When you hear the words Donkey Kong, what comes to your mind? Bananas? Maybe. A Kong’s gotta eat after all. Barrels? Of course, he sure does love smashing things with them. Billy Mitchell? No… We don’t talk about Billy Mitchell anymore. For shame.
There are many number of things that can come to mind when you think about the big ape, but depending on what year you came into this world, you could think of the character, himself, as any number of things. Your dad could think Kong is Mario’s rival, a climber of pie factories, and kidnapper of young damsels. Meanwhile, you boot up your new copy of Tropical Freeze for the Nintendo Switch, thinking he’s just a sharp dressed ape who only wants to protect his bananas and his family (And yes. I know what order I put those two words in). Donkey Kong, as a character, has grown and evolved with the times more than some of his fellow video game characters from the same arcade era. Whether you call the Italian plumber Mario or “Jump Man”, he still possesses the same basic characterization of the high jumping Italian stereotype that we know and love today.
In 1994, when Rare took control of the property of Donkey Kong, with it came some character changes. They decided that to make the transition from villain to hero smoother, history would change so that Donkey Kong’s grandfather, Cranky Kong, had wrought all of the havoc upon Jump Man and those closest to him in the 80’s.They achieved this, even though the DK in Donkey Kong Country never spoke a word of dialogue. The only ones to speak any meaningful dialogue in the original Donkey Kong Country included the side characters.
On the porch of his house, sitting on his rocking chair, the world made the acquaintance of Cranky Kong. Through DK’s interactions with him and the rest of the DK Crew, the characters and world were cemented for a new era. Donkey Kong protects his hoard from reptiles and Cranky Kong spends his days as a retired loudmouth who boasts about how he could do it so much better. If only he ever wanted to do it at all.
And Cranky never wanted to do it. Throughout the years, he may give you advice, play carnival games, and sell you drinks he made in his basement (Don’t go into that basement), but he also tells you that he already beat the game in less than an hour without dying once.
I don’t know about you, but I love Cranky Kong. He makes me laugh with how much shade he throws on Donkey Kong. It makes me want to prove to that arrogant jerk that I can smash those Kremlings just as well as he thinks HE can.
The fun lasted only so long, because in 2002, Microsoft acquired Rare. Nintendo did not seem interested in the rest of the Kong Crew. They didn’t even seem all that interested in DK, himself. He became a Mario side character again and only starred in experimental games with limited success.
Finally, in 2010, Retro acquired the right to make a new Donkey Kong game, and Donkey Kong Country returned in… Donkey Kong Country Returns. Cranky was back to throwing Donkey Kong sass and selling him items. How I missed him. It wasn’t exactly like the old days, but it was close enough.
Now Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, a sequel to DKCR from 2014, is coming back for a one more try on a more successful system. The whole DK Crew is back again. Cranky is now a playable character.
Cranky has come down with the same hero based disease where he can’t talk anymore. This is fine, however, as long as he regularly conks DK on the head with his cane. But no. Now Cranky is just as much of a blank slate as everyone else. The worst part is, he’s doing something! Cranky’s whole character is based on the fact that he does not want to do anything. This character betrayal of Cranky Kong should not make you angry, however.
Characters change and evolve over time. It’s as true in video games as it is in comic books. People became outraged when the DC Movies betrayed fan expectation of hero identities. The truth is, fiction writers can change anything they want about an established character such as a hero from another planet or a grumpy old ape. The trick then becomes, make the product so good that no one cares.