All of ‘em, but honestly, we’d settle for just King K. Rool. Everyone knows Donkey Kong’s true rival is Mario, from back in the Pauline/Jumpman days. But as Donkey Kong Jr. pointed out, nobody really likes seeing Mario portrayed as a bad guy (except maybe us), so Rare wisely decided to give the Kong Klan a different motivation and villain in DKC.
Above: Get these back
Above: From this guy
And it worked. King K. Rool is not the most threatening boss you’ll ever see at first glance, but after he kicks your ass repeatedly, you’ll learn to fear him (and his consistently kick-ass boss music). Furthermore, like any great villain, K. Rool’s got the resilience of a tank, taking endless slapstick-y punishment yet never failing to make it out alive.
Status? … Uh-oh.
As you know by now, developer Rare was the creator of the Donkey Kong Country series, taking the Donkey Kong character copyrighted by Nintendo and essentially giving him his own game universe. According to the United States Copyright Office database (which is actually way cooler to look through than you might think), the entire Donkey Kong Country SNES game was a “work for hire” - Rare was paid to produce a game with Nintendo characters that Nintendo would own all the rights to. So, if Nintendo wanted to, say, roll out another “Donkey Kong Country” game (as they’re doing now), it would be able to without paying Rare a cent.
Above: Rare wasn’t even given credit on its own game’s box until the of DKC was released in 1997. Freelancing can be tough, man!
Rare never copyrighted the characters of K. Rool nor the Kremlings in the DKC universe, because doing so would violate the “work for hire” agreement made with Nintendo.
What all this means is that Nintendo has every legal right to have Donkey Kong square off against the Kremling Klan again in DKC Returns. But Tanabe has flat out said, “There will be no alligators in this game."
Why? Our guess is that Nintendo’s just being polite. Even though Rare is no longer on Nintendo’s payroll, the Kremlings are undoubtedly Rare’s creations; Nintendo using them without permission just because they could would be a little dickish. As much as we bemoan the lack of Kremlings, we have to admit, not taking advantage of its contract is a pretty classy move on Nintendo’s part.
Above: It seems we’ll be getting this Tiki-inspired boss character in DKCR instead
But… now that we think about it, if ownership issues are holding back certain characters of DKC from returning, what will become of…