Much can be debated about Nintendo’s history and their successes and failures. Say what you will about their role in the resurrection of the American home videogame console market, whether or not they won the “console wars,” the failure of the Virtual Boy, their innovations with the Wii and DS, or whether or not they’re doing right by the Metroid franchise (they’re not), but there is one inarguable, unquestionable fact about Nintendo:

They drew some great gorillas.


Starting with their first true breakout smash hit with Donkey Kong in 1981, gorillas have been the foundation of Nintendo’s character appeal.

While Donkey Kong got the ball rolling, Donkey Kong Junior was where Nintendo’s artists really hit their simian stride.

DK Junior arcade side art
DK Junior arcade marquee art


DK Junior Game & Watch box art

This art was an influence on me and the development of my cartooning chops as a kid. I still use “plus teeth” ( + + + + ) when drawing big oafs with clenched jaws. I absolutely love that touch.

Donkey Kong 3 arcade flyer art

A gorilla — not Donkey Kong, mind you, but a gorilla just named “Gorilla” — was also featured prominently in the infamous, unreleased-in-America Nintendo arcade title Sky Skipper.

Sky Skipper Japanese flyer art

I’ll be honest with you: when Nintendo brought Donkey Kong back in the Rare-developed Donkey Kong Country, his new design lost all of his appeal to me. The current necktie-wearing Donkey Kong is just not the same. How cool would it be to see the original version of DK in Smash Bros? He would be so much more intimidating!

Anyway, I’m not sure if the original artists were in-house or hired, but their distinctly Japanese approach to cartooning defined Nintendo’s style in the early ’80s. The characters from Punch-Out!! and Super Punch-Out!! have the same sort of appeal. I would love to see a little more of this style return in some of Nintendo’s games!

Several of the images in this blog post were swiped from The Arcade Flyer Archive and some others from Google searches. Apologies if that’s not cool.

Learn more about Sky Skipper at The Sky Skipper Project.

Close enough. When you think about it, Super Punch-Out!!’s Bear Hugger is kinda like a weird inversion of Donkey Kong, having hair everywhere DK doesn’t, and vice-versa