Donkey Kong isn’t just a villain for Mario.
Hey, remember the ’80s? I do, and back in the 1980s, we had these cartoons based off of our favorite video games. These weren’t translated Japanese TV shows — these were home-grown right here in the good ol’ US of A. We had shows based on Mario, Zelda, Sonic, and more. For those video game heroes that weren’t quite A-list enough to rate their own programs, though, there was another show. There was Captain N: The Game Master.
Captain N often took upcoming games that Nintendo was trying to promote and featured them in various episodes. Of course, top-tier third party characters like Simon Belmont and Mega Man showed up as well, if in highly altered forms. But there was one character in Captain N that loomed threateningly over any adventure, any event, and that was Donkey Kong himself.
Unlike his traditional video game appearance, DK was the king of the jungle in a big way. He was ten to twenty times his current in-game size, and for his first few appearances, his wrath mostly came out after being accidentally interrupted by Captain N or the show’s villains during a shower or around bedtime.
This version of Donkey Kong was a slumbering giant, a wild card, as likely to attack the show’s evil-doers as he would the N Team (except for that one episode where he played for Mother Brain’s team in the “Videoland Olympics”). Unpredictable, he might even lend assistance to the good guys at times. This was probably the most intimidating version of DK, who admittedly had usually been cast as the villain up to this point (his most recent game would have been Donkey Kong 3), had also usually had a comic tinge to his villainy. Meaning, he was an ape on the loose performing acts of mischief rather than actual malevolence.
This hearkens back to his first Saturday morning appearance on the Saturday Supercade, where Kong is a lovesick ape, voiced by comedian Soupy Sales, and is constantly trying to get away from Mario and/or run off with Pauline.
Donkey Kong is possibly the highest-tier first-party character ever to appear on the show, as most of Nintendo’s prime franchises had their own shows (Mario, Zelda) or hadn’t really come into their own yet (Kirby, F-Zero). Samus was never included in the Captain N TV show, and Pit (called “Kid Icarus” on Captain N) had only two games at the time, and for a long time thereafter.
DK had no tie, either, as Donkey Kong Country was nearly half a decade away, and here his character seems to be inspired more by King Kong (whom he has been proven to be legally distinct from by a US court of law) than ever before, as his titular land of “Kongoland” is inhabited by villagers who make offerings to appease him — though these offerings are of fruit and not young female villagers, since this was a Saturday morning cartoon.
Later, Kong would appear in the Donkey Kong Country cartoon as well, speaking actual words instead of nonsense and grunts. Before he became a hero, though, DK occupied the role of villain, not only in games but on television as well. But only in Captain N was he an unpredictable, unstoppable force of nature that was as likely to step on you as give you a banana. Except in that episode where he though Simon Belmont was his kid. That one was weird.