Portal: Donkey Kong
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|Games||List of all games (1981)|
Donkey Kong is Nintendo's oldest franchise along with the Mario Brothers franchise, as the original Donkey Kong game technically launched both series. The series consists primarily of platformer games, although there are a small amount of kart racing and rhythm games associated with the series (along with appearances in the various Mario sports and party games).
The Donkey Kong franchise was started by Shigeru Miyamoto. Nintendo needed a game that could use unsold Radarscope cabinets and put Miyamoto in charge of the project. He originally planned a game using the Popeye license, but the deal fell through, so Miyamoto resorted to creating original characters who could work in a Popeye-esque situation. The end result was Donkey Kong, which introduced the yet-to-be-named Mario, Donkey Kong and the damsel in distress Pauline. Donkey Kong was the antagonist of the game. Released in 1980, Donkey Kong was Nintendo's first hit in America. It was followed by several more games for the arcade. 1982's Donkey Kong Jr. flipped the original game's premise around by having Mario as the antagonist. Because Donkey Kong was too large to control, players would control his newly introduced son, Donkey Kong Junior, who worked to save his father from Mario. This was the first game to truly feature a Kong as a hero and introduced vine-clinging gameplay that would be a staple of the later games. After this game, Mario and Donkey Kong were officially split into separate series, at which point the Donkey Kong series fell into obscurity with the underwhelming Donkey Kong 3 while Mario officially became the face of Nintendo as the age of the NES began.
The Donkey Kong series entered a hiatus during the NES era, aside from the spin-off edutainment game Donkey Kong Jr. Math as well as ports of the arcade games. Some games were planned but never completed, such as Return of Donkey Kong (which appeared to be a Donkey Kong sequel although nothing is known beyond the title) and Donkey Kong no Ongaku Asabi (which would have been a musically-based follow-up to Donkey Kong Jr. Math). During the early 1990s, Nintendo decided to entrust the up-and-coming first party developer Rare with the Donkey Kong franchise. Nintendo also developed one more game for the Game Boy, Donkey Kong GB, which expanded on the classic series. It was partly a remake of the original Donkey Kong, but it had 96 unique levels added in. This game is known for introducing Donkey Kong's new appearance, complete with red tie, which had been designed by Mr. Miyamoto.
In 1994, Rare released Donkey Kong Country for the Super NES. This was the first true platformer to star the Donkey Kong character. Rare was able to build a world and gameplay system around him, and the game used special prerendered 3D graphics which impressed many consumers. The game was popular enough to spawn a trilogy on the Super NES, which was accompanied by the three handheld Donkey Kong Land tie-ins. These games introduced a new cast of characters supporting Donkey Kong, including his sidekick Diddy Kong, Diddy's girlfriend Kiddy Kong as well as Cranky Kong and various animal buddies such as Rambi and Enguarde. Donkey Kong was also given his own arch nemesis in the form of King K. Rool and the Kremlings, who would menace the Kongs for most of the following games. This trilogy followed an odd convention in that Donkey Kong was only the main character of the first game, and each sequel starred the sidekick of the previous game. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest starred Diddy while introducing Dixie, and Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble instead featuring Dixie and teamed her up with the new character Kiddy Kong. Although Donkey Kong Country 2 was heavily acclaimed, the series waned with the third installment, although this was partly due to the release of the Nintendo 64.
Rare eventually established the Donkey Kong presence on the N64 by developing a racing game starring Diddy Kong entitled Diddy Kong Racing, which was notable as the only DK spin-off game they completed. They also worked on a new Donkey Kong adventure and eventually made Donkey Kong 64. This 3-D platformer followed the lead of Super Mario 64 and Rare's popular Banjo-Kazooie while applying the formula to the Donkey Kong setting, although the results were less than effective. This wound up being Rare's last Donkey Kong game. They worked on several more Donkey Kong spin-off games for the Gameboy Advance and Gamecube (two of which were follow-ups to Diddy Kong Racing), but these were all cancelled around the time Rare was bought out by Microsoft and departed from Nintendo.
Following Rare's departure, the Donkey Kong franchise returned to Nintendo's direct control. The Donkey Kong series than entered a direction focused on spin-off games for the Gamecube era, starting when Namco published the Donkey Konga games. These games used a DK Bongo accessory to play various licensed songs. There wound up being three games, although the last one was not released outside Japan. There was also one adventure game, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, which marked a stark departure from the previous Donkey Kong platformers and used the bongos as controllers. During this time, Donkey Kong games that were closer to the original series were being published for the handhelds. Mario vs. Donkey Kong was created as a new Donkey Kong follow-up based on Donkey Kong GB and spawned a new miniseries that continued on the Nintendo DS. Rare also worked with Nintendo on remakes of the Donkey Kong Country series for the GBA, which included new content.
Tthe series then spent some time in the care of of PAON. They released DK: King of Swing and DK: Jungle Climber for the GBA and DS respectively. The two games were loosely based on the gameplay of Clu Clu Land combined with elements of Donkey Kong Country. The first game used cartoony graphics, while Jungle Climber used graphics that were more reminiscent of Country's pre-rendered graphics while introducing new charcaters. They then developed Donkey Kong Barrel Blast, a racing game that pitted the Kongs against the Kremling gang, featuring new and old characters. It was originally developed for the Gamecube and was going to be the last game to be controlled with the Bongos, but it ultimately was bumped up to the Nintendo Wii due to the Gamecube's lifespan nearing its end. The Bongo controls were replaced with the Wii's motion controls.
The series had another hiatus for several years (with the exception of occasional Mario vs. Donkey Kong installments, with the sequels employing a Lemmings-esque gameplay) until Nintendo passed the series on to Retro Studios. Retro was fresh off of the successful Metroid Prime series and reached an agreement with Nintendo to try a Donkey Kong game next. They studied the most popular part of the franchise, the Donkey Kong Country series, and they developed Donkey Kong Country Returns as their follow-up. It was released for the Wii in 2010 to critical acclaim. It revitalized many aspects of the classic Rareware games such as the DK and Diddy team-up (with new moves based on later games and their Smash Bros. appearances) and the supporting presence of Cranky Kong and Rambi (although they were respectively the only Kong member and animal buddy to be included). The main difference was that the Kremlings were omitted as enemies in favor of the mysterious Tiki Tak Tribe and the animals placed under their hypnotic control.
Returns later received a 3DS remake and a sequel for the Wii U, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze!.
The Donkey Kong subseries has a significant presence in the Super Smash Bros. series. All four installments have featured Donkey Kong as a playable character, and they've also featured stages, items (especially barrels and banana peels), musical tracks and enemies derived from the series. Diddy Kong was also added as a playable character from Brawl onwards.