Donkey Kong 35th Anniversary | Top 10 Donkey Kong Games

By Az Elias 09.07.2016 1

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Most will say Donkey Kong is where it all began for Nintendo. Of course, the company had been around for many a decade before entering the video game entertainment industry, but video games are what the Japanese developer is known for worldwide today, and the cheeky primate can take the plaudits for that. Shigeru Miyamoto's arcade platformer, Donkey Kong, took the world by storm in 1981, and birthed two iconic characters - both the burly gorilla himself and the moustachioed Super Mario.
 
Now in his 35th year, Donkey Kong is one of the oldest video game characters in the industry, and, like many of them, has seen good days and bad days, with what seemed like an age between his best period on the SNES and the return of proper side-scrolling on the Wii and Wii U. Spanning three decades' worth of games, the Cubed3 team dives into the banana hoard and picks out the top 10 games of Donkey Kong's illustrious career.

 

10. Donkey Kong (Arcade/NES)

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1981 marked the debut of many big things for Nintendo. Donkey Kong was their first video game hit, period, putting them on the map of great video game makers of the era. This game alone has seen perhaps as many bootleg and clone arcade copies, and so many console adaptations out there (not always properly licensed, either), that it's ridiculous. It was the first proper platform game, or at least the first to be truly successful, and it laid down the basics for a lot of things in platform games to follow. It was the first of Shigeru Miyamoto's big successes and gave him the status of master at video game making that he's enjoying today. It was the game that introduced two of the most widely recognised video game mascots of all time - Donkey Kong himself, of course, but also Mario, who went on to become more popular than Mickey Mouse, as history teaches us, though he was called Jumpman at the time.
 
Nintendo owes everything - well, almost everything - that makes it what it is today to the original Donkey Kong game. It may not be the most playable piece of entertainment nowadays, though it still looks aesthetically relatively pleasing, despite its 35 years of age, but it is by far and large an important milestone in video gaming as a whole. It received many butchered adaptations over the years, but the NES one was among the most faithful recreations, though one of the four levels - that's 25% of content - went missing in the porting process, so playing the original today is perhaps better done playing it as un unlockable in Donkey Kong 64. Weirdly enough, it never found its way onto the Virtual Console Arcade for the Wii, but the previous one is a good way to play it here and now.
- Rudy
 
 

9. Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat

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Donkey Kong Jungle Beat was the first mainline entry in the series not made by Rare since Donkey Kong '94. After Microsoft's acquisition of the British developer, the series fell in-house to Nintendo EAD Tokyo. Though the game pays homage to the Donkey Kong Country series, it's a distinct beast within the franchise. This is largely because it utilises the DK Bongos (originally made for Donkey Konga) as the means of control. This was a somewhat surprising choice at the time, but there's no doubt it resulted in an extremely unique game experience.
 
Striking the left or right bongo sends DK in each respective direction. Striking both sides at once make him jump, whilst clapping (picked up by the bongos' short-range microphone) triggers a contextual move, which varies depending on the situation. Though it all feels a bit alien at first, it becomes intuitive fairly quickly.
 
The distinct controls go hand in hand with the slightly different goal of Jungle Beat. Unlike previous DK games where the goal is simply beating the level, here emphasis is placed on collecting as many 'beats' as possible. These are earned by collecting bananas across the level, and taken away when the player is damaged by a foe. The combo system means it's possible to chain the score for extra points. This adds a lot of depth and replay value to the game; it's also quite the adrenaline rush!
 
Jungle Beat was originally released on the GameCube in 2004, but was also re-released as part of the New Play Control! series, on the Wii in 2008. This didn't just introduce Wii control support, but also featured enhanced graphics, adjustments to existing levels and the addition of some new ones altogether.
 
Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is a very unusual entry into the DK canon, but highly memorable.
- Tom B
 
 

8. Donkey Kong 64

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The Nintendo 64 single-handedly brought the platforming genre into 3D with Super Mario 64, which took the world by storm and still inspires 3D game design to this day. That much is almost indisputable. Then Rareware themselves bested that with their own Banjo-Kazooie, still one of the most revered 3D platformers of all time. The original Donkey Kong Country trilogy on Super Nintendo was also, at the time and still remaining to this day, among the most lauded 2D ones. So surely the creators of one of the best 3D games should nail bringing their greatest 2D series to 3D even harder, right?
 
Not quite so, unfortunately. While still a solid 3D platformer that ranks very high both on the system and also compared to pretty much all the competition of the era, Donkey Kong 64 didn't manage quite the same feat as Banjo-Kazooie due to slightly inferior controls, and took the concept of collecting things a couple of steps too far beyond the limits of obnoxiousness. This wasn't helped by the fact that the right character had to be used to collect certain items, which induced loads of annoying backtracking.
 
DK64 didn't quite live up to its pedigree, but despite these flaws, it remains a solid - perhaps a little under-appreciated - title, with cleverly-designed and huge worlds, humorous characters, surprisingly fun multiplayer, and a joyful monkey-themed soundtrack, courtesy of Grant Kirkhope. Who can ever forget the DK Rap?
- Rudy
 
 

7. Donkey Kong (GB)

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Donkey Kong on Game Boy (known colloquially as "Donkey Kong '94" to distinguish it from the original) is based upon the 1981 arcade classic. The game begins on a familiar note, with familiar surroundings, but it quickly becomes apparent that this horse is of a different colour. Not only is there a simple hop, but handsprings and backflips have been added to the list of moves at your disposal.
 
The game quickly grows beyond the original's levels, revealing no fewer than 101 sprawling levels over nine visually distinct worlds, with each world giving the player more tools to work with, resulting in a difficulty curve that some games can only dream of, and culminating in an unforgettable final showdown with the big ape himself. This game has a lasting legacy in the form of the "Mario vs. Donkey Kong" series, which has seen no small amount of success since its first incarnation released in 2004.
- Carrick
 
 

6. Diddy Kong Racing

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The party-style kart racing genre was pretty much created by Super Mario Kart, and remained dominated by the franchise over the years, facing little to no real threat to that hegemony, and this holds particularly true on Nintendo systems themselves where the likes of Crash Team Racing couldn't really pose any problems for Nintendo. On the Nintendo 64, however, arguably the best game in the genre wasn't Mario Kart 64, but Diddy Kong Racing! It did so many things that Mario Kart 64 didn't.
 
For starters, it had an incredible adventure mode complete with bosses - the first to do so, which in turn inspired Crash Team Racing, released later on the competing system. It sported vastly superior graphics, more game modes, game cheats, more playable characters, and a soundtrack that remains engraved in our memories to this day. It was the defining game in the genre on the system, and is still one of the best in video game history, full stop.
 
DKR is one that Nintendo should battle to get onto Virtual Console for more people to sample it and that they should take inspiration from, even some 20 years later, to further refine their own Mario Kart series.
- Rudy
 
 

5. Donkey Kong Country Returns

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There's no need telling people how the original Donkey Kong Country trilogy left a permanent mark in the minds of those that played it. They were ground-breaking in their execution and helped make the pre-rendered look on 2D games so popular that it spawned numerous similar looking games in the aftermath - though arguably few looked nearly as good. Then came Donkey Kong 64, which disappointed on several levels, and no game nearly as good as the original trilogy that made the gorilla in a tie so popular in the mid '90s came close to matching the quality of the latter. With Rareware leaving Nintendo's grasp in the early GameCube years, it seemed like we'd never again see DK rise back to prominence.
 
Little did anyone expect that Retro Studios, of all companies, would be the ones to craft a DKC experience of their own and bring back the franchise as close to the greatness of the SNES series as they could. With an excellent visual design and a technical prowess that pushed the limits of the Wii in Donkey Kong Country Returns, Retro took the basic formula of DKC and gave it a little twist of their own here and there. The only biggest gripe most people have with it is the inclusion of unnecessary waggle mechanics that make certain very challenging levels quite hard to manage. The 3DS version, however, alleviates that, though it understandably does not look quite as sharp as its Wii counterpart. What remains is a solid entry in the franchise, and one that people had been crying out for for a long time that would eventually be bettered by its own sequel on Wii U.
- Rudy
 
 

4. Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble!

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The last game in the Donkey Kong Country SNES trilogy, it's also the last game in quality. Condemned to live below its counterparts' shadows, DKC3 fails to shine as bright as the first two, with levels with forced or repetitive ideas and a playable character that no one loves.
 
Regardless, Dixie Kong's Double Trouble! is a stellar game. A beautiful world map and a lot of collectible items give us a lot to do and explore outside of the well-designed levels, which are varied and pleasantly presented. All other things that make up the original DKC games are there, but one step below: atmospheric music, but not as brilliant; amusing levels, but not as challenging; a lot of collectibles, but not as hard to find; a nice lost world, but not as memorable.
 
DKC3 is not as good as its masterpiece brothers, but on its own, it is an amazing 2D platformer, with some very welcomed new features.
- Camilo
 
 

3. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

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The last instalment in the Donkey Kong Country series is an absolutely impressive 2D platform experience. Following the renewed formula established by Donkey Kong Country Returns, but perfecting it in every single way, Tropical Freeze shines with an incredibly gorgeous presentation, more playable characters, a better interface, and more precise controls, while having something DKC Returns lacks: its own identity.
 
It also helps that the levels are incredibly well designed, the difficulty is on point, and the villains are a little more memorable. Finally, co-op multiplayer and the new online leaderboards for time attack mode increase its replay value, making Tropical Freeze a must-play for every Wii U owner.
 
This game can't be listed here without mentioning its best feature: the return of the original DKC trilogy's composer, Dave Wise, who gives us one of the greatest soundtracks of all time. You could even say Tropical Freeze is a great game that comes free with the soundtrack. It is that good.
- Camilo
 
 

2. Donkey Kong Country

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Before the release of Donkey Kong Country, the DK series was primarily an arcade style franchise. The platforming elements were there, but they weren't fully developed yet. Flash forward to 1994, the Super Nintendo is the hottest console on the market, and the arcade classic suddenly comes out as a fully-fledged platformer.
 
In the way that Super Mario Bros. changed Mario forever, DKC changed Donkey Kong forever. It was a powerhouse of design, aesthetic, and music, differentiating itself enough from Mario to justify its existence alongside it. It wasn't the game that started the franchise, but it was the one that made gave the Donkey Kong name the weight it has today.
- Ren
 
 

1. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest

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The first DK Country was a pretty good game. It had clever design, was paced well, and had a pleasant look and sound to it. Donkey Kong Country 2 took all the elements that made the first so good and amplified them to make one of the best platformers - and one of the best games - on the SNES.
 
The sequel saw the titular Kong out of commission, with Diddy Kong taking the reins with series newcomer Dixie Kong by his side. The two were more agile than Donkey and Diddy in the previous game, forcing Rare to change up their level design to be more reflex based and fast paced. What resulted was a fair, but challenging, romp through more than just the jungle.
 
DKC2 was a step forward in all the right ways. Sporting tighter controls, a slew of variety in design, and a gorgeous soundtrack, Diddy's Kong Quest is the golden standard for the series and one of the golden standards for platformers everywhere.
- Ren
 

What are your favourite games from Donkey Kong's 35 years in the business? Do you agree with our list? Is Donkey Kong Country 2 the best in the series - even without old DK in a playable role? Do any of the numerous puzzle and rhythm spin-offs deserve taking the place of his more traditional platforming roles in the list? Share your thoughts below.

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It's a tough one for me to rank the main DKC games. Me and Marzy did a trilogy co-op playthrough using ZSNES last year, and I think we ended up enjoying DKC1 more than 2 because there was a bit of a jump in difficulty with 2 that started to get annoying. A few more frustrating animal sections and such that weren't completely easy to control, too. I think the simplicity of DKC1 sort of, at the time we played it together, made us enjoy that one more.

But I still love DKC2 for what it introduced to the series - all those extra secrets, bigger and more varied levels, Dixie Kong, etc. I find DKC3 gets a bit too much of an unfair rap. It might be the slower pace and introduction of the crappy Kiddy Kong (why it couldn't have been Dixie and DK, I'll never know) more than anything. But even if it is a step down from 1 and 2, it speaks volumes for the quality of the trilogy as a whole, because it's still such a great game.

I still need to finish Tropical Freeze, but it's not hooked me so far. I still feel like levels are far too long for their own good, like in Returns. I'll make sure to bust through it this year.

( Edited 13.07.2016 01:08 by Azuardo )

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