Perchance, do you remember how I teased an appearance of Diddy Kong in my last article? Well, that installment of my recurring column is still coming, and this article was born out of it. And my fellow Kong authorities NantenJex, TheAnvil, and PushDustIn were here to proof this piece and offer commentary.
Given the circumstances behind Diddy Kong’s genesis, there’s an intrinsic link between him and Donkey Kong Jr. Personally, I’m glad Rare stood by and kept their creation. While I like Jr., and while he’s unquestionably “a very important character,” Diddy’s presence is a boon for Nintendo and the Donkey Kong brand.
Of course, Jr. as we knew him consequently faded from the spotlight, an occasional nod in titles like Super Mario Maker notwithstanding. But, really, has Donkey Kong Jr. truly left the limelight?
A new Donkey Kong for Country?
Let’s take a look at Donkey Kong Country’s manual. Its Donkey Kong was billed as a “totally new character,” obviously indicating he’s a new lead to mark Country’s new era. However, his relation to Jr. isn’t straightforwardly addressed in the manual nor in-game. Therefore, could he then be “totally new” in a similar way to how Mega Mewtwo Y was initially promoted as “a newly discovered Pokémon in Pokémon X and Pokémon Y”?
Let’s recall Country’s plot synopsis and Diddy’s section, the latter of which discusses his respect for Donkey Kong. These two points convey a clear message: Donkey Kong, the one who’s playable in Country, has already garnered an impressive reputation for himself. He’s a well-established video game hero, the kind the impressionable Diddy aspired to become.
What act of valor earned him this stature? If Country’s Donkey Kong is indeed the third in his lineage, then it’d have to be an off-camera event, which technically works as an explanation, but it certainly isn’t a satisfying one. Instead, one would assume he must’ve already headlined a video game. So, allow me to raise a suggestion: he rescued his imprisoned parental figure during the events of Donkey Kong Jr.
Sure, you can write his coming of age off as some vague thing that only happened in the series’ lore, but wouldn’t it be more poignant if his triumph was detailed in the second core Donkey Kong game? The one where he bested Mario, no less?
Another factor to consider is the relative ages for Donkey Kong Jr. and Sr. In the arcade era, they were respectively presented as a child and an adult. In Country, Sr. adapted the Cranky identity as he had grown into retirement. Country’s Donkey Kong, on the other hand, is presented as an adult.
If Country’s Donkey Kong is indeed the same Jr. from the arcade games, then both Donkeys concurrently aged in harmony. If Jr. instead sits in a generation between Cranky and Country’s hero, this synchronization in age progression is lost.
You’re Grand, Son!
So, how could Country’s Donkey Kong be the original Jr. if he’s explicitly stated to be Cranky’s grandson, you ask? Well, some confusion arose during the development of Rare’s cutting-edge side-scroller. Rare’s initial proposal was for Country’s Donkey Kong to be the same Donkey Kong Sr. from the arcade titles, with Jr. in tow.
— Gregg Mayles (@Ghoulyboy) September 3, 2015
I feel the issue began once Diddy diverged into his own entity. The original script for Country included Grandpa Kong who, despite seeming to have a very different temperament than the Cranky we’re acquainted with, evolved into the embittered ape. I can only speculate, but perhaps there was some miscommunication, causing the grandfather bit to remain even after the generational leap was enacted. Plus, maybe Rare elected to take a milquetoast method to acknowledge Jr.’s presence following Nintendo’s disapproval of their redesign for him.
Later, Rare’s Leigh Loveday confirmed “their” Donkey Kong’s correlation with Jr. through his Scribes column:
“As far as I know, ‘our’ DK is the son of Cranky, which does indeed make him the original DK Jr. all grown up: so if you see Cranky referred to as DK’s granddad anywhere, just cover your eyes and hum loudly until it goes away.”
Given how Loveday was a key writer behind Rare’s Donkey Kong titles, his commentary seemed conclusive – Jr. is the incumbent Donkey Kong, and Cranky is his dad. Cranky’s line referring to Donkey as his grandson was, as Destructoid put it, “a mistake.” Furthermore, Loveday’s statement was made prior to the publication of Donkey Kong 64, wherein the two were wholly embraced as father and son. I simultaneously played Donkey Kong Jr. and 64 (the former via an arcade I frequented as a kid) and it was a cool insight how both titles shared their protagonist during different phases of his life.
The dynamic between Donkey Kongs Sr. and Jr. was a tenet in the games where the two co-starred and I liked how Rare progressed their relationship. Moreover, there was a discernable division in how their personalities were portrayed in the arcade series, which translated into their Country revamps; Sr.’s improper social conduct translated into Cranky’s grouchy guise, whereas Jr. upheld his heroic virtues into adulthood (sporadic mood swings in Jungle Beat and the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series aside).
Likewise, while the current Donkey Kong being Jr. isn’t as openly core to his persona as Cranky’s identity as the original Donkey Kong is to his, it’s still imperative to how Rare presented him within his world. If Country was truly his grand debut, then how was he already celebrated as a video game hero? If he’s not Jr., then how did he age so rapidly into adulthood?
Donkey Kong Jr.’s always been right by his family and friends, ready to defend them and their island from wayward crocodiles, instruments, and vikings. And did you ever wonder why Mario stopped inviting Jr. to his gatherings after Super Mario Kart and Mario Tennis? The answer: he didn’t.
Of course, you can counter 64 and Loveday’s word by linking me to statements endorsing the grandfather-grandson bit, including a tweet from Rare’s Gregg Mayles. For reference, TheMushroomKingdom compiled a list of unambiguous citations chronicling both sides of the debate.
Donkey Kong Jr.’s Dual Generational Citizenship
Now, to clarify, I’m not arguing the grandson-grandfather relation isn’t canon. Regardless of circumstances, it’s been used more than the father-son affiliation. Plus, while I believe 64 was intended to cement the latter bond, the more recent Donkey Kong Country Returns, well, returned to the grandfather-grandson bit.
It’d be reasonable if Retro Studios wasn’t aware of 64’s conversations or wrote them off as the outlier; the Country and Land trilogies, backstory aside, overtly referred to Cranky as Donkey’s grandad, and supplementary materials like Super Smash Bros. Brawl (which also appeared to influence Returns) regurgitated that claim. (Tropical Freeze, however, bequeathed Cranky with the neutral label of “Donkey Kong’s hardheaded, curmudgeonly elder.”)
But I am arguing that Country’s Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr.’s Jr. are the same individual. It was demonstrably the intention of at least part of Rare’s staff, and it’s a cleaner, more elegant solution than having an absentee Jr. inexplicably bumming around somewhere.
And, critically, nothing in any Donkey Kong or Mario game explicitly contradicts the notion that Jr. is the new Donkey Kong. If you follow Loveday’s advice or, at worst, can forgive a retcon where Sr. and Jr. were biologically grandfather and grandson, nothing prevents the kid from having developed a sharper fashion sense.
Nevertheless, if you prefer the alternative take, where our current Donkey Kong is the third figure to inherit the mantle (which, thus, could free up the original Jr. to reemerge someday), that’s your prerogative. Our good friend and fellow Kong documentarian TheAnvil subscribes to that theory, and that’s okay!
Given the nature of the subject and Nintendo’s characteristic disinterest in prioritizing continuity, this snare may never be directly confronted. So, unless the status quo changes, feel free to pick whichever familial interpretation you prefer – whether there’s been two Donkey Kongs or three.
Jr.: Donkey Kong’s First Doubles Partner
Since the Nintendo 64’s Mario Tennis was Jr.’s last original playable appearance under that moniker, let’s close by discussing it.
Donkey Kong Jr. grew in size by the time he participated in Super Mario Kart and the Virtual Boy’s Mario’s Tennis. So, while they were almost certainly not intended to help bridge the gap between his roles in the Donkey Kong arcade series and his reintroduction in Country, they actually can anyway. Donkey Kong was older, but he didn’t outgrow his unitard just yet.
Conversely, given his smaller physique and higher-pitched voice clips in the Nintendo 64’s Mario Tennis, it can be inferred this Jr. was notably younger than his tie-wearing counterpart. Donkey Kong also seemed to act paternal to Jr. when he won a tournament. (Although, granted, Mario and Luigi later treated their toddler selves analogously throughout Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time.)
So, what’s going on? How did Donkey Kong Jr. and Rare’s Donkey Kong co-exist on the courts?
Well, I’m curious about that too, but Mario spin-offs have a historically tenuous relationship with time and continuity. As we know, Baby Mario is a regular in adult Mario’s shindigs, including the one we’re currently discoursing. The plumber doesn’t let trivial barriers like the fourth dimension prevent him from inviting his guests and we’re not meant to think too hard about it.
Plus, this was before Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour (which, ironically, was Camelot’s next console title) began integrating Diddy Kong and other post-Country aspects into the Mario spin-offs. Thus, Jr. was plucked to play tennis with Donkey Kong since Diddy was deemed unavailable for whatever reason.
And that’s fine, since Mario Tennis is a harmless spin-off. It has no real weight in terms of canon, hence the inclusion of Jr. and Baby Mario.
P.S. By the way, this was not an invitation to ask me to explain Baby Donkey Kong’s place in this.