20 years of Donkey Kong Country


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November marks the‭ ‬20th anniversary of‭ ‬Donkey Kong Country,‭ ‬one of the biggest games of the‭ ‬1990s.‭ ‬It sold more than 9 million copies in its original release,‭ ‬spawned a less-than-well-remembered TV series‭ ‬and began a new era of the cultural icon known as Donkey Kong.

‭‬Older readers may remember Donkey Kong as one of many villains menacing arcades and eating quarters in the‭ ‬1980s.‭ ‬The character originated in Japan as the first of many famous creations by Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto.‭ 

Thirteen years after Donkey Kong first flashed his toothy grin and began throwing barrels down at us,‭ ‬an English company called Rareware reinvented the character as a hero.

‭‬This new,‭ ‬heroic Donkey Kong hasn't quite achieved the same cultural familiarity on his own,‭ ‬but the name is among the most recognizable in gaming and contributes to the character's lasting legacy.

‭‬I find it fitting that November‭ ‬1994‭ ‬featured two passings of the torch in our pop culture‭ ‬and that any kid in America could have been part of both ceremonies on the same day.‭ ‬Parents and their‭ ‬kids could have left a theater showing‭ ‬Star Trek Generations‭' ‬Captains Kirk and Picard saving the universe together and then on the way home pick up a game for their kids where an aging Donkey Kong ‭— ‬far past his damsel-kidnapping,‭ ‬barrel-throwing prime ‭— ‬lectures his young successor on how easy the kids have it these days.‭ 

Much like Captain‭ "‬I was out saving the galaxy when your grandfather was in diapers‭" ‬Kirk,‭ ‬the elderly Donkey Kong ‭— ‬now fittingly named Cranky Kong ‭— ‬seemed arrogant,‭ ‬but he helped the younger Donkey Kong by sprinkling in hints for finding treasure during his drawn-out ranting.

‭‬Though many of the actual hints were cut from the game,‭ ‬Cranky's nostalgic interludes broke up the action of Donkey Kong Country's simple plot.‭ ‬The new Donkey Kong and partner Diddy Kong found themselves on a quest to reclaim their stolen stash of bananas from the Kremlings,‭ ‬reptilian creatures with a military-industrial theme.‭ 

Though the day was saved,‭ ‬this one game began a Country trilogy on the Super Nintendo and a Donkey Kong Land trilogy on the Game Boy that chronicled the ongoing struggle between the extended Kong family and the Kremlings.‭ 

Notably,‭ ‬the first Donkey Kong Country‭ (‬and the first Donkey Kong Land on Game Boy‭) ‬was the only time Donkey Kong was a main character,‭ ‬as he began getting kidnapped by the Kremlings in an homage to the premise of‭ ‬1982‭'‬s Donkey Kong Junior.‭ 

Diddy Kong proved himself a hero in Donkey Kong County 2‭ ‬alongside his girlfriend Dixie before also getting kidnapped in Donkey Kong County 3‭ ‬and having to be replaced by the latter's cousin,‭ ‬Kiddy.‭ ‬In a twist,‭ ‬Donkey Kong  had to save everyone else in‭ ‬1999‭'‬s Donkey Kong‭ ‬64.

‭‬By the‭ ‬2000s,‭ ‬Donkey Kong Country as a franchise seemed over.‭ ‬Rareware was bought out by Microsoft, and Nintendo began using Donkey Kong and his cast for its own games.‭ ‬2010‭ ‬saw the revival of the series with‭ ‬Donkey Kong Country Returns, and that game received a sequel last February called‭ ‬Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze.‭ 

Though the Kremlings have mysteriously disappeared from the series, and the rampant kidnappings have stopped,‭ ‬the bananas now need to be reclaimed from hypnotic tikis and Arctic vikings.‭ 

Twenty years later,‭ ‬even with a new coat of paint,‭ ‬some things never change.

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