9th July 2021 marks 40 years exactly since the original Donkey Kong debuted in arcades and the world got its first look at the eponymous ape and his adversary, Jumpman (whatever happened to him?).
With rumours of a new DK game and an animation project in the works, we're bracing ourselves for an outbreak of DK fever any day now, and to celebrate four decades of Donkey we're republishing our ranked list of his entire library of classics. Enjoy!
While Mario is the undisputed man when it comes to all things Nintendo, let it never be forgotten that it was Donkey Kong who gave the plumber a leg-up in the world of video games. The ape's original game not only conquered the arcade and introduced the world to the character who would become Nintendo's mascot, it also saved the company and put it on the path to becoming the huge global concern and cultural icon it is today.
It's easy to forget just how many games Mario's erstwhile nemesis has to his name. From 1981's original Donkey Kong up to the Switch port of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, the ape and his clan have consistently featured in Nintendo games for 40 years now. It's about time we ranked every Donkey Kong game from best to worst, then! Or, more accurately, from worst to best.
Below you'll find just that - the best Donkey Kong games of all time ranked from bad to brilliant. We've included only games on Nintendo consoles, so you won't find obscurities like Donkey Kong 3 Dai Gyakushuu. We've also limited it to full games where the ape has a starring role - we'd be here all day if we included all of the karting and tennis games featuring the DK clan - and we've ejected the Game & Watch titles (which can be found digitally spread across various Game & Watch Gallery collections or DSiWare) and consolidated a few ports for the sake of brevity. DK and his crew have been in a whole bunch of games!
Enough monkey business. Let's take a look at the best DK games ever. Here w--, here w--, here we go!
We begin at the bottom, which is appropriate because this DK racer really is a load of 'bottom'. Originally a DK Bongo tie-in planned for GameCube, it got moved to its motion-controlled successor with the barmy bongo peripherals switched out for Wii Remote waggle. 'Bongo Blast' became 'Barrel Blast' and you shook your Wiimote and Nunchuk to accelerate. Unfortunately, the racing is sluggish, the controls are hideous and the visuals looked ropey even at the time. The fact that DK and Diddy featured in the excellent Mario Kart Wii only highlighted what a mess Donkey Kong Barrel Blast really was. Developer Paon DP would do better with the characters in other games, but this was plain bad. The cover makes it look like the game could be fun. Trust us, it isn't.
Donkey Kong Jr. Math adds some arithmetic to the basic vine-swinging and platforming of Donkey Kong Jr. in a title that sucks all the fun out of both gaming and mathematics (hey, we're told numbers can be thrilling if you understand them). It combines 'education' and 'entertainment' to make - you guessed it! - a terrible game. Think of the poor kid who got a launch NES console and this - there must have been at least one.
Don't feel too sorry, though. Boxed versions of Donkey Kong Jr. Math are worth a pretty penny these days, so silver linings and all that. The title makes the game sound dreary, and it very much is, which saves it from the bottom of the list; at least it delivers on the promise of its name.
The tables turned in this sequel to the arcade original with Mario having kidnapped Donkey Kong, so it's up to Junior to rescue Kong Senior. We've had ports a-plenty over the years, and the latest Switch version from Hamster enables you to flip your Switch into vertical mode for the most authentic experience you'll get outside an arcade. It's hard to argue that the base gameplay here hasn't aged, though, and you'll probably need a healthy dose of nostalgia and/or academic interest in the game to get much enjoyment from it nowadays. There's retro fun to be had with it, but we can think of dozens and dozens of '80s classics we'd rather play than Donkey Kong Jr., regardless of platform.
If push came to shove, we'd personally prefer to sit down with Donkey Kong 3 over Donkey Kong Jr. purely for how it diverges from its predecessors in intriguing ways. Taking control of that most famous of Nintendo icons, er... Stanley the Bugman, it's your job to use your bug spray to deflect the advances of flower fan Donkey Kong through your greenhouse. DK has enlisted an army of bugs and bees to keep you occupied while he makes off with your prize petunias.
Despite lacking the iconic gameplay and sound effects that have passed into video game lore, there's something oddly compelling in Stanley's battle against the headlining ape, and something a little sad in the knowledge that Stanley would vanish into obscurity afterwards. Well, that's not quite right; Stanley has had a handful of cameos over the years in games like Smash Bros. and the WarioWare series, but you rarely hear Nintendo fans clamouring for his return. Poor Stanley.
A DSiWare instalment of the Mario vs. Donkey Kong puzzle platformer series, there's nothing much wrong with Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again! - it's simply 'another one of those'. If you can't get enough of this sub-series' lock-and-key gameplay, the third entry is fine and features a level editor similar to its predecessor, although these days sharing your custom levels is a lot tougher than it used to be.
Following the rather poor Barrel Blast, developer Paon redeemed itself a little by returning to the DK formula it started out with on Game Boy Advance in DK: King of Swing. DK: Jungle Climber for DS puts you in control of your favourite tie-wearing simian as he climbs through the jungle using the shoulder buttons and it works rather well on original hardware. The soundtrack is a little disappointing by DK's high standards, but this and its predecessor are uniquely-controlled entries in the Kong canon that are worth a look even if they don't scale the heights of his more famous adventures.
The first 3D entry in what to this point had been an exclusively side-scrolling affair, Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move translates the series' gameplay well to the third dimension, even if it doesn't really add anything to the basic formula. As you might have spotted from the title, the plumber and the ape have settled their differences this time around and are simply MC-ing things alongside Pauline here, thus diminishing somewhat Donkey Kong's presence. While the gameplay can sometimes become infuriating and feel a little unfair, MADMOTM (or 'mad-mottom', as nobody has ever called it) is still a fun time if you've got the patience for it.
The sequel to the GBA original, Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis gave players control of mini versions of the plumber via the touchscreen rather than having them follow Mario around like the Pied Piper, and the game became more tactical as a result. It also saw the return of Pauline for the first time in many years, someone now very familiar to even the youngest Mario fans after her star turn in Super Mario Odyssey's New Donk City.
With a lovely, pastel colouring to its art, DK: King of Swing takes the essence of Clu Clu Land and makes a decent game out of it. Using the shoulder buttons to swing around and grasp onto pegs throughout the jungle, this twist on DK gameplay is quite refreshing after so many standard 2D platformers and Mini-marching games. It's nice to see him doing something outside his usual wheelhouse which doesn't involve driving karts, smashing tennis balls or swinging a golf club with one hand. It's not an absolute stone-cold classic, but DK: King of Swing is a fun little portable game and a breath of fresh air in amongst all this 2D platforming monkey business.
Putting in an appearance on both Wii U and 3DS (the latter of which also received Mini Mario & Friends: amiibo Challenge which drew heavily on this series), Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars reverted back to 2D gameplay and gave us a taste of the enjoyable action-puzzler series in glorious HD for the first time. It's more of the same, although the Miiverse integration made sharing your workshopped levels a breeze, and when the base gameplay is this fun, it's easier to forgive how frequently Nintendo have gone back to its box of DK and Mario-shaped mechanical Minis. With Wii U dead and buried (and Miiverse with it), this is another concept we wouldn't mind seeing brought back on Switch.