I will never waver from my conviction that Diddy Kong Racing for Nintendo 64 is a vastly superior racing game to everyone’s beloved Mario Kart 64. Of course, we live in a Mario Kart world, and trying to preach the good word of Diddy Kong Racing throughout my life hasn’t been easy — in fact, most people don’t even know how Diddy Kong fits into the long-established Donkey Kong Universe.
Unlike the prim and proper, meticulously controlled relations between Mario and the rest of the Mario Kart cast, Donkey Kong fans aren’t spoon-fed narratives and family trees explaining who is related to whom. So, if only to bear the burden of other Diddy Kong Racing fans so they may proudly emerge from the shadows, allow me break down Diddy Kong’s relation to Donkey and the rest of the Kongs.
To start, it’s important to recognize that “Kong” isn’t a shared last name among family members but “akin to a species title.” “Not all of them are biologically connected nor directly related via actual bloodlines/familial ties to one another,” the Donkey Kong Wikipedia reads, “but instead the name is a sign of their union as a species, like clans and tribes.”
This is an important distinction because it helps explain why so many ancillary characters in the Donkey Kong Universe might be enemies or romantic partners with characters they share a last name with. Rest assured, then, that characters like Funky Kong, Candy Kong, Swanky Kong, Lanky Kong, Redneck Kong, Bluster Kong, Tiny Kong, Chunky Kong and Dixie Kong are not related to Diddy Kong or Donkey Kong.
Having said that, there is a familial bond connecting key figures in the Donkey Kong Universe. The original Donkey Kong who first appeared in the 1981 arcade game isn’t the Donkey Kong we know and love today. According to the in-game canon of subsequent Donkey Kong installments, this Donkey Kong now goes by his nickname, Cranky Kong.
Cranky Kong’s son, Donkey Kong Jr., appeared in Super Mario Kart and Mario Tennis for N64 before having a son of his own and then mysteriously disappearing. (Or, as some speculate, adorning a fedora to become the “Fedora Kong” in the 1995 Nintendo Gameboy hit, Donkey Kong Land.)
That leaves us with Junior’s son, the current Donkey Kong who, technically speaking, would be Donkey Kong the Third. Donkey Kong the Third first appeared in 1994’s Donkey Kong Country, and unlike his great-grandfather Cranky Kong, isn’t as bent on kidnapping Princess Peach and throwing barrels at Mario.
Now, where does that put Diddy Kong? Despite being the Luigi to Donkey Kong’s Mario, Diddy and Donkey are not brothers, nor do they even belong to the same generation. Rather, Diddy Kong is Donkey Kong’s nephew and best friend, but there is little to no information regarding the identity of Diddy’s parentage or why he was modeled after a spider monkey rather than a gorilla like his uncle and great grandfather.
Nintendo has offered little explanation as to why confusion and disarray are, by all appearances, the central theme of Donkey Kong’s canonical lineage. But perhaps that’s part of the fun. In every Donkey Kong-centric game since Donkey Kong Country, players are constantly receiving help from family members across the universe regardless of their blood relation — wisdom from great-grandparents, travel tips from their uncle and moral support from one of their friend’s older cousins.
So Diddy Kong Racing didn’t feature a star-studded cast of classic Nintendo characters like Mario Kart, but I’ll take a helpful and loving, albeit a bit chaotic, Kong Klan over Mario’s aristocratic, castle-dwelling, mushroom-addicted “nuclear family” any day of the week.