Monkeys in Games: 8 Bit & Beyond!

Monkeys, apes, chimps and gorillas, these are just some of many name that we use to call our simian brethren, and in the video game industry they all have taken part in many important roles. Here we cover the trail that monkeys have made in the world of video games. From the 8-bit era to modern times; we will stand witness as to how apes have also accompanied humans on the digital evolutionary path. Here we get to follow icons like Donkey Kong to the more recent use of monkeys in famous casual game titles such as Bloons and Tales of Monkey Island.

It All Starts with Kong

donkey kong

For most many veteran gamers, the very first major monkey to appear in a video game is Donkey Kong. The iconic antagonist of the very first game which featured Shigeru Miyamoto's Mario has been present in the world of gaming for over two decades. Donkey Kong started out as an angry pet who had grown tired of Mario's bad treatment (seems like the famous princess rescuing plumber needs a seminar on animal rights) to a star of his own name; shortly after the success of the Donkey Kong, the monkey would later appear in other NES games along with his son, Donkey Kong Jr. Many years later, DK Jr. would have his own game -a graphically intensive side scrolling platformer, Donkey Kong Country. This would boost DK from a casual game character to a major Nintendo icon -earning him a spot in the Smash Brothers and Mario Kart series.

Eastern Simian Love

To say that Donkey Kong is the most famous monkey of them all would be an easy claim. But to say that he alone takes the spotlight is completely untrue. DK is just one of many times that monkeys have been showcased in videogames, there are many other instances where a simian has taken the role of the protagonist. One of the most often recurring monkey-related icon is Goku, from the Chinese tale of "Journey to the West". The story has inspired countless retellings - such as the famous Anime and Manga series, Dragon Ball, and of course, so many early video games such as the turn based strategy game Saiyuki: Journey to the West and also in Monkey Magic.

A Western Take

monkey island

Just like in Asia, western cultures have also paid tribute to monkeys in countless genres, including video games. After having played major roles in our society (such as being the second living creature to be sent to outer space), monkeys are undoubtedly loved and respected - making their presence in games very important. In Lucas Arts' Monkey Island series, an unlikely pirate hero stumbles upon the uncharted islands whose ruins include massive monkey heads - hinting at a culture that worshipped the apes. In the dark, sci-fi RPG and first person shooter System Shock 2, players will often encounter lab monkeys as enemies; a reference to the many times that monkeys are used in lab experiments. Midway's Rampage series stars three iconic big screen monsters: a dinosaur-Godzilla hybrid, a giant werewolf (with a few nods to vampire lore) and a giant gorilla - paying homage to none other than King Kong himself. Speaking of King Kong, this movie icon has starred in many official games as well - some based on the original movies, and a few based on the more recent take by Peter Jackson.

The Popular Trend

With such a strong presence in gaming's history, it is no wonder that until today, we still get to see plenty of simians in more recent titles. Some have gone on to become massive console hits and others are making waves in the casual gaming community. From slightly older generation consoles like the original Playstation and the Dreamcast up till the current generation devices such as the PS3 and Xbox 360 -the console market has never run short of monkey games. For the more casual mobile and desktop browser games category, there is also a growing library of monkey related titles.

Chase, Roll And More!

super monkey ball

Two of the more famous monkey games for the console market are Sega's Super Monkey Ball and SCEI's Ape Escape series. Ape Escape (known first as Saru! Get You! and later as Pipo Saru in Japan) changed the world of gaming by providing players with unique ways of using the second analog stick on Sony's Dual Analog Controller for the Playstation 1 (it also showcased a pretty inventive use of the vibration function of the controller as well). The game required players to sneak up on monkeys and use a special net to capture them. The game's simplicity, addictive gameplay and innovative controls allowed the series to persist until today. Ape Escape has been so iconic that it has even been featured in Hideo Kojima's Metal Gear series (in MGS3: Snake Eater, the game features a special mode called Snake VS Monkeys, where the titular Snake takes on the monkeys from Ape Escape, with the gameplay combining Metal Gear's sneaking system and Ape Escape's hilariously chaotic monkeys).

If you have been to Japan about a decade ago, you would have seen several interesting arcade cabinets that had a banana shaped joystick - this is Monkey Ball. The predecessor of Sega's Super Monkey Ball series; since its original conception, the series has not really changed much at all. In the game, players will tilt stages -making the monkey ball roll around. The objective of the game is to bring the ball safely to a designated point under a certain amount of time. While simple, the game is also very fun to play -so fun that it now spans 18 different versions in the arcade, consoles and even in mobile gaming (since many phones have a tilt sensor, the gameplay on many touch screen devices is sensationally immersive).

samba de amigo

Another Sega-made title that features monkeys is Samba de Amigo! This fun and lively rhythm game allows players to grab a pair of virtual maracas and swing, sway and swirl to the beat of various songs ranging from modern pop to classic. Originally starting out as an arcade favorite, this game has been able to land in console systems, even making use of the Wii's dual motion sensing controllers.

Desktop Monkey Gaming

Desktop gaming is now one of the largest gaming markets available. With web browsers present in almost any system and games now possible to play in either HTML5 or Flash format, it is no longer surprising that the casual gaming market is so large. Naturally, monkeys are also present in this ever growing gaming medium, and here are some of our favorite simian-flavored browser games.

tales of monkey island

Tales of Monkey Island is a much awaited sequel to the original Monkey Island games. Now handled by game developer Telltale games, the new 5 episode set showcases the life of our merry protagonists after the events of the original games. Of course, monkeys still play a big role in the game, as many ruins and statues still feature the simians as a motif. And the lead character, Guybrush Threepwood often finds himself find aid in the local monkeys (in the original monkey island game, they even help Elaine by wearing a bridal gown). In Tales of Monkey Island: the Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood, Jacques the monkey plays and integral role in the events of the game -and there are a couple of things you can accomplish with him that will earn the player a couple of PSN trophies in the Playstation 3 version of the game. Tales of Monkey Island comes in 5 different episodes, all of which are downloadable for the PC.

Monkey Go Happy 5 is true to the form of casual flash gaming: players are given random situations which must be solved within a limited amount of time or with as few clicks of the mouse as possible. The goal of the game and indeed all five others is to keep the monkey (and his friends) happy by finishing the various game objectives; fun, quirky and a great way to spend an hour.

ninjakiwis bloons 2

If you are really hungering for a dose of ape-gaming, then the Bloons series of games is our most recommended title for you. Ninjakiwi plays host to the entire Bloons series -giving you access to over a dozen Bloons titles. The game pits you against waves and waves of balloons that must be strategically popped. Of course, we recommend that players start out with the very first Bloons title. But if you want to go for something more updated or upbeat, then try the match three version. For those hungering for a hardcore challenge, then the insanity pack should be right up your alley.

Leave Your Bananas

Monkeys are prevalent in our culture, they are present in our literature, in film and of course, in the interactive media of video games. But as to why they are so famous and well received? There are dozens of theories why, and trying to figure it all out is tougher than hanging off the swing bars for a whole day. Instead, let us focus instead on what is important, and that is how monkeys are able to link us to the rest of the world. Our society has grown and evolved so much from cave dwelling days that our very presence feels akin to being artificial. Monkeys, being the fun-loving bi-pedals that they are, remind us all that no matter how far we go, they will always be there to serve as that bridge we have to our roots in nature -at least, if you believe in Darwin. Either way, even if all that is hard to appreciate, then we can at least load up our favorite video games to enjoy the presence of our simian friends one way or the other.