Deep Smash: The origins of Donkey Kong, Diddy, and King K. Rool’s moves
Welcome back to Deep Smash, where we go back in time to take a look at the games where every Smash Bros. special move originated. In our last episode, we looked at the origins of Mario, Luigi, and Dr. Mario’s moves. This time, things will get a little hairier as we take a look at characters from the Donkey Kong series.
Donkey Konghas an interesting place in gaming history. The 1981 arcade game was one of Nintendo’s early successes, and the first game worked on by the company’s best-known developer, Shigeru Miyamoto. Donkey Kong was incredibly ambitious compared to its contemporaries, introducing the idea of a story told through gameplay. It was one of the very first platform games as well, and helped define the genre. Originally programmed as a replacement for overabundant Radar Scope arcade cabinets, the game became a worldwide hit and cemented its place in gaming history as an all-time arcade classic. Smash has paid tribute to the original title with its Hammer weapon and in later games, the “75m” stage, a recreation of the arcade title’s first level.
Despite his importance in the early days, Donkey Kong fell from prominence for more than 10 years, overtaken in popularity by his rival Mario. It wasn’t until 1994 and the excellent Game Boy revival of Donkey Kong that the big ape started muscling his way back into the spotlight. Later that same year, second-party developer Rare released Donkey Kong Country for the Super Nintendo, one of gaming’s first successful reboots of a major franchise. The character was completely redesigned, now sporting a snazzy red tie and a hairstyle inspired by soft-serve ice cream. This game also introduced Diddy Kong, a friend and partner to Donkey Kong who could be played by swapping between the pair or by plugging in a second controller. Another addition was a new batch of enemies for the Kongs: bipedal crocodiles called Kremlings, led by the self-appointed King K. Rool.
Donkey Kong Country was the turning point in the 16-bit console wars, the moment at which Nintendo’s Super Nintendo console began to overtake rival Sega and outsell the Genesis (A. K. A. Mega Drive). The advanced (for the time) prerendered graphics weren’t actually being created in real timeby the SNES hardware, but that didn’t stop them from blowing youngster’s minds when the game was released. DKC got two sequels on the SNES and a 3D outing on the N64, then disappeared again until 2010 when Retro studios released Donkey Kong Country Returns on the Wii. A 3DS port and an excellent Wii U sequel called Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze followed in 2016, which was re-released on the Switch earlier this year.
Donkey Kong has had his ups and downs over the last 38 years, but there’s no question he’s part of gaming history and absolutely deserves his place in Smash Bros. The character has appeared in every Smash game as one of the fighters unlocked from the very beginning, and he’s set the template for all of the heavyweight characters who’ve followed.
Let’s take a look at the three characters representing Donkey Kong in Smash Bros. Ultimate, and see where some of their moves originated.
Donkey Kong (#02)
DK’s moveset in Smash has had more changes than most of the original 12 fighters. The majority of his original moves come from Donkey Kong Country, though a few are borrowed from Donkey Kong 64. This is a bit surprising since DK64 was still in development when Super Smash Bros. released, and wouldn’t come out until 10 months later. Presumably HAL (the company that developed Super Smash Bros.) had access to Rare’s early builds of DK64, and decided to incorporate a few of their ideas when designing Donkey Kong as a fighter.
In Smash Bros. games, Donkey Kong is always a heavy, powerful character with strong attacks and decent launch resistance. He’s generally faster than other heavyweights, and most of his moves take advantage of his long arms and reach. He’s best known for being able to carry opponents around after grabbing them due to his enormous strength. His signature Smash moves Giant Punch and Spinning Kong are original to the Smash Bros. universe, and didn’t even carry over when he made a guest appearance in 2009’s Punch Out!! for the Wii. (Giant Punch did later show up in a cutscene in 2010’s Donkey Kong Country Returns.) As a matter of fact many of his abilities are unique to Smash, but let’s look at a few that came from his earlier titles.
Intro: Barrel burst (Origin: Donkey Kong Country, SNES, 1994)
Whenever Donkey or Diddy Kong shows up for a round of Smash Bros., they appear by breaking out of a barrel marked with their initials. In Donkey Kong Country, breaking open one of these barrels would release whichever Kong wasn’t currently being played, and they’d start following behind you after you freed them. You could then choose between Donkey and Diddy, or play as your favorite until you took a hit. The game’s manual says the Kongs get trapped in these barrels by Kremlings whenever they’re defeated.
Barrels are very important in Donkey Kong Country, a reference to DK’s main form of attack in the original Donkey Kong. Interacting with multiple types of barrels is a huge part of the gameplay in DKC, and there are even some barrel themed bosses. Surprisingly, neither Kong has a barrel-throwing move in Smash, though barrels have shown up as item containers in each and every game.
Hand Slap: Ground down special (Origin: Donkey Kong Country, SNES, 1994)
The Hand Slap is one of Donkey Kong’s best moves in Smash Bros., capable of launching other fighters into the air and causing a small earthquake around him when he slaps both palms on the ground. The ability is lifted directly from his moveset in Donkey Kong Country, where he can smack the earth to attack enemies or reveal hidden items underground. Defeating enemies with the move is a little harder than bouncing on their heads or rolling through them, so players are rewarded with a banana for every enemy they defeat with the move.
Like Mario’s breakdance kick in Super Mario 64, this ability is never needed to beat the game, and it’s likely many people finished DKC without knowing it existed. The same can’t be said for Donkey Kong Country Returns or its sequel, Tropical Freeze. Developer Retro put some enemies in both of these titles that could only be defeated by using the hand slap.
Even though it defies all physical laws, starting in Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS, Donkey Kong could begin using this move in midair without any ground underneath him. Maybe he’s hitting the air molecules so hard they’re shattering under his giant hands.
Punch: standard attack (Donkey Kong 64, N64, 1999)
If you get in Donkey Kong’s way, he’ll very likely introduce you to the business end of his knuckles. Punching is one of the few verbs DK knows, and he’s very good at delivering fists at maximum velocity.
Donkey Kong’s quick one-two punch comes from his only 3D outing, and was what he did when the attack button was pressed repeatedly. The jab and uppercut in the N64 game were followed by a hand slap, but this part of his kit was carried over from Donkey Kong Country.
This move isn’t supposed to launch you so far into the air: that’s a glitch. Pretty entertaining, though.
Forward kick: back air attack (Origin: Donkey Kong 64, N64, 1999)
Donkey Kong’s backward air attack is a Captain Kirk-esque flying dropkick using both of his massive feet to their full advantage. In DK 64, the great ape would do this if the attack button was pressed while he was moving forward, delivering a boot to the head of any enemies in front of him.
Double fist slam: forward air attack (Origin: Donkey Kong 64, N64, 1999)
DK’s other side air attack may also have been inspired by the captain of the Enterprise, as the two-fisted chop is another of Kirk’s signature moves. This one is also pulled from DK 64 and is performed by attacking in midair while moving forward.
Dash attack: Barrel Roll (Wii U/3DS, Ultimate) (Origin: Donkey Kong Country, SNES, 1994)
In Melee, Brawl and the original Smash Bros. on the N64, Donkey Kong would perform a simple forward kick for his dash attack. Starting in Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS, he began tucking into a ball and doing a quick somersault instead, damaging and knocking back enemies in front of him. It’s a more satisfying move to pull off, and has the advantage of coming from one of DK’s earlier games instead of acting as just another boring melee strike.
This rolling attack comes from Donkey Kong Country, and it lets Donkey and Diddy spin to win through multiple enemies as long as none of them are spiky. It’s been a signature move for Donkey Kong ever since DKC, and all of his relatives share some form of the ability. Using this move while going over a ledge allowed the Kongs to jump in midair afterwards, but it doesn’t work that way in Smash Bros. since the inputs do different moves depending on whether you have solid ground under your feet.
Konga Beat: Final Smash (Brawl, 3DS/Wii U) (Origin: Donkey Kong 64, N64, 1999)
Fairly early in Donkey Kong 64, DK meets up with his girlfriend Candy Kong, who offers to sell him a musical instrument and a watermelon (extra health bar) for three banana coins. You know, the standard exchange rate. Once he takes her up on the offer, he gains access to a set of bongos that can be used to stun enemies or trigger certain switches. The move was only occasionally useful because it took a special, rare type of ammunition and it was usually easier to hit enemies with standard attacks.
Four years after DK 64, Nintendo’s latest console wasn’t doing very well. The company was willing to try anything to see if it might be successful, and at some point in 2003 the producers behind Namco’s Taiko no Tatsujin (Taiko Drum Master) series approached Nintendo about a possible home version. Taiko drums are a very Japanese instrument though, so Nintendo suggested using a slightly different type of drums. Someone remembered that Donkey Kong had played the bongos a few years back, and the rest is history.
Donkey Konga was a moderate success when it released for the GameCube in 2004, and one of the first video games to ship bundled with a plastic instrument. The barrel-shaped bongo drums could recognize when either drum head was hit and also had a sensor that could tell when the person playing them clapped their hands together. Two Donkey Konga games released in the U.S., as well as a unique platform game called Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat which could also be controlled with the bongo peripheral. A third Donkey Konga title was developed in Japan, but never localized for the West.
In the 3DS, Wii, and Wii U versions of Smash Bros., Donkey Kong’s Final Smash lets him pull out a pair of bongos and release several waves of damaging sonic energy. He is invulnerable while he plays and can even start his concert in midair, but he can’t move for the duration of the song. All three games let him amp up the range and damage of the sonic waves by pressing a button in time with the beat, but there’s no on-screen prompt to let you know this in the Brawl version. This move was replaced in Ultimate by a quick flurry of punches called Jungle Rush, borrowed from boss fight finales in DKC Returns.
Donkey Konga was slightly ahead of its time, beating the home version of Guitar Hero to the market by just over a year. Its success may have helped convince Harmonix and Red Octane that a home version of a musical rhythm game could work, so it may be indirectly responsible for the piles of Guitar Hero and Rock Band instruments currently moldering on thrift store shelves nationwide.
Diddy Kong (#36)
A literal second banana to Donkey Kong, Diddy has a much different skill set than his mentor. Diddy seems to be based on a chimpanzee rather than a gorilla, and plays quite differently as a result. In Smash Bros. games he’s much lighter and easier to smack around than his larger uncle, but he’s more agile and has a variety of projectile weapons to keep enemies at bay.
Diddy made his debut in Rare’s Donkey Kong Country and went on to star in the sequel, subtitled Diddy’s Kong Quest. His moves didn’t change in Donkey Kong Country 2, but he did pick up several new abilities from Donkey Kong 64 that ended up making their way to Smash. Diddy wasn’t invited to the fight until 2007’s Smash Bros. Brawl on the Wii, so he’s had fewer changes to his moveset since his debut than Donkey has. He’s been a favorite fighter for professional Smash players since his introduction, and consistently ranks near the top of most tier lists.
Cartwheel spin: dash attack (Origin: Donkey Kong Country, SNES, 1994)
Diddy’s running attack is similar to Donkey’s barrel roll, and performs the same function in the Donkey Kong Country games. Diddy can jump just slightly higher than Donkey can, so his cartwheel can get him a little more distance than Donkey’s rolling attack. The move is a bit different in Smash Bros., acting as a three-hit combo rather than a single strike like Donkey’s roll.
Mario attempts to avoid a banana peel thrown by Donkey Kong Jr., who’s shooting him a double deuce.
Banana toss: down special (Origin: Super Mario Kart, SNES, 1992)
Diddy’s down special allows him to carelessly fling a banana peel out behind him. Any character who walks over the thrown peel will trip and be stunned briefly, a mechanic which debuted in Brawl alongside Diddy. He could leave two peels behind in Brawl, but Diddy can only have one out at a time in later Smash games.
Although Diddy never uses this ability in any of his platforming games, the move is based on an old comedy trope about banana peels being particularly slippery. The theft of Donkey Kong’s banana hoard is the motivation for Diddy and Donkey to begin their adventures in Donkey Kong Country, stolen by series antagonist King K. Rool. The Kongs end up collecting thousands more on their journeys, so it makes sense that Diddy would have a ready supply.
In terms of Nintendo games, the comedy banana peel is most closely associated with the Mario Kart series, where it’s probably the most common item. Running over one causes a racer to spin out and lose speed, and they’ve been a basic item in every single Mario Kart game since the beginning. Donkey Kong Jr. appeared in the first Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo, one of his last appearances before the Rare redesign. Ironically, bananas took the place of coins in Rare’s kart racer Diddy Kong Racing, and actually helped your vehicles go faster.
Peanut Popgun: neutral special/Final Smash (Origin: Donkey Kong 64, N64, 1999)
The Smash version of Donkey Kong may not have access to his coconut gun that fires in spurts, but Diddy still gets to exercise his second amendment rights. The Peanut Popguns are a pair of wooden pistols created by Funky Kong in Donkey Kong 64, and Diddy can use them to plink bad guys from a distance or trigger special peanut-shaped switches.
The Smash version of this weapon takes one of Diddy’s pistols away, so he can’t dual-wield until he breaks open a Smash Ball. Instead, he can hold the trigger down to charge his shots for more damage. He has to be careful though, because holding the button for too long will cause the gun to misfire and explode in his face. This will still do damage to enemies if they’re close enough, but it stuns Diddy for a moment so it’s not usually a valid strategy.
Both the Peanut Popguns and Rocketbarrel pack combine in Diddy’s Final Smash, but we’ll go over that in a moment.
Rocketbarrel Pack: Up special/Final Smash (Origin: Donkey Kong 64, N64, 1999)
Special moves in Donkey Kong 64 are earned by bringing appropriately colored banana coins to Cranky Kong’s laboratory, then trading these for potions. For some reason it doesn’t matter if the power granted is a physical feat or (as in Diddy’s case) uses something mechanical to trigger the ability. In any case, Diddy can earn himself a barrel-shaped jetpack in DK 64, and he never takes to the skies without pulling both his weapons from their holsters. The pack is powered by Crystal Coconuts, a rare resource which keeps him from flying whenever he feels like it.
Interestingly, one of Rare’s earliest video games was also themed around a Jet pack. Collecting enough banana medals unlocks the game in every version of Donkey Kong 64, even though Jetpac is technically owned by Microsoft since the company bought Rare in 2002.
Diddy’s recovery move in Smash makes use of this rocket pack, though he has to charge the ability to get any significant height out of it. The pack is much less stable in Smash than in DK 64, and absorbing an attack has a chance to make the barrels fly off and explode. It’s one of the more versatile special moves in the game though, since Diddy can aim himself anywhere he wants.
His Final Smash makes use of both Diddy’s Peanut Popguns and Rocketbarrel pack, letting him soar freely around the stage, and fire his guns in the opposite direction he’s flying. In Brawl, the peanuts could be eaten after they came to a stop, making it possible to heal your opponents rather than harming them if your aim was poor. Ultimate removes Diddy’s control, and hitting an opponent with his final smash will cause them to be buffeted repeatedly before targeting a single enemy for an explosive finale. He no longer draws his weapons during this attack, but honestly, he doesn’t need them.
King K. Rool (#67)
Donkey Kong started as the villain of his own game, but eventually transformed into a hero when Donkey Kong Country rolled around. Obviously Mario couldn’t serve as the villain anymore, so for DK to be the hero he needed a new archenemy. Rare created an entire new stable of baddies for the Kongs to face off against, and leading the Kremling Krew is the crocodile commander, King K. Rool.
The leader of the Kremlings is one of the most recent additions to the Smash Bros. universe, brand new in this year’s Smash Bros. Ultimate. He can be recognized by his golden belly, scaly hide, and single bloodshot eye. K. Rool has been one of the most requested fighters for Smash ever since his trophy appeared in Melee, but players had to make do with a set of downloadable Mii Brawler clothes in Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS until now.
His moves are almost all drawn from his appearances in the original Donkey Kong Country trilogy, though a couple of Donkey Kong 64 references also snuck in. Oddly, he hasn’t appeared in any Donkey Kong games since DK 64, as Retro studios invented their own enemies for the Kongs to battle in DKC Returns and Tropical Freeze. Still, K. Rool is always the ultimate boss in the games he’s appeared in, so maybe it’s fitting he waited until Smash Bros. Ultimate to join the fight. He’s extremely tough in every game he appears in, usually taking over ten hits to defeat and changing his attack patterns frequently. He also tends to play dead before his actual defeat, leading unaware or overconfident Kongs to take a hit before they realize they’re not quite done yet.
Picture comparisons for this section are drawn from Prosafia Gaming’s YouTube video compiling K. Rool’s appearances, so please give it a watch if you’d like to know more about the monarch’s moveset.
Crownerang: side special (Origin: Donkey Kong Country, SNES, 1994)
K. Rool’s golden crown is a surprisingly effective improvised weapon when thrown at the Kongs at the end of Donkey Kong Country. What’s more, it’s sharp enough to prevent them from jumping on his head as long a he’s wearing it. Unlike the Smash version, it didn’t return to him when thrown in its original game.
The final boss fight takes place on the deck of a pirate ship, which apparently inspired the developers to give a good chunk of the sequel a similar theme. Most of Diddy’s Kong Quest has a nautical flavor to it, and this is made abundantly clear during the final boss fight.
Blunderbuss: neutral special (Origin: Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest, SNES, 1995)
In this sequel to Donkey Kong Country, Donkey Kong has been kidnapped, and it’s up to Diddy and his girlfriend Dixie to make their way through the Kremlings’ home turf and rescue him. K. Rool reprises his role as the game’s end boss, but this time he’s going by Kaptain K. Rool and has dressed in a pirate costume to go along with his antique blunderbuss.
The end battle here is much tougher, as the Kongs have to wait for K. Rool to fire a smooth cannonball from his weapon, then throw it back at him to cause the gun to misfire. This is repeated many times, and each cannonball they throw back at him is expelled at great speed when the weapon backfires. Meanwhile, K. Rool will fire spiked cannonballs, flaming spirits and other hazards from the weapon in between using it as a rocket pack and trying to suck the Kongs into the barrel like a vacuum.
Compared to its origins, the weapon in Smash Bros. Ultimate is downright mundane. K. Rool will don a pirate hat and fire a slow-moving cannonball from the barrel, and if the button is held down he’ll begin to suck in anything in front of him. He can reclaim the cannonball this way, or even vacuum up enemy combatants. If he does manage to pull something in, he’ll blast it out of the gun at a 45 degree angle, doing a fair amount of damage to anything fired by the weapon or caught by the projectile.
Helicopter pack: up special (Origin: Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie’s Double Trouble, SNES, 1996)
This time both Diddy and Donkey have been kidnapped, so Dixie and her cousin Kiddy have to save the day. The final SNES outing for the Kongs concluded with a fight in a medieval castle laboratory clearly inspired by Universal’s Frankenstein movies. Appropriately, K. Rool is dressed in a lab coat, doctor’s head mirror and oversized rubber gloves, and this time he’s calling himself Baron K. Roolenstein.
The battle involves avoiding him as he flies around the room using a personal helicopter pack, and throwing barrels at it to cause him to lose control and bounce around the screen. Whenever he’s hit, he’ll wave his hands around in an attempt to stabilize himself, an animation that carries over to his Smash incarnation as he falls after using the move.
K. Rool’s helipack in Smash is far more stable than the one he wears in DKC3, and he can even use the blades to get in a few hits as he ascends.
Boxing punch: side smash (Origin: Donkey Kong 64, N64, 1999)
In his most recent villainous appearance prior to Smash Bros., King K. Rool took on the appearance of a professional boxer called Krushaa K. Rool. His goal in DK 64 was nothing less than the destruction of Kong Island, and he brought a superweapon along with him to carry out his plan. Fortunately for the Kongs, the Blast-o-matic was damaged while it was being moved towards their home, giving them time to power up and mount a counterattack.
In a last ditch attempt to buy time for the weapon to be repaired, K. Rool tries to slow the Kong family down by challenging all five playable monkeys to a winner-take-all boxing match. Each Kong has to use their own powers and abilities to find a way to knock him down before the match ends, but it’s really Candy and Funky Kong who end up saving the island.
In Smash Bros. Ultimate, K. Rool’s brief boxing career is referenced by his side Smash attacks. No matter which way he faces, the crocodile king equips a boxing glove on the hand farthest from the camera and winds up for a nasty jab.
Blast-o-matic : Final Smash (Origin: Donkey Kong 64, N64, 1999)
How can you tell King K. Rool is the villain? Well, the only way to see this video of his triumph is if you get to a failure state in Donkey Kong 64. Oddly, the source material is more censored than the version seen in Smash Bros. Ultimate, as it fades to black before the weapon is fired. Even including the island’s destruction, the Final Smash in Ultimate takes less than a tenth as long as watching DK 64’s game over sequence.
That’s it for this edition of Deep Smash. Next time we’ll take a look at the origin of some of the moves from The Legend of Zelda. If you missed it, be sure to check out the first episode, where we took a look at some Mario characters.
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