The Potential Pitfalls to Re-Issue Donkey Kong 64 on Virtual Console

In today’s Nintendo eShop update,  many were surprised to see the return of Donkey Kong 64 to Wii U Virtual Console. If you don’t understand why this is a big deal to retro connoisseurs, this game has never been revisited since its 1999 release on Nintendo 64. It completely skipped the Wii’s Virtual Console, only to show up today. But why would Nintendo leave one of their major Donkey Kong releases, one backed up by a heavy marketing machine at the time, unchecked and unloved?

Many speculate that Donkey Kong 64 (henceforth DK 64) fell prey to some legal and technical issues, based on the way the game was originally coded and on some ownership problems with regards to hidden content inside. The answer is not so easy, so thus we investigate the possible reasons we may not have seen DK 64 again until today.


There’s a classic game from Rare included

In the days before digital distribution, the only way to re-issue a classic game was on a ROM, an emulation within code. In DK 64, the first red flag that complicated a re-release was the inclusion of developer Rare’s first-ever game, Jetpac, originally released for the ZX Spectrum. You can play a full recreation of Jetpac in Cranky’s Lab.

Being that it is Microsoft who owns Rare these days, and not Nintendo, the inclusion of Jetpac so deep in DK 64’s ROM must have been a headache for both parties. But what is surprising is that Jetpac was left intact in DK 64’s digital release. Either no one cared enough to remove it, or there was no problem at all. Either way, it’s surprising, and hopefully doesn’t create issues down the road between Nintendo and Microsoft.


There’s an emulation of the original Donkey Kong (which itself has legal problems)

Speaking of old games, Rare also saw fit to include the original Donkey Kong as a playable game in DK 64. And when we say “original”, we mean the for-real arcade edition from 1981, with the Pie Factory level and all. That game alone has legal troubles of its own. See, the original arcade Donkey Kong was not coded by Nintendo, but by Ikegami Tsushinki, a Japanese manufacturer and contractor. Through a series of legal scuffles, with the game’s code considered copywritten by Ikegami, and Nintendo reverse engineering said code for their later arcade games, the company took the Big N to court over the next few years. Out of that case, we’ve almost never seen the arcade original of Donkey Kong, only the NES version: except in DK 64. Though strange that these issues didn’t come to light when Rare ported the game to DK 64 in 1999, they may have been amplified in recent years. Once again, like with Jetpac, the arcade Donkey Kong remains in the Virtual Console re-release, untouched by man.

That game-breaking bug only solved by the Expansion Pack

A few years ago, it came to light that DK 64 suffered a terrible and powerful glitch that caused random crashing, and Rare could only fix the bug with the N64’s Expansion Pack, at great expense to the company. Now, many will say that another Expansion Pack game, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, was re-issued on the Wii, and they’re right. Despite this, the aforementioned bug could have prevented DK 64 from seeing the same treatment. Now, the Wii U is more than capable of emulating classic, even complex, games like DK 64, clearly, Nintendo found a way to emulate the DK 64 experience properly.


The other Donkey Kong Country games were gone for a while

Despite that Nintendo owns the Donkey Kong characters, including the ones created at Rare from 1994 to 1999, that didn’t stop the original Donkey Kong Country trilogy from suffering some legalities of its own. The seminal Super NES trilogy was released on the Wii in 2007, but five years later was pulled from the service with no explanation. Popular speculation pointed to royalties: Microsoft, or Rare, was asking for more money to keep the trilogy on digital distribution. Nintendo wouldn’t have it, and thus the games were pulled. This royalty-based deal, if true, would have also affected the re-issue of DK 64.

Evidently, something worked out on both sides, because not only did these games return for the Wii U Virtual Console this past February, but they also returned to the Wii Shopping Channel, where they came from to begin with.


Clearly, the problems that held DK 64 back all these years are not unique cases, but they do get amplified whenever they’re attached to a big-name game. It’s funny how time can be kind to the classics sometimes. After all, we did see Earthbound return to the Wii U in 2013, when everyone pointed at that game’s musical sampling problems as an obstacle to ever see a release again. Something’s happening behind the scenes with Nintendo and their Virtual Console candidates, and we should be thankful for this progress.

Now, let’s see the original Super NES version of Yoshi’s Island and Star Fox get a re-release.

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Editor-in-Chief (Former)

A man with a plan. My favorite video game franchise is Pokemon, but his favorite video game is Resident Evil 4. I can also tell you trivial cartoon factoids.