What are the best Donkey Kong games?
Everyone’s favorite video game gorilla got his start as the main antagonist of Mario, but since then, he has become so much more.
The Donkey Kong franchise follows the adventures of this ape and his monkey friends across numerous platforming games.
However, with over 20+ games in the series, not all have been a success, which is why we’re rounding up the biggest hits in the series.
The 15 Best Donkey Kong Games Ranked
In order to create this list, we’ve compared the average ratings and sales data of every game in the franchise.
This has allowed us to rank these games unbiasedly based on concrete data from reputable sources.
Get your barrels and bananas ready because here’s our list of the 15 best Donkey Kong games, ranked:
15. Donkey Kong
The first game in the Donkey Kong series, this arcade classic, was released in 1981 by Nintendo.
However, because DK serves as the antagonist in his first outing, players take on the role of Mario in order to rescue Pauline from the great ape.
This game was designed as an effort by Nintendo to compete with one best retro games of all time, Namco’s classic Pac-Man.
While Nintendo’s American staff were initially apprehensive of this game, it exceeded expectations and became a commercial and critical success in North America and Japan.
After its release, Donkey Kong started selling 4,000 arcade cabinets per month, and once it was ported to home consoles, it became even more popular.
The Game & Watch version sold 8 million copies in 1982, and the Coleco port sold an additional 6 million cartridges.
As of 2015, the original Donkey Kong is estimated to have earned $4.4 billion in revenue across all versions of the game.
Needless to say, this game is an important piece of video game history, and fortunately, you can still play the Nintendo Switch version of it today.
14. Donkey Kong: Jungle Climber
This game is a sequel to DK: King of Swing, and it was released in 2007 for the Nintendo DS console and later the Wii U.
Now considered one of the best Wii U games of all time, this game features Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong as the main playable characters.
The plot revolves around DK and Diddy racing through levels to get crystal bananas back from King K. Rool.
Unlike its predecessor, this game features brand-new moves, minigames, and items that can be collected and used.
There is also a multiplayer mode that supports up to four players, so you can take on levels with the help of your friends.
Critics praised Jungle Climber as an improvement over King of Swing, and it consistently received high ratings.
In particular, fans enjoyed its vibrant visuals, which make the game look vastly superior to previous installments.
13. Donkey Kong Land III
This 1997 classic was first released for the original Game Boy and later ported to the Game Boy Color.
As one of the best Game Boy Color games of all time, Donkey Kong Land III served as the portable version of and follow-up to Donkey Kong Country 3.
In this game, Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong enter into a competition to find the Lost World, an adventure that takes players through several different levels.
Although many of these levels have the same environments, the worlds, and stages are all unique.
There are also many playable characters in this installment, with Wrinkly Kong being the only non-playable member of the family.
Upon release, this game was well received by fans and critics, with many praising its brilliant level design and impressive visuals.
Japanese players were also treated to an updated Game Boy Color version, though it was never released outside of Japan.
12. Donkey Konga 2
The 2004 sequel to Donkey Konga, this game was released for the Nintendo GameCube and came with its own unique controller.
With this game, players have to pound on a special barrel-shaped controller in tune with specific songs.
What made this game a hit with fans is that it came with over 30 new tracks to play along with, as well as improved graphics.
New minigames and classic characters were even added in Donkey Konga 2, which gave it more variety than its predecessor.
This game also became the only one in the series to be rated T in North America because some of the songs contained lyrics not suitable for younger audiences.
In other versions of the game, songs were changed for younger players and ended up receiving E ratings.
Donkey Konga 2 received solid ratings from critics and players, and while it wasn’t a huge success, it is still an incredibly entertaining game.
11. Mario vs. Donkey Kong
One of the best Game Boy Advance games of all time, this puzzle platformer was released in 2004.
A spiritual successor to the 1994 Donkey Kong, this game gives players control of Mario, who is pursuing DK through a toy factory.
There are many different environments in Mario vs. Donkey Kong, ranging from classic construction sites to lava levels.
Players can also take on Plus levels, which are designed to be more difficult than those in the main game.
For an even greater challenge, there are Expert levels, which can only be accessed by beating the main world and collecting starts in both main and Plus levels.
Expert levels are incredibly challenging, and players praised them for adding more engaging content to the game.
Mario vs. Donkey Kong received favorable reviews from critics, and it ended up selling 1.37 million copies worldwide.
While it isn’t one of the most well-known games in the Donkey Kong franchise, it still stands out as one of the best ever created.
10. Donkey Konga
This GameCube rhythm game was released in 2004, and it is intended to be played using the DK Bongos controller.
Donkey Konga comes with numerous tracks, including many from the Mario and Legend of Zelda series.
There are also many popular songs, including “Losing My Religion” and “We Will Rock You,” though different regional releases boasted slightly different tracks.
Like its sequel, this game came with 30 tracks that could be played, offering a decent amount of variety.
Critics applauded the game’s mechanics, as well as its increasing levels of difficulty, which made it more challenging over time.
This game won an award for innovation at the 2005 Game Developer’s Conference, as it was something definitely unique at the time of its release.
Moreover, in 2022, Nintendo renewed its trademark for the series, which may mean that a re-release is going to be coming to modern consoles!
9. Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem!
Standing out as one of the best Nintendo DS games of all time, this puzzler is the fourth in the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series.
In this game, players guide wind-up miniatures through various levels, which need to be built and rebuilt regularly.
Every level has three miniatures that have to be moved, and players have to get them all to the end in order to progress.
In total, there are over 200 levels, each with numerous solutions that can easily keep players occupied for hours.
Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem was favorably received by critics, with some calling it the best game on the Nintendo DS.
It was commended for being challenging and addicting, as well as for having intuitive controls and a surprising level of depth.
For gamers who love puzzles, this entry in the DK series is one of the best you can play.
8. Donkey Kong Country
Donkey Kong Country is one of the most iconic video games in history, and it serves as a reboot of the Donkey Kong franchise.
This game follows DK and Diddy as they try to recover their stolen bananas from King K. Rool and his army of Kremlings.
As one of the best SNES games ever created, there are 40 single-player levels to traverse through, with each containing collectible items that unlock bonus stages.
There are also two multiplayer modes where two players can work together or race against each other to be number one.
Donkey Kong Country was one of the most highly anticipated releases of its time, and it was even promoted via a $16 million marketing campaign in North America.
This ended up paying off for Nintendo when it set records for being the fastest-selling video game at the time, with 9.3 million copies sold worldwide.
Needless to say, this game received critical acclaim and is credited with setting new standards in the video game industry.
Due to its popularity, Doney Kong Country has gone on to be re-released many times, most recently on the Nintendo Switch in 2020.
7. Donkey Kong Jungle Beat
Donkey Kong Jungle Beat has become one of the best GameCube games of all time following its release in 2005.
This game follows Donkey Kong as he sets out to defeat a series of evil kings and conquer the jungle for himself.
Although it is designed to be played with the DK Bongo controller, players can also use a standard GameCube controller throughout the game.
In each side-scrolling level, players control DK as he collects bananas, defeats enemies, swings across vines, and takes on bosses.
This was the first major Donkey Kong game since Donkey Kong 64, and it was well-received by critics and fans.
In 2008, Jungle Beat was ported to the Wii, complete with reworked controls and updated levels, and in 2016 it came to the Wii U.
While some criticized the lack of returning past characters, it still became one of the best Donkey Kong games of all time.
6. Donkey Kong (Game Boy)
Also known as Donkey Kong 94, this game was released for the Game Boy in 1994, and it is loosely based on the original arcade game.
As in the arcade version, players take control of Mario, who must rescue Pauline from Donkey Kong.
Donkey Kong Jr. also makes an appearance on some levels to help hinder Mario’s progress and help his father.
This was the first Game Boy game to have enhanced features on the Super Game Boy, and it also boasted many gameplay elements from DK, DK Jr., and Super Mario Bros 2.
Since its release, Donkey Kong 94 has maintained a high rating from fans and critics, with many praising its challenging puzzles and new levels.
It was also named the Best Game Boy Game of 1994 by Electronic Gaming Monthly and is frequently considered one of the best games of all time.
Even the most nitpicky critics had trouble finding fault in this game, which is definitely a testament to just how great it is.
5. Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble!
Released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1996, this game was the third in the Donkey Kong Country series.
As a direct sequel to DK Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest, this installment focuses instead on Dixie and Kiddy Kong, who must save Donkey Kong and Diddy from King K. Rool.
As a platformer, players have to control Dixie and her cousin Kiddy through 8 worlds and a total of 48 separate levels.
There are also bonus levels that can be completed for unique rewards, as well as a multiplayer mode.
The level design in this game is much more varied than in prior games in the series, something that critics and fans applauded.
Upon its release, Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble was praised for its colorful, vibrant graphics and its replayability.
Although some of the gameplay was derided as repetitive, this did little to impact the overall fun of the game for most players.
4. Donkey Kong Country Returns
This side-scrolling platformer was released in 2010 for the Nintendo 3Ds and the Wii before being re-released for the Wii U in 2015.
Players take control of the great ape himself in this installment, as well as his pal Diddy during some segments.
Loads of traditional elements return in this game, including mine cart levels, vine swinging, and banana collecting.
In multiplayer mode, a second player can control Diddy Kong, and if one player dies, the other can bring them back by smashing a DK Barrel.
Donkey Kong Country Returns proved to be a huge success, selling 4.21 million copies in less than a month of its release.
Critics applauded this game as one of the best platformers ever created, citing its phenomenal level design, graphics, and fast-paced gameplay.
While it captures the retro design of the classic series, it is also revamped enough to make it original and exciting to play.
3. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is the newest game in the franchise, and it takes some of the most popular video game characters of all time on a brand-new adventure.
A sequel to Donkey Kong Country Returns, this game sees Kong and his family take a tropical retreat across five islands in order to save their home.
Like its predecessor, Tropical Freeze received a lot of positive reviews, mainly aimed at its level design, gameplay mechanics, and soundtrack.
Although players primarily control Donkey Kong, Diddy, Dixie, and Cranky Kong are also playable characters during some segments.
In the Nintendo Switch version of the game, Funky Kong has been added as another playable character, along with an easier Funky Mode.
When it was released, Tropical Freeze received an extremely positive reception from fans and critics, with Destructoid even rating it 10 out of 10.
Additionally, some even hailed this game as a masterpiece of level design and gameplay mechanics.
In total, Tropical Freeze has sold roughly 5.46 million copies, making it one of the most popular Donkey Kong Country games.
2. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong’s Quest
This Donkey Kong Country game was released in 1995 and published for the SNES as the second game in the series.
Players take control of Diddy Kong and his friend Dixie in this installment, and together the pair must rescue Donkey Kong, who King K. Rool has kidnaped.
The game is set on Crocodile Isle, and it boasts seven worlds with varying environments, with 52 levels in total.
Upon its release, this game became one of the sixth best-selling SNES games and has since become known as one of the best 2D platformers ever made.
This game proved to be so popular that retailers in 1995 even struggled to meet the demand for it, and it ended up selling a total of 2.16 million copies in the US alone.
Diddy Kong’s Quest was later re-released for the Game Boy Advance in 2004 and the Wii in 2007.
It has also since been ported to the Nintendo Switch as of 2020, giving players the opportunity to experience this classic with modern upgrades.
1. Donkey Kong 64
Taking our number one spot is one of the best N64 games of all time and the first game in the Donkey Kong series to have 3D graphics.
In this game, players take control of the titular ape as he explores various levels to collect items and rescue his friends from King K. Rool.
There is also a separate multiplayer mode where four players can compete against each other in last-man-standing and deathmatch-style games.
When Donkey Kong 64 was released, it received universal acclaim, becoming Nintendo’s number-one seller during the holiday season in 1999.
The same year, it was also named the Best Platform Game at the E3 Game Critics Awards, along with numerous other awards and nominations.
Donkey Kong 64, thanks to its brilliant level design, graphics, and intuitive gameplay mechanics, stands out as the absolute best in the franchise.
If you missed out on playing it on the N64, don’t worry because it has since been digitally released for the Wii U.
We hope you enjoyed our list of the 15 best Donkey Kong games and maybe learned a bit about the history of this franchise along the way!
This series is one of the most iconic in video game history, and it has been incredibly influential in modernizing the platforming genre.
While there have been many games created for the franchise, these 15 have been the most impactful and popular overall.
Here’s a quick recap of the 15 best Donkey Kong games:
- Donkey Kong 64
- Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong’s Quest
- Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
- Donkey Kong Country Returns
- Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble!
- Donkey Kong (Game Boy)
- Donkey Kong Jungle Beat
- Donkey Kong Country
- Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem!
- Donkey Konga
- Mario vs. Donkey Kong
- Donkey Konga 2
- Donkey Kong Land III
- Donkey Kong: Jungle Climber
- Donkey Kong
What’s your favorite Donkey Kong game? Leave a comment below.
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