Donkey Kong's return: 33 years of Nintendo's main monkey
by Robert Workman, shacknews.com, Feb 24, 2014 9:15AM PST
Mario wasn't the only character to become an iconic mascot with the introduction of Donkey Kong into arcades in 1981. The titular ape has managed to earn his own following, and thanks to the efforts of many savvy developers, he's managed to stay relevant through over three decades of gaming.
The Ladder Climb That Started It All
Donkey Kong got his start by kidnapping Pauline and making life a nightmare for her boyfriend (at the time, he's obviously moved on), Mario. Through a series of stages, you'll have to overcome various obstacles before finally sending DK head first into a stack of girders--only to have him come back for more in a new series of stages. The game would become a huge cultural success in the 80's, stemming everything from breakfast cereal to trading card sticker packs to a Buckner & Garcia song, "Do the Donkey Kong". It would also push Nintendo into the spotlight in the video game industry, along with the game's savvy young producer- Shigeru Miyamoto, who would go on to produce a number of memorable games, including Pikmin and The Legend of Zelda series (and, of course, Mario).
In 1982, Nintendo produced a sequel that paints Mario as a villain for the first (only?) time. The plumber turned the tables and captured his foe, forcing his son, Donkey Kong Jr., to rescue him. No longer was Donkey Kong a villain, making him sympathetic, and opening the door to turning him into the hero we know him to be.
Donkey Kong defined arcade gaming in the 80s. A decade later, he was reintroduced as a way to redefine 3D graphics. At a time when players were wondering about the "next generation" of games, Rare came along and produced a stellar adventure on the SNES that looked unlike anything before it. With unbelievable graphics, charming gameplay, and plenty of hidden secrets, the original Donkey Kong Country sold like hotcakes, and prompted Nintendo to follow up with two following sequels- Diddy's Kong-Quest and Dixie Kong's Double Trouble, also both for the SNES. Rare's popularity would skyrocket from there, leading to bigger and better things on the Nintendo 64, including Goldeneye 007 and Conker's Bad Fur Day
Bring the Family
In 1999, Donkey Kong returned with a few family members in tow for the open-world platforming adventure Donkey Kong 64, the franchise's first foray into full 3D platforming. It was bundled with the N64 Expansion Pack, which enabled the game to break new ground in technology, such as rendering real-time 3D colored lights. This Pack would come in handy at helping the system excel with future game releases, including Star Wars: Rogue Squadron and Perfect Dark. Some fans would also argue that DK 64 also brought forth one of the best- or worse, depending on your perspective- songs in Nintendo history, the "DK Rap," as seen above. Now, the question is...does it beat the"Ninja Rap"?
Donkey Kong was responsible for one of the most novel peripherals of all time. Donkey Konga included a bongo drum that allowed players to tap along to music. The peripheral eventually led to the innovative Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, a music-based platformer that predates Rayman Legends by nearly a decade. A Wii adaptation will let you play the game now, if you can't find a bongo controller.
The Mighty Return
In 2010, the Donkey Kong franchise was given to yet another legendary developer: Retro Studios, the same team that brought Samus Aran back to glorious life with the Metroid Prime trilogy. Donkey Kong Country Returns not only served as a throwback to the classic SNES games, but also offered innovative level design that made Returns uniquely Retro. It was followed by a 3DS conversion, as well as a sequel, Tropical Freeze, which is out now.