In a recent episode of Reece Reilly’s Kiwi Talkz podcast, former Retro Studios developer and senior designer on Metroid Prime Mike Wikan revealed some interesting tidbits about his time working on Nintendo properties at the Austin-based studio. This included a fun anecdote involving Nintendo legend Shigeru Miyamoto as he played an early build of Donkey Kong Country Returns.
On one particularly memorable visit to take an early look at the Wii project, Miyamoto was playing around with DK in a way that baffled the onlooking Retro devs — running to the corner and crouching in the dust. It didn’t become apparent exactly what he was doing for some time.
Here’s a transcript of Wikan describing the scene (you can check out the entire interview archived on Youtube below, too):
[Miyamoto] was running into the corner with DK — we had the DK package running early on — and he would kick up a little bit of dust, he would go to the corner and [mimes rummaging around in the dust]. And he did this for a long time, for like 20 minutes. And we were like ‘What did we do wrong? What is he finding?’, you know.
And it turns out that… he was looking at the particle effects on the dust. He was looking [and said] ‘What if, when you did this with the controls, DK would blow [blows] like that, create air coming out of his mouth. And we were like ‘What?!’. We’re thinking ‘well…’ — some of the team was resistant to it — but we’re like ‘Sure, we can do that’.
The way I took it was that, at the time we had DK […] moving through the jungle, we had all that nailed, it felt fun to run around as DK, jump and do those things, and he felt like a heavy, powerful protagonist in the game in that regard. But it was missing whimsy, it was missing that playful sense of the character. So what Miyamoto-san was looking for […] was just a little gameplay element. So when he blows, his face makes this expression [makes a silly blowing expression], it’s really silly for a giant strong gorilla.
[Miyamoto] had his finger on the pulse immediately. He knew what he wanted — he wanted a little bit of flavour added to DK that was a little bit whimsical. And it just did perfectly, it was the perfect call.
The fact that this detail came from Miyamoto was known from an Iwata Asks interview, but the exact moment and manner in which it was conveyed to the team at Retro is a cute memory, and a nice encapsulation of Miyamoto’s effect on adding a little of ‘the Nintendo difference’ to the projects he’s involved with.
If you don’t remember this odd little ability introduced in DKC Returns, you can check out the action in this gameplay clip video. The entire interview the Wikan (below) is well worth a watch/listen, too.
And next time some wag tells you that DK blows, you should tell them it’s entirely by design and it’s all Shigeru Miyamoto’s fault.