Continuity Corner: Donkey Kong Country’s Time Skip

Continuity Corner: Donkey Kong Country's Time Skip

Before we begin, I’d like to thank Wolfman for providing edits and offering commentary.

Donkey Kong Country barrel blasted onto store shelves – and into our hearts – exactly twenty-three years ago. Rare’s classic platformer revitalized the Donkey Kong brand, giving it a new, distinct personality unlike anything else in Nintendo’s roster. Mario, the other prominent character from the original Donkey Kong, had likewise previously been given the same courtesy in Super Mario Bros., which codified his series’ aesthetics and tone.

Rare’s Super NES classic has been discussed and dissected all across the internet, but there is one aspect of it I appreciate which people often overlook: its time skip. As you may recall, in our first episode of “Continuity Corner,” we discussed the modern Donkey Kong and his relationship to Donkey Kong Jr. Is our incumbent hero a grown-up Jr., or is he Jr.’s son? Either way, that conundrum is one consequence of the time separating the arcade titles from Rare’s installments. (I still prefer the former theory, by the way.)

Donkey Kong Country Barrel
The 16-bit Donkey Kong respected his series’ legacy, with tossing barrels becoming one of his primary attack methods. (Image: Nintendo)

So, we’re going to have a succinct chat about Donkey Kong Country’s generational leap from two different perspectives. First, we’ll cover it purely through the lens of the Donkey Kong franchise and if it makes sense within its parameters. Afterwards, we’ll attempt to examine it in relation to the concurrently running Mario franchise.

Donkey Kong Jungle Climbs Up In Years

Donkey Kong graced arcades back in 1981, with two direct sequels following in 1982 and 1983. Afterwards, the Donkey Kong series effectively went into hibernation. That’s not to say the Donkey Kong Sr. and Jr. characters were completely inactive or that there wasn’t a single Donkey Kong title released during those years, but they were far from the forefront of Nintendo’s lineup.

Game & Watch Gallery 2
The gang’s all here! (Image: Nintendo)

Donkey Kong’s lull ended in 1994, however. As a primer for Rare’s impending side-scroller, Nintendo released an excellent remake of the original title for the Game Boy in June. Then, on November 21, the series was redefined in an unignorable way. This context is easily forgotten in modern times – Donkey Kong has never since underwent an equivalent stretch of inactivity – but reflecting those missing years through an in-universe time skip was a clever way to contextualize the brand’s period of hibernation. Its impact could immediately be discerned, as Donkey Kong Sr. and Jr. visibly aged since the general public last saw them.  

And, while this could’ve been achieved without moving time forward, it was nonetheless an effective tool to help facilitate worldbuilding. Country expanded Donkey Kong’s scope beyond the “few ladders and girders” that predominantly characterized it, introducing a “totally new” Donkey Kong who represented its new generation. Our protagonist was surrounded by an all-new supporting cast, from his established romantic counterpart Candy Kong to his inexperienced, preppy sidekick, Diddy Kong.

Cranky Kong in Donkey Kong Country
Cranky Kong frequently made homages to his heyday. Honoring his headlining role was his very first on-screen act in Country. (Image: Nintendo)

However, whereas Jr. matured into a revered paragon amongst his namesake island, the titular antagonist from the arcade-era shriveled into an elderly, embittered ape longing for his prime. Becoming of his grouchiness and aged physique, he adapted the Cranky Kong moniker. Cranky’s antiqued worldviews were also essential to how he was written under Rare’s tenure, from wondering why Dixie Kong wasn’t a token “damsel in distress” to his more general lamenting of modern gaming conventions.

Country’s handling of time even pioneered how the Twycross-based studio would later handle their fiction. Rare’s franchises seem to operate in real-time, with Banjo-Tooie set two years after Banjo-Kazooie, and Nuts & Bolts following eight years after Tooie. Furthermore, Conker casually referenced dates and the passing of years when he introduced himself during his Live & Reloaded discourse.

Diddy Kong Racing DS
I also recently noted how I consider Diddy Kong Racing DS to be a soft sequel set ten years after the Nintendo 64 original. (Image: Nintendo/Rare)

Super Mario Doesn’t Advance In Age

As noted, Mario was the other major figure present in the arcade classic, and he’s gone on to lead a tremendous career. He’s Nintendo’s enduring mascot, continually starring in new, genre-defining titles.

Yet, according to a Shigeru Miyamoto interview from 2005, he’s always been 24 to 25. Mario’s design stabilized with Super Mario Bros. and it’s been refined over the years, but little indicates he’s canonically aged in any significant capacity in the thirty-six years since his debut as a young adult. Thus, if you’re looking for a clean, in-universe reason to reconcile the Kongs, who unambiguously did age, with Mario’s eternal youth, then there really isn’t one.

However, I can offer a real-world explanation: Super Mario and Donkey Kong are different properties with different internal logic, exemplified by how they address their respective series’ continuity. I wouldn’t argue Mario doesn’t have any continuity – it does – but the passage of time and its affect on people demonstrably functions differently in the Mushroom Kingdom than on Donkey Kong Island. Mario’s means of managing its continuity and canon unquestionably have merit – Wolfman wrote a thoughtful piece exploring the very topic – and it’s a style that allows the plumber to remain a timeless, static icon with unparalleled versatility.

New Donk City in Super Mario Odyssey
Without giving too much away, this bustling metropolis has many Easter eggs referencing the neighboring Donkey Kong series. (Image: Nintendo)

So, yes, both franchises have a mutual point of origin. Yes, there’s considerable crossover between them, usually realized through the countless Mario spin-offs. And, yes, an unprecedented degree of cross-pollination just occurred in Super Mario Odyssey’s New Donk City, which we’ll explore together someday.

However, both franchises have and should continue to operate and evolve on their own terms. The pair of mascots will happily continue to intersect at opportune moments, usually for a party, round of sports or a kart-racing tournament, and any discrepancies that arise therein are simply something we needn’t harp on. When multiple studios produce works based around the same characters, snares will eventually emerge, but Cranky Kong’s aging in relation to Mario’s agelessness isn’t one worth stressing over.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong ending
Regardless, I’d love a genuine crossover between the two, melding element from Super Mario and Donkey Kong into one grand adventure. (Image: Nintendo)

So, this was a quick one. (I crammed it out in mere days, an unprecedented turnout for me.)

The next installment in this column, however, will be more in depth. It’s actually a topic someone requested I cover, and it seemed like something I’d be up to the task for. I don’t feel comfortable using an image to hint at the subject matter, but I will admit that it involves a recent entry in another franchise I’m knowledgable in. My portfolio here has covered three characters in the series before.

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Cart Boy

I want to be the very best. Like no one ever was.

Mains: Mario (64); Mario and Dr. Mario (Melee); Wolf and Toon Link (Brawl); Mario, Dr. Mario, and Rosalina (3DS/Wii U)
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4 comments

  1. Can I just say that while some people are easily able to accept that Cranky Kong was the original Donkey Kong and the reason he looks so old and Mario doesn’t seem to have aged at all is simply because they’re different species, I always found that a bit hard to swallow? And that I never liked the idea of the current DK being DK Jr.? And that I really miss DK Jr. and wish he was in more games? It all just seemed needlessly complicated to me…

    That said, I really do wish Donkey Kong crossed-over into more Mario games more. Outside of the Mario vs. Donkey Kong games, which feel like their own, independent (and increasingly shallow) thing, the closest we’ve gotten is New Donk City, and even THEN, outside of DK’s sprite which could be any number of things, Donkey Kong himself does make an appearance at all. Feels kind of like a missed opportunity, but the games already so great that it’s basically a nitpick.

    1. (Sorry for the late response, I’m getting over being sick.)

      Yeah, you’re welcome to express your opinions regarding Donkey Kong here! I do recall you mentioning your skepticism of Cranky’s aging on the Facebook page, and I know it doesn’t logically gel with Mario’s agelessness, but that’s honestly never bothered me. It was a clever idea within the context of Donkey Kong Country‘s mission to expand its series’ world. And Mario’s games don’t really contend much with Donkey Kong’s regarding the latter’s continuity; post-Country stuff has become prevalent in Mario spin-offs, and Cranky himself is even name-dropped in Odyssey along with other Donkey Kong characters. I imagine Cranky would appear in his old form if he were to formally show up in a Mario title. I believe the only major point of contention between the two series is the location of the original arcade Donkey Kong.

      If it helps, I’ve always likened the Kongs’ aging to an old episode of Tiny Toon Adventures I saw as a kid. If I recall correctly, Babs Bunny was looking for Honey Bunny, who grew into an old woman because she was neglected and unused, whereas Bugs was still as spritely as ever since he remained active. Same basic idea with the Kongs, they aged because they weren’t in the spotlight.

      As for Jr. being the current Donkey Kong, the current canon in Nintendo’s mind seems to be that the current DK is Jr.’s son. I prefer to think of the current Donkey Kong as an adult Jr., however, for reasons I’ve already discussed. It’s cleaner that way. (Speaking of, I actually should update that piece with a new section soon.)

      Anyway, without going too much into spoiler territory, I do like to think one of the Kongs (preferably Cranky, I imagine he’d love to relive his glory days) was the DK sprite in Odyssey. Regardless, it was a great moment in a great game!

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