With a history that dates back to 1981, Donkey Kong is one of the oldest names in gaming. From his earliest battles against Mario at the top of a construction site to his most recent adventures, there is no lack of Donkey Kong titles to choose from. If you’re looking for the best games with Nintendo’s favorite ape, here are our choices for the best Donkey Kong games of all time.
What are the best Donkey Kong games?
As one of Nintendo’s original intellectual properties, pre-dating even the Super Mario Brothers series, Donkey Kong has featured in dozens of titles over the years. He’s one of Nintendo’s most enduring characters and is reportedly set to star in his own film. For this list, we’ll be focusing on games where the big ape is in a staring role. You won’t see Super Smash Brothers or Mario Kart on this list, but any game where Donkey Kong or his companions are front and center.
10) Donkey Kong 64
The best thing about Donkey Kong 64 is also the worst. The game offers an almost limitless number of collectibles, encouraging players to search out every nook and cranny to find some new icon. However, the sheer number of them made everything equally worthless, resulting in an uneven game at times. The ambition is worth celebrating, though, so it just sneaks its way onto this list despite its overwhelming approach to collectibles.
9) Donkey Konga
If you love rhythm games, chances are your house is already filled with guitar and drum peripherals. However, Donkey Konga is still worth taking a look at for fans. It takes what certainly started life as a terrible pun and turned it into one of the best rhythm games of its generation, paving the way for games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band a few years later. The music is catchy, and the simple act of slapping a drum has never been more fun.
8) Donkey Kong 3
This was one of the last Donkey Kong games to be released for arcades, and it completely changed the gameplay from the original game or from Donkey Kong Jr, which came out the year before. Now Donkey Kong is climbing on vines and dropping insects on the city streets. Players shoot insects and the mighty ape himself rather than jumping over barrels and obstacles as in the original. The game seeks to create continuity with the Mario Brothers game, explaining that Mario is off in a sewer, so an exterminator named Stanley has to step into the role of hero.
7) Donkey Kong
Sometimes the old ways are best. There is something to be said about how much this arcade classic changed the gaming industry when it burst onto the scene. It marks not only the first appearance of Donkey Kong but also the first time we see the heroic plumber Mario in a game. Donkey Kong is firmly in the villain role here, serving as an obvious stand-in for King Kong. The bright colors and precise platforming mechanics here were lightyears ahead of what other games had on offer at the time.
6) Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble
Of the three games in the Donkey Kong Country trilogy, the third one is likely the weakest. However, the game showed that Rare still had some innovations in their tank. The non-linear map allowed players to find their own route to the final boss, bypassing levels that they struggled with. Dixie and Baby Kong aren’t as memorable as Donkey Kong and Diddy, but the world still looks, feels, and sounds beautiful.
5) Donkey Kong Land
Donkey Kong Country was a landmark game with regards to its graphics, so it was even more mind-blowing when players saw those graphics replicated in the original Game Boy. Donkey Kong Land is primarily a remake of Donkey Kong Country, but the fact that it manages to look and feel like its 16-bit predecessor feels like it must have taken more magic than actual programming.
4) Donkey Kong Country
Looking at Donkey Kong Country now, it is easy to forget just how innovative it was at the time. Donkey Kong Country’s gameplay is slightly dated by now, but the music, sound, and graphics still hold up to this day. Fans are still discovering this classic Super Nintendo title to this day, thanks to the Switch Online service. Besides being such a fun world to explore, with plenty of unique maps and animal companions to ride, it essentially revived the Donkey Kong property and gave him the look that he still has today.
3) Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest
Donkey Kong might not be the star of this game, but he is still central to the world in this sequel to Donkey Kong Country. Diddy’s Kong Quest is arguably better than the original, with a pair of characters who play remarkably different from each other. Dixie’s hair gives her a glide mechanic, while Diddy is faster and more agile than his companion. This game takes the beautiful graphics of the first game and refines them, creating a lush jungle environment to make your way through.
2) Donkey Kong Country Returns
In 2010, you could be forgiven for thinking that side-scrolling games were over and done with, but then Donkey Kong Country Returns came out for the Wii and proved everyone wrong. This game took the series back to what made Donkey Kong Country great, with beautiful graphics and sound while tightening up the platforming and making the game more fun. While it doesn’t necessarily do anything new compared to the original, it perfects everything that the series had done to that point.
1) Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
This is, hands down, one of the best platforming games to ever be released. A sequel to the Donkey Kong Country Returns, this took everything the original did to a whole new level. The music is especially fantastic, capturing the feel of the original Donkey Kong Country soundtrack while updating it perfectly. Originally released for the Wii U, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze got an excellent port to the Switch just a few years later. Every fan of platformer games needs to play this game at some point – it is just too good to pass up.