The 20 Greatest Moments in Donkey Kong History

From his first climb up the ladder to the chilly Tropical Freeze, we go bananas for Nintendo’s lovable gorilla.

Donkey Kong helped defined gaming almost as much as Mario. First introduced as the bad guy in the original Donkey Kong arcade game, DK eventually became a lovable hero, and recently starred in the Wii U adventure Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. 

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That said, we’re paying tribute to the big ape the only way we can – by counting down his 20 greatest moments. 

20.) Adding it up with Donkey Kong Jr. Math

Nintendo doesn’t dabble much in the “edutainment” market, but Donkey Kong Jr. Math is a real standout, allowing players to learn the joys of math with the help of DK and his beloved son. The game has since gained a huge following, and earns some good money through auctions on eBay. 

19.) Getting into the swing of things  with DK: King of Swing

Most of Donkey Kong’s handheld adventures consist of platforming games. However, in 2005, Nintendo tried something unique with DK: King of Swing. Rather than follow the usual formula, this game introduced a new swing technique, where Donkey Kong works his way up a series of pegs using timed button presses. It’s a bit limited compared to other games, but still challenging and fun. 

18.) Playing “We Will Rock You” on bongo drums in Donkey Konga 

The Donkey Konga series has a number of memorable tunes – including the Super Mario Bros. theme – but one in particular makes great use of your bongo controller. The cover of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” is not only a great listen, but also a fine workout for your hands. Boom, boom, CLAP! 

17.) Donkey Kong becomes the good guy in Donkey Kong Jr.

One of the most bizarre role reversals we’ve seen in a video game took place in Donkey Kong Jr., when the heroic Mario kidnapped Donkey Kong and employed a number of animal allies to keep him from being rescued. As the big ape’s son, Junior, it’s up to you to teach Mario the error of his ways. Thankfully, it appears the plumber learned his lesson – don’t be evil!

16.) Extreme difficulty in Donkey Kong Country Returns and Tropical Freeze 

When Donkey Kong Country first came out for the SNES, it was fun, but also challenging when it came to finding all the hidden secrets. However, that game is child’s play compared to Donkey Kong Country Returns and its sequel, Tropical Freeze. Featuring tricky levels that will challenge even your best platforming abilities, these are two monsters that will take tons of effort to beat.

15.) Entering the third dimension in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze 

Tropical Freeze plays similar to its predecessors with side scrolling gameplay, but also shoots players through 3D environments. Watch as the camera follows DK and friends around a tree and other objects. It’s just eye candy, but a pleasant change compared to previous entries in the DKC series. 

14. Dixie Kong returns in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

One face in the series that has been notably absent over the years is the adorable – yet fierce – Dixie Kong. Fortunately, Nintendo remedied that with her return in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, where she assists DK with a helicopter spin, as well as performing ground pounds with her hair.

13.) Donkey Kong Country redefines 16-bit 

At a time when game companies were introducing next generation machines like the 3DO and Jaguar, Nintendo asked Rare for a quality platformer on the SNES. The developer delivered with Donkey Kong Country, a game that featured visuals many believed were more along the lines of 32-bit technology. Nope, it’s completely 16-bit – and still an awesome game to play.

12.) Cranky Kong in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze 

Cranky Kong isn’t known for being useful, despite the advice he’s given you in the Donkey Kong games. However, in Tropical Freeze, he’s a great ally, able to get himself and DK across fields of spikes and enemies using a pogo cane hop.

11.) Donkey Kong kicks butt in Super Smash Bros. 

Nintendo fans love the Super Smash Bros. series. After all, where else can you pit Link against Fox McCloud? Donkey Kong has played a huge part in these games since the initial N64 release, and will continue to kick butt later this year – yes, that’s including Mario’s – in the forthcoming Wii U and 3DS versions.

10.) Retro picks up where Rare left off with Donkey Kong Country Returns 

After Rare departed for Microsoft, many gamers feared that a new Donkey Kong Country game would never return. However, in 2010, Retro Studios, the same team behind the Metroid Prime games, worked its magic on a new entry of the series, featuring challenging level designs, sharp gameplay and plenty of old-school fun. Be sure to check it out if you haven’t already, either on the Wii or the 3DS. 

9.) Beating someone senseless with a bongo controller in Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat

Before making his glorious return to Country territory, Donkey Kong was introduced in a new platformer that used – believe it or not – a Bongo controller to get around. In Jungle Beat, players use bongos to hit enemies, collect bananas and do other great things. Surprisingly enough, the controls worked well for the game. If you can’t afford the GameCube version, you can also check it out for Wii. No bongo controller included, though.

8.) Ride the mine cart in Donkey Kong Country 

One of the better parts of the original Donkey Kong Country is the mine cart stages. Here, you need to jump from track to track, collecting items and avoiding enemies in order to keep your ride from grinding to a halt. This is easily one of the best mine cart rides in a game.

7.) A true Donkey Kong sequel for Game Boy

While Donkey Kong Jr. is considered a sequel to the original arcade game, the 1994 Game Boy release of Donkey Kong is the true follow-up. After playing through the four initial arcade stages, Mario finds a whole new set of levels – over 90 – to take on, as he attempts to rescue Pauline from the evil Donkey Kong. Nothing beats going back to the classics.

6.) Back behind the wheel with Mario Kart 64

The original Super Mario Kart is a classic from the SNES era, but there’s one notable point of interest – Donkey Kong isn’t in the game. His son, Junior is, but the big ape is conspicuously absent. Thankfully, Nintendo fixed this error with Mario Kart 64, rightfully putting DK back behind the wheel. Plus, he’s really good at throwing bananas. No wonder.

5.) Let’s take a swim in Donkey Kong Country 

Out of all stages featured in Donkey Kong Country, there’s one that really sticks with us – the first time that DK goes underwater. Never mind how he’s able to breathe for so long – it’s enjoyable to swim around and collect bananas and letters while also riding a swordfish to stab underwater creatures. Plus, let’s be honest, the music is simply awesome.

4.) Getting down with the DK Rap in Donkey Kong 64

Donkey Kong 64 was a different take on the DK legacy, a 3D platformer with plenty of hidden goodies to find with the entire family. However, the true highlight is at the game’s start, when Kong and his pals get together for one heck of a rap jam. Watch it for yourself and relive the funkiness.

3.) Square off against DK in Punch-Out!! 

Once you get through all the boxing competitors in this Wii game, you’ll unlock a really challenge – Donkey Kong! Be careful, though, as he’s anything but a pushover, and his twin boxing glove attack is a lot to overcome. Move over, King Hippo – there’s new royalty in town.

2.) Hey there, Cranky! (Donkey Kong Country) 

Here’s a fun fact: the main star of Donkey Kong Country is NOT the original Donkey Kong. However, he IS in the game, but as – Cranky Kong! You’ll visit this guy’s house over the course of your journey to get some helpful tips. In addition, if you listen to him complain long enough, he’ll talk about how complicated gaming has become. “We used to be happy with one button!”

1.) The ladder climb that started it all (Donkey Kong) 

Of course, the greatest Donkey Kong moment is when the world was first introduced to the character, as he climbed the ladder with poor Pauline in tow, taunting us while breaking all the platforms. It’s a moment that defined Nintendo’s reign in video games, and the game is still incredibly fun to play.

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Prima Games Staff
The staff at Prima Games.