I had the table top Donkey Kong. No...not the cocktail table 2-player one, I had alittle plastic box one that was like a mini-arcade machine. It was god-awful ugly (looking something like a cheap "futuristic" toy from a Happy Meal cross-bred with a two-bit carnival shtick at Christmas) and was more annoying than fun to play, but it filled a table-top niche in 80's culture and accomplished the onslaught of Donkey Kong that became a legend in the gaming industry.
Using the term "I had" implies I can claim ownership to it, but this I cannot. I had it on extended borrow and then donated it to a new mini-gamer along with other trinket hand-me-downs. This little (yet durable!) gaming system killed many an hour in my childhood and I feel obligated to extol the virtues of this Coleco-made piece of gameness. While anything i write would undoubtedly be a gloss up of this early gen crap creation, but isn't that the beauty of hind-sight...everything shines a bit differently.
My buddy had been given this game by his older bro who had gotten it at a staff x-mas party circs 1982. Games at this time were the stuff of kid. Teen-agers and young adults were not playing the "nerd" tinged computer gaming phenomenon. The industry was targeted to children, and became the next great baby-sitter. With this said, my buddy's bro decided to re-gift for the younger one of the family. When he eventually brought it over (and this in itself was amazing!....I mean...a video game you game put in a backpack!? Wow!) I was in awe of the power of the game. When he did the big reveal, I was instantly enamoured by the art on the sides. It looked great! The Big D was trotting his stuff and posing for the crowds. I loved the bright blue casing and the garish red color used. It was flashy and yelled "tech". I couldn't wait to play! And then i did...i was shocked, frustrated and saddened. I expected more. It is true that anything would have come second to what my expectations were, but this was not really fun. It blipped and burped its way through a gauntlet of piercing purple lights and deafening screeches of compu-grind. As time went on, we'll say 2 years or so, and the Donkey Kong fad faded, I had somehow acquired the Mini-Kong game through some underhanded comic trades. It was a bit beat up and marked up and scratched up, but it worked. The screen still blazed its piercing neon glows into the retinas as they had a few post-x-masses ago. It was at this point that I had the opportunity to really give the game a try and ride that learning curve. What ended up happening was a real appreciation for this money-grab hunk of Kong-Whoreness. Yeah it was repetitive, annoying and seizure inducing, but it contains the same fundamentals of the arcade game; its addicting. Running up the girders to save your lass is rewarding and exhilarating. At the time, this was the great gaming challenge that all aspiring arcade-knights quested to prevail over. Kong ruled, and the excitement he brought was in the vanguard of the gaming revolution.
In premise, this game is Donkey Kong. Score is involved, climbing and timing are key and Mario does the occasional slow-mo glitch jump. While not identical to the arcade game, it does share the spirit of the mighty Kong original even if it is watered down to the point of drowning. You play as a pre-cocaine(pre-super fame) Mario in a never ending circuit of running, climbing and jumping to the top of the screen, all the while avoiding barrels and other Kong obstacles. Everyone knows the game, its Donkey Kong, but this version is on the cheap and the limited technologies of calculator displays, light brights and bit-bursts of glitch sound combine to create a serviceable, if primitive Donkey Kong experience.
The wonderment that made this arcade in a box possible was the screen type employed, the Vacuum Fluorescent Display. That's the fancy way of describing a cheap monitor. The screen itself is akin to a stencil... It has all the frames of the games cut out and the whole deal is back lit to reveal the specific still as "movement" occurs. The choppy motion has its own charms and patterns that become the game-on experience here, it starts to feel right once you become accustomed to the feel of the mini-joystick and your eyes adjust to the strain. The graphic details here are sparse and the challenge increases by the speed rising. Everything is here...the hammer, flaming barrels and the ole' heave ho! thing that Kong does to thrust the barrels at you. The tweaks and blings of the sound chip are painful yet surprisingly accurate to the original, which ain't saying much for the original. The high and low tweaks when Mario walks is the pinnacle of infuriating but it eventually takes on a hypnotic "low-brow" sensation through repeated plays. The body of the game was solid plastic and could be used as a hammer in a pinch. I have personally seen this product smashed, thrown, curbed and dropped many times and it somehow lives on. Praise be to the gaming gods for plastic...where would we all be without dense plastic forms...I shudder to think! The game is a semi-satisfying time waster. You run up the frame, jump a few barrels and get to the platform with the damsel on it. Done. Next stage, same as the first, the cut-out screen eternal. But it continues on...now there are flaming barrels and the speed has been upped a notch. This proceeds until the speed is too much for itself and the little Coleco game system crashes. Once you find the repetition in the game flow, it can be almost enjoyable to grab a high score in this game. Almost...the simple presentation and limited variations condemn this game to more down-time than game-on time, yet our options were limited in the day and we forced ourselves to like it. Regardless, this gutsy little game had its own unique charms in a time of arcade parlours and pop-game icons like pac-man and Q-Bert...and unsurprisingly, based on his longevity, Mario really hasn't changed...ever. This early cash in was a brick in the foundation of the ultra-franchise that built a localized Japanese company into an international mega brand.
I eventually gave the game; with many other toys I had broken up with, to my cousin. I know he played it for a while because I heard it brought up for few years after that, but the whereabouts of the Bright Blue Kong Machine is a mystery. A flea market or maybe an attic next-door. Most likely it hibernates in a land fill somewhere...impervious to decay with its exo-shell of moulded plastic. Even if it does reside in a dump, I assure you...if you slam 4 C batteries into this bad-boy, it'll work. Game-On!
Joystick 'n' Hand