Mario's girlfriend, Pauline, has been captured by that big ape, Donkey Kong! Mario must run, jump, and hammer his way through hazardous construction zones if he ever wants to see his girlfriend again.
Donkey Kong is historically significant for two main reasons: one, it was Nintendo's first arcade "hit," and thus set the stage for the corporation's eventual domination of the video game industry; two, it was the first game to feature Mario.
The game was the brainchild of Shigeru Miyamoto, a recently-hired Nintendo employee who had been commissioned to make an arcade game based on the popular "Popeye" cartoon series. When the Popeye licensing deal fell through, Miyamoto took the game in his own direction, creating his own replacement characters.
Donkey Kong featured a very unique gameplay style for its time, introducing players to a unique "run and jump" style of gaming that has since become the standard format for all side-scrolling, "platformer" games. The game's bright, cartoony graphics, memorable characters, and multiple levels likewise ensued its long-term popularity in the arcades, and in doing so earned great success for both Nintendo and Miyamoto.
The game spawned two sequels of mixed success: Donkey Kong Jr. and Donkey Kong 3. From then on, Nintendo turned its focus to developing spin-offs featuring only the Mario character.
Following the end of the arcade era, the Donkey Kong character would remain ignored by Nintendo for over a decade, though Donkey Kong Jr. had cameo appearances in Super Mario Kart and Mario's Tennis. It was not until 1994 that the character was resurrected in Game Boy Donkey Kong, a launch title for Nintendo's Super Game Boy accessory. Later that year Donkey Kong was also given new life in Donkey Kong Country, a Super NES title developed by the British company Rareware that would later evolve into a whole new hit franchise.
Kong vs. Kong
In 1982, at the height of Donkey Kong's popularity, Universal City Studios sent an ultimatum to Nintendo, claiming copyright infringement. They argued that the name, characters, and theme of the Donkey Kong arcade game were too similar to that of their 1933 horror film, King Kong. Universal demanded the immediate discontinuation of any further marketing of the Donkey Kong characters and ordered the destruction of all remaining Donkey Kong inventory. They also demanded royalties from all past sales of the Donkey Kong game and related merchandise.
When Nintendo refused, Universal filed a lawsuit against Nintendo of America on June 29, 1982. Almost all companies that had been marketing the Donkey Kong characters quickly ended their contacts with Nintendo out of the fear that they too could be held legally liable.
Nintendo was essentially found not guilty on a technicality. In the resulting trial, it was ultimately decided that the King Kong motion picture had expired copyright and was now legally in the public domain. The judge ruled that Universal could thus assert no claims over the King Kong character or the movie's themes.
In 1985 Nintendo counter-sued Universal. As punishment for the studio's efforts to scare away Nintendo's merchandising clients, Universal was ordered to pay Nintendo $1.8 million to make up for lost revenues.
Howard Lincoln, who was the leading Nintendo defense lawyer in the case, would go on to become President of Nintendo America as a direct result of his performance.