One of Nintendo’s most enduring brands is, of course, Donkey Kong. Its inception is intrinsically linked to Mario’s, and both leading mascots have since gone on to define their own worlds, develop their own supporting casts, and live out their own distinct adventures.
I’m not the only Kong documentarian on the Source Gaming team, however, so let’s give a round of applause for…
- Whitey Fox for offering valuable commentary and helping with edits.
- Wolfman_J for also offering valuable commentary and helping with edits.
Donkey Kong, as a long-running IP, has gathered a large, diverse roster of characters. Of the many animals indigenous to Donkey Kong Island and its neighboring locales, there are some who’ve attained more star power than others. In fact, one resident wears two stars right on his shirt…
It’s Diddy Kong, Donkey Kong’s friend and partner since 1994’s Donkey Kong Country.
This piece was inevitable; I strongly implied it was coming at the end of my Greninja dissertation, and I bluntly admitted it existed in my last piece, “Continuity Corner: Donkey Kong Jr. and the current DK.” Therein, I discoursed on the inconsistencies concerning the fate of Nintendo’s second gorilla, and concluded that the incumbent Donkey Kong is either a grown-up Jr. or he’s Jr.’s son. (I subscribe to the former theory.)
That article began its life as a section in this piece, and I politely recommend reading it first to avoid getting Kong-fused. After all, Diddy Kong owes much of his career to Donkey Kong Jr., dating back to his introduction…
Diddy Kong’s History
Donkey Kong Country was a momentous release, reinventing Donkey Kong’s world and fleshing it out beyond the scope of being a King Kong homage. But Rare’s original idea for the game was remarkably different than the end result, with the arcade Donkey Kong remaining the focal character (rather than becoming Cranky Kong) and a redesigned Donkey Kong Jr. serving as his sidekick. Nintendo, however, denied Rare’s revamp of Jr., giving them an ultimatum to either retain Jr.’s orthodox look or rework their version into a separate character.
Rare, believing their creation fit seamlessly within Country’s aesthetics, chose the latter option and repurposed it into a new fixture within the Donkey Kong canon: a new kid sidekick for Country’s “new” Donkey Kong (think Short Round from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom). Rare’s Gregg Mayles later explained the process behind naming their now-iconic monkey:
“We had a sheet of paper that we passed around where potential names were scribbled down. Some were hilariously bad: Diet DK, DK Lite and Titchy Kong. We settled on Dinky Kong, but after legal advice decided to change it to Diddy.”
Donkey Kong Country proved to be a critical and financial success, earning the Super Nintendo a boost in the marketplace. And of the new characters it birthed, Diddy Kong was the breakout star. Country’s manual helped flesh out the monkey, referencing his idolization of Donkey Kong. Diddy desired to emulate his mentor, so he decided to undergo “hero training.” Diddy’s first major task was guarding the Kongs’ banana hoard one dark and stormy night. However, he only managed to mildly inconvenience King K. Rool and his villainous Kremlings before they sealed him in a barrel and absconded with the tasty, potassium-saturated fruits. The next morning, Donkey Kong boldly dashed into action and followed the trail of bananas, stopping to bust Diddy out of his wooden prison and bring him along for an adventure across their island. Whereas Donkey Kong’s physical power made it easier for him to defeat bulkier foes, Diddy’s lithe acrobatics made him faster and more mobile than his (honorary?) uncle.
With two defeats under his newly-acquired pirate belt, K. Rool enacted his revenge by kidnapping the eponymous gorilla himself! Thus, Diddy took up the mantle of hero (despite Cranky’s skepticism) to become the protagonist of Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest. (However, Diddy’s promotion was one of many ideas Rare had considered.)
Diddy’s partner for the journey was Dixie Kong, his romantic counterpart. She, like Diddy, was a lightweight, but they still managed to complement one another as a distinct couple; Diddy’s movement speed was faster and he carried items in front of him, while Dixie glided through the air and held objects above her with her long hair. In my opinion, this made the Diddy-Dixie combo the most satisfying to play as in Rare’s 16-bit trilogy.
One of the new facets added in this installment was the DK Coins (known back then as Cranky’s Video Game Hero Coins), with each level hiding one. While locating them wasn’t necessary to simply beat the game, they do tie into Diddy’s desire to become a full-fledged video game hero. Contrast to the unproven monkey, Cranky invited three of Nintendo’s biggest, most adored heroes – Yoshi, Link, and Mario – to compete, and all four strived to prove their mettle. Collecting all 40 of the inconspicuous medallions will demonstrate Diddy’s talent to the grizzled Cranky.
However, Diddy would soon suffer the same fate Donkey Kong previously endured, being kidnapped alongside him in Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble to serve as batteries for Kremling puppet leader KAOS. Thus, Dixie had her turn in the spotlight.
As acclaimed as the Country titles are, it can be easy to overlook their monochromatic follow ups in the Donkey Kong Land trilogy. Diddy partook in the first Land along with DK to settle a frivolous, fourth wall-breaking debate with Cranky, whereas Land 2 was more or less a retread of its big brother. Diddy was unsurprisingly undermined in Land III, which remains one of only two core Donkey Kong platformers he’s physically absent from.
Diddy Kong Racing for the Nintendo 64 had an interesting development history. In fact, Diddy wasn’t originally a part of it! Shigeru Miyamoto and Nintendo later suggested attaching him to the project, and thanks to his inclusion, the game was given an appropriate degree of backing from Nintendo. Interestingly, while Diddy Kong was under Nintendo’s ownership, both parties saw him as Rare’s character. He was also the only pre-established character present for this adventure, as he decided against bringing his fellow Kongs. The manual even made it a point to juxtapose Diddy’s experience level with that of his peers. Needless to say, Diddy was successful in liberating Timber’s Island from Wizpig’s influence.
Ultimately, Diddy’s self-titled outing deployed another victory lap for Nintendo and Rare; it filled a hole left by Banjo-Kazooie’s delay, it sold over 4.5 million units, and it served as a pilot of sorts for Conker and Banjo. (We’ll elaborate upon that world building, as well an obscure detail regarding the chronology of Racing’s Nintendo DS re-release, in a future piece.) Finally, Diddy Kong Racing irrefutably exemplified how Diddy could headline a game without Donkey Kong’s presence.
Donkey Kong 64 was the franchise’s first (and, thus far, only) mainline 3D installment. 64’s collectables were color-coded, with the red items fittingly reserved for Diddy. He’s the first imprisoned Kong to be freed, too, and he later rescued his girlfriend’s younger sister, Tiny Kong. Furthermore, Diddy entered into fisticufs with three of 64’s bosses: Dogadon, who he took out single-handedly, and King Kut Out and K. Rool, both of whom required a collaborative effort from the five playable Kongs. 64 also introduced Diddy’s Rocketbarrel and Peanut Popguns to his arsenal, both of which have been codified as his go-to tools.
Donkey Kong Country received an approximation for the Game Boy Color during this period as well. …And, right, there was that Donkey Kong Country cartoon. Diddy was in that, too. Sadly, it wasn’t good and it’s only remembered for the memes and cheesy songs it spawned. At least it was sorta cool to see Diddy realized in animation and a trading card game, right…?
Nevertheless, the GameCube seemed destined to obtain a classy Nintendo-Rare collaboration in Donkey Kong Racing, with the Game Boy Advance likewise securing Donkey Kong Coconut Crackers, a puzzle spin-off, and Diddy Kong Pilot. Diddy’s presence would’ve upstaged Donkey Kong’s (and, in an earlier build, even Mario’s) in the latter. Regrettably, all three were cancelled as such following Microsoft’s acquisition of Rare. And, per the legalities, Rare assumed ownership of their purely original properties, from Jetpac to Conker, meaning Diddy was legally barred from palling around with many of his cohorts.
Mario, then, took it upon himself to induct Diddy into his social circle. Camelot’s Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour began the integration of Donkey Kong’s cast and iconography into Mario’s spin-offs. But while Diddy became a fixture in Mario’s shindigs – to the point where his absence in a recent one is rightfully criticized as a glaring omission – it’s easy to forget how odd it was in 2003 to see Diddy in a Mario game. Prior to this, Donkey Kong Jr. was typecast as the secondary Kong and, aside from generic jungle settings and Rare’s design for the gorilla, the Donkey Kong aspects that were utilized in Mario titles focused on the arcade-era, not Country or 64. Later that year, Diddy entered his first Mario Kart tournament in lieu of Donkey Kong Jr., usurping his place as Donkey Kong’s doubles partner.
Mario spin-offs aside, the Donkey Kong brand did expand onto the GameCube, tethered to the DK Bongo peripheral. Diddy’s only sightings within his franchise for the console occurred in the Donkey Konga series. Jungle Beat, the series’ sole platformer for the GameCube, was developed under the presumption that Donkey Kong’s “past look” wasn’t “fresh enough.”
However, third-party studio Climax Group did pitch an intriguing racer to Nintendo. Diddy Kong Racing Adventure was tentatively intended to keep much of its predecessor’s cast, with Banjo’s Mumbo Jumbo listed as a potential newcomer. The backup plan was to bring in Donkey Kong characters as needed to compensate for cut veterans (which, according to Rare’s Leigh Loveday, would’ve then meant everyone barring Diddy and Krunch), with the gorilla himself penciled in as the final unlockable. Alas, the curse dooming Diddy Kong Racing successors remained strong.
Rare had a team dedicated to Nintendo’s handhelds during this era since Microsoft was disinterested in pursuing that market. Ergo, Rare was free to release flawed ports of their Super Nintendo trilogy for the Game Boy Advance. A yellow-shirted Diddy scored a new Hero Mode in the first Country‘s re-release, where players are challenged to finish the campaign without the aid of Donkey Kong or any Star Barrels. And speaking of Country, Diddy proudly cameoed in the obscure browser title Donkey Kong Country Barrel Maze.
DK: King of Swing also graced the colorful portable in 2005. It bore more resemblance mechanically to Clu Clu Land than any antecedent Donkey Kong title, but it preserved the lore Rare left behind. Diddy was among the four entrants in its multiplayer modes who’re available from the get-go, and an unlockable Diddy Mode substituted Donkey Kong with Diddy in the single-player campaign. In 2007, the Nintendo DS scored a direct sequel, the underappreciated DK: Jungle Climber, where Diddy proactively worked with Donkey Kong to stop K. Rool’s intergalactic ambitions. Paon’s final contribution to the series, Donkey Kong Barrel Blast, crashed on the Wii that same year. Originally for the GameCube, the on-rails racer’s roster was evenly split between Kongs and their Kremling analogues, with newcomer Kip participating as Diddy’s equal.
Rare, on their end, succeeded their Country ports by prepping Diddy Kong Racing DS for Nintendo’s then-latest handheld. It brought back the flair of the Nintendo 64 iteration whilst neutering it with superfluous, unintuitive DS-centric controls. But it was still an amusing ride, and it incorporated extra content to supplement the cardinal experience. While it’s arguably set a decade after the Nintendo 64 iteration, the story echoes the first Diddy Kong Racing’s. This time, however, Diddy brought his girlfriend and her sister (who was given a… questionable makeover by Nintendo) along with him. We did endure the unfortunate loss of Banjo and Conker, although the remainder of Diddy’s associates reprised their roles.
Nevertheless, it was finally time to solidify Diddy’s place with Nintendo’s elite. Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s website regularly posted new intel pertaining to the game every weekday, and Diddy was joyously blazoned as a playable character on August 22, 2007 – exactly ten years prior to this article’s publication. He was a historic addition for the franchise, too, as Diddy’s presently the only fighter in Smash who was created by a western studio.
Diddy Kong’s moveset and animations lovingly recreated the monkey we know, from his cartwheel and ducking animations from Country to his utensils from 64. Glancing at Brawl’s tier list, it’s actually possible too much love might’ve gone into him! However, Masahiro Sakurai didn’t intend for Diddy to fight alone – Dixie was intended to be incorporated into his moveset a la Donkey Kong Country 2. (Personally, I’m glad that concept didn’t pan out.)
Diddy Kong was also a key player in Brawl’s campaign, The Subspace Emissary. Its cutscenes were its strongest asset, and Diddy’s interactions with his comrade and the Star Fox squad were entertaining to watch. Crushingly, however, Diddy and Fox McCloud never conversed about the triceratops they both happen to be acquainted with.
One of Nintendo’s biggest reveals at E3 2010 was Donkey Kong Country Returns for the Wii, and Diddy Kong returned alongside it. Retro Studios adjusted Country’s dual-character mechanics, however, with Diddy nestled on Donkey Kong’s back augmenting his partner’s skillset. Two people could play cooperatively, though, meaning Diddy got to stretch his limbs if you had a friend to play with.
In 2013, Returns was honored with a Nintendo 3DS re-release and the stillborn Wii U scored the proper follow up in 2014. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, developed by Retro and co-developed by Monster Games, offered two additional sidekicks to suit DK’s mood. Diddy was the first encountered, participating throughout the journey to help reclaim the Kong’s island from the Snowmads.
Tropical Freeze’s western release coincided with Diddy’s confirmation for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Nintendo 3DS, wherein he retained his versatile moveset from Brawl. He’s enjoyed a lot of victories in the competitive scene, and places high in recent tier lists despite infamously enduring two excruciatingly painful nerfs. ZeRo is the most distinguished player to main him, and he frequently proves the monkey’s still a beast!
Tropical Freeze remains the latest Donkey Kong title, so Diddy’s in a minor lull nowadays. He still visits the Mushroom Kingdom when welcomed, appearing most recently in Mario Sports Superstars and, in his Switch debut, Minecraft: Nintendo Switch Edition. Mini Diddy Kong toys now populate store shelves in Mario’s domain, and Super Mario Odyssey‘s New Donk City, as the unprecedented, potential-filled metropolis that it is, is littered with charming Easter egg references to the individuals who’ve influenced Donkey Kong’s life, including Diddy.
But, regardless of any threats that loom across the ocean, our favorite monkey is prepared to staunchly defend his home.
So, what’re my thoughts on Diddy Kong?
Of Donkey Kong’s cast, no member symbolizes the “enduring partnership” between Nintendo and Rare as strongly as Diddy Kong; he’s become synonymous with his home series. People notice his inexplicable absence in games like Donkey Kong Jungle Beat or Mario Kart 8.
I didn’t own a Super Nintendo growing up. Thankfully, I befriended classmates who did, allowing me to cultivate familiarity with its flagship titles, including Donkey Kong Country and Donkey Kong Country 2. Thereafter, two of my best friends in elementary school adored the then-new Diddy Kong Racing.
I didn’t obtain a copy of a Donkey Kong game until 64. (Not a great way to officially start things, but I wrangled some fun out of it.) I first tackled Diddy’s Kong Quest by my lonesome in its Game Boy Advance incarnation, which provided me with one of the few bright spots during the dark, gloomy four days that encompassed my high school band camp. I later enjoyed the superior Super Nintendo version thanks to the Wii Virtual Console, cementing it as an all-time favorite.
One of my friends during Brawl’s pre-release period suggested Diddy “didn’t feel worthy” to join the battle. I refuted, noting how Diddy’s credentials were impeccable, and I was thrilled (though unsurprised) he made it in. Diddy wasn’t my absolute most hyped newcomer – Pokémon Trainer Red and Sonic the Hedgehog edged him out on that front – but Smash‘s lineup would’ve felt incomplete without Diddy.
When Diddy was first introduced, he was a greenhorn who was largely characterized by his veneration of Donkey Kong. And, although the laidback gorilla did not outwardly admit it, he knew his protégé had the potential to ascend to his echelon. Diddy was destined for greatness, he merely needed time and exposure to attain it.
I imagine there was shock and even skepticism when Diddy inherited the hero role from his firmly established superior for Donkey Kong Country 2. By the time of Diddy Kong Racing, he didn’t require Donkey Kong anymore – he could elegantly carry a game on his own back. And by Donkey Kong 64, Diddy had grown confident knowing that, yeah, he is a big deal.
Rare also took care to make homages to the arcade series, most bluntly through Cranky’s commentary. Nostalgic elements were also woven into Country’s gameplay, from throwing barrels to swinging from vines. Rare seemed to look towards Donkey Kong Jr. for inspiration in evolving the latter mechanic when developing Diddy’s Kong Quest. Diddy was a product of Rare’s desire to transmogrify Donkey Kong, yet he still honored his series’ roots.
It’s a bit deflating how Nintendo’s squarely reduced Diddy back into the sidekick niche in modern titles. I like how Rare wasn’t reluctant to give Diddy top billing when the situation called for it, as with Diddy Kong Pilot. Had it released, Donkey Kong would’ve played second banana to his former pupil. Donkey Kong would’ve headlined other games, but it was satisfying how Rare handled them as coequals. Diddy Kong Racing Adventure would have maintained this, too, had Nintendo greenlit it.
Honestly, Donkey Kong (Jr.) is probably my favorite member of the DK Crew, but Diddy’s a strong contender for second place. So, let’s sit back, relax, listen to “Stickerbush Symphony” and wait for him to get reinvited to Mario Kart.
Congratulations, Diddy! You’re one tough Kong!
This is the part where I give a “cryptic” tease as to who’s next on my list.
I actually started on this one a while back, and it’ll revisit a franchise this column has already covered. Our Facebook page discreetly name dropped his identity in a comment made in July. I gave a pretty unambiguous hint on Twitter, too.
Anyway, I’m going outside to enjoy the weather. It’s a windy and sunny day, and I can hear the faint sound of distant waves…
Mains: Mario (64); Mario and Dr. Mario (Melee); Wolf and Toon Link (Brawl); Mario, Dr. Mario, and Rosalina (3DS/Wii U)