Donkey Kong: The 5 Best Games In The Franchise (& The 5 Worst)

From arcade games to Donkey Kong doing math... which is your favorite (and least favorite) in the franchise?

If ever there was a timeless, iconic villain in video games, it would be the tie-donning ape, Donkey Kong. He's essentially become the Goldfinger or Joker of video games. Donkey Kong made his debut in the 1982 arcade classic from Nintendo by the same name. Since then, he's taken on a life of his own. His distinct name and image have become about as recognizable as Mickey Mouse, as well as the mustached hero that originally opposed him, Mario.

While the original DK game helped establish a gaming formula that evolved into modern platform games, the diversity of software attached to the ape's name has covered a number of styles and genres over the decades. Naturally, this has led to a variance in quality as well. The software has ranged from classics in their own right, to lame attempts that fall harder on their face than a runner slipping on a banana peel.

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10 Worst: Donkey Kong Jr. Math

Although the sequel to the iconic arcade title, Donkey Kong, proves a bit inferior to its predecessor in fun and overall quality, at least it stayed true to the fundamentals. This? Well, this was essentially an educational experience dressed up with a Donkey Kong overlay to trick kids into learning basic math fundamentals.

Aside from that fact that this game did little to really teach kids much of anything with its pointless, often simple math equations, it was also painfully slow-paced and dull. Much of it entails slowly climbing up chains, as well as frustratingly dropping into pits. All these factors make Donkey Kong Jr. Math one of the most boring NES games in existence. Put simply, there's a good reason this dud wasn't released for the arcade.

9 Best: Donkey Kong (Arcade)

Much like PONG, the original Donkey Kong isn't just a fantastic game, but it has historical significance that helped shape the gaming landscape. It was the debut of one of the most popular gaming heroes, Mario, and was a sort of prototype for platformers. There was even a documentary revolving around the competitive Donkey Kong gaming scene, featuring two determined gamers duking it out for the top spot.

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There's a reason for this - it's just that fun and well-crafted. For those younger gamers out there - the premise involves Mario getting from A to B to rescue the princess. To do so, he must scurry, jump, climb, and hammer his way up several floors of steel beams while dodging obstacles (namely barrels). It sounds basic, but it's immensely satisfying and intense.

8 Worst: Donkey Kong Land

When looking at history, gaming or otherwise, it's important to analyze through the lens of context. Within the gaming landscape of 1995, the handheld scene was still largely an archaic and more barren one. This means gamers tended to be a bit more forgiving in both the aesthetics and quality of software. And sure, for its time, Donkey Kong Land was amusing enough.

After all, it at least vaguely tried to imitate the far slicker and more exciting Donkey Kong Country. But in hindsight, the game was pretty bland and rather difficult to get into. It was basically a cheaper, duller, and clunkier replica of the SNES platformer. It did virtually nothing to stand out or differentiate itself.

7 Best: Donkey Kong 64

In terms of epic single player experiences on the N64, many point to Mario 64  or The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, but some forget (or were never aware) of this gem. Donkey Kong 64 felt like Donkey Kong Country on 3D steroids. Even now, it's held up pretty well in terms of aging.

The game leans heavily on the typical Rareware-brand of collect-a-thons, though it does so in a way that the journey to nab these items is both fun and rewarding. DK 64 also runs with the gimmick of utilizing the attributes of 5, count them, Kongs, all distinct and a joy to play in their own way. And that final boss battle? Let's just say it's an absolute blast.

6 Worst: DK: King Of Swing

This game debuted on the GBA in 2005, and for some reason, was ported to the Wii U virtual console several years later. Much like Donkey Kong Land a decade earlier, this just feels archaic and simplistic given the era of its release. '05 is the year the Xbox 360 had released, mind you; and here's a title that looks and feels like a glorified mobile romp.

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While Donkey Kong games tend to run on a common thread of action-based gameplay, this utilizes an odd mix of slow-paced platforming and frustrating puzzle mechanics. You'll need to nauseatingly latch onto and swing around floating platforms of pegs - and often plummet to your death in the process.

5 Best: Donkey Kong Country

Nintendo fans had been a few years removed from the latest Mario platformer by '94. Who would have thought it wouldn't be the big N themselves, but the then-lesser-known British developer, Rare, that would satiate the hunger for a true spiritual Mario successor. Donkey Kong Country is still widely regarded as one of the best platformers of all time - even surpassing Super Mario World and its actual successor, Yoshi's Island, in the minds of some.

This game simply dazzled with some of the most refined 16-bit graphics ever and a gorgeous soundtrack to further enrich the immersive jungle environments. You also had the enjoyable mechanics of Donkey and Diddy's animal pals like Rambi the Rhino, who could ram his way through just about everything in his path.

4 Worst: Mario Vs Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars

Wii U managed to be something of a low point for Nintendo. Its Wii successor just never quite took off - and odd, unappealing titles like Mario vs Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars certainly didn't do it any favors.

This game clocks in at a modest 70 on Metacritic, and it's mostly justified. The game basically plays like Lemmings-lite, as you must guide mechanical "minis" from A to B. Similar to King of Swing, this forgettable offshoot series of DK games relies too much on sluggish puzzle-based mechanics over rapid-fire action.

3 Best: Diddy Kong Racing

Sure, Mario Kart 64 might edge out this more zany arcade racer in terms of overall quality. Though to this day, Diddy Kong Racing remains criminally underrated, and one of the most innovative racers. The game contains a robust story mode that essentially plays like a 3D platformer in various vehicles.

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You've got an impressive and fun diversity of activities, colorful environments, and some now-famous characters making their debut like Conker and Banjo. You can also opt for 3 vehicle types, each with a distinct feel - cars, planes, and even hovercrafts! There are even a handful of intense boss battles to further mix things up.

2 Worst: Donkey Kong Barrel Blast

One of Nintendo's many odd peripheral experimentations involved creating software based around the simple actions of pounding on cheap plastic bongos. This produced mixed results - the rhythm romp Donkey Konga and underrated platformer Jungle Beat being examples of successes. Though, as you'd expect for such an odd and limiting control scheme, there were also a few duds. Barrel Blast rings as basic and awkward with its semi-on-rail mechanic that feels like a bad 3D Sonic game.

As it happens, near the end of development, the game actually shifted from the GameCube to Wii, and it shows. Instead of mashing bongo drums,  players must waggle Wiimotes like maniacs rather than play the game in the way it was designed to be played.

1 Best: Donkey Kong Country 2

This is it, the greatest game to which the Donkey Kong name is attached, besting even the iconic '82 originator. This was essentially Rareware growing more confident with the DKC formula and creating an enriching, enjoyable ride as a result. From the solid mechanics to the pretty and imaginative environments to the serenading tunes, Donkey Kong Country 2 has it all.

The game takes the satisfying mechanics of its 1994 predecessor and fleshes it out to perfection. From traversing a giant beehive on a spider and firing webs at bees to riding an exhilarating roller coaster, this game has all sorts of memorable moments, and they're all a blast.

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