APES OF WRATH
It’s time to roll out the barrel as Nintendo’s cask-hurling iconic primate turns 40. Here we pick three of the best Donkey Kong titles to enjoy again
IT’S a massive year for Nintendo with several of its most beloved games and consoles hitting big milestones.
The Legend of Zelda turned 35 back in February, Super Mario 64 marked its 25th anniversary last month, but this weekend sees what I think is the biggest landmark – Donkey Kong turns 40.
It’s difficult to underline just how important the barrel-throwing ape is to Nintendo, making his first appearance alongside Jumpman (who went on to become Mario) in arcades across Japan and North America in 1981.
Nintendo had been struggling to break into the American market for a while.
When its latest attempt – Radar Scope – flopped, the firm found itself stuck with a huge number of unwanted arcade machines.
Determined not to give up, it was decided these unsold units would be converted into something new and tasked first-time designer Shigeru Miyamoto with making it happen.
And so Miyamoto hit the drawing board, taking inspiration from Beauty and the Beast, King Kong, and Popeye for both the characters and the ‘plot’ – a love triangle between a woman, a gorilla and a carpenter.
Named Donkey Kong – Kong being a generic term for large apes in Japan, and Donkey being used to convey the word stubborn, so ‘stubborn ape’ – the game was an instant hit, with the initial 2,000 arcade units selling out.
By October 1981, Donkey Kong was selling 4,000 arcade machines a month, and by June 1982 the firm had sold 60,000 machines in the US alone, making $180m. Nintendo’s financial woes were over.
Because of the success of Donkey Kong, the company went on to develop the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES, or Famicom in Japan), with Nintendo taking inspiration from the game’s hardware to create a powerful home console system.
To this day it holds a special place in gamers’ hearts, spawning the Kong Off tournament which sees players vying for the coveted first place on the leaderboard.
The current high score of 1,272,700 was set just this year by Pennsylvanian, John McCurdy, who reclaimed his ‘King of Kong’ crown from Robbie Lakeman. Nintendo has released dozens of Donkey Kong – or DK as he’s now known – games in the past four decades, and rumours are circulating that the happy ape will be getting a new title this year.
But if you can’t wait that long, and want to celebrate the anniversary of a modern, cultural icon, then these are three of the best Donkey Kong games to play.
DONKEY KONG 64 (PEGI 3)Nintendo 64
Released in 1999 and developed by British studio Rare, Donkey Kong 64 ushered the aging franchise into a 3D world of gaming.
Players explored differently themed levels on an island in the hunt for DK’s friends who have been kidnapped by King K Rool.
Completing mini games and puzzles, and collecting various items as you progressed, you could unlock playable versions of the original 1981 game, and also of 1983’s Jetpac.
This is possibly one of the most polarising Kong games ever made, as some consider it the best Kong game – full of fun, humour and excitement, while others see it as stale and repetitive. Just don’t ask me about that awful ‘DK Rap’ sequence.
DONKEY KONG COUNTRY RETURNS
(PEGI 3) Wii Hailed by many as the game which set the franchise back on the right tracks, this title is universally loved by DK fans. Released on the Wii in 2010, this side-scrolling platformer saw the evil Tiki Tak Tribe unleash havoc on Donkey Kong Island as they attempted to steal DK’s bananas.
Boasting challenging courses, and imaginative boss battles, it was a feisty take on the beloved franchise.
Developed with the primary intention of invoking nostalgic feelings in players with its art style and sound, the new gameplay was extremely tough in places, making it almost unbeatable for casual gamers.
Donkey Kong Country Returns got a 3DS port in 2013, which toned down the action somewhat, making it easier for players.
DONKEY KONG COUNTRY: TROPICAL FREEZE
(PEGI 3) Switch, Wii U A direct sequel to Country Returns, Tropical Freeze was first issued on the Wii U in 2014, then got an enhanced port to the Switch in 2018.
It sees DK and his family travelling across five islands to save their home after it is attacked and frozen over by the villainous Snowmads. Considered a better game than its predecessor, its fun platforming and new game mechanics create a challenging but satisfying adventure.
Not only does it play great, it looks great too, with DK and his friends glowing in shiny HD.