Jeff Wolfe & John McCurdy Are The New Kings of Kong

Jason Bennett,

March 29, 2019 6:53 PM

The classic gaming community was treated to news of an unprecedented event in the world of Donkey Kong arcade competition - a "King of Kong" championship double-header.

The following article on Kong Offs 7 and John McCurdy's recent record Donkey Kong run is a guest submitted article by Twin Galaxies community member and multi-world record holder Jason Bennett for use by Twin Galaxies Editorial. Any opinions therein belong to Bennett and may not necessarily coincide with the stances and decisions of Twin Galaxies Adjudication, seperate from Twin Galaxies Editorial.

On the same day that Arcade Expo 5.0 attendees cheered as Jeff Wolfe clinched his first tournament crown at Kong Off 7, John McCurdy riveted Twitch viewers with a command “kill screen” performance as he raised the bar and set a new Donkey Kong world record.

Seven times since 2011, Richie Knucklez of Delville, NJ summoned his trademark energy and dedication to do what few have attempted to try - to spend countless hours tracking down, repairing, and transporting arcade machines for a world-class arcade tournament. Known as the Kong Off, Knucklez’ inaugural event in New Jersey brought together the best Donkey Kong players in the world for old school, face-to-face arcade competition. Its success inspired Knucklez and his volunteers to repeat the formula in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and California. Returning to the Museum of Pinball in Banning for Arcade Expo 5.0, Knucklez enjoyed a front row seat at Kong Off 7 with fellow gaming enthusiasts as top ranked and aspiring players gathered for a weekend of intense competition.

Wolfe put on an excellent display of skill at Kong Off 7, topping a number of notable names in the Donkey Kong and retro gaming community. [Image by J|R Foto/Arcade Expo]

An original 1980s arcade gamer who came of age helping Mario rescue Pauline before there was a princess, Jeff Wolfe has been a regular fixture at the last five Kong Offs. This year Wolfe set the tone early and dominated the opening days of the tournament by setting the highest score at 1,011,900 points. In securing a playoff berth at a Kong Off for three years running, Wolfe proved that third time was the charm. On the final day where the top eight players faced off in head to head single elimination matches, Wolfe continued his dominance with superb gameplay that saw him advance through the finals to claim the ultimate prize. When reflecting on his achievement, Wolfe paid tribute to his fellow players, stating simply, “It was a fun weekend, everything just fell my way.”

Arguably the biggest playoff story following Wolfe’s win was the surprise upsets by Dave Clark, who dazzled the crowd with hard-fought wins over prominent names in Donkey Kong — including multi-time Donkey Kong record holder Robbie Lakeman — en route to the final round against Wolfe. As reigning Kong Off champion, Lakeman was looking to claim the title for an unprecedented third consecutive year but ultimately was not able to replicate the success of previous tournaments.

In the final hours leading to Wolfe’s first championship in California, another Donkey Kong player two thousand miles away in Pennsylvania was also making history. John McCurdy first entered onto the scene as a talented Donkey Kong player on MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator), but given the prestige attached to achieving records on an authentic Donkey Kong machine, McCurdy changed tact and embraced gameplay on original arcade hardware.

It was a dream moment for McCurdy as he officially broke the boundaries and topped Robbie Lakeman's previous score in the chase for the true and current King of Kong.
It was a dream moment for McCurdy as he officially broke the boundaries and topped Robbie Lakeman's previous score in the chase for the true and current King of Kong.

Over the past year McCurdy’s pursuit of the world record has been a portrait of gritty determination as he racked up an unparalleled eleven games at 1.2 million points, coming in last year just shy of Lakeman’s world record of 1,247,700. During Kong Off 7, McCurdy streamed his twelfth 1.2 million game, which proved to be the decisive match as he surpassed Lakeman’s score and secured a new world record of 1,249,500 points*. He accomplished this feat against steep odds, losing his last extra life on level 9-6, and yet found a way to make it to the game’s kill screen on Level 22-1 at an average pace of 64,418 points per level. 

*McCurdy’s run is official on the Donkey Kong Forum, but has not yet been submitted or adjudicated on Twin Galaxies at the time of this writing.

At the conclusion of his epic run, an exhausted McCurdy confessed, “I was searching for an immortal moment, and I got it.” George Riley, reigning world champion of the arcade game Donkey Kong 3 on both arcade and M.A.M.E., noted that McCurdy’s impressive game play pointed to previously unthinkable heights where “1.3 million is now possible.”

What’s next for Donkey Kong competition? This year marked Billy Mitchell’s first Kong Off following the decisions of Donkey Kong Forum and Twin Galaxies to ban Mitchell for score performances submitted to leaderboards requiring original arcade hardware. Ultimately, extensive testing determined that the scores attributed to Mitchell could not be proven to be reasonably produced by direct feed output of an original unmodified Donkey Kong Arcade PCB. His continued denials of any wrongdoing over the last year and high-profile participation at KO7 were controversial, prompting Knucklez to pledge “I would like to start the healing process, and bring any arcade contest to a higher platform.”

For his part, Knucklez announced that the Kong Off will return to its birthplace in New Jersey at Richie Knucklez Arcade, undoubtedly hoping to rekindle the camaraderie and excitement of the first tournament. If the past is any guide, the Donkey Kong gaming community will look to push past any lingering controversy and retain its focus on the goodwill and mutual support of players in pursuit of elevated competition and new achievements for the next King of Kong. Currently, Knucklez is offering a way to support future Kong Offs via custom Kong Off 7 arcade machine marquees and further merch at the Kong Off website.

It can’t be argued, Wolfe and McCurdy found ways to push classic Donkey Kong even further than ever before and it’s an effort Twin Galaxies and the classic gaming community has every cause to celebrate and appreciate.

[Featured Image by J|R Foto/Arcade Expo]


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