Nintendo Offers New Version of Donkey Kong… with a Catch

Nintendo has a tendency to act very peculiar when it comes to the game which helped put them on the map: Donkey Kong. While the legends surrounding its emergence as a retooling of the failed game Radar Scope, the attempts to license Popeye falling through, how Mario came to be designed, and how both he and the titular monkey received their name have all become a prominent part of gaming lore, the company has never seen fit– with but one exception– to release an arcade-perfect port of the game on any of their platforms.

For years, the best the company has had to offer has been the NES port– good for its day, but ultimately inferior to the original, thanks to missing animations and an entire quarter of the game being removed (there were only four stages). Even when cartridge sizes increased, Nintendo released the same version with Donkey Kong Jr. as the combo-pack Donkey Kong Classics.

A few more years later, Nintendo would remake the game entirely in Donkey Kong for the Game Boy. Available now on the Nintendo 3DS eShop (without its Super Game Boy enhancements, sadly), this version restored the missing level… and added 96 more, along with new pixel art, animations, moves, music– you name it. It’s a fantastic game, and in many ways far superior to the original arcade version… but for purists, it’s just not the same.

The original arcade game did finally come home in 1999, but as an unlockable part of Donkey Kong 64, itself a game which has not been re-released in any form. Meanwhile, the NES game would continue to be released and re-released in Animal Crossing for the GameCube, the Game Boy Advance, the GBA e-Reader, and the Wii Virtual Console. One would have thought that with the advent of the Virtual Console Arcade on the Wii that we might finally see some arcade-perfect ports of classics such as Donkey Kong and Mario Bros., but the company has yet to release any of its own titles for that part of the service.

As an aside, one would have thought the buzz surrounding the 2007 documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, which was centered around two players competing to be the best in the world at the original arcade game, would have spurned Nintendo on to release the game in some sort of normal capacity. But alas, that was not to be.

In a curious move, Nintendo of Europe opted to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Super Mario Bros. (also the 30th anniversary of Donkey Kong, though the company never really acknowledged it as such) in 2010 by including Donkey Kong: Original Edition with red anniversary Wii consoles. Essentially a ROM hack of the NES game, it did include some (but not all) of the missing animations and the missing level, making it a closer but still imperfect port of the arcade game.

For whatever reason, no other branch of Nintendo has released this version of Donkey Kong… that is, until now. And interestingly enough, it’s not even for the same platform.

Between now and January 6th, 2013, you can get Donkey Kong: Original Edition through Club Nintendo. However, it isn’t for the Wii, but for the Nintendo 3DS, and you cannot simply purchase it– rather, you must register one of five select titles, which themselves must be purchased through the Nintendo eShop– it seems retail purchases don’t count.

The five titles in question are Art Academy: Lessons for Everyone! and Crosswords Plus, which are both available now, as well as upcoming releases Style Savvy: Trendsetters (to be released on 10/22), Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask (10/28), and Paper Mario: Sticker Star (11/11).

What’s more is that the press releases and website feature this curious note: “This is a special version of Donkey Kong with content never before seen in the U.S./Canada and is not available for purchase.” Perhaps it will be made available for purchase sometime after January 6th, though one might not want to hold their breath. Why Nintendo doesn’t want to simply sell their original hit– in anything resembling its original glory– to us remains a mystery for the ages.

In addition, it’s curious that they boast its contents in such a way– “with content never before seen in the U.S./Canada”? The original game was essentially made for America, after Radar Scope left Nintendo of America with tons of unsold units. That notwithstanding, we did get the arcade game, we got Donkey Kong 64 with its inclusion– they have to really be splitting hairs here to say that we’ve never seen it before. Perhaps not in this exact way, but still.

Anyway, you can see what you’ll be getting in the video here:

And you can compare with the NES version here:

And the arcade original here:

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David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.