Product Reviews

4 New LEGO Super Mario Donkey Kong Expansion Sets Coming In 2023

Four new Donkey Kong-themed sets are being added to LEGO Super Mario on August 1.

LEGO Group

LEGO Super Mario is about to mark its third anniversary and to celebrate, the LEGO Group is introducing one of the franchise’s most iconic characters to the ever-growing collection. To quote the legendary composer Grant Kirkhope, he’s the leader of the bunch, you know him well, and he’s finally back to kick some tail.

Donkey Kong and fellow members of the DK crew–Dixie Kong, Diddy Kong, Cranky Kong, and Funky Kong–have finally been immortalized in bricks across a quartet of LEGO Super Mario Expansion Sets, arriving worldwide on August 1. Between them, the collection channels an impressive mix of nostalgia and interactive fun for people of all ages, while arguably delivering the LEGO Super Mario range’s best sets yet for both play and display.

The launch of the Donkey Kong sets coincides with another of LEGO Group’s high-profile gaming-themed lines, following the announcement of its first mainline LEGO Sonic the Hedgehog collection earlier this month, also scheduled for an August 1 drop.

Much like its action-heavy SEGA line, the LEGO Group has focused on making the interactivity of LEGO Super Mario all the more exciting to discover, as I learned during a hands-on demonstration of the collection at LEGO Campus in Billund, Denmark, at the start of April.

Without further ado, here’s everything you need to know about LEGO Donkey Kong, as well as an exclusive insight into how it came to be–and if we can expect more from the partnership between the LEGO Group and Nintendo.

2023 LEGO Donkey Kong Expansion Sets in full

Rambi the Rhino Expansion Set (71420)

7+ | 106 pieces | Features Rambi the Rhino | $10.99 / €9.99 / £8.99

Dixie Kong’s Jungle Jam Expansion Set (71421)

7+ | 174 pieces | Features Dixie Kong and Squawks | $26.99 / €26.99 / £20.99

Donkey Kong’s Tree House Expansion Set (71424)

8+ | 555 pieces | Features Donkey Kong and Cranky Kong | $59.99 / €64.99 / £57.99

Diddy Kong’s Mine Cart Ride Expansion Set (71425)

8+ | 1,157 pieces | Features Diddy Kong, Funky Kong, Snaggles, and Mole Miner | $109.99 / €104.99 / £94.99

Intergeneration sensation

Entering the third year of LEGO Super Mario, the LEGO Group’s designers were looking for new opportunities to “add a little bit of variance and spice” to the line-up. Simon Kent, a design director at the LEGO Group who led the creation of these expansion sets, knew Donkey Kong had a special place in the heart of millions of people–whether they discovered him when trying to defeat him with Jumpman 40 years ago, or first learned who he was in The Super Mario Bros. Movie just this month.

“The heritage of Donkey Kong himself is very strong with all kinds of generations,” he says. “We know it from the very first games, but then there are people who know the character from Mario Kart, or some of the other more recent Donkey Kong games.

“We know that the family plays with LEGO Super Mario products together, and there’s that nostalgic effect of the parent wanting to introduce what they played with in their childhood to their son or daughter–so that was another reason we picked Donkey Kong.”

Dixie Kong’s Jungle Jam Expansion Set (71421).

LEGO Group

Child’s play

From the start, Kent and his team–which includes senior interactive play designers Didier Agani and Amy Bennett, whose passion for their latest creations is obvious by the way they themselves play with the sets–wanted to place as much positive emphasis on the characters. “Mario goes to visit them as an adventurer into the jungle,” Kent explains, “and the friendly interactions you have with the crew are something to be recognized.”

It also quickly became apparent which elements of the games would serve as inspiration for the four sets. “We spend a lot of time with the source material,” says Bennett. “We watched a lot of playthroughs trying to figure out what the most iconic music was, what the most iconic interactions are; how do the characters work? How does Donkey Kong actually move? What’s more important for Rambi, that he smashes objects or that he runs around?”

As with all ideas at the LEGO Group–especially with the added focus on interactive elements, giving extra depth and discoveries for players–it’s not all plain sailing. “There are a lot of things we try that don’t work,” says Agani. “What we’ve created is the result of a lot of trials–not errors, so much–but we find a lot of things that are not playful enough. Sometimes we think something is really cool but actually doesn’t really provide enough playfulness, so we remove that and it changes the whole distribution of things.”

The iconic mine cart level was a very clear set choice from the beginning, as was Donkey Kong’s treehouse. The set was originally envisioned as five sets, with Funky Kong and his plane earmarked for a standalone release. However, it was added to Diddy Kong’s Mine Cart Ride Expansion Set because the team wanted to offer players the illusion of being both inside and outside a mountain, with Funky providing respite from the more hectic elements found along the track.

Diddy Kong’s Mine Cart Ride Expansion Set (71425).

LEGO Group

“We also wanted to make sure we had opportunities to celebrate the characters, their personalities, and behaviors,” says Kent. “Dixie is very into music, so we decided to put her on a stage, and make music part of the event. Rambi was also important because he’s a different animal to the DK crew, and he offers a different kind of play.”

Designed, sealed, delivered

You only need to glance at the range’s characters to see how well the LEGO Group’s designers have captured them, and how LEGO bricks lend themselves to key features. Donkey Kong, Diddy Kong, Dixie Kong, Funky Kong, and Cranky Kong are nearly entirely made from existing LEGO pieces–true to the company’s ethos of only making new parts when absolutely necessary. Admittedly, there are a couple of specially made entries across the four sets, such as a banana leaf and Diddy Kong’s iconic red baseball cap.

What’s also obvious is the designers’ clear love for LEGO Super Mario’s new Donkey Kong line-up. When demonstrating everything the interactive characters of LEGO Mario, Luigi, and Peach can do, they play with them just as young kids would, making them hop-walk from set to set, exploring everything on offer. Bennett and Agani can’t suppress smiles as they show Mario playing bongos, riding DK, or trashing bricks with Rambi.

Rambi the Rhino Expansion Set (71420)

LEGO Group

Throughout the process, Nintendo proved to be a very supportive partner. “The Nintendo team is always super excited,” says Kent. “When you see these figures, your inner kid suddenly comes out; Nintendo can be a lot like that, too. They love playing with the models hands-on. Whenever we send them a video, they’d go ‘can we get this physically as well?’ We do eventually ship models over to Japan for them to play with, and get a final approval. In particular, they were very happy with the characters.”

One, in particular, appeared to be their favorite. “Nintendo was really happy that we kept the character of Cranky Kong,” says Bennett. “They were really excited about him, as were we to give a special moment with that character.”

The 18+ treatment?

Now that Donkey Kong is a firm fixture of the LEGO Super Mario line-up, one obvious question remains: could DK get the 18+ LEGO set treatment, immortalizing another Nintendo icon with a follow-up to The Mighty Bowser (71411)–something that Agani himself helped design?

Senior interactive play designer Didier Agani (left) also designed The Mighty Bowser.

LEGO Group

With trademark secrecy, Kent certainly seems open to the idea but isn’t giving anything away, and laughs: “All I can say is the adults are an important part of our segment, but I can’t tell you what might be the future. We’re always looking into how we can innovate play, and add a bit of spice, in a way where we either attract new people to the franchise or keep existing ones.

“The collaboration we have with Nintendo is quite unique for this company. We meet with Nintendo online every week; we have detailed discussions; they are a very strong part of our development process and partnership. What you see here is not just a product of our work–it’s a product of that collaboration with Nintendo.

“They make us better–they make our products better.”


Read More Nintendo Interactive Gaming Figures Product Reviews

Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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