The Kurious Kase of the Kaptivating Krocodilain, King K. Rool
How a long-lost Donkey Kong character made it to Smash Bros.
If you only got into gaming within the last ten years, you might not have known who King K. Rool was when he was announced as a playable character in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate earlier this month. Even the most recent mainline Donkey Kong games, Donkey Kong Country Returns and Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, do not feature the crocodilian menace at all. K. Rool’s last appearance was as a cameo role in Mario Super Sluggers in 2008, over a full decade ago. So, why was he chosen for this iteration of Super Smash Bros.? It seems that it had everything to do with the 2015 Smash Ballot.
During the previous Smash Bros’ DLC cycle, the game’s lead developer, Masahiro Sakurai, introduced the “Smash Bros. Fighter Ballot,” a way to gauge which characters fans wanted in the game. It was an online form where people could write the name of a character they wanted in the game and their reasons for wanting them. The Ballot ran from April 1st to October 3rd of 2015 and seemed to only impact one DLC character for the game: Bayonetta.
The official statement was that Bayonetta was the number one choice among Europeans and in the top five most desired characters globally, but this information was presented with an asterisk. Bayonetta was the number one choice of “realizable and negotiable characters” and what made a character realizable was never fully explained. The common assumption was that this meant that requests for non-game characters like Spongebob and Goku (who Sakurai has spoken about in the past) were ignored. There is another theory, however, based on data from Smash Bros. balance patches and leaks.
Only two weeks after the Ballot opened, patch 1.0.6 for Smash Wii U included the framework for the characters that would become Lucas, Ryu, Roy, Cloud, and Bayonetta. This seems to indicate that Bayonetta, despite being framed as a response to the Ballot, must have truly been planned in advance. This interpretation is corroborated by a leaker by the alias of “Dave Throat.” In an episode of the Donkey Kong fan-podcast, The Kongversation, host Hyle Russell claims that Dave Throat forwarded information about the true functionality of the Smash Ballot. While Dave Throat would like to remain anonymous, I can independently confirm Russell’s source.
According to Dave Throat, the Smash Ballot was an effort to make fans feel that their voices were being heard, but the actual DLC characters needed to be chosen in advance because of their long development time. The actual results of the Ballot were a complete surprise to Nintendo (especially the support for King K. Rool, Dave Throat emphasizes) and the justification of Bayonetta doing well in Europe might have been the developer’s only option in terms of making it look like the Ballot was used in choosing at least one of the characters in the DLC cycle.
It’s possible that Nintendo had data that would have suggested that Bayonetta or Cloud would win the Ballot, but it didn’t go as planned. That’s all speculation, though. What isn’t speculation, however, is that the Ballot played a huge role in the choices of characters in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. According to Sakurai himself in his weekly Famitsu column, “I referred to the Smash Ballot when selecting characters this time, and King K. Rool from the Donkey Kong series was one who received a ton of votes.”
It’s likely that we’ll never see a full run-down of the Ballot’s true results, but King K. Rool must have scored fairly near the top for him to be brought in on Ballot votes alone. It’s even possible that he won the whole thing.
The Kremling Kampaigner is a Twitter account which has been collecting (kollecting?) support for King K. Rool’s inclusion in Super Smash Bros. since before the Ballot opened. Many potential Smash characters have large fanbases, but, to my knowledge, only K. Rool’s has been organized enough to launch a unified campaign. If K. Rool was made playable because of the Ballot, the Kremling Kampaigner was an undeniably important part of making that happen. They recently made a thank you card from some of the King’s biggest supporters to send to Sakurai. I was proud to lend my name as well.
For more on the Kremling Kampaigner, watch out for this week’s upcoming Super Jump Podcast, where I interview the minds behind the Twitter account to see how the effort began and where it’s heading in the future.