Skip to main content

The History of Donkey Kong

Team player

Overseen by Nintendo once more, Donkey Kong entered a transition period during the GameCube years. He continued to appear alongside Mario in sports and racing games, but his solo releases were scattershot. While appearing in a couple portable adventures, DK was tethered to a clunky peripheral on the GameCube, starring in a series of games that were only playable using an oddball bongo drum controller.

The three Donkey Konga games--one of which never left Japan--are cute, but the pop-heavy track lists are too shallow, barely cracking 30 songs per entry and failing to take advantage of the huge backlog of classic Nintendo music at the devs' disposal. Even weirder was Jungle Beat, a standard platformer that you controlled only with the bongos. It's a physically taxing game, but if you're in good enough shape to keep up with the beat, it's pretty fun. Still, the bongo years will mostly be remembered as one of the weirdest chapters in DKs history.

An old grudge flares up

After all that time as a leading man, it seemed like DK had left behind his kidnapping ways, but when Pauline returned to Marios side, so too did DKs dark side. In each of the Mario vs. Donkey Kong games, Kong flies into a jealous rage and steals something, either new toys or Pauline herself. Early in the series, Mario chased DK himself, but by the later entries the plumber uses toys do most of the work for him via Lemmings-inspired games.

DKs actions in this series makes me wonder just how smart he really is. In the Country games hes intelligent enough to converse with other characters and seems like a good guy. But Mario vs. Donkey Kong has DK acting so erratic, stealing things and creating deadly traps for Mario and his Minis. Perhaps simply seeing Mario brings out the worst in DK, causing some wild reaction in him that he cant control. Of course, by the end of each subseries entry, Mario and Pauline ultimately forgive Donkey Kong, happily friends once again--until the next time DK loses his mind.

Back where he belongs

The Wii spent much of its lifetime free of the dominant ape. 2007 saw the release of the quickly forgotten Barrel Blast and most of his other appearances were limited to ports and supporting roles in Mario sports games. That changed following DKs surprise appearance as the final boss in the Punch-Out!! remake, and DKs momentum continued into a revival many kids of the 1990s had been yearning for. Picking up where Rare had left off with DK64, Metroid Prime devs Retro Studios returned the primate to honor with Donkey Kong Country Returns in 2010.

A striking and proudly 2D throwback, DKCR was a fitting tribute to what was so great about the series Rare made famous, incorporating the iconic music and other cute references to previous DKC entries. However, Nintendo held back on the greater Kong family, as only the indispensable Cranky Kong appears alongside DK and Diddy. Fans loved to see the primates reunited, with over five million copies sold attesting to Country's continued popularity. With sales like that, it wasn't a shock to see the game ported to the 3DS in 2013.

Frozen bananas

And that brings us to today and DK's arrival on the Wii U. The DKC series is stronger than ever in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze It brought Donkey, Diddy, Cranky, and the returning Dixie into HD, with their fur looking particularly shiny. And the game's punishing nature shows the ape hasn't gone soft in his old age.

And that's just the start of a 2014 full of gorilla love on the Wii U. Donkey and Diddy are both confirmed for the Super Smash Bros. Wii U and 3DS roster, on top of DK being a racer in Mario Kart 8. Even if Nintendo is going through a bit of a transition these days, it looks like Donkey Kong will be a constant no matter what else changes.

How high?

No matter where he ends up next, Donkey Kongs legacy at Nintendo seems more secure than ever. After dozens of starring roles and cameos, what are your favorite memories of DK? Tell us in the comments.

Need to know more about Mario? Read the top 7 most disturbing things about the Mushroom Kingdom and see the history of gamings favorite brother in Luigi: A life in shadow.