Mario has always been a hero. Since his first appearance in Donkey Kong, he’s been known as a sort of short and stocky Italian plumber with a will to do good and a heart of gold. Meanwhile, Donkey Kong, now one of the most beloved of Nintendo’s characters, began as the angry villain atop the tower throwing barrels at the lovable “Jumpman” and endlessly taking “Pauline” away. It’s interesting how, as time has changed, so has the appearance of the kindly ape and what that appearance tells us about our perception of our heroes.
There has always been something deeper to Donkey Kong, and considering the extremely obvious reference to King Kong present in his character is a great first step in this regard. Nintendo wanted to create in its audience an immediate feeling of nostalgia and familiarity with the villain of its new game, so they emulated a successful monster from film. Yet this also reveals something about Donkey Kong’s character as a misunderstood beast. King Kong is a tragic figure, misunderstood and tortured, who relies on his instincts, which are all he has, until his fatal fall. Similarly, we can assume that Donkey Kong is a misunderstood tragic figure in Donkey Kong, though the plot is so loose we may never fully understand his motives. Yet, just as King Kong is the main character of King Kong and more interesting than any of the film’s human characters, Donkey Kong is obviously a stronger character than Jumpman, which is why Nintendo had to bring him back for his own game.