The last game released in which Donkey Kong was the leading character of the title was the port of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for the Switch in Spring of 2018. It has become something of a habit for Nintendo to re-release all of the most relevant titles from the Wii U era to capitalize on the much larger range of Switch consoles in circulation. While it is always great to see people enjoying the greatness of some of these games which were overlooked and undersold during the previous console generation, it also has made Nintendo quite lazy with creating new experiences for their fans who have been loyal to them.
I could write a whole piece about the various characters who need reviving in the company’s storied list of icons, but I’d like to just focus on DK here. The decade since the release of Donkey Kong Country Returns makes it blatantly obvious how infrequently the franchise is touched upon, and the character rarely appears anymore unless in a party game or a fighting title, like Mario Kart or Super Smash Bros. That’s really unfortunate since the good-hearted gorilla is one of the oldest and most beloved characters in Nintendo’s canon.
Donkey Kong obviously doesn’t have a very versatile set of genres he can fit into. He’s a platforming character, through and through, a category that Mario dominates for the company. But Donkey Kong brings a different set of physics to the table. He brings weight to mundane jumping and varied atmospheres and environments to climb and swing through. Playing with DK is so much different than playing any other platforming game, and especially different from playing a Mario game. And that’s all really okay. In fact, it’s just the variety Nintendo needs.
The Best Elements of Platforming
Donkey Kong Country games resemble the dynamics of an indie platformer in 2020 more than a traditional game of the genre. The wonky characters that inhabit the landscape bring a different vibe to the proceedings. The way hazards in the environments of the stages present the obstacles to getting to the finish line just as often as the bad guys do is a nice change of pace from what the AAA platforming games usually throw at you.
That’s why instead of continuing to port over the previous Donkey Kong Country Returns games to the newer consoles, Nintendo needs to make a full-fledged new title in exactly the same vein. It would honor the legacy left by the 10 year old original game in the series, and complete the trilogy of new-age DK platformers, matching the triple set that Rare released for the Super Nintendo way back in the ’90s.
These types of games are still as relevant now as they were at the time they came out. Fanfare and excitement ran amok when Donkey Kong Country 2 was put on the Nintendo Switch Online service several weeks back, and the sales for the aforementioned port of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze put it firmly in the top 20 of sales figures for the Switch. The popularity of platforming games in the gaming industry is still as relevant as ever, with the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection smashing pre-orders records last month, and the return of Crash Bandicoot on the PS4 bringing a buzz to the final days of that console’s lifespan. Donkey Kong has been dormant for long enough that he would create similar excitement with a return.
A History of Ignoring DK
Despite these clamors for something new, I wouldn’t go around getting my hopes up. Nintendo has a history of ignoring the series, evidenced by the fact that Donkey Kong Country Returns was the first true platformer headlined by the ape since the Nintendo 64 era. The decade since that game and the six years since its sequel brings the amount of full-fledged DK titles to FOUR since 1999. Donkey Konga and Donkey Kong Jungle Beat were nice interludes during the Gamecube generation, but they were more of a vehicle to promote the bongo accessories used to control the games.
Another problem with the future of the franchise is the development team behind the series. Retro Studios produced both of the Donkey Kong Country Returns games and they are currently trying to dig Metroid Prime 4 out of development hell. A different team making a Donkey Kong game seems unimaginable right now, but it also seemed ridiculous when they stepped in for Rare after their sale to Microsoft in the mid 2000’s. Nintendo doesn’t trust just anybody with their storied properties, so perhaps it’s time they take the reins themselves and make it completely an endeavor of their own. Unfortunately, I don’t think they have interest in doing that, as DK has always been given to first party developers in Rare and Retro.
An alternative to making a new title could be to finally release Donkey Kong 64 on the Switch Online library. That would obviously require they expand their horizons and start adding titles to the membership that are not from just the NES and the SNES collections. The Nintendo 64 classic has an acquired taste. It’s a collection-based 3D platforming experience, something that is much more outdated than the side-scrollers we’ve been giving attention to in this piece. Still, Nintendo loves re-releasing old games and acting like it’s something new, and this is probably a forgotten title to many newer gamers.
Final Thoughts on Donkey Kong’s Future
In the end, I assume nothing will be done to celebrate Donkey Kong or the 10th anniversary of his signature Wii title. The fact that we are even discussing revitalizing a series that has “Returns” in the title perfectly encapsulates just how often DK has been forgotten about. If you need to revive a revival, you’re doing something seriously wrong. Donkey Kong is the definition of fun and adventure. His personality infuses the screen with hijinks and creativity and the characterization of the side characters like Diddy, Cranky, and Funky Kong represents one of the best sets of teammates to a protagonist in all of gaming. Let’s return to the jungle, Nintendo! And this time let’s make it a frequent visit, not a pitstop. No more revivals, it’s time to stay on DK Island!