If Mario is the first iconic Nintendo hero, then Donkey Kong is the first villain. He was even the headliner of their first game, which allowed Donkey Kong to become a household name far before Mario.
Donkey Kong would later find success as the protagonist of his own series of games on the Super Nintendo (though he was only playable in one of them). The Donkey Kong Country games used pre-rendered 3D models that were redrawn as sprites, which made the games look better than any other title on the system.
Things haven’t always been great for Donkey Kong. He has had the most destructive history of any Nintendo character and he was almost responsible for ruining the company on several occasions.
We are here today to look at the bizarre life of one of the oldest characters in video game history.
From his 8 Mile-style rap battle against King K. Rool to the secret voice samples hiddin within the first ever Donkey Kong game, here are the 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Donkey Kong.
15. He Once Had A Rap Battle Against King K. Rool
The way in which the highly detailed sprites and animations were created in the Donkey Kong Country involved the use of 3D models. The Super Nintendo wasn’t capable of creating high-quality 3D models to use in gameplay, so Rare simply copied the models from a more powerful computer and turned them into sprites.
It was this groundbreaking usage of 3D technology that led to the creation of the Donkey Kong Country TV show. This was one of the first shows to be fully composed of motion-captured 3D models, which made it resemble the video game.
The Donkey Kong Country TV show has since become infamous for a scene in which Donkey Kong engages in a rap battle with King K. Rool over the fate of Diddy Kong. King K. Rool is threatening to drop Diddy off a cliff if Donkey Kong doesn’t hand over the magical Crystal Coconut. Diddy has to relay his plan to defy King K. Rool to Donkey Kong with his rapping ability.
14. Nintendo Has Been Sued On Multiple Occasions By Actors Who Portrayed Donkey Kong
The large mascot costumes that are often worn at sporting events and theme parks have been the subject of controversy and lawsuits. There have been numerous cases of people accusing the costumed characters at Disneyland of either beating or molesting them. These cases tend not to last long, as the costumes are usually brought to the courtroom to prove that they are too stiff to accurately move around, let alone to be used to hit or grab someone.
Nintendo has been on the opposite end of these lawsuits, as actors who have portrayed Donkey Kong at events have sued the company on numerous occasions.
Michael Oconitrillo sued Nintendo in 2016 due to the fact that he suffered injuries from the heat inside his Donkey Kong costume. He was instructed not to take it off until his job was done, which he felt jeopardized his safety.
Parker Mills also filed a lawsuit against Nintendo, due to similar stifling circumstances when he portrayed Donkey Kong in 2014. He claimed that the hot environment led to him having aortic dissection, which required heart surgery to fix.
13. He Is Responsible For Kirby’s Name
The name Donkey Kong came from Shigeru Miyamoto’s limited understanding of English. He believed that Donkey was a common expression for being stubborn in English and he thought Kong was a word that meant ape.
Donkey Kong’s name led to a huge lawsuit between Universal Studios and Nintendo. Universal claimed that Donkey Kong infringed on their copyright for the King Kong movie franchise.
The results of this case would determine Nintendo’s future, as a loss would have cost them a lot of money and would have potentially led to them losing access to the Donkey Kong license. They would have at least had to rename him to something less litigious, like Mule Godzilla.
Nintendo won the case, thanks to the hard work of John Kirby, who represented them in court. In gratitude for the victory, Nintendo gave John Kirby a boat named Donkey Kong and named their next big character after him. Kirby was originally going to be called Popopo until his name was changed as a tribute to John Kirby.
12. He & Mario Were Inspired By Popeye & Bluto
This may come as a surprise to learn, but the Popeye franchise is huge in Japan. There have been numerous Popeye video games developed across all systems.
It was Popeye‘s popularity that inadvertently led to the creation of Mario and Donkey Kong. Gunpei Yokoi (the creator of the Game Boy) had pitched an idea for a Game & Watch game that involved Popeye. The idea was that Bluto would be a large character sprite who would throw obstacles down at Popeye, with Olive Oyl acting as the damsel that needed to be saved.
However, Nintendo was unable to secure the rights to the Popeye characters. This led to Shigeru Miyamoto reusing the basic idea for the game but creating original characters to replace the ones from Popeye.
11. The Expansion Pak Was Bundled With Donkey Kong 64 In Order To Fix A Bug
The Nintendo 64 was an impressive piece of hardware for its time, but it lacked certain features that turned away customers. The PlayStation wasn’t as powerful in terms of graphics, but it used CD-ROM based media, which meant that the games could contain full-motion video and high-quality audio. You could even use the system as a CD Player.
One of the ways in which the Nintendo 64 aimed to increase its lifespan was through the use of add-ons which improved the graphics. The Expansion Pak was a peripheral that doubled the amount of RAM that was available to the system. This device helped to improve many of the games released on the Nintendo 64.
The Expansion Pak was bundled with Donkey Kong 64. The reason for this is that Donkey Kong 64 had a bug that caused the game to randomly crash. Rare couldn’t work out what was causing it before the game needed to be shipped. The Expansion Pak was able to resolve the glitch, so they made it mandatory that it had to be used with the game.
10. Donkey Konga 3 Was Japan Exclusive And Had Songs From Dragon Ball Z & Pokémon
Nintendo love to release peripherals that only work for a couple of games. They released such products as a heart monitor for the Nintendo 64 (which could be used with Tetris 64) and a car adaptor for the Nintendo Wii.
One of the most infamous peripherals that Nintendo ever released were the DK Bongos. These were a set of bongos that you used in conjunction with the Donkey Konga series. The DK Bongos were just too far ahead of their time, as the arrival of Guitar Hero a few years later proved that there was a market for music games that used physical instruments instead of regular gamepads.
The third game in the Donkey Konga series was never released outside of Japan. This was the game that allowed you to play the bongos along with the intro theme to Dragon Ball Z (“Cha-la Head-cha-la”, not “Rock the Dragon”), as well as the Japanese intro to the Pokémon anime.
9. Nintendo Doesn’t Own The Rights To The Original Donkey Kong Arcade Game
The history of Nintendo precedes their involvement in the video game industry. They were once known for manufacturing toys, several of which were adapted into video games. One example of this is Duck Hunt, which started out as toy gun that was hooked up to a wall projector.
The original version of Donkey Kong is owned by a different company other than Nintendo. A company called Ikegami Tsushinki was responsible for manufacturing many of the arcade units used by Nintendo games. One of these was a game called Radar Scope. The original Donkey Kong was created so that the Radar Scope cabinets could be reused.
The reason you rarely see the original version of Donkey Kong ported to services like the Virtual Console is that Ikegami Tsushinki still own the rights to the code of the arcade version of the game. They actually took Nintendo to court over the issue. If you ever see a port of Donkey Kong sold by Nintendo then it is usually the version of the game that was developed for the NES.
8. The Intellivision II Lock-Out Conspiracy
The arcade was once the home for the most advanced video game technology. It was once the goal of the home consoles to be as close to the technology of the arcades as possible. This was why games like Donkey Kong, Pac-man, and Space Invaders were ported to so many different systems, in the days before the video game crash of 1983.
There was a version of Donkey Kong that was made by Coleco for the Intellivision. This version of Donkey Kong is notorious for being one of the worst video game ports of all time. It is speculated that Coleco purposely released a bad version of Donkey Kong in order to make the Intellivision look like the inferior console, in order to make their Colecovision system look superior.
It seems that the developers of the Intellivision took the sabotage of Donkey Kong to heart, as their Intellivision II console has a bit of code within its programming that prevents the game from running. This is also true for other games developed by Coleco, such as Mouse Trap and Carnival.
7. The Peculiar Donkey Kong Atari Secret
Urban legends have existed about the content of video games since their creation. The arrival of the Internet initially inspired a whole new wave of legends (such as the numerous arcane methods of finding Mew in Pokémon Red & Blue or reviving Aeris in Final Fantasy VII). It didn’t take long for the Internet to help debunk all of these myths and stop their spread of misinformation.
The version of Donkey Kong that was released on the Atari 400 has one of the most peculiar secrets of all time. This is one of those secrets that sounds like an urban legend when spoken out loud.
If you set a new high score in Donkey Kong where the score ends with 33, 37, 73, and 77, whilst also dying from falling, then you can make something new appear on the title screen. All you need to do is set the difficulty to four and press option button three times. This will cause the initials of the game’s programmer (LMD) to appear on the title screen.
6. The Punch-Out!! Urban Legend (That Became Real)
Speaking of urban legends: the original version of Punch-Out!! that appeared in the arcades featured several Nintendo characters in the audience of the arena. If you look closely, you can see Mario, Luigi, Donkey Kong, and Donkey Kong Junior in the background.
The appearance of Donkey Kong in Punch-Out!! led to the belief that he was an opponent in the game, who could only be unlocked by completing some bizarre or incredibly difficult requirements, such as winning a match without taking a hit or knocking out all opponents in a short amount of time.
This was purely wishful thinking on the part of the fans, as Nintendo wouldn’t have hidden the ability to fight one of their most popular characters. They would have promoted the hell out of it if the legend was actually true.
5. He & Mario Once Starred In A Cartoon
Nintendo used to be a lot looser when it came to allowing their first-party characters to be used in cartoons. Characters like Mario and Link once starred in their own cartoon series, alongside shows like Captain N, which featured the other Nintendo protagonists who weren’t big enough to carry their own show.
The catastrophic failure of the Super Mario Bros. movie made Nintendo more reticent about allowing their iconic characters to be used by other companies.
In 1983, there was a show called the Saturday Morning Supercade, which featured cartoons that starred numerous video game characters, such as Frogger and Q*Bert. The Saturday Morning Supercade also featured a Donkey Kong cartoon, where he had top billing over Mario.
The version of Donkey Kong that appeared in the Saturday Morning Supercade was presented as a dumb animal, with Mario acting as his handler. The two of them had Looney Tunes-style adventures, where Donkey Kong would escape from captivity and Mario would have to capture him.
4. The Rare Championship Edition Of Donkey Kong Country
The original Nintendo World Championships was held in 1990. This contest has become famous for the prize that was offered to the winners, which was a gold cartridge containing the games played at the event. These cartridges are worth a lot of money due to their significance to video game history.
There are Donkey Kong Country cartridges that hold a similar place in history and are also worth a lot of money. A version of Donkey Kong Country was developed to be used for the Nintendo PowerFest ’94 and the Blockbuster World Video Game Championships II.
These cartridges contained a few levels from the original Donkey Kong Country, with the addition of a points counter and some of the items moved around in order to encourage the player to try and earn more points.
The cartridges used in these events were sold to readers of Nintendo Power. There were only two and a half thousand copies of these cartridges created, which has made them prized by collectors of video game memorabilia.
3. The Earthworm Jim Insult
The early ’90s were a battleground for the platform game genre. It seemed as if every home console had its share of platformers that were fronted by mascot characters, who were all vying to become media franchises of their own.
Mario and Sonic were the undisputed kings during this time period, though they had a few challengers to their position. Donkey Kong was one as well, as the Donkey Kong Country games were a huge success on the Super Nintendo. Earthworm Jim was another, as he managed to transcend and have success in other mediums.
The developers of Earthworm Jim didn’t like the Donkey Kong Country games, as they felt that they got way more promotion than they deserved. This is why you can unlock Donkey Kong’s head in the Sega CD version of Earthworm Jim. This head has an arrow through it, in order to show their contempt for the character.
2. The Infamous Stop ‘N’ Swap Was Going To Be Compatible With Donkey Kong 64
The original Banjo & Kazooie game on the Nintendo 64 contained an unusual secret which eluded fans for years. Banjo & Kazooie contained six mysterious eggs and key made from ice which couldn’t be used anywhere in the game.
It was revealed that these items were going to be used as part of a feature called “Stop ‘n’ Swap,” which involved swapping cartridges while the game was still on. This feature had to be disabled, as it no longer worked with later revisions of the Nintendo 64.
The Stop ‘n’ Swap feature was meant to be used between Banjo & Kazooie and its sequel. Fans have since discovered that the Ice Key item was also going be used in Donkey Kong 64, which meant that it was also going to feature Stop ‘n’ Swap support. There are unused cutscenes and areas linked to a fridge that contains a picture of Banjo and Kazooie, which are likely connected to the Ice Key.
1. The Original Donkey Kong Arcade Game Had Voice Samples That Were Never Used
Voice acting in video games on home consoles didn’t start happening until the 32-bit era. Games like Sonic the Hedgehog featured snippets of sound (like the “Sega” clip at the start of the game), but those took up a huge chunk of memory. It took the arrival of CD-ROMs for there to be enough memory for a lot of voice acting.
It might seem unbelievable, but the original Donkey Kong arcade game actually featured voice samples which cannot be seen during regular gameplay. These were of Pauline screaming for help and saying “Nice!” when you jumped over barrels and completed the stage.
Shigeru Miyamoto has claimed that the reason these samples weren’t used in the game was that they weren’t clear enough for his satisfaction. They tested the voice samples for people who spoke English and they had trouble understanding what Pauline was saying.
It’s crazy to think that such an impressive technical feat was hidden in one of the most popular video games of all time and remained undiscovered until recently. Donkey Kong helped to create the Nintendo that we know of today and he still manages to surprise us with secrets of his own.
Can you think of any other interesting facts about Donkey Kong? Sound off in the comment section!
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