The holiday season brings with it all the leisure time that you need to binge-play Candy Crush and Clash of Clans. But if you ever wanted to take a break from matching tiles and fighting clans, and instead play something that's more fitting for the season, Christmas Donkey Kong could be your best bet.
The Christmas version of the classic arcade game Donkey Kong is available at New West’s Capital City Classic Arcade this season.
Donkey Kong, as many Gen X-ers and millennials would know, was one of the most popular arcade games in the '80s — featuring a gorilla villain named, well, Donkey Kong. Every player has to fight Mr Kong by jumping between gaps, climbing ladders and avoiding obstacles like giant barrels.
The Christmas version, while following the same plot, is a little more cheerful — with the barrels now replaced with candies, and Kong’s hammers with candy canes.
Plus, your attackers are cute gingerbread men.
40 years of Donkey Kong
The game that was introduced four decades ago has stood the test of time — evolving into several new versions of itself over the years — be it as Donkey Kong Racing, a racing game; or as Donkey Kong Jr. Math, an educational one.
And over the years, the Nintendo game, as Brad Eyers, owner of Capital City Classic Arcade, said, got ported over to every known system in the world (a wide range of Nintendo systems such as NES, SNES, N64, and Switch, among others).
But what was key to reviving an interest in Donkey Kong was a certain documentary called The King of Kong: a Fistful of Quarters that came out in 2007 — about people who were eager to beat the 1980s' world record in Donkey Kong.
“It was a very, very popular documentary,” said Eyers.
It rekindled interest in the game, particularly in a certain Quebec-based man named John Kowalski who reverse engineered all the hardware and the game code on Donkey Kong to add more difficult levels to it in 2016, said Eyers.
Kowalski had retained all the same graphics, “but just changed the code and moved things around to make it a bit more challenging,” said Eyers.
“He called his new version the Donkey Kong Remix.”
How did Christmas Donkey Kong come to be?
Donkey Kong Remix became very popular in the arcade game community, said Eyers. So popular that there were Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. Remix tournaments.
Two years later, Kowalski introduced Christmas Donkey Kong and Spooky Donkey Kong, a Halloween version, of his Donkey Kong Remix games.
But “arcade geeks” such as Eyers weren’t very excited about it. Why?
Kowalski had brought out the versions on an arcade emulator (that you can play even on your computer), and not true hardware, said Eyers.
Though Eyers offered the game at his arcade game store at the time on a makeshift set-up where he got an old Donkey Kong cabinet, put a computer in it, and ran Kowalski's Christmas and Halloween remix versions, said Eyers, "For me, this was never a good solution."
"I'm a preservationist; my arcade is all 100 per cent original hardware, original computer boards and original monitors inside my games. So I didn't like running the emulator stuff.”
Finally, when Kowalski brought out add-on boards for his Christmas and Halloween versions in 2021, Eyers made sure they were part of the Capital City Classic Arcade store.
Now, Eyers is happy that he has the ‘true hardware’ as part of his collection. While many customers are just happy to simply come in and play on it, many are curious about the origin of the holiday version of the classic game, he said.
Either way, for Eyers, they are helping keep years of arcade history alive — while also keeping up with the holiday spirit. After all, what could be more festive than fighting little gingerbread men and smashing large candy canes?
Capital City Arcade is open Wednesday through Sunday; but closed from Dec. 24 to 26 for the holidays. While you are there, check out other popular games such as Pac Man. Galaga, 1942, Tetris, Ice Cold Beer and Fire Escape.