Nintendo stunned everyone when it revealed that Donkey Kong Country villain King K. Rool would be part of the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate roster, but it might come as a surprise to learn that the man who created this iconic baddie was just as shocked as the rest of the world.
Former Rare designer Steve Mayles worked on the original Donkey Kong Country way back in 1994, and K. Rool remains one of his most iconic creations. Despite his close connection with the character, Mayles - who is one of the founders of Yooka-Laylee studio Playtonic Games - wasn't consulted by anyone at Nintendo about his inclusion.
"I had no idea he was going to be included," he told us. "I knew he had a fair chance as he had appeared as a Mii costume previously, and since then he has been at the top, or close to the top, of many votes and ballots. There seemed to be a real groundswell of positivity in K.Rool’s direction that Nintendo would find hard to ignore, I thought. I’d love to have been involved in any capacity of bringing K.Rool back of course. Maybe another time."
Despite not getting a phone call from the Big N, Mayles bares no grudge and fully understands how these things work; when Nintendo sold its 49 percent stake in Rare to Microsoft, agreements were put in place that gave the Japanese company complete ownership over all Donkey Kong-related characters. Nintendo owns K. Rool, despite Mayles being his natural 'father'; he's simply pleased that the green-skinned monarch is back, and feels that the fanbase played a massive part in that.
"K.Rool was a big part of the Rare-created Donkey Kong games in the '90s but since then has fallen out of favour for some reason," he continues. "But let’s ignore that, he’s back now! Some fans on the internet had made it their personal mission in life to bring back K.Rool, restore the King to his former glory; this passion amongst gamers always amazes me. I saw footage of the Nintendo Direct from the Nintendo store in New York with people chanting 'K.Rool, K.Rool' – it was great! I have no doubt the fans' attitude to K.Rool and the proactive way they went about supporting their favourite crocodile made all the difference."
Mayles is also happy with the way Nintendo has updated the character for the world of HD. "He looks really great, a perfect modern interpretation. I couldn’t have done a better job myself! They’ve obviously paid close attention to his original design and updated him sympathetically; that really pleases me. Even the shade of green is correct and the gold armour, something that had been changed in other recent versions of K.Rool. The whole Nintendo Direct reveal was superb, the quality of the rendered sequences top-notch. K.Rool couldn’t have come back with a bigger bang! It was the whole package, even down to the incredible remix the King is getting of his famous Gangplank Galleon theme."
Like millions of other players, Mayles will be putting K. Rool through his paces when Smash Ultimate launches later this year; he reveals that the series is something of a favourite in the office, although he doesn't profess to be an expert. "At Playtonic, there is a group that play Smash most lunchtimes, so I’ll definitely give the King a go," he explains. "Maybe they will go easy on me, although I doubt it. I’m afraid I’m just not fast enough for games like Smash anymore. Too many buttons on the controller, you see. In my younger days, perhaps. Now, did I tell you about the time I defeated the designer of Panel de Pon at his own game in Tokyo? Well, the day began just like any normal day…" (We regret to admit that we fell asleep during this particular tale, which has apparently been told many, many times in the Playtonic office.)
Given that K. Rool has been resurrected, is Mayles hopeful that more of his Rare-era creations might get a much-needed HD lick of paint and be added to the Smash roster? "Of course! I do get worried when I think of other people updating my characters, but after the K.Rool update, I think they’d be very safe in the hands of the Smash team. Dixie Kong has the best chance of being included – let’s hope they reinstate her kneepads. An outsider would be Banjo-Kazooie – obviously now a Microsoft-owned IP, but head of Xbox Phil Spencer has said in the past he sees no reason why it couldn’t happen, so who knows? I’ve seen Banjo move-sets that fans have done – they’ve got it all figured out! Banjo and Kazooie were created as Nintendo characters, so it would be great to see them back on a Nintendo console – adding them to the Smash roster seems like the perfect opportunity."