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An interesting bit of trivia in the history of video games is that, when developing what would become Donkey Kong, Shigeru Miyamoto originally wanted to make a Popeye game. They couldn’t secure the rights, so instead we ended up with a game featuring a little jumping Italian man fighting a gorilla, and the rest is history. The thing is, while Donkey Kong was obviously inspired by King Kong, there are still hints of the Popeye dynamic to be seen. Sure, there’s a big ape carrying a girl to the top of a building (an incomplete building in the game), but King Kong didn’t have the hero climbing up to save her. Mario might not be that similar to Popeye, but there are some comparisons to be made.
For instance, they’re both working-class heroes. While Popeye is a sailor, Mario was originally conceived as a carpenter, then became a plumber from Mario Bros. on. They’re both pretty ordinary guys, somewhat comical in appearance, with the strong desire to stand up for what is right. And as the Mario games progressed, the hero was soon gaining magical powers from vegetation as well. And despite the difference in species, is it really that hard to see DK as a stand-in for Bluto? The love triangle remains in more recent Mario games, with Bowser instead of DK or Bluto, and Peach in place of Pauline or Olive Oyl. I don’t think most of the resemblances are all that strong, but as a fan of both franchises, I have to say I find it quite intriguing that our favorite plumber (well, except maybe his brother Luigi) was originally created as a stand-in for the spinach-packing sailor.
By the way, in the year after Donkey Kong came out, Nintendo did get the rights to make a Popeye game. I haven’t played it, but I remember seeing the arcade machine, and it did have some similarities to the Kong. The main ones were that there was a lot of climbing to be done and Olive Oyl was at the top waiting to be rescued. Also, spinach played a similar role to the hammer in Donkey Kong, or for that matter the star in the SMB series. The object was different, though, with the sailor having to collect kisses or letters thrown by Olive, and Brutus (I discussed the apparent name change of Popeye’s nemesis earlier this week) was a mobile villain rather than a stationary one like the ape.
This was actually one of the first games to be ported to the Nintendo Entertainment System in a stripped-down version. It looks like the Sea Hag was taken out entirely.