The identity crisis of Donkey Kong Junior


When Donkey Kong Junior was born in 1982, it was perfectly clear at the time who he was: the son of a popular pixelized primate who was destined for great things. But to ask who he is today will turn up several different answers. Some say that Junior grew up to become the current Donkey Kong, while others say that he is a defunct character who has simply faded away with time.

Even though he starred in only two games, he made so many cameos throughout the 90s that it just seems strange that he is no longer around. One day he was here, a staple of Mario-themed sports games, and the next he was just gone. I, for one, call shenanigans.

But how are we to ever know the truth when there are so many twists and turns in both Junior's life and the Donkey Kong universe? The only thing that can be gathered from his past is speculation, but as of now, if we are to get any closer to solving his mystery, the past is what we must look to.

Junior had little time to enjoy his childhood before being flung into a world of conflict, all due to his troublemaking father. But he was an extremely loyal son regardless, who would help Donkey Kong no matter what. Junior had more than just brawn to aid him; he had brains as well, an uncharacteristic trait for an ape. Junior also had a sense of civility that his father lacked, and the desire to terrorize humans for no good reason seemed to be absent from his biology. He befriended a human motorcyclist to help him find his father in his short-lived Saturday morning cartoon. He even used his second game as an opportunity to teach mathematics to children. For such a little guy, he took on a lot of adult responsibility, perhaps feeling as if he had to make up for the primitive behavior of his papa.

Save for a quick detour back down the familiar road of a Donkey Kong remake for the Game Boy, after his NES days things began to finally slow down for Junior and he was able to have some good, lighthearted fun. First, he was featured as a playable character in Super Mario Kart, where he helped Bowser pioneer the concept of cramming large characters into tiny vehicles. He appeared in the four Game & Watch Gallery games, and then was a playable character in the first two Mario Tennis games.

During these later years, developer Rare rebuilt the Donkey Kong world for a new series of titles. It was their intention to include Junior in the re-imagining of the Donkey Kong universe, but thanks to a minor error, it is unclear as to whether or not he is there at all.


The character we have come to know as Diddy Kong was supposed to be the new Donkey Kong Junior. Nintendo expressed a great dislike of this idea, and asked them to either stick closer to Junior's old look, or make the character someone new entirely. Rare, as we know, chose the latter, although Diddy seems to have retained a lot of Junior's personality and smarts after the decision was made. But they still wanted to have a character in the game to represent Junior by name, and so the new Donkey Kong was made to be him as an adult. This made Cranky Kong, his father, the original.

This plan would have worked if not for a mistake in Cranky's dialogue where he refers to DK as his grandson in the first Country. Nintendo saw this misinformation and ran with it. Of course, this caused a great deal of confusion. Nintendo stubbornly pushed the idea that Junior was not in the Donkey Kong Country games by holding on to the idea that Cranky is the original, but the new Donkey Kong is his grandson. Because the series is now Nintendo's property, their version of the Kong family tree is considered to be canon today.

It makes one wonder as to why the company chose to make the error truth instead of acknowledging that it was just a simple mistake. But thinking back to Nintendo's reaction to Diddy Kong, it seems plausible that they also believed that the new Donkey Kong's design was too different than that of the original Junior and took the opportunity to deny that they are the same ape. But perhaps Nintendo's way is the one that makes the most sense in the long run, as the new Donkey Kong took over Junior's spot in the Mario Kart games from Mario Kart 64 forward. Mario Kart 64 was made in 1996, while Junior was last seen in 2000's Mario Tennis 64, still sporting his original look. Junior could not exist as his old self and his new self at the same time. ...Or could he?

There is one last twist in Junior's story, one that actually predates the Country series. This clue is tucked away in Donkey Kong Jr. Math, a game that no one actually ever played because young gamers could not be fooled into paying a game with the word "math" in its title. But I recently sat down with it, wondering if this edutainment title could possibly shed any light on the mystery of Junior's whereabouts. A startling discovery was made. In Math, Junior must scramble up and down vines to grab the numbers that add or subtract to the solution his father holds up. To make the game a bit more interesting, he is pitted against an opponent, who is a small pinkish monkey that looks just like him. Wait a second, Donkey Kong Junior has a twin brother? It certainly seems as if he does!

Math is the only known public appearance of this nameless twin Kong, who shall be forthright known as PJ (Pink Junior). Very little is known about PJ, but it seems as though he more resembles his father than Junior in that he is slow, stupid, and savage. This, unfortunately, gives him a huge disadvantage in the game's goal of winning the title of Papa Kong's Favorite Child, because they are being chosen based on their mathematical prowess. Math is a brutal sibling war, wrapped up in the innocent package of edutainment. The victor of each round of gets to stand proudly at Donkey Kong's side, while the loser makes the most painful face a tiny 8-bit monkey can possibly make. PJ is so horrible with figuring out even the simplest of calculations that he almost never wins. In fact, all he ever does is stand around on his side of the screen, dumbfounded by all the numbers that surround him.

How does this lost twin brother fit into the mystery surrounding Donkey Kong Junior? Well, it is entirely possible that, if Rare's plan for the Country characters is to be followed, that one of the Kong twins became the current Donkey Kong, while the other retained his old look and faded into obscurity soon after his last appearance. Does this clear everything up? Not by a long shot. There is no way of telling which twin is the one that stuck around, if that is the case. The current Donkey Kong doesn't seem to have Junior's intelligence, and still terrorizes Mario from time to time, but is sometimes civilized enough to calm down and just play a nice game of baseball every once in a while. Unless Junior devolved into a more primitive version of himself after growing up, it seems as though PJ might actually be the DK that we play as today. It makes sense that the other son would want a shot at the fame his brother had. But then again, it could be neither of them. Who knows?

The only thing we know for sure is that Junior has been absent from the world of video games for over eight years. Whether the cause of his disappearance is a forgotten twin brother stealing the spotlight, the stress of always having to fish his father out of trouble causing him to finally cave in, Nintendo sabotaging his future career, or simply the effect of time on an old character remains unknown. In an age where characters from Nintendo's past are being revived left and right, perhaps we will see Donkey Kong Junior make a comeback as well. And then we will be even more confused about who he really is.

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Ashley Davis
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Filed under... #Destructoid Originals



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