This year’s E3 conference brought with it a tidal wave of announcements and emotions. Rumored games like Metroid Dread, which fans had given up hope of ever seeing in the flesh, showed up to show off. Long dormant franchises like the GBA-era Advance Wars have been revitalized for a new splash in the modern era. BOTW 2 also finally got its long-deserved update. Among these iconic Nintendo characters and series, one particular figure, a certain ape, has been reported missing from the same limelight. None other than Mario’s rival of generations past (yes, we know that the original is actually the current’s grandfather) Donkey Kong was oddly absent from any pieces of news and updates.
Where could our beloved king of the jungle and his games have gone?
Donkey Kong: Last Seen Location
Donkey Kong’s last official new release was Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, which launched back in February 2014 worldwide for the Nintendo Wii U system. The fifth installment in the Country series and once again developed by Retro Studios, Tropical Freeze was the follow-up to 2010’s Donkey Kong Country Returns.
A look at Tropical Freeze’s development does raise some noteworthy points though. Its announcement back in 2013 came as a surprise to many fans. According to Retro Studios president Michael Kelbaugh, production on Tropical Freeze started because the development team had “some gas left in the tank” after their work with Returns and wanted to show off bigger and better things in a sequel.
These ranged from dynamic 3D camera work, new characters, and new gameplay mechanics (also, can’t forget the all-new Funky mode!) All these new additions and implementations for a brand new Donkey Kong game had to receive the blessing of series creator Shigeru Miyamoto, who is extremely protective of his property. Retro had to put together demos to earn the right to make another Donkey Kong game from Miyamoto.
Since then, though DK himself has made guest appearances in a variety of other first-party Nintendo properties. Though he has yet to be featured in a new game of his own. Ports of older games do not count, with Tropical Freeze having been ported over to the Nintendo Switch console back in 2018.
What Could be Happening
Retro Studios is currently the most experienced when it comes to making modern Donkey Kong titles, with its two forays into the Country-line of games. However, it seems unlikely that the American-based studio will have time to dip its toes back into the world of Donkey Kong.
Retro’s currently only known working project is and has been for the last several years, Metroid Prime 4, a game with its own set of developmental and production woes. Retro has been dedicating the last two years to hiring new personnel to rise up to the task of the restarted Metroid Prime game, like lead producers, lead animators, boss/AI designers, and more. They have also invested over $500K into an expansion of their current headquarters to further aid in Prime 4’s development.
From the looks of things, it seems Retro has its hands full up to the brim with everything Metroid, likely leaving no time, energy, or manpower to handle a new Donkey Kong game. Tropical Freeze was a fruit born out of the developers’ willingness and desire to expand upon the ideas of the original and also because they had the reserve energy to do so. Judging by how quiet Retro has been with Prime 4, it’s safe to assume that all resources are being funneled to Prime 4’s realization, especially after all this time.
Then, that begs the question: who will make the next Donkey Kong game?
Since the rights to Donkey Kong are owned by Nintendo and heavily protected by Miyamoto, the final say will ultimately lie with company heads and Miyamoto himself as to which development studio gets their chance at making a Donkey Kong game. Though Retro has proved itself reliable and capable, it seems to be too busy to be up to the task and that hasn’t escaped Nintendo’s notice. A likely scenario will probably have an internal Nintendo studio or development team handle the responsibility of the next Donkey Kong game.
It shouldn’t be a cause for alarm, however. Nintendo has a plethora of talented and capable studios under its umbrella who would all be more than up for the task. Also, as stated above, any future Donkey Kong game is going to be heavily vetted and thoroughly inspected to be up to Nintendo’s standard. Anything less will go through a grueling project restart. Just ask Metroid Prime 4 and its eager fans.
A rumor that has been circulating around earlier this year was that Nintendo is bringing back Donkey Kong game development internally to coincide with a release alongside the franchise’s 40th anniversary. The rumor goes as far as to state that the new game is a 2.5D game being developed by Nintendo EPD, the same studio responsible for 2017’s Mario Odyssey. Sources for the rumor claim that the new game will not feature “Country” in its title, as Nintendo EPD has been reported to have no interest in making sequels to games they did not make. It is also predicted to release before the end of this year.
However, the rumors also stated that an announcement at E3 was likely and, well, we have nothing to show for it. So, everything above could be entirely false and should obviously be taken with a grain of salt. Anything that isn’t confirmed by Nintendo itself should all be considered as such.
Still, this is the same company that resurrected a decade-old Metroid concept game and remade a tactical strategy RPG all for the same year. It’s attempting to create a worthy follow-up to the monumental success that was BOTW and had restarted production completely on Metroid Prime 4 because it wasn’t to their standard, which is still underway.
A Donkey Kong game now doesn’t seem all that far-fetched.