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Website: DK Vine
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DK Vine, known originally as "Donkey Kong's Jungle Vine," and later as "Donkey Kong Universe," is a unique Donkey Kong fansite. Its complicated, sometimes controversial nature reflects the complicated, sometimes controversial nature of the games it covers. So let's start at the beginning.

In The Nineties, Rareware was one of the strongest arms of Nintendo, a legacy that began in 1994, when they created Donkey Kong Country, a big-budget revival of Nintendo's Arcade Donkey Kong franchise. The ambitious SNES game was a success, and after two sequels on the platform, Rareware was poised to continue their legacy on the (then cutting-edge) Nintendo 64. Though Rare did not make a proper N64 sequel to the Donkey Kong Country trilogy on the N64 for a while, they did create a spin-off in the form of 1997's Diddy Kong Racing, a game notable for (among other things) an interesting method of self-promotion: It featured Banjo and Conker, two characters with games of their own under development. With the release of the highly-lauded Banjo-Kazooie in 1998, the concept of the Donkey Kong Universe, a tangible canon of Rareware games linked via the presence of their characters in each other, was born. (The staff of the site explained it in TV terms, saying that the same logic makes Family Matters part of the "Perfect Strangers Universe.")

Donkey Kong's Jungle Vine, originally created by Chad McCanna and Hyle "SirSlush2" Russell, opened in 1999 as a tribute to this collection of distinctive Rareware games featuring anthropomorphic animals, and it was a good first year for them, as it saw the release of the first proper Donkey Kong game since the SNES, Donkey Kong 64. In the year 2000, the trend continued with Banjo-Tooie, the long awaited sequel to Banjo-Kazooie. Then, in 2001, came the moment that would change things forever.

Back around the time Diddy Kong Racing was the big Rareware game, Rareware had already begun promoting their two projects starring two of its costars. People had liked what they saw in Banjo-Kazooie. Twelve Tales: Conker 64...not so much. Besides its very juvenile, unfunny story, the game featured flamboyant, excessively-cutesy graphics, and test audiences were much more skeptical. Seeing this, Rareware sent the game into Development Hell for several years, where it underwent excessive changes. When unveiled, the game had been transformed into Conkers Bad Fur Day, an M-rated, subversive take on the anthropomorphic-animal-platformer genre, released in 2001, and Nintendo was not amused. Despite good ratings, the game was a commercial flop as a result of Nintendo's utter (and deliberate) lack of coverage for it and an excessive scare-campaign to repel everyone under 17 away from the game.

The schism having been seeded between Nintendo and Rareware, it would only grow. Though Rare launched into the Gamecube and Game Boy Advance era with high hopes (and plans to make many new games for many of their franchises), in the end they would only get to release one game for the Nintendo Gamecube—and not in the form they had intended. At the tail end of the N64's lifespan, Rare had begun work on Dinosaur Planet, an adventure game whose title was self-explanatory. Nintendo persuaded Rare to make some changes, this time of the sort the former wanted, and the game was forced into the Star Fox series and released on the Gamecube as Starfox Adventures. This would be the last straw, and in September 2002, Microsoft bought Rareware out. Though longtime fans were quick to villify Microsoft for bringing about the end of an era, this anger ignores the obvious fact that neither Nintendo nor Rareware were forced to accept the move—but both did.

About this time, mainstream media that had praised Rareware's games years before began to take a more negative stance, and a large number of Rareware games found their way onto lists of "overrated" games. Additionally, an infamous quote from Shigeru Miyamoto, criticizing Donkey Kong Country, was taken as an ill-omen and further proof that a massive anti-Rareware backlash was beginning. Fans of Rare's legacy on Nintendo consoles began to fear Nintendo would begin to dismantle that legacy in their absence, a fear that was not helped by the releases of 2004's Mario Vs. Donkey Kong, which undid much of the latter's Character Development and returned him to his original role as a villain, and 2005's Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, whose developers declared that they intended to wipe the slate clean of iconic elements of the past era's DK games.

Thus, pro-Rareware fans who had congregated on Donkey Kong's Jungle Vine decided to make a stand against the perceived negative tide. Fearing the worst for the Donkey Kong series-proper, and assuming Rareware (who had retained the rights to Banjo and Conker when moving) would be the only party interested in continuing the trends once common on Nintendo platforms, the site was renamed "Donkey Kong Universe," as a reference to the more peripheral games in the canon. It became notorious—at least to many outside observers—for its apparent anti-Nintendo sentiment, with such actions as a "poetry slam" condemning the release of Donkey Konga, boggling to viewers who wondered why a Donkey Kong fansite would harbor so much hatred for the company that originally created and still owned Donkey Kong.

Throughout these years, the DKU became a small, but tight-knit and definitive community, with vocally unique opinions from the majority of gaming websites, and a cynical, but often darkly-humorous outlook on life. Through dedicated observation, they successfully linked two new Rareware games, Grabbed by the Ghoulies and Viva Pinata, into the Donkey Kong Universe canon, and eagerly anticipated each new game from the original, Nintendo-era DKU franchises. However, another shift was coming.

Following the 2005 release of Conker: Live and Reloaded, a remake of Conkers Bad Fur Day in the place of what many believed should have been a sequel, faith in Rareware wavered. Conker's own page should give a good idea of the controversy surrounding the remake; here suffice to say that it wasn't controversial for any of the same reasons that the original was.

Still more upsetting to the fanbase (especially in light of its misleading trailer) was the 2008 release of Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, a new installment in the Banjo series with little more than a cosmetic resemblance to its predecessors and divisive new gameplay mechanic. With this game, Rareware dispelled most remaining notions that they would necessarily be any more willing to preserve their old legacy than Nintendo was.

Then came a very unexpected move: Nintendo, the company the DKU had long since abandoned all hope in, commissioned Retro Studios to revive the core DKU franchise in the form of Donkey Kong Country Returns, to much celebration. Nintendo even promoted the upcoming game passionately, and Shigeru Miyamoto made a public statement apologizing for his earlier criticisms of the series. The tide had turned, and in a rather unique way. In honor, of this new development, the DKU redesigned itself, renamed itself DK Vine, focused back in on the core Donkey Kong series, and suddenly became one of the most collectively-optimistic fansites ever. Membership swelled as fans flocked to discuss the new release, and although the site has offered some constructive criticism of the game, their anticipation was largely justified.

Much like the Donkey Kong series itself, the DK Vine is enjoying a major Rennsaissance, so if you're DK fan and looking for something different in your gaming fandom, head on down!


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