maanantai 18. heinäkuuta 2016

Mario & Donkey Kong: 35th Anniversary!

...Over a week ago, that is. I'm a tad late, but there are plenty of reasons for that, both proper and not so proper ones. I'm a really systematic guy, and after I wrote the review for New Super Mario Bros. 2 all those weeks ago, I found myself in a loop 'cause I had no New Super Mario Bros. Wii to review. I was heading into New Super Mario Bros. U instead, and that just wouldn't do. I had to get that one game from the between on my plate. So I went to a local retro store (I fucking love that shop) and found it immediately; for a very reasonable price, no less. Then, since I couldn't find a compatible controller combo for any sum relatively as reasonable, I turned to a favorable mail order company, and found a Wii Remote + Nunchaku combo for about 60% cheaper than anywhere else. Of course I ordered that set. Days went by, then weeks, then my schedule got filled with all kinds of stuff such as the Tuska Metal Festival and my birthday party, and I was totally hooked on a certain Legend of Zelda game, I kinda forgot the whole Mario and DK anniversary, and that I'm still waiting for the controllers to show up. It turns out they've still got my order, it's just that they had to order a new batch of those controllers and one of the games I ordered along with 'em themselves, which is the cause of the remarkable delay. That's fine by me, I wouldn't have had time to play any other games anyway. Well, I'm returning to my actual day job tomorrow - good vacation, btw - so if I'm going to do this, it has to be done right now. I'll get back to actually reviewing games as soon as I can - and it's kinda obvious my plans are to pay homage to the Zelda series' 30th anniversary as well, and get some reviews, which have been a long time coming, out of the way. But, only through reviews - I'm not that much of a fan of the franchise. These two guys, on the other hand, made up for the best parts of my childhood.

Radar Scope, the game that "evolved" into
Donkey Kong.
By early 1981, Taito's Space Invaders and Namco's Pac-Man had taken North American arcades by storm. A relative newcomer to the video game industry in the capacity of a developer, Nintendo had attempted expansion into North American territories numerous times, most recently with an arcade shooter named Radar Scope. While Radar Scope did become a big hit in Japan, only a handful of cabinets was sold in the West. Instead of attempting to launch yet another game, the company - under orders from the legendary president Hiroshi Yamauchi - recalled the unsold cabinets for reprogramming. 28-year old designer named Shigeru Miyamoto convinced Yamauchi that he's got a gameplay idea that could well be an international break for Nintendo. Hopeful, yet skeptical of the young designer's talent, Yamauchi appointed Nintendo's main designer Gunpei Yokoi as the project's supervisor, and a $100,000 budget for the game's development.

Around that same time, Nintendo had applied to King Features Syndicate for a license to make a video game based on the Popeye comic strip and cartoon - somewhat inspired by the recent feature film adaptation. The game, designed by Miyamoto, was basically done already, but when King Features turned the offer down, the game was basically converted into Miyamoto's Nintendo-saving project. Popeye was replaced with a carpenter called Mr. Video, Olive Oyl with a damsel in distress called The Lady, and finally, Bluto with a gorilla, as inspired by the film King Kong. He didn't want to create a monster, he wanted to create more of a character that was neither a hero or a villain, more of an endearing character with primal qualities that made him a nuisance rather than a manifestation of evil. The game is known as the first ever to have had a storyline written before the actual programming took place. Pleased with the results, Yamauchi laid down one more condition for the game's release: since it was targeted at North American audiences, he wanted it to have an English title. Instead of going over the numerous myths surrounding the title of the game, I'll just go with the most popular one: since King Kong was not an option, Miyamoto came up with the title of Monkey Kong, which he then rephrased Donkey Kong, because he and Yokoi felt that "Donkey" was a proper word to describe the quirky nature of Donkey Kong and his owner's rivalry - the "owner", originally called Mr. Video, then Jumpman, was renamed Mario in North American releases of the game (after Nintendo of America's landlord Mario Segale). His signature clothing and moustache were actually the product of Miyamoto's desire to create a fleshed-out human character as opposed to the matchstick men and formless protagonists of the past; his overalls were painted in the opposing colours of blue and red so players could see his arms move, and the moustache was added in for a distinguishing facial feature.

Gunpei Yokoi with his former apprentice, now master designer
Shigeru Miyamoto in 1994. Best known as the creator of Metroid,
Yokoi passed away in a tragic car accident in 1997.
Although Nintendo of America's sales manager disliked the game - reportedly for being so different from every other arcade game on the market - and even the distributors had doubts because of the game's title, Minoru Arakawa who was in charge of Nintendo of America at the time managed to convince them of the game's impending success, so a few machines were green-lit for testing. The initial turn-out was $30 per cabinet a day. The remaining Radar Scope cabinets were converted into Donkey Kong machines, and put on sale on July 9th, 1981. Thus, the legends of Donkey Kong and Mario were born - as well as the modern platformer genre, in which Donkey Kong is preceded only by Universal Entertainment's Space Panic from 1980.

After this story of how Mario and Donkey Kong were born, I hope to tell you more such stories as I go on doing this celebration of a marathon, until there are no stories left to tell. Needless to say, both characters are still going strong, both together and separate, with well over a hundred releases between them, and I consider myself blessed, having been a fan for over 25 years. Here's to the next 35 years, cheers!

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