It’s no secret that I’m an authority on Donkey Kong. I, in fact, canonically met the great ape once! Moreover, I’ve written about the series’ two leading heroes before, but today we’re going to be reviewing one of its less celebrated figures, Krunch.
But first, let’s thank everybody who took a few laps around the track with me:
- PushDustIn, our lovable mascot, who helped with edits.
- TheAnvil, a fellow Kong documentarian, who provided edits and commentary.
Our scaly acquaintance debuted in 1997’s Diddy Kong Racing, which launched 20 years ago this month. …Yes, we feel old, too.
As we’ve briefly addressed before, Rare’s Diddy Kong Racing had a fascinating development history, so much so that the Nintendo-owned Diddy Kong wasn’t initially its mascot. Timber occupied that post during the Pro-Am 64 phase of the project’s life, and his claws remained firmly trenched in the game’s lore even after Diddy supplanted him for the lead role.
Diddy’s inclusion greatly boosted the game’s profile, of course, but it also attracted the attention of some potentially hostile folk…
Given the offbeat nature of his design in relation to the established Donkey Kong aesthetic, I sometimes wondered whether or not Krunch was conceived as a Kremling. I received an answer in 2011 when former Rare artist Kevin Bayliss hosted a now-defunct Facebook page for fellow Rare alumni. The bumbling reptile’s genesis was addressed therein, asserting how, although there may have been Kremling influence, he wasn’t envisioned as a member of Donkey Kong‘s cast; instead, he was a “quick ‘croc-character’” added to introduce a “bad guy” to the game’s roster. While this could have been a simple mistake on Prima Game’s end, it’s worth a passing mention that they called him “Krunch the Alligator” back in their Diddy Kong Racing guidebook.
Krunch was presumably retroactively admitted into the Kremling’s ranks when the monkey usurped the starring role, thereby giving Diddy Kong Racing another pronounced link to the core Donkey Kong franchise. It took a little longer for Krunch’s name to get finalized, however; early previews of Diddy’s racing spin-off, including a trailer, called him “Krash.” Considering that name was already spoken for, I appreciate the change.
Diddy Kong Racing‘s manual explained the greenhorn’s reason for taking the pilgrimage to Timber’s Island. Krunch and his nameless colleague were scouts, overseeing the Kongs’ activities to ensure they weren’t plotting against the Kremlings. The pair of misfits suddenly witness Diddy hurriedly leave his treehouse, spurring the concerned Krunch to tail Diddy by his lonesome. Diddy and the others were apprehensive over the Kremling’s intrusion, but the heavy-weight ultimately helped fend off Wizpig and good-naturedly partook in the group’s party following the swine’s defeat. Hey, he may be playing for a villainous team, but he isn’t such a bad guy after all, right?
Rare’s partnership with Nintendo met its abrupt end in 2002. However, prior to Microsoft’s acquisition of the Twycross-based studio, Rare was helming three Donkey Kong titles, one of which being Diddy Kong Pilot. One racer in its cast was bequeathed with the generic Kritter misnomer, but he reused Krunch’s design in a 2001 build of the game. All three titles were cancelled as such upon Microsoft’s acquisition, later getting rebranded with Rare-owned licenses. Nevertheless, while Banjo-Pilot did retain some facets from its previous identity, the Kremlings were unsurprisingly omitted.
Climax Studios was fond of Rare’s groundbreaking Nintendo 64-era racer, and they ventured to continue its legacy on the GameCube. Diddy Kong Racing Adventure, while never greenlit, was tentatively planned to retain much of the original’s cast, including our favorite neon green spy. Adventure‘s roster would have been more Donkey Kong-centric than the original’s as, per the wisdom of Rare’s Leigh Loveday, only Diddy and Krunch were Nintendo’s property following the buyout.
Rare continued developing for Nintendo’s portable systems, and Diddy’s solo outing scored a port for the Nintendo DS in 2007. Although Diddy Kong Racing DS’s plot strongly echoed that of the original’s, I prefer to classify it as a soft sequel set a decade afterwards. A postcard Nintendo sent to the press planted the idea in my head (even if the card in question grossly misspelled Krunch’s name), though the returnee’s presence in DS’s opening cinematic does play along with the thought. Previously, the heroes were understandably displeased palling around with a Kremling on the onset of their quest, but they didn’t pay Krunch any mind when he arrived this time, presumably because they were already familiar with him.
Unfortunately, unlike the majority of characters we’ve covered, Krunch’s prospects for the future aren’t too promising because his series progressed without him. Taj was the only Timber’s Island refugee confirmed to return for Rare’s ill-fated Donkey Kong Racing, another proposed sequel to Diddy’s 64-era shindig. Furthermore, following Rare’s departure from Donkey Kong, the greater Kremling empire sat out of three subsequent mainline titles. Regardless, the Kremlings remain Donkey Kong’s most prominent rogues, and perhaps Krunch can join them when they finally have their comeback.
So, what’re my thoughts on Krunch?
Contrary to popular belief, I have yet to discover any official documentation explicitly referring to Krunch as a Kritter. However, I assumed he was one when I first saw him, and classifying Krunch within that crocodilian subset is perfectly understandable, especially since Krunch’s leather jacket presumably influenced the Kritters’ getups in Donkey Kong 64. Diddy Kong Pilot admittedly could be an indication that Krunch was a Kritter, but it doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on his genealogy since it was never released.
Krunch’s career never took off, leaving him with little notoriety beyond being the token baddie in Diddy Kong Racing and its Nintendo DS port. Regardless, Krunch left an impression on me. His most immediate claim to fame was how he was the first Kremling to ever attain a playable role, something their abhorred leader wouldn’t achieve until 2005.
Krunch’s playability also provided an interesting contrast to the kart-racing pioneer, Super Mario Kart. As we know, Mario’s genre-defining Super NES title featured a green Koopa Troopa in its stable. While Koopa sat out of the next two installments, he returned in Mario Kart: Double Dash!! with a red Koopa Paratroopa in tow.
While I might’ve been alone in desiring this, I wished they instead could have been Kooper and Parakarry from Paper Mario. Electing to use the standard Koopa designs was, of course, the logical choice; a basic Koopa is emblematic of the encompassing Mario franchise, being far more recognizable to the layman than two sidekicks from one of the RPGs. Moreover, Koopa was one of the founding fathers of the Mario Kart series, so he already had a precedent for competing in it.
However, per my own tastes, I tend to prefer definitive characters in a lineup rather than nameless, non-descriptive mooks; I generally feel a greater connection to a face if it’s tethered to a distinctive identity, not when it’s an indistinguishable member of a large species a la a common Koopa Troopa. Therefore, Diddy Kong Racing’s oddball Krunch provided me with a compelling alternative.
Krunch is an anthropomorphic crocodile like his kin, but he’s individualized; whereas Donkey Kong Country’s Kritters had human-esque proportions befitting of their militaristic vibe, Krunch leaned closer to his reptilian heritage. His limbs were stubby and he had a portly belly, providing a sharp disparity from the Kritters’ ripe physique. Moreover, the basic Kritters were colored with dark green scales, which were affixed by their golden stomachs. Krunch’s body, however, bears a brighter hue, complimented by the yellow streak vertically stretching from his tail to his snout. Donkey Kong 64’s Kritters were more congruous with Krunch, yet he’d still stand out among them; his exaggerated facial structure remained wholly his own, and the pride Krunch took in his facade remained evident because, unlike his peers, only Krunch embellished himself with russet eyeliner and nail polish.
Krunch isn’t merely a Kritter or a Kremling, he’s himself. His design is befitting of the lighter, more cartoony atmosphere that characterized Diddy Kong Racing, especially since it wasn’t initially tied to the Donkey Kong license, yet he’s appealing. That said, I dislike how Krunch’s lackey reused his model in Diddy Kong Racing DS, but it’s understandable given how unimportant he was. The Kritters’ default design, however, stabilized during Paon’s tenure with the series, so if Krunch were to reemerge with his design intact, he’d continue to clash with them.
Had Rare remained the series’ figurehead, Krunch plausibly could’ve become a recurring character. Nevertheless, Krunch is still one of K. Rool’s cronies, so organically introducing him elsewhere in the Donkey Kong universe wouldn’t be challenging; he’d have been an apt choice to fill Donkey Kong Barrel Blast‘s roster, for example, and I would have been thrilled if he appeared as an ally to the Kongs in, say, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. While I appreciate the Snowmads, Krunch’s inclusion would’ve simultaneously reestablished Kremling presence without stealing the show from the vikings. Plus, Krunch could have foreshadowed K. Rool’s resurgence for a sequel.
Krunch isn’t a character who enjoys copious amounts of fanfare. In fact, TheAnvil and I are in agreement that I’m probably the only person on this planet who’d write an article this elaborate about him. However, I’ll always root for him to rejoin the happenings on and around Donkey Kong Island, and I’ll celebrate if he does.
Congratulations, Krunch! Wherever you go, I follow!
Come to think of it, a few other Donkey Kong-related anniversaries occur this month, too. Hmm.
Sadly, however, I don’t have anything planned to honor them under this banner. Instead, we’re shifting our lens to another gaming franchise, one we have yet to visit. Who’s forthcoming? Well, let’s just say he’s fantastic.