It’s hard to tell whose side Donkey Kong is on. In his first appearance, he was a villain. In his second, he was a victim. Sometimes, he’s a hero. Other times, he’s just kind of there.
And in almost every incarnation, he’s awful. Whether he’s disrespecting his lady friends, going on anger-fueled rampages, teaming up with some of the most evil characters in Nintendo history, or using his friends’ problems to make a quick buck, you can always count on Donkey Kong to cause trouble. Even his descendants are jerks, proving once and for all that, despite appearances, the banana doesn’t fall far from the tree.
He kidnapped Mario’s girlfriend
In the beginning, Donkey Kong was no good. Yes, he headlined Nintendo’s first big arcade hit, while its actual hero—Jumpman, who’d become better known as Mario—had to settle for second billing (although at least he got a name—Donkey Kong’s damsel in distress was originally known as Lady). Yes, he might be patterned after King Kong, who’s not really a villain as much as he’s tragically misunderstood.
But watch Donkey Kong’s opening cinematic, which is widely considered the very first story-based cutscene in video game history. There’s no doubt about it: Donkey Kong is one bad dude. With Lady slung over his shoulder, he climbs to the top of the construction site, dislodges the carefully laid girders with a menacing hop, and then hurls barrels at Mario while Lady screams for help. During the game, when Mario makes it to the top of the tower, a heart hovers above the newly reunited couple before Donkey Kong snatches her away. It literally breaks Lady’s heart.
The art on the game’s arcade cabinet makes Donkey Kong’s villainy even clearer. Here, Lady screams and reaches for her boyfriend while Donkey Kong gleefully runs in the opposite direction. There’s no doubt about it: Lady is being held against her will, and Donkey Kong has absolutely no remorse about kidnapping and torturing the poor young woman.
He joined the mob
The Donkey Kong segments on Ruby-Spears’ 1983 animated series Saturday Supercade show a Mario universe that’s still very much in flux. Mario is called Mario, not Jumpman, and Lady finally has her final name, Pauline, but everything else is very, very different. In Saturday Supercade, Mario is a clumsy circus owner with a bad temper, not the good-natured plumber we’ve come to know and love. He doesn’t fight Koopas or rescue princesses; instead, he travels across the country in a van, chasing Donkey Kong while fighting crime.
In fact, that’s the basic formula for almost every single one of Saturday Supercade’s Donkey Kong shorts: Mario and Pauline track down Donkey Kong, the trio get mixed up in some unrelated criminal capers (usually, Donkey Kong helps the crooks before he sees the light and turns on them), and then Donkey Kong escapes while foiling the ne’er-do-wells’ schemes. To wit: "Gorilla Gangster," Ruby-Spears’ second Donkey Kong short. After destroying a local farmer’s market, Donkey Kong stumbles across a gang of bank robbers. The gang leader, who needs a decoy to distract rival mobsters while his crew makes its getaway, hires Donkey Kong to take his place. Swayed by the promise of unlimited bananas, Donkey Kong agrees.
Outfitted in a white zoot suit and a fedora, Donkey Kong crashes a local nightclub, where he assaults the host, sexually harasses the waitress, and kidnaps Pauline (again). When the rival gang kidnaps Pauline and tries to use her as ransom, however, Donkey Kong has a change of heart. As the mob war escalates at the airport, he teams up with Mario and brings both sets of robbers to justice before escaping in an airport luggage cart and driving off into the sunset.
He joined Mother Brain’s wrestling team
Maybe you’re too young to remember Captain N: The Game Master, or maybe you just had better taste in Saturday morning cartoons than the rest of us. Either way, here’s the general premise: while playing Punch-Out!!, a teenager named Kevin Keene is sucked into his television and winds up in Videoland, an alternate universe that mashes up various video games from the classic Nintendo era. Alongside 8-bit heroes like Mega Man, Kid Icarus, a sentient Game Boy, Castlevania’s Simon Belmont, and the ravishing Princess Lana, Kevin fights the forces of evil, led by Metroid big bad Mother Brain.
Given that Captain N is a Nintendo joint (what do you think that N stands for, exactly?), it’s hardly a surprise that Donkey Kong plays a recurring role in the series. Most of the time, the Big D is a neutral party who just wants everyone else to stay out of his jungle—with one exception. In the first season episode "Videolympics," Donkey Kong joins Mother Brain’s team of athletes in a competition to crown the new princess of Videoland.
During the festivities, Donkey Kong replaces Punch-Out!! villain King Hippo in the wrestling competition, tagging with the Eggplant Wizard against Captain N and Kid Icarus. There’s no doubt who the bad guys are here: Mother Brain’s team is known as the League of Darkness, after all, while Kong’s last-minute entrance into the event reeks of foul play. With Donkey Kong on their side, Mother Brain’s team secures an easy victory. While Kid Icarus manages to tag in Captain N by shooting an arrow (a move that’s not exactly legal, but hey, this is wrestling), all the ape needs to do is sit on top of the gawky teenager to score a quick three count. Donkey Kong gets the pin, and Mother Brain takes an early one-to-nothing lead.
He profited from his relatives’ misfortune
Donkey Kong Country continuity isn’t clear on Cranky Kong’s place on the Kong family tree—depending on which source you check, he’s either father or the grandfather of the ape currently going by the name Donkey Kong—but no matter what the story is, there are always two constants. One, Cranky Kong is the original Donkey Kong, i.e. the one who kidnapped Pauline and tortured Mario back in the early ’80s. Two, he’s a selfish, cantankerous, bitter, unrepentant jerk.
Just check out Cranky’s role in Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest. Cranky was more than happy to dole out advice (and insults) for free in the original Donkey Kong Country, when the Kongs were trying to recover their stolen banana stash. However, in the higher-stakes sequel—i.e the one in which Donkey Kong’s life hangs in the balance—he charges Diddy and Dixie Kong one to three coins in exchange for hints. He profits off of his own son/grandson’s kidnapping.
The trend continues. In Donkey Kong Country Returns, Cranky withholds lifesaving items like balloons and extra hearts from Donkey and Diddy until the younger apes fork over the requisite amount of cash. In Donkey Kong 64, after King K. Rool captures and locks up almost every other member of the Kong clan, Cranky forces Donkey and his allies to pay if they want access to his ability-enhancing potions. Look, we know a gorilla’s gotta eat, but maybe wait until your relatives are safe and sound before squeezing them for an extra buck, okay?
He cheated on his wife
Poorly timed get-rich-quick schemes and emotional abuse aren’t Cranky Kong’s only sins. As revealed in the German magazine Club Nintendo, he’s also a philanderer. There’s already something unspeakably sad about Cranky’s wife, Wrinkly Kong—at some point between Donkey Kong Country 3 and Donkey Kong 64, Wrinkly dies and returns as a benevolent ghost—and Cranky’s spontaneous infidelity ends up making her one of the most tragic characters in the entire Donkey Kong canon.
The action goes down in Donkey Kong in: Banana Day 24, a six-page comic that appeared in Germany’s Club Nintendo magazine. As a whole, Banana Day 24 is hard to follow (especially if you don’t speak German). On the first page, the Kong family is hanging out in the jungle on Christmas Eve and enjoying a banana feast, but over the course of the story the Kongs are trapped in a snowstorm, travel from Africa to the White House, head into space where they give bananas to giant, blue, Kong-like aliens, and go back home. Then, Santa and Rudolph arrive.
None of that matters. The key moment happens in the second-to-last panel, when a triumphant Cranky returns to Earth and plants a kiss on an unsuspecting and clearly disgusted human. Two panels later, as the story winds up, Cranky and Wrinkly argue in the background, as the Kong matriarch clearly disapproves of her husband’s wayward affections.
(For what it’s worth, it looks like infidelity runs in the family. At the same time Cranky goes in for a smooch, a pretty blonde plants one on Diddy Kong’s cheek. Oddly, while Diddy’s girlfriend Dixie is standing right next to him, she doesn’t seem to mind.)
He left Candy Kong at the altar
When Donkey Kong Country hit the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, players marveled at the high-tech graphics, which were created with pre-rendered 3D models. The spinoff cartoon series wasn’t quite as impressive. While Donkey Kong Country debuted in 1994, a year before Toy Story arrived in theaters, the animated series didn’t air until 1996, when shows like Reboot and Beast Wars: Transformers had already raised the bar for computer-generated cartoons far beyond what Donkey Kong Country could deliver.
It didn’t help that, in the cartoon, Donkey Kong was an irresponsible and selfish slacker, and not the noble banana-loving hero from the games. That led to a lot of trouble, particularly in the second season episode "Four Weddings and a Coconut," in which barrel magnate Bluster Kong tells Donkey’s girlfriend, Candy, that Donkey Kong won’t marry her—and so, when Donkey tries to blow off a lunch date so he can go fishing, Candy pops the question. Donkey Kong immediately flees.
After coming up with many weak excuses—and a musical number with an, ahem, problematic chorus that says "Yes means no, and no means yes"—Donkey relents and proposes. Candy accepts. Donkey Kong spends the rest of the episode trying to find a way out of his engagement; ultimately, he’s trapped in a temple while Candy waits at the altar. In Donkey’s absence, a furious Candy decides to marry Bluster, and only decides to free Donkey from his obligation when King K. Rool attacks and DK must rush to stop him (also, as it turns out, Candy didn’t really want to marry Donkey, either). Disaster averted.
He throws a temper tantrum whenever he doesn’t get what he wants
Ostensibly, the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series is a spinoff of the original Donkey Kong title (and its Game Boy follow-up, known by fans as Donkey Kong ’94). However, it’s not really the same. For one, the game focuses less on platforming challenges and more on controlling hordes of mechanical toys based on classic Mario characters called the Minis. Donkey Kong is different here, too: instead of a primal jungle beast, he’s a whiny, entitled brat who flies off the handle for the pettiest of reasons.
In the first entry in the series, Mario vs. Donkey Kong, Donkey breaks into Mario’s factory after the local toy store sells out of mini-Mario figures, destroying the place in the progress. In Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis, he Kong goes on a rampage after Pauline chooses a Mario toy over a Donkey Kong one, and doesn’t stop until Pauline convinces him that yes, she likes the Donkey Kong toy too. In Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again!, he kidnaps Pauline and breaks into the Super Mini Mario World theme park when all of the tickets are sold out, while in Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem, Donkey makes off with Pauline again after he misses out on a free giveaway of mini-Pauline toys.
Basically, this version of Donkey Kong is just a spoiled child, albeit one with too much fur, superhuman strength, and a nasty habit of kidnapping beautiful young women whenever things don’t go his way.
He spearheaded an alien invasion
This one’s not entirely on old DK, but given how prominent the big ape is, we’d be remiss not to mention it. In the 2015 Adam Sandler vehicle Pixels (based on Patrick Jean’s short film of the same name, which is superior to the feature adaptation in every conceivable way), aliens invade Earth by taking the form of classic arcade characters and wreaking havoc on major cities across the globe. The spaceship from Galaga attacks a U.S. naval base in Guam. London falls to the villain in Centipede. New York is decimated by Pac-Man.
And, in the film’s stunningly bizarre finale, Sandler and his crew of retro-arcade enthusiasts must stop the lead alien itself, who takes the form of—you guessed it—Donkey Kong. Armed with one of the big lug’s iconic hammers, Sandler must climb ladders and sprint across platforms (just like in the game, get it?) while a giant Donkey Kong recreation hurls barrels and fireballs in his direction.
It’s not Kong himself fighting the bad guys, of course, but he inspired the alien’s final form. For our purposes, that’s good enough. At least Donkey Kong isn’t responsible for the movie itself. While we can understand why Adam Sandler is in this trainwreck (i.e. the check cleared), Donkey Kong’s presence is more confusing. Nintendo, what were you thinking?
The DK Rap
There’s a lot going on in Donkey Kong 64’s intro screen, which introduced players around the world to Grant Kirkhope’s "classic" tune "The DK Rap," and none of it is good. It begins with DJ Cranky Kong spinning records on a Kong-themed turntable. It features a gorilla in an afro and ’70s-era leisure suit. It includes the line "His coconut gun can fire in spurts. If he shoots ya, it’s gonna hurt!" At the end of the song, the vocalist tells Cranky to "take it to the fridge," which… what does that even mean?
All that, and the lyrics aren’t even factually correct. While the "DK Rap" claims that Tiny Kong can climb trees, only Chunky Kong can do that. Donkey Kong isn’t "faster" at all—he’s actually the second-slowest character in the game.
Look, there’s probably an entire PhD thesis waiting to be written about why the "DK Rap" is truly one of the most terrible things the Donkey Kong franchise has ever done, but we’ve already given this monstrosity more words than it deserves. Just listen to it. You’ll see what we mean.