The upcoming Super Mario movie is going to feature Seth Rogen as the voice of Donkey Kong, which is easy to forget after the news of Chris Pratt voicing Mario. In fact, it’s easy for people to forget the two franchises have always been linked but in many ways, the Donkey Kong series is just as beloved as its more famous relative.
The series has tons of variety; there are as many spin-offs as main games. If someone hasn’t played any Donkey Kong games, Metacritic’s picks can help you figure out where to begin and seeing what fans are talking about.
10 Donkey Kong Country (2004/1994) – 78
In the ’90s, the Donkey Kong brand was dead, having been overshadowed by Mario. Thankfully, in 1994 RareWare released Donkey Kong Country, completely revitalizing the character. This reboot moved the game to a bouncy jungle setting and introduced a new DK. One of its big selling points at the time was its revolutionary visuals made with silicon graphics computers.
The game introduced a new supporting cast in the Kong family, including the second player Diddy Kong. Its music by David Wise and characters are still beloved today, although the game’s graphics are showing age. The 2004 Game Boy Advance port received criticism for this reason. The gameplay is still fantastic though, and it’s easily accessible through Nintendo Switch Online.
9 Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem (2010) – 79
This is the fourth in the puzzle-platformer Mario vs Donkey Kong series. While one usually thinks of just platforming when Mario and DK are mentioned, this series adds puzzle elements to the mix. Players must guide toy versions of Mario through a series of obstacle-filled levels. Toy versions of other characters also appear, and knowing the abilities of each type is key to victory.
It’s quite similar to Lemmings in that the player must guide the Mini-Marios through eight worlds of an amusement park and even fight bosses at the end. It’s pretty standard platformer fare, but there’s a charm to it in its bright colors and toy aesthetics. It also features the level editor from the previous game to give it an additional replay value.
8 Donkey Kong Jungle Beat (2005) – 80
In the early 2000s, there was Donkey Konga. This was a bizarre rhythm game series that used a pair of bongos as peripherals. Not wanting the peripheral to go to waste, a GameCube platformer was made to use the bongos as a controller. Surprisingly, this was better than expected, being an action-packed beat-em-up with DK.
Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat is missing Donkey Kong Country series characters, but it still features intuitive platforming. The game’s controls are pretty responsive despite being controlled with bongos. The levels feature cool set-pieces to swing on and tons of enemies to punch. The game was re-released for Wii where it actually received worse reviews than the bongo version.
7 Donkey Kong Country 2 (2004/1995) – 80
Video game sequels can buff out rough corners and surpass the originals. In Donkey Kong Country 2’s case, even its 2004 GBA port was better than the original. Surprisingly, Donkey Kong is absent from this game as he’s been kidnapped and the player controls Diddy Kong instead. He teams up with the new character Dixie Kong to rescue him.
The game features faster gameplay and more animal mounts compared to the original. The atmospheric sections are really what blow the player away, though. The highlight of the game is definitely the sky cannon sections, difficult yet beautiful vignettes among brambles in the sky.
6 Mario vs. Donkey Kong (2004) – 81
A lot of people might think the New Super Mario Bros games were the first to adopt Mario’s 3D moveset to 2D but 2004’s Mario vs. Donkey Kong for GBA that did it first. Mario is allowed to flip and wall jump all over the levels. Although like its sequels, this game is more of a puzzler than a platformer, featuring switches and maze-like levels.
The game also brought the series closer to its roots, taking place in a construction site setting and Donkey Kong is reinstated as an antagonist when he kidnaps Mario’s toys due to jealousy. This game also brought Pauline back, using a redesign similar to the one she would use for Odyssey. This game is a solid platformer with a lot of franchise firsts and went on to inspire a bunch of sequels.
5 Arcade Archives: Donkey Kong (2018) – 82
It all began with the barrel-jumping and construction-climbing classic Donkey Kong. It’s one of Nintendo’s best arcade games, and they built an empire off of it. It was one of the first platformers, and anyone that enjoys the genre owes it a play. The Arcade Archives release is a great way to experience the original for the first time.
The classic gameplay is there, but players can also access extra modes. These modes recreate beta, international, and other versions of the game. There are even modes that include classic glitches if players want that authenticity. All of that is placed on top of the game’s solid foundation for a great Switch re-release.
4 Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again! (2008) – 82
Minis March Again is the third game in the Mario vs Donkey Kong series and the second game that features the minis as the main characters and refined that gameplay style. It’s a DSiWare game, meaning it was a downloadable title on the Nintendo DSi. Despite this odd release platform, it’s considered the best of the Vs. series by Metacritic.
The biggest feature of this game was the level creator. It allowed players to create levels years before Mario Maker would. In a puzzle game like this, there can be tons of solutions and fiddling around with a level editor helped players better learn the game’s mechanics. The level editor would become a core part of future entries.
3 Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (2014/2018) – 86
Tropical Freeze was released on Wii U in 2014 and on Switch in 2018. The developer, Retro Studios, has released simply one of the best platformers in the modern era. It features four different playable characters with wildly different playstyles. The Switch release even added a fifth in the Kong Family’s bodacious cousin, Funky Kong.
The game begins with the Snowmads invading DK isle and bringing an endless winter but despite the snow theme, the game’s environments are quite varied. The Snowmads make for quite good antagonists as well with some legendary boss fights. This game brought fans really close to re-experiencing the glory days of the SNES era.
2 Donkey Kong Country Returns (2010) – 87
In the aughts, the Donkey Kong franchise was on pause. Rare, formerly Rareware, had developed most of the games in the franchise, but were purchased by Microsoft. Nintendo had little idea of what to do with the franchise and mainly produced spin-offs but that changed in 2010 with Retro’s excellent Donkey Kong Country Returns.
Retro studios had previously revived the Nintendo franchise Metroid, so they were a natural fit. The game featured giant levels with expansive set pieces like sunsets and interactive backgrounds. It also featured some of the biggest bosses in Donkey Kong Country. There were some complaints about the motion controls and villains, but it was clear to everyone that DK was back.
1 Donkey Kong 64 (1999) – 90
On the Nintendo 64, RareWare was the king of the collect-a-thon platformer. There was Banjo-Kazooie, Tooie, and Conker’s Bad Fur Day on that console, making it a no-brainer that Rare’s biggest franchise would come to N64 eventually. Donkey Kong 64 was a massive game, requiring expansion packs to play in a massive world. It features voice acting, cutscenes, multiple worlds, and many different playable characters.
Nowadays, it’s somewhat more controversial due to the high amount of collectibles which were unique to every character. The game still is iconic, though, with memorable levels like Frantic Factory, and introducing the beloved characters of Tiny and Lanky Kong. The game’s opening musical number, the DK Rap, has been one of gaming’s greatest tunes since its release. Donkey Kong 64 isn’t for everyone, but it’s an unforgettable experience that shows what Rare in the ’90s was all about.
NEXT: 10 Nintendo 64 Games That Still Hold Up Today
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