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The Life and Times of Donkey Kong

by: Cameron Burry ; edited by: Michael Hartman ; updated: 5/25/2012 • Leave a comment

Donkey Kong, as one of the most popular characters in Nintendo history, is filled with an origin unlike any other in the video gaming world. From antagonist to beloved hero, this ape is one of the most iconic characters in video games.

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    Donkey Kong Introduction

    Donkey Kong   Donkey Kong is one of the most iconic characters in video game history. Whenever you see the huge brown ape wearing a signature red-monogram tie, you know that it is the popular Kong. However, Donkey Kong was not always the lovable protagonist that we see today. In fact, the monstrous leader of the Kong clan got his beginnings as an opponent to the equally popular “Mario" in a debut game. Since then, Donkey Kong appearances have sprouted out throughout the Nintendo legacy all the way to present day video games.

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    Donkey Kong Appearances: The Origins

    Where did the big-jolly ape begin? In 1981, Nintendo wanted to come up with a character trio to rival that of the then-popular television show “Popeye." Donkey Kong was intended to be the Bluto character—the brutish, stupid antagonist that was always trying to get in the way of the true, unrequited love of the original protagonist and the woman. Nintendo executive and creative mastermind, Miyamato conceived an idea similar to that of the Japanese epic King Kong which eventually formed Donkey Kong. Miyamato though that “Donkey" meant “Stupid" in English, making him chose that name for the foe. Thus, the big ape was born.

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    Early Games

    Donkey Kong debuted in a game named after the large ape “Donkey Kong" in 1981. The game was released in arcades around the

    Early Donkey Kong  

    world and quickly became a gamer favorite. In the game, Donkey Kong squared off against the charming plumber, Mario for the love of Princess Peach. Peach was, at the time, simply referred to as the Lady. This game spawned several sequels that were similar in game play. These games continued to evolve until the rights to Donkey Kong were purchased by Rare, a British games developer. The transaction went through in 1991, causing all future use of the ape to be transferred to Rare.

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    Rare

    Donkey Kong Country  

    Rare was instrumental in advancing the popularity of Donkey Kong—creating the first game where Donkey Kong appeared as a protagonist, “Donkey Kong Country." In this game, Donkey Kong was paired up with a chimpanzee accomplice named “Diddy" and they were charged with fighting their way through the jungle to find their stash of bananas. This game was monumentally popular and resulted in two spin off games.

    These games also resulted in the Gameboy spin-off “Donkey Kong Land" as well as the Nintendo 64 video game “Donkey Kong 64." The latter was the first open-world Donkey Kong video game where players could choose from a roster of five Donkey Kong characters.

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    Donkey Kong after Rare

    In the early 2000s, Rare released Donkey Kong back to Nintendo, who began to concept more ideas for the ape. Donkey Kong had

    Donkey Kong Cast  

    already appeared in various other Nintendo games such as the Mario-Kart series, but Nintendo was struggling to come up with more ideas for the character.

    Donkey Kong later appeared in various other novelty video games such as “Donkey Konga" for the GameCube, a game where players learn jungle groove from Donkey Kong and friends; “Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat," another game similar to Konga released several years later; and “Donkey Kong: Barrel Blast," a game for the Wii utilizing the trademark Donkey Kong barrel blasting features which debuted in Donkey Kong Country.

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    Donkey Kong Revitalized

    Donkey-Kong-Country-Retruns-Logo  

    Though Donkey Kong has strayed relatively far away from the canonical appearances that he starred in during his golden era, Nintendo decided that they were not yet done with the ape icon. In 2010, Nintendo released a new Kong game, “Donkey Kong Country Returns." In the game, players return to Donkey Kong’s roots in a side-scrolling video game where players fight through obstacles and opponents to reclaim a horde of bananas that were stolen from him. Donkey Kong pairs up with his long-lost buddy, Diddy to fight through stages- solving puzzles and defeating bosses along the way. The game was a monumental success, bringing nostalgic thoughts back to Kong enthusiasts from the past.

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    Donkey Kong in a Coconut Shell

    Donkey Kong appeared in many other games throughout the years, largely as a supporting member of the Mario gang. However, he has never left the forefront of Nintendo’s mind as a huge cash-ape. He is a lovable character that players both old and new have found entertainment in. Whether it is in Mario Kart games or the old classics, Donkey Kong is a well-loved and well-received character who still reigns as an icon of the Nintendo dynasty. Though little is known about the future of Donkey Kong, he will never stop being one of the most famous characters in video gaming history.

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