It wasn't anything fancy, certainly not an accurate emulation of its arcade counterpart, but this little blue box was my world. Hell, I might even say a bit of an addiction. 

All you did in this game was go up and jump. That's it. Mario jumped, of course he wasn't called Mario yet when this 1982 mini-arcade game was produced. Back then he was only known as "Jumpman." Somebody earned their paycheck over at Nintendo that day, I bet.

What was I talking about?

Oh, right. Mario jumped and dodged barrels and you got a special hammer once in a while that could knock barrels out of your way. I always found that hammer to be a trap sometimes. If I go for it, I have to time it just right so as not to get hit, pick it up and knock whatever tumbling thing was coming your way. The little arcade cabinet wasn't advanced, but it was damn sure addicting and had you thinking like that. The timing and music and fun was still there, and despite the repetitious nature of the entire thing, for a kid it was perfect and dozens of C-batteries laid waste to that addiction. If I had some skittles, a Dr. Pepper and this thing, I absolutely didn't need anything else.

It was pretty faithful to the actual arcade machine. At the time I only played it at a local arcade that I didn't go to nearly enough in hindsight - now festering into a regret considering arcades, the bastion of social interaction at the time, don't exist anymore. Now people scream into headsets and throw controllers when they get beaten by a twelve year old on X-box Live.

Damnit, what was I talking about again? You see, Donkey Kong was about as simple of a game as you can think of, so trying to actually describe it other than "go up and jump over barrels" is like taking a Haiku and trying to turn it into Dostoevsky. 



See? Just the right size for a Mogwai...and action figures. Or Mogwai action figures. Thanks Stripe, I'm now back on track.


Now this was an interesting time, even more when I sit and actually have to construct a thought about it. It was the mid 80s, borderline late 80s or so, and Nintendo wasn't quite "Nintendo" yet. I've written in the past how Nintendo was absolutely everything, especially once I got my NES, but it was still in a relatively young state during this period. They were around, you had Mario Brothers and, of course, a few arcade games, but it wasn't "Nintendo" big just yet. Hell, The Wizard (arguably a pinpoint reference to Nintendo's moment of supremacy) wasn't even out yet. Now that I think about it, this little arcade thing was the first Nintendo product I ever owned.

Before I was graced with the mighty NES, it was pretty much just the Atari for me. Moon Patrol, an awful port of Pac-Man and the like. Donkey Kong was in a separate category all its own. Away from Atari. Something I could play anywhere, even in bed or include it in my action-figure headquarters. If I had known it was going to be one of the first major Nintendo products and now worth hundreds, I probably would have taken better care of it.

Nah...that's a lie. Dr. Venkman needed Donkey Kong in his office and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man needed to crash through the walls and destroy stuff.



 Be warned: 1980s Fashion inside.


Only until much much later, as in about three or four years ago, did I realize that my little Donkey Kong machine was a part of a line of mini-arcade cabinets released by Coleco in the early 1980s. There was Pac-Man and Galaxian, Frogger and  Zaxxon amongst a few others. Even worse is that, apparently, these little pieces of plastic turned into collectors items. As in, big collectors items. As in, if I had that Donkey Kong mini-arcade game right now, I could sell it on ebay for about $80 to $100 bucks and that's without all the packaging and boxes. Have all that stuff and you're looking at around $200 on the low side and upwards of $350 once all the bidding is done.

Not that I would sell it anyways. If I had that, it would be sitting pertly on a shelf as one of the more vivid impressions I have of my seven-year-old self. Maybe that's why they're so expensive to buy...people really loved these things as children and have just held on to them for decades. 

Nah, that's just wishful thinking. Like a lot of kids of the decade, I think most of the old stuff like this just got tossed. If you're a parent, do yourself a favor and save everything. If not for the kids to relive their childhoods when they get into their 30s and wish they had it all again, but for yourself as long-term investments of things you could potentially sell on Ebay and put those freeloaders through college.


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