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Why King K. Rool is dominating Smash fans’ attention, and affection

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He’s a heavy boy with great music, who is faster than he looks

A screenshot of King K. Rool in Smash Bros. Ultimate. Nintendo

You’ve likely been seeing a lot of King K. Rool if you’ve been playing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate online or watching Smash content on YouTube or Twitch. The community is in love, or perhaps obsessed, with this new Smash fighter.

The best part is that it’s not because he’s overpowered. Something more interesting is going on, and I’m here to explain why this particular King has become exactly that.

Who is King K. Rool?

King K. Rool is the villain from the Donkey Kong Country series. He’s a crocodile pirate king with a bugged-out, bloodshot eye and a golden, armored belly. He last appeared in 1999’s Donkey Kong 64, but he’s remained popular as a classic, archetypal video game villain. He often wears disguises and invents strange gadgets for his elaborately evil schemes.

K. Rool even pretends to die, and fake credits — that claim his Kremling henchmen made the game scroll — roll across the screen during a boss fight in Donkey Kong Country, before he jumps up to attack Donkey Kong again.

Despite his recent absences, K. Rool’s popularity persists. In 2015, Nintendo ran an online poll inviting players to vote for characters they wanted to see in Smash. K. Rool was the most-requested character by a significant margin, acccording to data community members collected from unofficial polls, followed by Isaac from Golden Sun, Banjo-Kazooie, and a return for Snake and Wolf.

Game director Masahiro Sakurai later said that K. Rool’s popularity in the 2015 ballot was one of the reasons for the character’s inclusion in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

Drawing from the past

The king of the Kremlings comes to Smash with a moveset that draws heavily from the Donkey Kong games. K. Rool throws his pointy crown like a boomerang in his first Donkey Kong Country appearance; Donkey Kong has to dodge the crown, then jump on K. Rool’s unprotected head in order to defeat the boss.

The crown boomerang is K. Rool’s side-special move in Smash Ultimate. K. Rool drops the crown as an item if he fails to catch it upon its return, and opponents can then grab it and throw it at him as their own attack or just keep it from him for as long as possible.

K. Rool tries to shoot Diddy and Dixie Kong with a huge blunderbuss that can also vacuum them up in Donkey Kong Country 2.

The character’s neutral special in Ultimate is whipping the gun out and firing a large cannonball projectile that moves slowly across the screen. K. Rool can use neutral special again to switch on the vacuum once the gun has been fired, which can either suck up the projectile and fire it back out at an angle, or it can suck up an opponent and launch them directly. K. Rool dons a pirate hat during these attacks to reference the original game.

K. Rool is a mad scientist in Donkey Kong Country 3, and he hovers above an electrified floor using a helicopter backpack. Dixie and Kiddy Kong hit him with barrels to knock him to the ground and shock him.

K. Rool puts on the backpack as his Smash Ultimate up special. This is his recovery move, which allows him to maneuver in the air and get back to the stage if he gets launched over the ledge.

Finally, K. Rool threatens to blow up Donkey Kong Island using a mobile island fortress with a giant laser called the Blast-O-Matic if the player fails to stop him in Donkey Kong 64. The “Game Over” cutscene from DK64 is now K. Rool’s final smash.

K. Rool’s wildly anticipated Smash debut also comes with an awesome new theme song. Composer ACE included an excellent new arrangement of the boss-level music from the original 1994 Donkey Kong Country. The classic version starts out sounding like a sea-shanty played on an accordion — because the boss fight takes place on K. Rool’s pirate ship, the Gangplank Galleon — before the song segues into some kind of 16-bit synth rock.

The new track, which accompanied K. Rool’s reveal trailer in August 2018, is an up-tempo jam with a lot of trumpets and, in keeping with Donkey Kong Country tradition, a weird rap verse.

Smash is known for new arrangements of classic game tracks, but this is something special.

The new song, which is featured in almost every K. Rool-related YouTube video, has been a big part of the hype around the character.

But is he good?

K. Rool is a heavyweight character, like Bowser, Donkey Kong, King Dedede, Charizard, Incineroar, and Ganondorf. Bowser is the only heavier character.

Heavy characters in Smash have struggled historically; they tend to deal a lot of damage and are hard to launch off the stage, but they have also been slow-moving, with large hitboxes and often poor recovery moves.

Smash Ultimate’s designers have sped up the game in general, however, and have also normalized jump speeds among all characters. Heavy characters no longer jump slower than lighter characters, which is a dramatic buff.

K. Rool’s two projectile attacks are useful, but he also has a unique defensive mechanic: he gains “super armor” during animations for certain moves that involve his round, armored belly. This armor reduces the damage he takes, the distance he can be knocked back, and his chance to “flinch,” or have his animation interrupted if he gets hit in the belly while he is performing the attack.

He puffs out his gut with his neutral aerial and activates the super armor, protecting him as he lands. His forward tilt attack, in which he claps an opponent with his powerful claws, gives him the super armor at the start of the animation, which means this slow-but-powerful attack can’t be interrupted at close range.

His dash attack, in which he runs forward and belly-bounces an opponent, and his down smash, in which he hops into the air and belly flops onto his hapless opponent for massive damage, similarly grant him the armor mechanic and are therefore difficult to counter.

His down special is a “gut check,” in which he uses his belly to deflect an incoming melee attack and counterattack, or to reflect a projectile.

Oh, and he gets super armor while performing his side taunt, so the usual “taunt to get bodied” rules don’t apply to King K. Rool.

Many players complained that he was overpowered when Ultimate was released, due to his powerful ranged attacks, power in melee trades and ability to bully opponents with his belly. K. Rool’s trusty propeller backpack also provides unusually good mobility in the air for such a heavy character.

Expert players have started to figure out his weaknesses, however. In his recent tier list, Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios, who is considered the top Smash player in the world, rated K. Rool at the bottom of his high tier. That’s not a very good showing, considering the top tier includes 10 characters and the high tier contains another 36.

ZeRo explained that K. Rool is developing a reputation as a noob stomper, because new players don’t know how to deal with his super armor. However, more experienced players will be able to roll behind him or maneuver around him to exploit his slow movement speed and his long animations. They can then hit him in the back, where his armor offers no protection.

The main thing to understand is that he’s very thicc

K. Rool is a competent fighter and a viable pick, despite the best players learning how to counter his strengths. Although K. Rool’s stature in the eyes of top competitors is on the wane, the King of the Kremlings is still one of the Kings of Kontent on YouTube, where K. Rool-themed videos have been incredibly popular.

ZeRo himself has a 20-minute video providing in-depth analysis and explanations about everything in K. Rool’s kit. Watching everything on ZeRo’s channel is step one if you want to git gud enough to climb the ranks into the Elite Smash mode or batter your friends and family in local play.

But a lot of players view Smash as a party game, and aren’t as interested in learning the technical complexities of the sweet science. They just want to see K. Rool dishing out big-boy belly beatings. Such content is available in great quantities.

Cade “WeeGeeTheGod” McKown has been a well-known streamer and YouTuber for several years, and his K. Rool video showing how a clever way to dunk on other players has amassed over 2.1 million views in four weeks. It’s now his most popular video ever, surpassing his video featuring King Dedede, which shows a similar concept using Dedede’s ability to swallow his opponents. The difference is that it took over three years for that video to amass over 1.9 million views. Smash players really enjoy watching K. Rool embarrassing others.

And there are multiple K. Rool YouTube videos at or near seven-figure view counts, including an “Inside the mind of a K. Rool player” video from Slimecicle, which features a rendition of the K. Rool theme song played on kazoos, and an inspiring montage from Little Z, in which K. Rool’s blunderbuss is dubbed the “Meme Cannon.”

There’s also a meme video for the new song that “animates” still images of K. Rool and the Kremlings by distorting and rotating them in time to the music. It has over 1.6 million views.

And there are a bunch of other videos with hundreds of thousands of views, including a clever montage/explainer about why you should main K. Rool from Smash YouTuber MightyKeef, and a very funny and surprisingly comprehensive rundown of the character from MagikarpUsedFly.

Part of the K. Rool hype might be because Smash Ultimate is more popular than Smash 4, since the Switch is a lot more popular than the Wii U. It might be that the K. Rool video caught a wave of general enthusiasm around launch. Or it might be that other characters will grow just as popular with time.

But it also might be that, while characters like Inkling bring unreasonable power and mobility to their fights, the Splatoon crew doesn’t bring the memes.

Unlike the King.