I am suffering from a character crisis in Super Smash Bros Ultimate. Traditionally, the way to solve this is to choose one fighter, learning the game through the perspective of your main. But with how large Smash’s cast is, could I be missing out on someone? For as long as it takes I intend on maining each character in Smash Bros, learning the game through their eyes, and then testing those skills at my local tournament. Then on Tuesday I will share my findings about the character, and include resources down below for those who want to learn for themselves. This will be a series on my blog and this YouTube channel so like the video and subscribe if you’d like to join me as I go through my Character Crisis. This week I get to play none other than the leader of the bunch, Donkey Kong.
Preconceptions on Donkey Kong
Arcade cabinet antagonist turned into beloved Nintendo icon, Donkey Kong has always been a fan favorite in Smash. The only DK game I’ve played is Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D, but I plan on picking up Tropical Freeze soon. Historically in every Smash game, DK has lived as a low-mid tier. Smash Ultimate probably has one of the best versions of DK we have ever seen with great attacks and a terrifying grab. Players such as Hikaru have shown us what the peak of the character looks like, placing 3rd at UFA 2022.
Donkey Kong as a character can be volatile. He has some of the best moves in the game, can delete stocks in seconds, and even outranges some swordfighters. But his fatal flaw is that he is the easiest character to combo in the entire roster. DK’s large hurtbox combined with his heavy weight let’s other characters bully him. Here are my thoughts on what DK’s matchup chart looks like before playing him, and here is one from the Donkey Kong discord.
Donkey Kong Matchup Chart
For the most part I seem to have a good idea of when Donkey Kong wins, but beyond that it seems as if most of my placings are skewed by about -0.5 on the DK chart. The most egregious discrepancy is probably Fox and Mega-Man which I thought could be even matchups for DK. Cloud, Kazuya, and Ice Climbers are listed as good matchups for DK even though I rated them as some of his worst. I think this goes to show how underrepresented Donkey Kong is in the meta as it’s hard to get an idea of what matchups he wins or loses, or rather how much he loses or goes even with them. Generally, DK mains tend to agree that he loses a lot of matchups, but his strengths can often win him the game regardless of who he’s fighting.
Donkey Kong has a unique mechanic called Cargo Throw that lets him walk and jump while holding someone. Perhaps his most infamous combo is Ding-Dong which can kill as early as 60%. This isn’t the case for all characters though, and DK mains have graciously provided resources such as this Ding-Dong guide. Knowing your Ding-Dong percents is important because it can be the difference between a stock or not. You can also extend the Ding-Dong window by performing Cargo Hold > Jump > Up-Throw > Land on platform > Double Jump > Up-Air.
Another important thing to practice is your reaction speed. DK’s Down-Tilt has a random chance of tripping someone which can lead to stupidly early kills. But if you don’t react fast enough to the trip you can miss out on your combo. Practice either shielding if the Down-Tilt doesn’t trip, or grabbing if it does. If you get good at this you can take stocks as early as 40%!
If you really want to get good at DK, get good at his recovery. Learning all of the mixups that he has available is very important to staying alive. Learn how far you can go with a Cargo Throw and still make it back. Experiment with different ways of getting off the ledge. And most important of all is to become self-aware of how you behave in disadvantage. For example, I noticed that I have a really bad double jump habit. Every option you burn that doesn’t get you back to center stage gives your opponent an easier time taking your stock. Many characters have things about them that make these mistakes matter less, but that’s not the case for Donkey Kong. Understanding how you behave in disadvantage is necessary when you are playing an exploitable character.
DK Combo Video
That being said, none of that matters if you can just kill your opponent. I hope you enjoy the combos I was able to land this week.
Donkey Kong has always been one of my favorite characters in Smash, and in Ultimate my DK was downright deadly. During the week he very quickly rose to be my highest character in Elite Smash and I was confident I would do well with him at my local. However, due to some personal events that happened I was unable to get as much practice with DK as I wanted. With Mario, it felt like that I went through a process where I learned a lot quickly and then plateaued, leading me to be frustrated with limitations of the character. However, by the end of the week I was able to get past that plateau because I learned how to deal with the limitations.
By the time I showed up at the local I was at my lowest point with DK. During friendlies I was getting mad that I wasn’t getting super-armor from his Up-B. I shouted to our local DK main Grimace if he agreed with me that “DK’s super armor is fake, right?”
Grimace said “You’re just bad.”
He was right. I was still stuck in the plateau where I knew what I wanted to happen but I couldn’t reliably get those results. Had I spent a little more time in the lab testing him out I’d have a better idea of when I can or can’t go for certain things. DK has a fantastic tool in super armor but it required a little more skill to use than I initially expected. Not long after this I was called over to my pool and had to play my first set.
Round 1 Gamma
I’ve never fought Gamma before so I didn’t know what to expect. All that mattered to me was selecting Donkey Kong. We start off game 1 and I immediately Self-Destruct (SD). However, I’m usually pretty mentally resilient to this kind of thing so I brush it off. I see an opportunity to Ding-Dong and try my best to land it but I’m just a little off. Turns out I was only off by 3%. On stock 2 I got stuck at the ledge. I tried to get back on stage, but was knocked away and didn’t realize until it was too late that I had lost my double jump. Two SD’s and it’s been less than a minute. I try to throw him off-stage but he mashes out super quick and then I died to the jankiest stage spike I have ever seen.
As much as it sucks to lose my first game in less than a minute and a half, I try not to dwell on it. Games with DK are fast for either you or your opponent. We open game 2 on Battlefield and I immediately make up for lost time. I keep him in disadvantage for most of the stock and kill him with a stage spike Bair. He then tries to come and edge guard me which leads to him dying at 7%. I then finish him off with another untechable stage spike. We were onto our final game before other people around us had finished their first.
Game 3 he switches to Terry. At first I wasn’t bothered by this until he hit me with 5 Down-Tilts that combo’d into Crackshoot. God I can’t wait to be the one playing Terry. Once I get him to GO percent I try to hit him with my fully charged Giant Punch, miss him by pixels, and then get Power Geysered into my last stock. Despite all of this, I manage to bring it back with only 48% on my last life. However, I tried to double jump to the platform, missed it, and didn’t react fast enough to not SD again.
Losing like this is incredibly tilting. I was playing well but gave up 3 of my stocks for free. This ended up costing me the set. This is a direct result of me not practicing enough, and then thinking about how I didn’t practice enough. DK was my current highest character in Elite Smash and I’ve been messing around with him for years. At the very least I’m proud of how even after the first game I didn’t let it get to me during the set, and I managed to decimate him in game 2. Sometimes you get unlucky though and you have to brush it off and move onto the next set.
Round 2 TemporaryPlan
This led me to my first opponent in losers. TemporaryPlan is a Pokemon Trainer who used to be PR in Utah, but hasn’t played Smash in a few years and is getting back into the game. However, when I sit down to play him he doesn’t pick Pokemon Trainer like I expected. He picks Donkey Kong. But not just any color, he chooses my alt. I had no choice but to pick a different color. I then get destroyed by him and forget to save the replay since it happened so fast. And maybe a small part of me didn’t want others to witness me being humiliated. In less than 2 minutes he made my entire week with DK feel invalidated.
Game 2 he switches to Diddy Kong to keep up with the monkey theme. At first it’s looking pretty bad for me, but after edgeguarding him I’m able to build his second life up to 71% before he can take my first stock. However, he outplays me in neutral multiple times and is able to bring it back to even. I try to hit him with two Forward-Tilts that just barely miss, and then I get a weird hitbox on my Up-B that sends him nowhere! He eventually corners me and kills me with a Back-Air after turning my shield into a skittle.
That was an uncharacteristically unlucky night for me. I SD’d 3 times, got janked out by the stage, fought a PR level player in the ditto with my color, and then three of my moves missed on my final tournament stock. Did I break a mirror on the drive here somehow? I could just write off this bad night to misfortune and move on with my life. But then I remember the wise words Grimace gave me.
You’re just bad.Grimace, Local DK Main
Let’s talk about that first stock. I got knocked off stage by a jab. I then didn’t realize that Up-B was starting to pull me towards the right until it was too late to course correct. Had I been more aware of the direction I had been facing this wouldn’t have happened. On my second stock I could have just immediately gone to ledge without risking not having a double jump. I could have teched on the stage.
Making mistakes is often the fastest way to improve but it can be difficult recognizing when those mistakes happen. It’s easy to blame the game or your character but there is almost always something that could have been done differently. Losing like this gives me direct ways in which I can practice such as labbing ways to get to ledge while charging Neutral-B.
Sometimes you do just get unlucky though. I whiffed on my Giant Punch by 1 frame because Terry was slightly crouched down from using Power Wave. However, had I gone for Down-Tilt instead that wouldn’t have been an issue in the first place. Donkey Kong isn’t the best character in Smash. But what I’ve learned playing him is that there is almost always something you could have done differently that could have changed the outcome of the game. And that there is a difference between being unlucky and being bad.
DK himself was a wonderful character to play. He has some of the most satisfying moves to land in the game, and he can be oppressive to anyone who doesn’t know how to fight him. As a character, he suffers from extremes, simultaneously having some of the best and worst attributes in the game. At the end of the day though, DK is still one of my favorite characters in the game and I can see myself revisiting him in the future.
However, it’s time for a new character. The results of my Twitter poll are in. I only have one thing to say.
See you next Tuesday!