Mario is one of the most beloved and pure characters in all of gaming. Nintendo’s greatest hero, Mario always does the right thing and always wins. Deep in Mario’s past, however, there is one game that is an exception to both those rules. Donkey Kong Jr., the second game that Mario ever appeared in, cast him as the villain who was defeated and even killed (he’s Mario, so he was able to get better) by the title character. To this day, Donkey Kong Jr. is the only game to present Mario as a villain who loses at the end. Ever since then, Mario’s image has been kept pure, and Donkey Kong Jr. has… vanished?
With the revelation that the current Donkey Kong is the grandson of the original, now known as Cranky Kong, it is logical to assume that Donkey Kong Jr. is his father. However, Donkey Kong Jr. has not been seen in some time, despite his father and son still being alive and active. What happened to Donkey Kong Jr.? The answer will shock you and forever change how you view Mario and his world. The sordid tale of hatred and revenge can be glimpsed through the games the public has seen, and it is a disturbing and complex story. I have put in the painstaking research and risked the wrath of gaming’s most powerful “hero” to bring you the truth. Let’s start at the beginning.
Mario was a lot more morally ambiguous in his first appearance. In his debut game, Donkey Kong, Mario was the playable character but the titular “bad guy” was said to be Mario’s pet whom Mario had not treated well. Mario succeeded in rescuing his girlfriend Pauline (her minimal appearances since then are another indication that Mario does not wish to have this part of his career emphasized) and captured Donkey Kong. Donkey Kong Jr. set out to rescue his father from Mario as the titular character and playable protagonist in Donkey Kong Jr. Donkey Kong Jr. did the unthinkable in this game, and defeated Mario. With his father rescued and Mario dead for the time being, Jr. and Donkey Kong returned to their home after the latter had a brief detour in a greenhouse. Donkey Kong Jr. passed his time doing math problems, and despite his glandular problem that would let him play his child role for years to come, he did manage to start a family. Mario was far busier, and not just with his games…
After the trivial task of fighting his way back to the living world, Mario’s career really began to take off. With his platformers making him the most famous character in gaming, Mario’s public image was as pure as could be. But he never forgot. Mario would not, could not, let go of his anger at the only character to ever defeat him. His secret obsession grew stronger and stronger as the years went by. Unable to stand it any longer, Mario formulated a revenge plan. Under the pretense of a friendly racing tournament for all his friends and enemies, Super Mario Kart was meant to be a simple trap. A certain Thwomp was instructed by Mario to break from his designated pattern when Donkey Kong Jr. was under him, and to use maximum force instead of the non-lethal amount the Thwomps were told to use for the “friendly” races. Had this plan succeeded, we would likely know nothing of it today. But things don’t always go according to plan.
A Koopa Troopa who had been chosen to represent his species in Super Mario Kart was neck in neck with Donkey Kong Jr. when they passed under the Thwomp assassin, and the Thwomp hit the wrong target. The Koopa was dead (this led to his species boycotting the Mario Kart games until over a decade later in Mario Kart: Double Dash) and a furious Mario locked up the “rogue” Thwomp in Bowser’s Castle without a trial, as seen in Mario Kart 64.
Forced to try again, Mario set up another adventure that would involve his secret enemy, the Game Boy Donkey Kong. Mario presented this as a friendly stage play (like Super Mario Bros. 3), but Mario had other plans. Donkey Kong Jr. was trapped in a cage in a late stage, left behind by Mario and his father. The cage was set to drop Jr. the long distance to the ground after all witnesses had left the stage, creating a role reversal of the one time Mario had been defeated. The body would be consumed by nearby minor enemies. Not wanting to raise suspicion with two “accidents” in such close proximity, Mario hired one of the several Donkey Kong Jr. body doubles to pose for the credits and later break off contact with his father. Mario had the body double make a few more token appearances at tennis matches, and once he was satisfied that no suspicion was going to arise, he let Donkey Kong Jr. be forgotten.
This appears to be the end of Donkey Kong Jr., but it wasn’t. While most of the Mushroom Kingdom bought Mario’s version of the Super Mario Kart “accident,” Jr. connected the dots and realized he had been the target. Mario’s invitation to Donkey Kong (1994) was recognized as another murder attempt by Jr. Knowing he could never challenge Mario after he had become so powerful, Jr. and his family devised a plan. Donkey Kong Jr.’s son rescued him from his would-be deathtrap, and they retreated to their island. Knowing he could never show his face while Mario believed him to be dead, Jr. devised a new identity. An identity that took advantage of his small size, one that conveniently showed up right after Donkey Kong Jr. supposedly died.
That’s right, Donkey Kong Jr. became Diddy Kong. After extensive plastic surgery, Jr. was ready to join his family on their new adventures which were just starting. Mario never suspected that Donkey Kong the third’s new “little buddy” was actually his father and Mario’s murder target. Eventually Diddy Kong became brave enough to appear alongside Mario in extended gathering. While it was as happy an ending as could be hoped for under the circumstances, it doesn’t change what Mario was prepared to do, and to this day believes he actually did. Mario may be gaming’s greatest hero, but it would be an understatement to say that he does not handle defeat well. Sometimes there is much more to a gaming icon than meets the eye, and you don’t know them as well as you think.
Disclaimer: This has been a Halloween article written in the spirit of fun and the holiday. The author has nothing but respect for Mario and his legacy, and the last thing he wants is to tarnish Mario’s image or become his next target.