The story goes that when Nintendo was denied the rights to the Popeye franchise (a story I will tell soon) Shigeru Miyamoto was forced to create new characters in absence of the iconic cartoon characters. Popeye became the plucky plumber Mario, Olive Oyl became the damsel in distress, Pauline, and Brutus became the oafish bad guy Donkey Kong, a gorilla. The name was a parody of King Kong (another big part of Nintendo history, and another story to tell later), with Donkey representing the fact that he was as stubborn as a mule, and twice as dumb.
Donkey Kong 3 was my most played Donkey Kong arcade game in my childhood
As a kid, I enjoyed the Donkey Kong arcade games, Donkey Kong 3 being my personal favorite. But it would take years for me to have a connection with the character. Mario instead would be running wild in my heart and imagination, thanks to an amazing selection of games on the NES, Game Boy, and Super NES. In other words, Mario was unrivaled… Until Nintendo released a very special game in the fall of 1994.
Pre-rendered what? I didn't understood what it meant, but damn did Donkey Kong Country look awesome!
That game was Donkey Kong Country for the Super NES. Developed by Rare, the game brought back Donkey Kong in a grand manner. The biggest appeal was that it was one of the first Super NES games to feature pre-rendered CGI graphics, giving Donkey Kong a level of detail and character unlike anything else seen on the system. Not only was I blown away by the graphics, bue the gameplay also captured my imagination, and the music will forever remain beloved in my mind. I was obsessed with the game. I rented it constantly, borrowed it from my friends, and even asked for it one Christmas, despite already beating it to death.
That year, I had only one goal… To get me a copy of Donkey Kong Country 2!
The next year, when I was randomly watching the QVC shopping network they showed something that made me believe there was a God in the universe… Donkey Kong Country 2. You know how in the movie A Christmas Story, Ralphie was obsessed over getting a BB Gun and wouldn't rest until he got it for Christmas? That year, I was Ralphie, and my desired present was Donkey Kong Country 2. Everywhere I went that year, there were huge banners for it, lots of ads on TV, and it was the header among other great games of the Holiday season. And like Ralphie in the movie, I was depressed when I heard that stores had run out of copies, and that my parents were too broke to get it for me, and had to deal with some other present.
You'll shoot your eye, kid… Erm, I mean, Donkey Kong Country 2's sold out, kid!
But fate rewards good children. On Christmas morning, I wake up, excited, but aware that I wasn't going to get the game. I start opening up my presents… A radio, nice! Some clothes, bah. Some money, always useful. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, an SNES game…WAIT HOLD UP! YOSHI'S ISLAND??? If I got the game, that means that…
THE NEXT PRESENT WAS DONKEY KONG COUNTRY 2!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Just replace the N64 with a copy of Donkey Country 2 and you'll have an accurate version of my sheer joy
I think a young me would rival the Nintendo 64 kid in terms of sheer excitement and happiness. The one game I thought I would never get was in my hands, along with an equally awesome Mario game. My two greatest pleasures in life were together on that wonderful Christmas morn, one I would never forget…
But let's leave the corny stuff aside for a second. As I expected, the game delivered on everything and more. The graphics were much nicer, the music was incredible, and the gameplay polished, fantastic and addicting. I was so addicted to this game that it forced me to start a long and successful subscription to Nintendo Power, just so I could get the strategy guide and learn how to beat the Lost Levels. Donkey Kong Country 2 became the second game I fully completed (the first being Super Mario World), and even Nintendo acknowledged my dedication to the game in a letter (yes I know it was canned response, but it meant a lot to me).
It didn't even matter that Donkey Kong was not the star of the game. By the time I finished this game I was in love with the Donkey Kong universe. The characters, the settings, and the story were very different from Mario's exploits at the Mushroom Kingdom. Because of this, Donkey Kong became one of my favorite characters, because, like Mario before him, I associated him with great games and beloved childhood memories.
Uh, what? Donkey Kong Country 3? Cool, cool… I'll just stay here and watch the pretty polygons
As I grew older, I was more focused on the Nintendo 64, and the promising Super Mario 64. Donkey Kong Country 3 was announced, and my excitement for it was sadly small, because the new generation was filled with so much promise thanks to the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation that the Super NES just felt outdated and old… Once more, Mario took a higher place in my list of fandoms thanks to his amazing 3D debut. But Donkey Kong was still there, present. In fact, the new generation filled me with hope that Donkey Kong's next adventure would be incredible.
This would take around 3 years to happen. Donkey Kong 64 was announced for a fall 1999 release. By then, I was in my senior year in high school, knee deep in my videogame fandom thanks to the Final Fantasy RPGs, my Pokemon obsession (geez, obsession seems to be a common thing in my life), the Sega Dreamcast, and many other things. But I wouldn't forget my big monkey. Nintendo did their part by sending me a VHS tape featuring previews for both Donkey Kong 64 and Jet Force Gemini (a solid game). Sadly, my excitement turned sour once I received the game for Christmas.
The opening alone was a sign that things weren't fine in Donkey Kong's Country…
Graphically it was amazing, but the game felt like a carbon copy of Banjo-Kazooie, right down to the mini-games and music! It didn't matter that you could play as five characters, to me it felt like one huge collect-a-thon, worlds that were too big to the point of being tedious, and there was no way in hell I would collect EVERYTHING as five monkeys. No way!
But even then, Donkey Kong was still my favorite character. By then, it would take more than a couple of bad games to ruin my fascination with the character.
My story regarding Donkey Kong is so, so long that I have to divide it in two parts. This was all about my childhood and my views of the character and his game. The next part will be all about the character, a little bit of history, and my final thoughts on the character.