In 1981, the struggling Nintendo of America released a game that would turn the company around: Donkey Kong. After failing to break into the American market, Nintendo of Japan created Donkey Kong in hopes that it would be a hit for their U.S. division. Donkey Kong sold over 80,000 units in the U.S. and became the era's second most popular license after Pac-Man. Neither was the game a one-hit wonder; it was the first game in what would become an extensive video game dynasty.
Donkey Kong was the first video game for Nintendo newcomer Shigeru Miyamoto. Under the supervision of Gunpei Yokoi, Nintendo's dean of engineering and the designer of the Game Boy, Miyamoto wanted to design a game with a storyline. He devised a story in which an ape escapes and kidnaps his owner's girlfriend. The ape takes the girlfriend, Pauline, to a construction site where the owner, an Italian carpenter originally entitled Jumpman, tries to save her. It is in this construction setting that players must navigate Jumpman up levels of steel girders while avoiding the barrel-throwing antics of Donkey Kong. Jumpman would later evolve into Mario, one of the most famous characters in video game history. After his appearance in Donkey Kong, Mario would become a plumber and the star of Miyamoto's infamous Mario Bros.
Originally titled "Stubborn Gorilla", Miyamoto used a Japanese-to-English dictionary to change the game's name to Donkey (Stubborn) Kong (Gorilla). The first Donkey Kong games were packaged in about 2,000 unsold Radarscope machines that Nintendo of America had in their warehouse. Before long, the game became a hit and its own cabinets were produced in the U.S. In 1982, Coleco released Donkey Kong for the ColecoVision. Coleco's pack-in cartridge was an excellent, nearly-identical match to the arcade edition. After six months and much success, Coleco sold their home version of Donkey Kong for the Atari VCS and the Intellivision as well.
MCA Universal threatened the success of Donkey Kong by suing Nintendo for copyright infringement, claiming ownership of the names "King Kong" and "Kong" from their production of the 1976 film entitled King Kong. In addition, MCA Universal threatened to sue all companies with licensing contracts for the game. Nintendo consequently lost most of these contracts. However, MCA Universal's King Kong was based on a 1933 film of the same name. In 1975, Universal had won a case against RKO Pictures - the original film's producers - proving that "King Kong" was in public domain. Therefore, MCA Universal did not own "King Kong" and Nintendo won the case.
With the lawsuit in the past, Nintendo gained their licensing contracts back and continued to thrive on the success of Donkey Kong. Nintendo released two arcade sequels to Donkey Kong: Donkey Kong Junior and Donkey Kong 3. The game has been ported to each generation of Nintendo home consoles and handheld devices, and the series has spawned spinoffs such as Donkey Kong Country, Donkey Kong Land, and Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. With every new version of Donkey Kong, the characters, setting, and gameplay have transformed. One thing, however, has remained relatively unchanged: the stubborn, barrel-throwing gorilla named Donkey Kong.