Donkey Kong – Part One – Coming Home

Donkey Kong comes home.

Donkey Kong happy at home.

On February 3rd, 2016, I scored a Donkey Kong machine. The price was a bit lower than they seemed to be going for, and the seller was very up front about the reason: He said it was playing blind just fine, but the video was scrambled, and he wasn’t sure how to go about fixing it. That is not the kind of story that scares me off, and so off I went with my friend and arcade collaborator, Jacob, up to the Seattle area to pick up this Kong.

As soon as we pulled around the corner by the seller’s house, we could see the garage door open, and inside, all nicely warmed up, was a very clean-looking Donkey Kong, with an obvious sync issue.  As we got closer, the seller seemed a bit wistful about getting rid of it. He explained that he had owned it for over twenty years, and it had worked fine until he moved it to the house he was obviously still in the process of moving into, at which point he turned it on and found the monitor in its current state.  He also explained that he had painted the game a few years back.  He did an okay job, and it’s probably fine for most people, but I think I’ll want to sand the sides a bit before I put side art on.

The control panel was in reasonable shape, with the usual incorrect buttons, a few cigarette burns which established its authenticity as a genuine survivor.

DK Control Panel

The Donkey Kong control panel when I got it. Note the cigarette burns, the incorrect buttons, and the wrinkled rule sheet.

It was quite late by the time we got the game to Jacob’s garage, but it only took us about 15 minutes to adjust the sync, and we had a perfectly playing Donkey Kong!  Well, Almost…  On the first “cement factory” level, the fireballs weren’t behaving like they were supposed to, spawning at the very top of the screen, as well as right where Mario spawns.  So that’s a problem.

The next day, I ordered a Braze high score save kit, which is something I intend to install in any game I own for which one is available.  In addition to saving high scores, the Braze kits also bypass the game ROMs in favor of a set on the kit itself, which are housed in much more contemporary chips, and are a lot more stable and robust. In addition, at least for Nintendo games, the Braze kits include some very useful test functions. In this case, the kit was able to tell me that the game threw errors on two RAMs, which would explain the sprite issues we had been seeing.

Donkey Kong is currently on Maile's short llist of favorite games.

Donkey Kong is currently on Maile’s short llist of favorite games.

I removed the offending RAMs, and installed sockets and new 2114s. Just like that, the game play was perfect.

Still left to do:

  • Rehab the monitor, which, since the pick-up has been sort of faint.  I would be highly surprised if the caps had ever been replaced, so it’s probably about time anyway.
  • Go over the control panel, tighten up the joystick, which seems a little loose, and replace the buttons with some that are at least closer to what they should be
  • Acquire and apply a new rule sheet and the standard DK sticker set.
  • Figure out how much I care about the paint job, and what I want to do about applying side art.

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