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Banana Birthday Cake: 40 Years of Donkey Kong!

Alexis Ibarra Ibarra

This version is in English, la versión en Español estará disponible pronto.

As many gamers know, Donkey Kong spent his 40th birthday alone. Sadly, Nintendo did not prepare anything special for poor Donkey, and that absolutely breaks my heart, just like when I read about Curiosity singing Happy Birthday to himself in Mars. This is so friggin’ devastating and depressing: DK deserves WAY better!

DK is not just another character; DK is one of the most emblematic Nintendo characters. Besides, Donkey Kong (1981), by young Shigeru Miyamoto, is considered the first videogame that narrated a story on the screen. This game contested the predominant idea of the “high score” as the ultimate goal of videogames: DK was designed to tell a story.

Based on The Beauty and the Beast, and the relationship of Popeye, Olivia, and Brutus/Bluto, this videogame tells the story of the love triangle of Donkey Kong, Princess Paulette, and a carpenter named Jumpman. [BTW Jumpman changed his whole life after this! When he became famous, he adopted his artistic name “Mario” and, as we know, he changed his profession too! Donkey also changed his ways. He learned his lesson, stopped harassing women, and became an awesome guy!]

He was even more important than Mario, which was simply “Jumpman” back then!

Miyamoto introduced the strong Japanese narrative tradition to videogames in a time when these were still considered just games and had more of a “sportive” vibe. The result was not only a big success, it was also the beginning of storytelling inside videogames! But that does not mean everyone was super on board with this innovative idea.

A hammer for the carpenter!

The engineers that worked on the project did not understand Miyamoto’s vision because he wanted to present the story in four different levels/scenes, which, for programmers in 1981 meant making four different games to publish only one.

But why four scenes?

Well, in the “West” (whatever that means), we tend to write stories considering three parts: the Introduction, the Development (that finishes with the Climax), and the Outcome. However, in Japanese culture, stories usually have four acts (Kishōtenketsu): Ki (the introduction), Shō (the development), Ten (the twist/complication), and Ketsu (the conclusion/reconciliation).

In this structure, although Ten could be considered like something similar to the Climax, it is separated from Shō (the development). That happens because Shō is the part where we get to know more about characters and their daily lives, while this happens really fast during the intro of “Western” stories (and sometimes we do not even know anything about the daily lives of the characters).

I actually have a hypothesis around Kishōtenketsu: this structure may be the reason why some people feel that anime and Japanese movies move slowly (or are filled with “fillers”). So, it may be an acquired taste like wasabi for “westerners”.

Shō is really important in Japanese narratives, since it helps to understand the world and deepen into the experiences and emotions of the characters. When I realized about this way to divide acts, my entire perspective on anime and Japanese stories changed. Even the “we are cleaning the house” episodes make sense now!

Coming back to DK, my first (and favorite) DK was Donkey Kong 64 (1999), the yellow cartridge. I loved that game when I was a kid. It was funny, it had tons of things to do, your prizes were bananas, and most places were so beautiful that it looked like you were on permanent vacations. I actually wish I had the time to replay it, but I am about to go on a new adventure, so, unfortunately, I do not have enough time for gaming and melancholy.

A super banany color! I ❤ yellow!

Something really cool about this videogame is that you can play DK (1981) in DK 64 (that is how I got to play the original). There is an arcade inside the game, which is a really cute homenage [and now, Nintendo forgets about Donkey’s Birthday… *facepalm*]. I have to admit that the original DK was really frustrating and challenging for me, particularly because I have no patience whatsoever AND I get anxious pretty easily.


After DK 64, my encounters with the character have been mainly through Smash, Mario Kart, and that kind of games. Despite not keeping up with the series, I like the character because he is always cheerful, funny, and a little bit of a dummy (but he has his heart in the right place even if his brain is not :P). ❤ 

Anyway, to finish this article, I just want to say: Happy 40th birthday, Donkey! Hope you spent an amazing day with the rest of the Kong family and ate tons of Banana Cake! Congrats! Also, I hope you got a kiss from Candy! ❤ ❤ ❤ 

If you are into the origin of videogame series, please take a slice of The Original ZeldaNESs and ZeldaNESs II: The Adventure of Respawning at the Starting Point!

El Mundo de Donkey Kong
Let’s go Bananas!!!!

BONUS: Miyamoto have always thought that the stronger character (stronger in the sense of charisma and story) should be in the title of the videogame, that is why Donkey Kong (1981) was named after Donkey instead of Jumpman!

Do you like Donkey Kong? Please, leave a slice of your opinion on the Comment Section below! The Bakers are always thrilled to taste your ideas!

Do not forget to share a slice!

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Featured image taken from Moogle Pie WordPress.

“Original DK flier” image taken from Wikipedia.

“DK arcade” gif taken from Gfycat.

“Yellow cartridge” image taken from Amazon.

“DK Arcade in DK 64” image taken from BlogSpot.

“DK eating bananas” image taken from Red Bull.

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