There are some gamers out there who enjoy video games for the freedom they offer while some gamers enjoy games for the break from reality that is given to them. But to other gamers, video games are looked at as a challenge that needs to be completely dominated, even if it takes a ridiculous amount of planning and practice. For the past five years Steve Wiebe has been on the hunt to dominate Donkey Kong, a game that to gamers today may not seem that hard but trust me, the thing is absolutely brutal. To Steve, Donkey Kong is just a game that he digs playing since he’s good at it and it’s fun, even if it takes up to three hours to reach the #1 high-score record. Steve hasn’t exactly outwardly displayed the same level of zeal and fortitude as some of his Donkey Kong competitors such as Billy Mitchell (who many considered to be his arch nemesis) but the man is clearly dedicated to being the best there is in Donkey Kong and that was clearly on display last Saturday as Steve attempt to once again become the King of Kong.
Some of you may already know the history that exists between what seemingly seems like the never ending battle that has been waged to become the Donkey Kong arcade champion. The battle revolving Donkey Kong was first chronicled in the 2007 documentary The King of Kong, a film that caught on amongst gamers as it was a solid look at the community surrounding classic arcade gaming and those who compete in it. After having a few highlights and lowlights on his quest to become the DK champion, Steve Wiebe eventually reached the feat of becoming the DK champ, which sadly was then beaten by Billy Mitchell. But eventually Steve managed to both one-up Billy Mitchell and newcomer Hank Chien last year. Steve’s dedication to the game that is Donkey Kong lasted for a few months until Hank Chien once again became the DK champ with an impressive score of 1,068,000 which sadly put Steve in the #2 position. But Steve once again had a shot at greatness at the Donkey Kong world record attempt that occurred at Logan Hardware in Chicago.
Having a Donkey Kong world record attempt in public may seem like an odd thing to do but this is Steve Wiebe we’re talking about here – one of the gurus if not the grandmaster of Donkey Kong. To be honest going into the event I didn’t know what to expect, even if it was in my hometown. Located on the Westside of Chicago, not too far off from the swanky event EA held last August, Logan Hardware looks pretty unassuming on the outside. The inside is nice as it has a plethora of used but classic albums, DVDs and other goodies all while some good tunes are blasting on the speakers. But then as I made my way past the initial storefront I almost thought I stepped into a portal of some sort as I was in a room surrounded by classic arcade machines from the 1980s, all of which were in near perfect condition as opposed to the dilapated state we often see the usual Pac-Man or Centipede machine at the local movie theater or odd spot like a Laundromat. Walking around the arcade room and seeing games like Tempest, The Empire Strikes Back, Robocop, Gauntlet II, Punch Out and a few surprises like Star Gate and Bump Jump it was clear that this was beyond the perfect venue to have Steve Wiebe try to beat Hank Chien’s score and become the King of Kong once more.
If someone can play a game from the 1980s and have an entire crowd captivated then that says of lot about the game design of Donkey Kong and the sheer level of skill of Steve Wiebe. We’ve all seen Steve do his thing in DK in a few small clips from The King of Kong, but seeing him plow through the different stages sometimes with relative ease was just ridiculous. For those who weren’t even born when Donkey Kong came out, I was only five years off, the game is easily the toughest arcade game ever created. Sure, it may look fun and relatively simple since it has Mario and a funny big monkey, but it isn’t. Playing Donkey Kong will take away five years of your life and give you a few grey hairs because the game is that damn intense and stressful. So seeing Steve actually go through stages that the normal person would otherwise never see, execute a game plan and sometimes play things safe instead of doing risky point hogging really shows the level of skill he has. Steve is a chap that clearly studied the finer points of Donkey Kong and has the skill level that’s required to think fast when an unexpected fireball may be coming his way. In fact, Steve is an absolute barrel rolling son of a gun since the man was doing triple barrel rolls like it was nothing, sometimes one after another.
Steve may be a top player but he isn’t an absolute Jedi as yes, he did lose some of his lives in his attempt to reclaim the Donkey Kong record. Of course the question most of you must be begging for me to answer is whether Steve beat Hank Chien’s score to reclaim his title as the King of Kong. Sadly Steve didn’t beat Hank’s score and yes, it was indeed a bit heartbreaking – especially on his first attempt. While the event started a bit later than expected, Steve eventually started his first record attempt around 4:30pm and then continued to play straight for the next two hours, which in Donkey Kong time is like playing for 15 hours straight since it’s that intense and completely drains one of all their mental and physical energy. Steve started out his first record attempt very strong as he was keeping things simple, herding the enemies when he could along with doing some point boosting which often resulted in the crowd cheering and applauding for a minute straight until Steve completed the stage.
But Donkey Kong is a game that even to a master player like Steve can be entirely unpredictable at times, which resulted in a few shocking deaths. Steve didn’t falter under the pressure or the sudden loss of a life as he immediately bounced back and completed the stage at hand, though his remaining continues did begin to diminish which led to the heartbreak moment. After completing a few stages that would’ve made me go into rage mode, Steve found himself on stage 19 with an impressive score of 872,600 with his remaining bonus life keeping him in the game. But as is the case with more dire situations, things went bad and an immediate gasp fell across the crowd as Steve was officially out of the game upon losing his final life. For going as far as he did, Steve didn’t seem too distraught but it was one of those situations where everyone felt for him as the entire crowd was on his side. And when I say people were on his side I really mean that as a few people were shouting out “You’re the King of Kong”, “GO Wiebe” or “F#ck Billy Mitchell” as Steve showed us how Donkey Kong should be played.
After taking a much deserved break after his first record attempt, Steve returned to give it another go but things didn’t start off that well. Upon completing the first few stages, Steve found himself losing his remaining lives in almost rapid succession at stage 4. It was a bit uncharacteristic to see such a thing happen to Steve and he even apologized to those who were eagerly watching on. Being the true champ that he is, Steve once again delved into things but after reaching 300,000 points Steve sadly found himself out of the running to become the Donkey Kong champion when he lost all his lives. While it was disappointing that Steve didn’t reclaim his crown, he still put on an incredible show for people and considering he played for around five hours, which again is a hell of a long time (almost akin to the amount Flynn spent in the Grid) I think is performance was an admirable one that even his critics and fellow competitors would respect.
Even though world records weren’t shattered, it was still amazing to see Steve Wiebe do his thing with Donkey Kong. Seeing an entire store fill up with over 250 people as they watched someone play Donkey Kong via a projector was a bit surreal, more so since there were people in attendance that were younger than me and I’m only 24 yet I felt like an old geezer. Witnessing Steve play was something I’ll remember for as long as I live and being in a place that had the aura of a true arcade definitely completed the experience that was Steve Wiebe’s attempt to become the King of Kong. For all the members of Team Wiebe out there don’t feel too bad that Steve didn’t break Hank Chien’s record as Steve is likely to attend the Kong-Off event that’s happening in March in New Jersey. Aside from his nemesis Billy Mitchell being there and a host of other DK players, maybe Steve will come through in the end and own an entire array of Donkey Kong competitors in a fashion that would further solidify him as an arcade gaming legend.