I don't remember when I first played Donkey Kong, if I had to guess, I think it was on my friend's Colecovision. What I do remember is being attracted to the artwork. There are two games that I just adore from the retro art style, one is Pac-Man, the other is our game in question, Donkey Kong.
I loved everything about this game. I loved the art, I loved the font, I loved playing the game. I would spend hours playing as Mario (aka Jump Man) making my way through the levels to get to Pauline.
Maybe another reason I loved Donkey Kong so much was all the marketing that went along with the game. Did you know that there was a Donkey Kong cereal? There was! I remembered it tasted a lot like Captain Crunch, but I would rather have Donkey Kong than Captain Crunch any day. The commercial is also the first time Mario's voice was similar to the beloved voice of Mario today. Just listen to the "Here we go!" in the commercial below...
But that's not the only voice of Mario during that time. There was also a Donkey Kong cartoon, part of the Saturday Supercade, and Peter Cullen voiced Mario, the same man that voiced Optimus Prime! The plot was the same in literally every episode. Donkey Kong escapes, Mario and Pauline go after Donkey Kong to bring him back to the circus, Donkey Kong gets wrapped up with some baddies, Donkey Kong realizes that they are bad and work with Mario and Pauline to stop the baddies, Donkey Kong escapes from Mario.
But it wasn't until I played Donkey Kong Jr, when I started to question Mario's motives and his true colors. In Donkey Kong Jr, Mario is the villain, and he's holding what looks like a whip. Mario has obviously captured Donkey Kong, and it's up to you as Donkey Kong Jr, to save your dad from Mario.
Pauline is also absent from Donkey Kong Jr. and I started to question why this might be the case.
A few things that we do know about Mario. First off, he was first known as Mr. Video, then Jump Man, and then later as Mario. He is a carpenter in Donkey Kong, not a plumber...not yet. He is the common man, someone that everyone that plays Donkey Kong can relate to.
But why is Mario involved with Donkey Kong in the first place? Well the cartoon can shed some light into that fact. In the Donkey Kong cartoon, Mario works for the circus. Why would a carpenter work for the circus? Perhaps money was tight as a carpenter and he saw working in the circus, capturing a giant ape to sell to the circus as a "get rich quick" scheme?
It's telling that Pauline is missing in Donkey Kong Jr. And it's also telling that Donkey Kong kidnaps Pauline in the first game. Could it be that Donkey Kong kidnaps Pauline in the first game to get back at Mario? But why would he want revenge? Perhaps the real reason that Donkey Kong has a beef with Mario is the fact that Mario was abusive to Donkey Kong. And maybe that's why we don't see Pauline in the the sequel; maybe she couldn't stand the way that Mario treated Donkey Kong.
It's also interesting that after Donkey Kong, Mario is no longer known as a carpenter, instead he works as a plumber. He also leaves our world and goes to the Mushroom Kingdom. Is he trying to run away from his past? Is there something else going on here?
Is Mario really the villain in Donkey Kong?
It's all speculation, but what we do know is that Donkey Kong is one of the most beloved games of all time. And Donkey Kong introduced us to one of the world's most famous, or maybe infamous characters of all time, Mario.
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