Solving Donkey Kong Country’s Great DK Island Mystery

Ryan Williams
Feb 6, 2018 · 6 min read

Ever since Donkey Kong Country was released over 20 years ago, a mystery has relentlessly gnawed away at its players’ minds: why are the chimney stacks that represent the factory world sticking out of the top of a temple?

Having spent countless years investigating this topic, I believe that I’m in a position to present an explanation that’s sure to rock Donkey Kong Country fans to their core — a hypothesis that reveals development shortcuts taken by Rare, and calls into question the very nature of Donkey Kong Island.

To begin, a gander at the land mass in question:

DK Island

There’s no doubt that the chimneys indicating Kremkroc Industries, Inc’s position are on top of a temple. Donkey Kong Country features a number of temple-themed levels, so the presence of such a structure isn’t remarkable — but Kremkroc Industries, Inc. contains no such levels. In fact, the world is a vast environment of cliffs, factories, and even a lake:

Kremkrok Industries

Who would consider the demented idea of building chimneys upon ancient temples in the first place? Is this some kind of political statement by the game’s developer Rare, which in the smoggy 90s saw rampant industrialisation as something that would inevitably lead to society’s collapse — leaving mankind’s great accomplishments destined to become forgotten ruins like Donkey Kong Country’s temples?

No. So what’s going on here?

Comparing depictions of Donkey Kong Island

The root of all of this can be traced back to an earlier point in Donkey Kong Country’s development. Several months before the game was released, screenshots were distributed in an effort to get people salivating as profusely as possible in anticipation of its November release date.

While the quality of this image is poor due to years of neglect, here is one of the aforementioned screenshots:

DK Island (pre-release)

You’re right to be shocked. While initially difficult to discern, the chimneys aren’t in the same place as in the final game — not even close. Instead, they’re way over behind Vine Valley, the game’s third world.

The implications are staggering. Not only are the chimneys in a completely different location, they’re protruding from the side of the island never seen within any of the Donkey Kong Country games. What lurks behind there? Well, apparently the horrifying environment that Kremkroc Industries, Inc. is built upon.

The lumbering gorilla’s vanity project of an island is depicted a total of four times in the Donkey Kong Country games. It’s seen in the distance during the final boss battle of the original game:

Final boss battle level background

And then in Donkey Kong Country 2, we’re treated to depictions of it during the first and final regular worlds:

Gangplank Galleon
K. Rool’s Keep

It’s easy to assume that the same render is copied and pasted into the artwork for all three, but this is Rare we’re talking about — a developer renowned for impeccable attention to detail. The island was in fact rendered from a slighty different angle for each depiction, made obvious by this side-by-side comparison:

DK Island’s various depictions

Astonishing attention to detail, you’ll no doubt agree. But look more closely at the Donkey Kong Country 2 rendition of the island behind the close-up of Kaptain K. Rool’s impressive but tragically shipwrecked galleon. It doesn’t take the most astute of eyes to see that the chimneys are in the original pre-release location, behind the trees:

DK Island from Gangplank Galleon

They’re arguably behind the trees in the depiction seen during Donkey Kong Country’s final boss battle too (the left-most image in the side-by-side comparison above), but the render is so small it’s hard to say for sure.

There’s also the Game Boy Advance port/remake/whatever of Donkey Kong Country, where the following image appears behind the bonus level intro:

DK Island in Game Boy version of Donkey Kong Country

But why?

So, we now know that Kremkroc Industries, Inc. was originally meant to take place in an entirely different location. Why the change so late during the game’s development? Let us consider two implications of the edit:

  1. Donkey Kong Country has less worlds than its sequels. Things would have been more balanced if there were a temple-themed world, sadly abandoned during development. Moving the chimneys allows an otherwise useless part of the overworld to be utilised.
  2. The overworld has a large backwards ‘C’ curve to the path players take, with Kremkroc Industries, Inc. rightly being towards the end of the game due to its sadistic difficulty (Seriously, what the hell?). If it had followed Vine Valley as the earlier overworld design implied, things might have gotten real a bit too quickly for players.

One more thing…

We’ll likely never know the truth, nor exactly how late during the game’s development the changes were made. But there’s one final curiosity to this whole ordeal that leaves one of gaming’s most finely crafted classics with an ugly blemish.

If one looks closely at Donkey Kong Island, it’s apparent that Rare moved the chimneys in a rush. It was likely done after the rendered art assets had been locked down, because instead of moving them within the 3D model and doing a fresh render — which took a very long time with the computers of the time — Rare used a graphic editor to essentially do a cut-and-paste job.

Notice how in other depictions of the island, Donkey Kong’s signature quiff of hair is easily visible as a snow-capped mountain. It’s also there in the alternative versions of the Donkey Kong Country overworld discussed earlier:

This isn’t so in the final release of Donkey Kong Country. Instead, the hastily edited chimneys cut the hair short, leaving Donkey Kong’s island-sized monument to his visage a cheap imitation of the real thing. A few pixels of hair remain to the side of the chimneys, but the area between them is just blue sky:

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this gripping glimpse into the storied history of Donkey Kong Country. Let me know your thoughts! And if you do enjoy inappropriately in-depth examinations of old games, feel free to subscribe as you may see some more content along these lines in the future. Thanks!

Ryan Williams

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Developer and esteemed connoisseur of fine games