Donkey Kong 40th Anniversary – A Barrel of Memories

July 9, 2021 marks the 40th anniversary of Donkey Kong swinging his way into Japanese arcades in 1981. The game immediately became a massive success and put Nintendo on the gaming map. I’ve known Donkey Kong as a video game character as long as anyone and obviously, this includes Mario, known simply as “Jumpman” in the original arcade game. Donkey Kong has seen many phases and evolutions throughout his history, so, for today’s exercise in actually writing something, I’ve included a few various examples of DK memories from my own 3 decades of playing video games.

Pull up a barrel and let’s take a trip down memory lane…


Nearly any successful game back in the 80’s had multiple iterations attempting to cash in on the newest video game craze. My family actually had two of these Coleco mini arcade games – Donkey Kong and Pac-Man. I remember lying on the living room floor at some very young age and attempting to play this, which seemed to always involve me looking around the house for the 4 C-batteries needed to power the miniature arcade cabinet. I don’t recall the game functioning all that well(when it did have batteries), but it was my first experience with Nintendo’s barrel-throwing primate. After this, it could very possibly be Donkey Kong Jr. for the NES…


By the time we reached the early-90’s, Donkey Kong was already fading from the memories of many gamers. He was seen as a grandfather of gaming and certainly wasn’t expected to be thrust back into relevance, but that’s exactly what happened when Rare released Donkey Kong Country for the Super Nintendo in 1994.

I can still remember seeing DKC for the first time at my neighbor’s and couldn’t believe how incredible the game looked(especially for the time). DKC was one of those games I played as a kid, that I was immediately hooked upon playing and I can recall plenty of times I spent nearly all night trying to beat the game. I’ve mentioned…several times in past blog posts about how much I love Donkey Kong Country and attempting to accurately convey just what the game meant to me growing up.

Most Recent

Donkey Kong Country wasn’t the only game released in 1994 to star Nintendo’s simian mascot. Donkey Kong, commonly referred to as “DK ’94” was released on the Game Boy and very much flew under the radar for most gamers at the time – slightly understandable given it was released only a matter of months before Donkey Kong Country changed the course of history for game gorillas. Perhaps the strangest thing about the game is the fact it begins as essentially a port of the arcade version of the game, but then shifts into a puzzle-platformer spanning another 8 levels and 101 stages.

I bought the game sometime last year(?) and played it a little bit, but found out I hadn’t properly saved the game, requiring me to start from the beginning all over again. I mentioned DK ’94 in a blog post earlier this year listing some games from various Nintendo franchises celebrating milestone anniversaries this year, with the intent of seeing the game to completion sometime before the year is through…5 months and counting now. I (re)started the game a few days ago and have made it about halfway through the game. I’m really enjoying it and feel a bit ashamed of how I mistakenly saw it as just another version of the arcade game shortly after it was released, like most others it seems…


Yes, this existed and yes I remember watching this before leaving for school in the morning…

I still like the DK Rap….I’m just not sure if it’s unironically or not?

The Return

While Rare made three Donkey Kong Country games and Donkey Kong 64(see: DK Rap), it felt like the series had begun to lose a little steam. In 2010, the series returned on the Nintendo Wii with the aptly titled, Donkey Kong Country Returns. This time, the game(s) were developed by Retro Studios, best known for the Metroid Prime games. DKC Returns was a wonderful return to form for DK and Co. with DKC: Tropical Freeze being released a few years later for the Wii U, and then re-released a couple years ago for the Nintendo Switch. Tropical Freeze perfectly encapsulates what made the games so great back in the 90’s, with many holding up the title as the series’ best entry. It took me a little bit of adjusting to the slightly heavier-feeling physics of the game, but after playing through both of the Retro DKC games, I have no issue with anyone regarding these as highly as the Rare ones and Tropical Freeze would likely be on my list of favorite Switch games.

That’s all I have for now. What are your favorite Donkey Kong games, or some of your favorite DK memories? Let me know.

Thanks for reading!