*The following is an opinion based article and should be treated as such*.
There is absolutely no way to deny the popularity that King K. Rool has massed since the beginning of Smash Bros 4 speculation. It was huge prior to the release of Brawl, and it continues to grow. Community polls generally place him as the most requested Nintendo newcomer, which combined with the character ballot is a good sign for his potential inclusion.
However, fans are making the same mistake they’ve been making all throughout the character speculation period. Many of the different communities I frequent to refer to the character as, “a lock”, and use phrases such as, “when K. Rool is confirmed”. It’s unfortunate, it seems that significant part of the community is under the same illusion that they were in with other characters that were also considered, “a lock” or “all but confirmed” previously. We’ve seen it happen before–with the likes of Sceptile, Impa, Ridley, and Chrom. Like these other characters, K. Rool has his share of hurdles.
I’d like to prefix this post by saying that I am very pro-King K. Rool. If he ever manages to get his spot on any Smash Bros game (be it as DLC or in the distant future), my personal reaction to his inclusion would likely be Etika x 100…but probably with trousers on.
Meanwhile, listen to some lovely Aquatic Ambience (don’t get too relaxed though, we don’t want any accidents).
The most appropriate factor to start with is one that gets thrown around a lot. K. Rool as a character has not been used as the villain of the Donkey Kong franchise since the handheld spin-off “DK: Jungle Climber” released in August 2007. What’s worse is that since Brawl released, his only appearance in any game was his inclusion in Mario Super Sluggers released in June 2008, along with a host of other Donkey Kong characters. This puts his current importance to the DK franchise at about equal to Tiny Kong who similarly has only appeared in “Mario Super Sluggers” in the past 7 years.
To make matters worse, the Donkey Kong franchise has moved on without K. Rool and the Kremlings. The 2010 Retro Studios’ revival of the Donkey Kong Country games saw the Kremlings and the King axed in favour of the Tiki tribe, complete with a new main villain. This trend continued in 2014’s Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, with another cast of enemies named The Snowmads along with Lord Frederick taking the helm as the game’s new main villain. Whether or not K. Rool returns in future games isn’t relevant to his status as of now, which is when DLC development is taking place. This is a pretty significant issue for him as Sakurai has made it clear that characters without current relevance are given a lower priority than those that do have it:
|Also, series and characters which are unlikely– or have no plans to receive a new entry will surely see their priority lowered.
This is why popular veterans have been cut in the past. Although Roy and Lucas have both returned as DLC and aren’t likely to appear in any Fire Emblem and Earthbound games in the future, it must be noted that they are two veterans whose importance to Smash itself is already proven. It far outweighs the importance they have to their own series. Potential newcomers do not share these ties to Smash, and of course both of these characters were relevant when they made their respective debuts in Melee and Brawl.
At this point in time with his current status, adding him could be similar to adding Krystal, after all evidence points to Star Fox is moving forward without her.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle in K. Rool’s way is the competition that he faces within his own franchise. It’s no secret that the community at large considers Donkey Kong to be one of the most overall neglected franchises, and this is both a good and a bad thing for K. Rool’s chances. While it has possibly been a factor in increasing his popularity, it also means that his competition is still alive and still viable. Most notably:
Dixie plays heavily into the relevancy issue that K. Rool suffers from. She made her grand return in the critically acclaimed Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.
She is unquestionably the next most important character in the Donkey Kong games, having had the third iteration of the original DKC trilogy named after her, and seeing Rare shift focus to her as the new lead character in DKC3 and DKL3. She also appeared as a playable protagonist in many other Donkey Kong games, notably Donkey Kong Country 2, in addition to many DK and Mario spin offs. More good examples of her importance, and status of the 3rd most popular Donkey Kong character would be spin off games where she is frequently pictured as one of 3 characters on the cover art.
If you look at the order in which characters are added into Smash Bros, Sakurai definitely takes importance relative to their home series into the equation. A good example of this would be the Bowser prioritisation over Wario for Melee.
Another strong factor for her potential inclusion is the fact that she nearly had a playable role in a previous Smash Bros. game. Although the idea was scrapped, she was originally planned to be in Brawl as a partner character for Diddy Kong. She is a part of the infamous “Forbidden 7”, 3 of whom have already made their return to this game so far.
Dixie’s revival has given her passage into the lives of a whole new generation of gamers, a character who will appeal to a casual audience in addition to the hardcore Smash audience. She is also a character who has a significant amount of popularity in her own right and has for some time, particularly in Japan where her popularity has been maintained for many years. It could be that K. Rool’s sheer popularity is not enough to win him a position over Dixie, especially when she could be seen as having more positives in her favour than K. Rool.
Cranky and the other characters.
Cranky Kong is the dark horse in this race. While the bulk of the popularity for a potential 3rd Donkey Kong character is split between K. Rool and Dixie Kong (with K. Rool being the majority), Cranky’s popularity within the Donkey Kong series with both fans and internally at Nintendo is something that shouldn’t be made light of. He is a character who has newfound relevance thanks to his playable debut (as Cranky) in the Donkey Kong Country series in Tropical Freeze. He was promoted from his secondary role as the shopkeeper in Donkey Kong Country Returns, and prior to that, varying roles in the original DKC Trilogy and DK64. His importance to his series should not be underestimated. He is after all the original Donkey Kong from the game that Mario made his debut in.
There are also other Kong characters who could show their faces. Over the long history of the franchise, there have been many playable protagonists ranging from Donkey Kong Jr to Lanky Kong, as well as new villains with varying levels of importance and relevance to the DK series. While some hurdles are smaller than others, these are all things that K. Rool has to deal with if he is to become playable.
Sakurai has said that “From now on, it is going to be fan service” when referring to future DLC, this could indicate a significant boost to K.Rool’s chances. However we still do not know exactly what role the fighter ballot will play in the selection of future characters. After all, Roy, Mewtwo and Lucas were all fan service characters and they were selected prior to the ballot. Remember that the ballot has been presented to the fanbase as a suggestion box rather than a case of ‘vote for your favorite character and we will make them DLC in Smash’. A character will only be selected as DLC if the development team were willing to make them playable in the first place.
Additional Thoughts and Conclusion:
He is still seen as an important character to the DK franchise. The games that feature him as the main villain are still greatly revered to this day, and were among the most commercially successful titles on their respective platforms. His trophy description in Smash 4 alludes to him as the Bowser of Donkey Kong, saying “Whereas Mario often squares off against Bowser, Donkey Kong must fight against King K. Rool”, essentially confirming that he is still seen as the main villain of the series, despite his lengthy absence. It’s also worth noting that the Kremlings are featured as enemies in Smash Run on the 3DS version. But of course, the biggest thing he has going for him is his immense popularity.
Moveset potential could also play a factor here. King K. Rool’s changing personalities in his games offers Sakurai an entirely fresh and original gimmick idea for a fighter, and gives him a wide variety of potential moves to choose from. Something Sakurai has purposely focused on with the newcomers for this game so far.
The character ballot and his sure-to-do well performance, as well as his relative importance to such a beloved and successful franchise has presented him with a very good chance of making it. Although he surely sees stiff competition in the form of Dixie Kong, and we are unlikely to see multiple DLC characters from the same franchise due to the limited amount of DLC we will be receiving. While Sakurai is seemingly prioritising fan service, we don’t know if this will affect his concern about newcomers who have an uncertain future. Putting it into more simple terms, I would describe the current set of circumstances as a “levelled playing field” instead of making him the shoo-in that many people believe him to be.