Popular 1980s Arcade Game Donkey Kong Was Built On The Hardware Bones Of What Previous Game?
Answer: Radar Scope
Launching a video game that ends up a dud is always a painful financial proposition but at least in the modern age a company can quickly shift gears and cut their losses. In the early days of video game design when the video games were distributed as arcade cabinets that were a large and costly hardware investment that was expensive to create, ship, and service, a significant investment in a dud game could run a company right into the ground.
Back in late 1980, Nintendo found themselves in just such an unenviable position with the North American release of Radar Scope. The arcade title, developed by iconic video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, was a very popular release the prior year in Japan (second only in popularity to Pac-Man). In light of that popularity, the president of the newly founded Nintendo of America division Minoru Arakawa placed a huge order for the cabinet game without hesitation.
Unfortunately it took months for the title to arrive in the US and not only had buzz surrounding the game died down, but upon arrival the game proved terribly unpopular with American gamers. Not only were they unimpressed with the general game play, but the game featured really high-pitched chirps that hadn’t bothered Japanese gamers but which the American gamers found unbearably irritating.
Because of the lackluster reception, Nintendo of America was stuck with thousands of units just sitting in a warehouse because arcade owners simply didn’t want them. In light of the looming financial disaster that approximately 2,000 unsold cabinets would unleash on Nintendo of America, Arakawa pleaded with the home company for a way to mitigate the damage. To that end Nintendo of Japan put out a call to all employees to come up with a way to repurpose the Radar Scope hardware and save the day.
Of all the proposals, Miyamoto’s proposal to create the game that would become Donkey Kong won out. His team created the game, conversion kits were shipped to America, and Arakawa, his wife, and a small team of Nintendo employees converted around 2,000 of the original 3,000 units from Radar Space to Donkey Kong cabinets.
In fact, if you ever find yourself at an old arcade gallery unswallowed by the sands of time and you see an ancient Donkey Kong cabinet that’s red (instead of the later bright blue color scheme), you’re looking at a piece of gaming history: a Radar Scope cabinet converted and rebranded into a first generation Donkey Kong cabinet.
The conversion was a success, to say the least, and Donkey Kong went on to become one of the most popular and iconic video games of the arcade era.
Image courtesy of mameworld.info.