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Franchise / Donkey Kong

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Donkey Kong is a franchise of video games centered around the eponymous necktie-wearing gorilla Donkey Kong. While it is often viewed as a Spin-Off of the greater Mario franchise, it is, by technicality, Mario's parent franchise.

Donkey Kong made his debut in the 1981 arcade game Donkey Kong. The premise of the game was that a gorilla named Donkey Kong kidnapped a maiden and escaped into a construction zone. Jumpman the carpenter then had to brave the game's four levels, each one with many obstacles, in order to rescue the lady. Donkey Kong was the Ur-Example of the genre known as the Platform Game. The game was the Breakthrough Hit of Nintendo as a video game company, paving the way for their later success in the industry.

DK later returned in the game's sequel: Donkey Kong Junior. In this game, however, DK was made a Distressed Dude by Jumpman, newly rechristened as Mario, in revenge for kidnapping the beautiful girl (later named Pauline). DK had to be rescued by his son, Donkey Kong Jr., from Mario, who kept DK in a cage and summoned many creatures to stop DK Jr. from rescuing his father.

After DK Jr., Mario would later go on to establish his own franchise separate from DK. First, he would star in Mario Bros., where he and his brother Luigi (who made his debut there) had to deal with the creatures in the New York sewers. Afterwards, he and Luigi starred in the landmark Super Mario Bros., which codified the standards for the Platform Game genre and made Mario the mascot of Nintendo and the centerpiece of their gaming empire.

Donkey Kong wasn't done yet, though. He once again appeared in Donkey Kong 3, which was very different from either of its predecessors, being more like a 2D shooter instead of a simple Platform Game. In this game, Donkey Kong terrorized a gardener named Stanley, and Stanley had to defend his greenhouse from the swarms of bees DK sent at him.

Donkey Kong was completely reinvented by the British studio Rare with the Donkey Kong Country games on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. The trilogy breathed a new life for the Donkey Kong character, giving him a supporting cast of other Kongs such as Diddy Kong and Dixie Kong as well as giving him an established group of enemies to fight called the Kremlings, an army of anthropomorphic crocodilians lead by a constantly name-changing king called King K. Rool. It was also established that the Donkey Kong of the arcade games was now old and retired, going by the name of Cranky Kong, while the playable Donkey Kong was either his son (and therefore the old Donkey Kong Jr.) or his grandson. These games were massively popular for their highly detailed digitized graphics that took full advantage of the SNES' color rendering capabilities. It also paved the way for Rare to become one of Nintendo's most acclaimed development studios.

Rare was later bought out by Microsoft, leaving the franchise in a state of limbo. Nintendo still kept the rights to all elements of the DKC games introduced by Rare. During this period, they collaborated with Namco to produce the Donkey Konga series of Rhythm Games, which used elements of the DKC trilogy, and the platform game Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, which was set outside the continuity and used no elements from the Rare games. The franchise was eventually given to Paon, who produced DK King of Swing and DK Jungle Climber, two games reminiscient of Clu Clu Land set in the Rare continuity, as well as the Racing Game Donkey Kong Barrel Blast. The American subsidiary Nintendo Software Technology also produced Mario vs. Donkey Kong, which reunited Mario with his former rival (or probably the son/grandson of his former rival). The limbo came to an end when Retro Studios released Donkey Kong Country Returns, which marked a return to the 2D platforming style, and its success led to the production of a sequel.

Throughout its life, the Donkey Kong franchise has maintained a connection to its greater franchise, Mario. DK himself appeared in several Mario spinoffs like the Mario Kart series, Mario Tennis series, and the Mario Party series. For a while, Nintendo was reluctant to incorporate the elements from the Rare games with the extended Mario universe, due to ambiguous IP rights between Nintendo and Rare. The DKC elements were finally integrated into the extended Mario universe with Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour, which featured Diddy Kong as a playable character. Since then, other DKC characters have made appearances in the Mario spinoffs, among them Funky Kong and the Kremlings. Donkey Kong is also a perennial playable character of the Super Smash Bros. series of Fighting Games, which, unlike the Mario spinoffs, has incorporated DKC elements from the very beginning. Diddy Kong later joined in Brawl, followed by King K. Rool in Ultimate.


Other Media

  • The Animated Anthology Saturday Supercade had two segments based on the franchise:
    • Donkey Kong: Here, Mario and Pauline are re-imagined as a circus owner and his animal trainer. Their star attraction Donkey Kong escapes and wanders the country, just wanting to live his life in peace. Mario and Pauline constantly chase him, and all three of them often get tangled with criminals or other disasters. They would often set aside their rivalry to deal with the situation, then resume the chase.
    • Donkey Kong Junior: Happening around the same time as the above segment, Donkey Kong's son attempts to visit his father at the circus, only to learn of his escape. Junior befriends a cowardly but well-meaning biker named Bones, and together they travel the country on Bones' motorcycle, searching for his father and getting into adventures along the way.
  • Captain N: The Game Master: Donkey Kong appeared in a few episodes and would sometimes get manipulated into serving Mother Brain.
  • The Donkey Kong Jungle Action Special: An one-off annual by Fleetway, featuring articles and comics based on the first Donkey Kong Country and the 1994 GameBoy game.
  • Donkey Kong Country: An animated adaptation of the Donkey Kong Country games.
    • La planète de Donkey Kong/DKTV: A programming block for France 2's children programming that ran for 1996 to 2001, starring Donkey, Diddy, Candy and Funky (using their 3D models from the first season of the above show) in parodic and musical skits.
  • Pixels: Donkey Kong is a game the main protagonist Sam Brenner had never been able to beat as a child. In this adventure of video game characters coming to life, Donkey Kong is the final opponent.
  • Super Nintendo World: A Donkey Kong Country-themed expansion is currently under construction at Universal Studios Japan, currently scheduled to open in 2024. The version of Super Nintendo World at Epic Universe will also feature the expansion when it opens.
  • The Super Mario Bros. Movie: Donkey Kong appears as a major character, voiced by Seth Rogen.

Tropes displayed by the Donkey Kong Franchise

  • "Blind Idiot" Translation: How "Donkey Kong" got his name. Miyamoto was looking for a word in English that meant "stubborn" or "foolish" to match the character's personality, hence "Donkey." And he assumed from King Kong that "Kong" was the English word for "big ape." Hence "Donkey Kong" "big stubborn ape." Nintendo of America did tell Miyamoto that Donkey did not mean stubborn...but he ignored them as he liked the sound of the name "Donkey Kong".
  • Conjoined Eyes: A quirky detail that people like to point out are Diddy and Dixie's eyes: They never blink with their eyelids but instead "squish" their irises to create the illusion of blinking. And the way that their face is designed makes it look like their eyeballs are connected to each other. So by definition, Diddy and Dixie are double-irised one-eyed monkeys.
  • Continuity Snarl: The timelines presented by this series and the rest of the Mario franchise don't match up very well. Cranky Kong was the original DK, who fought Mario in his debut. He had a son, Donkey Kong Junior, who was quite young at the time. The current DK is Cranky's grandson, yet somehow also the same age as Mario.
  • Digitized Sprites: The Donkey Kong Country series popularized it for 16-bit consoles. The Mario vs. Donkey Kong series also uses this.
  • King Kong Copy: The surname Kong is a deliberate homage to the Great Ape himself. The first game's plot of a big ape kidnapping and carrying a beautiful woman around an urban setting also brings to mind the finale of that film.
  • No Such Thing as Dehydration: The Kongs eat bananas for restorative purposes. Not only do they not need to drink anything, but bananas are the only thing that Kongs like to eat, due to being apes.
  • Outside-Context Problem: Both of the villains from the Retro-created "Returns" series have been entirely new and unrelated to the Kremlings.
  • Shared Universe: Has a loosely defined shared universe with the Mario series.
  • Stock Animal Diet: The Kongs evidently love to eat bananas given how they're a major collectible in the series.
  • Tiny-Headed Behemoth: A few of the Kremlings, especially Klubba and Kudgel from Donkey Kong Country 2.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Collecting bananas is a major part of the franchise.
  • Useless Accessory: DK's necktie, Diddy's Nintendo hat, etc.
  • Word Salad Title: A downplayed example: while the games don't have any donkeys, the name was chosen because donkeys are known to be stubborn and so is Jumpman/Mario. (Granted, donkey is a noun and not an adjective, but it's still not a total non-sequitur.)