Donkey Kong for the Commodore 64: A tale of two versions

Written by Joshua Jordan

If you were to ask most adults who grew up in the late 80s and early 90s what video game do you remember playing first? Most of them would say either Super Mario Bros. for the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System), any one of many classic arcade games, or even any random Atari 2600 game. For me though my first memory of playing video games was my father’s Commodore 64. For those that don’t know, The Commodore 64 wasn’t the first home computer but it was one of the more popular ones after its release in 1982. Thanks to the popularity of the computer, developers saw it as an opportunity to make home versions of classic arcade games as well as a few original games. Some of those games like Pac-man, Avoid the Noid, and Zaxxon is how I got introduced to video gaming in general. But the one game I remember playing the most is Donkey Kong. Donkey Kong was how I got introduced to the world of Nintendo and from then on I would never be the same. Since we are celebrating Donkey Kong’s 40th anniversary here on the site I felt I needed to write about one of the games that sparked my love for video games in general. Yet, In doing research for this article I found out that there was more than one version released for the Commodore 64.  

For the small percentage of you that need a reminder, Donkey Kong was one of Nintendo’s first “killer apps” in the arcades and would go on to elevate the company to where it is today. After Donkey Kong’s arcade release in 1981 changed video game history. Nintendo decided that it needed to jump on the home video game market. In the early 80s, the home video game market was just starting to grow so it was kind of a no-brainer for Nintendo to release Donkey Kong. Coleco was given the right by Nintendo to port it to other consoles since they had experience porting other popular arcades. But for the Commodore 64 version, however, Nintendo gave the rights to a company called Atarisoft. This again makes sense since Atarisoft was known for making ports of classic arcade games for the Commodore 64 like Ms. Pac-Man, Pole Position, and Jungle Hunt. This version of Donkey Kong was released in 1983 and had some differences from the arcade version which include: a level progression that is similar to the American version of the arcade, Mario swinging his hammer before landing, and no stretching ladders in the Pie Factory levels. The only major complaint I found about the version is that the screen’s visuals are stretched out a bit too far so it can fit onto the screen. All in all most people praise it as being a faithful port to the original and a worthy home version of the game. 

As stated before though Atarisoft’s version of Donkey Kong isn’t the only version to come out for the personal computer. Three years later in 1986, a company called Ocean Software released another version of Donkey Kong for the Commodore 64. Ocean Software was also known for making ports of different arcade games as well and would go on to make many movie tie-in video games. As to why this happened is unknown according to my research but it was released and it is a very different version from the one Atarisoft released prior. This version had different visuals that aren’t stretched like the Atarisoft version, the level progression is more like the Japanese version of the Donkey Kong arcade, it has more colorful visuals, and does have stretching ladders in its version of the Pie Factory level. This version is also praised by fans as a faithul port of the arcade. Another weird fact is that this would happen again for the Commodore 64 version of Mario Bros. 

source FlimJoy’s video “Donkey Kong (Commodore 64)” Link to video below

So the Commodore 64 ended up having two versions of the same Donkey Kong that are pretty different. Which version of the Commodore 64 Donkey Kong is better? That is really up for debate and might honestly depend on your preferences. As for me, I don’t know which version of the game I played because I was very little at the time but one thing is for sure it sparked a passion for playing video games that have lasted even to this day.  

Film Joy. Donkey Kong (Commodore 64) – PortsCenter #52 w/ Ben Paddon

Scott Mace. InfoWorld (1984) Atarisoft vs Commodore

Mattew Goodrich. Adafruit (2019). Commodore 64 – The Most Popular Retro Computer of All Time

Games published by Ocean Software