Original Donkey Kong Country drafts reveal the characters that might have been

Rare veteran and Donkey Kong Country artist Kev Bayliss recently unvaulted a collection of concept art for the original and iconic Donkey Kong Country, including sketches of Donkey Kong himself. 

"I was given the opportunity to recreate Shigeru Miyamoto's Donkey Kong character for the game," Bayliss says of the sketches. "I really didn't think there was anything wrong with the Donkey Kong character in the first place, but when I got the chance to recreate him, I was really excited about it."

Compared to Miyamoto's design, Bayliss' first take on Donkey Kong was deliberately more "boxy" to make him easier to fit and animate on Donkey Kong Country's 2D axis. Consequently, ol' DK came out extra thicc. There's a huge difference compared to the faxed Nintendo documents which Bayliss and Rare used as a reference, which depict a much more cartoony Kong. This is also among the first examples of Donkey Kong's iconic hairstyle, which has become a staple of his design.

Bayliss also experimented with distinctly Battletoad-esque designs for Donkey Kong, and other characters got a similar treatment in their drafts, like the Kremling crocodiles and Rambi the rhidocerus. Aesthetically, Donkey Kong and Battletoads could hardly be more different despite their 2D roots, and it's wild to see one filtered through the art style of another.

"It's concept art, but it's old-school concept art," Bayliss concludes. "It's what was needed back in the day. I don't think you'd be wowing anybody nowadays with this kind of concept art, but it just shows you that it's all about the ideas really, not your skill level." 

A few decades later, Donkey Kong's next appearance may be at Nintendo's upcoming theme park.

Austin Wood

Austin freelanced for the likes of PC Gamer, Eurogamer, IGN, Sports Illustrated, and more while finishing his journalism degree, and he's been with GamesRadar+ since 2019. They've yet to realize that his position as a staff writer is just a cover up for his career-spanning Destiny column, and he's kept the ruse going with a focus on news and the occasional feature.