Donkey Kong Country Review

  • Developer: Rare
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Platform: SNES, Virtual Console
  • Release Date: 21 November 1994
  • MSRP: $7.99 (Wii U Virtual Console)

Donkey Kong Country was released on the Super Nintendo back in 1994.  The Donkey Kong series was perhaps best known for spawning the Mario franchise.  You know, the most successful videogame franchise of all time. Donkey Kong was released in 1981 for arcades around the world.  In this game, Jumpman (Mario) must save his girlfriend from Donkey Kong.  The Player must navigate Jumpman up the platforms while dodging obstacles to reach the top, in which Donkey Kong is holding his girlfriend.  The legendary Shigeru Miyamoto was the game director and Gunpei Yokoi was the producer.  The Donkey Kong series for the most part were these arcade style of games.  The series remained in the background while Nintendo’s more popular franchises were taking off in the 1980s.  At this point in time, the SNES was starting to lose ground with the Sega Genesis.  Nintendo was looking to inject new life in the SNES.  In 1994, Nintendo bought 49% of the British developer Rareware.  Rare was known for NES games Battletoads and Wizards and Warriors.  This acquisition made Rare a second party developer exclusively for Nintendo.  For Rare’s first game under the new deal, Nintendo recommended they make a new series involving Donkey Kong.  Donkey Kong Country was released to widespread acclaim and established Rare as one of the premier game developers of the 1990s.

Rare would also go on to develop successful games such as Donkey Kong Country 2 + 3, Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie, Donkey Kong 64, Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Diddy Kong Racing, and the cult favorite Conker’s Bad Fur day.   Before the release of the much maligned Star Fox Adventures, Rare was bought out by those evildoers at Microsoft to become a first party developer for the Xbox.  Time has not been kind to Rare. Cough…Nuts and Bolts…cough.  They went from making some of the best games of all-time to making shitty motion control games for soccer moms and old people.  Well enough brooding, back to the review.  With all the praise heaped on DKC, how well has it held up after all these years?  Is it as good as we all remember?  Please don’t kill me if I am critical of anything in this game.  I am not trying to rape your childhood so just calm down.  Stating an opinion on the internet is the absolute worst thing a person can do.  Anyway, time to actually review this game.

Rareware
What happened Rare? You used to be cool.

Story

As typical of games released in this era, there is not much of a story.  The story is simply an excuse to set up the game.  King K. Rool and his crocodile army (known as kermlings) has taken over Donkey Kong’s Island in order to steal all of his Bananas.  King K. Rool hates the Kongs and wants to make them suffer.  Actually, it’s kind of fucked up if you think about it.  It is up to Donkey Kong and his best friend Diddy Kong to get the bananas back from the evil king.  The story is not an important part of the game and it works just fine.  This era put much more emphasis on gameplay rather than story.  The lack of story does not detract from the overall experience.

DKC bananas

Gameplay

DKC is a 2D side scrolling platformer in the vein of Mario or Sonic.  The player takes control of Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong. Donkey Kong is really strong but is slower and can’t jump as high as Diddy.  Diddy is able to jump higher and is faster than DK.  Dk is able to take out the heavier enemies that Diddy cannot kill.  The characters can only be hit once.  The levels will have barrels with DK written on them that will bring back DK or Diddy.

DKC’s strength lies in its creative level designs.  Most of the levels take place in the jungle while others take place underwater, in mines, factory, and snow and ice levels.  These levels are unique and challenging.  The placement of the enemies and platforms will test the skills of any gamer.  All of the levels have several secret areas the player can access.  Most of these secret areas provide the player with a bonus game or extra bananas.  The bananas function similar to coins in Mario as they will provide the player with an extra life after 100 have been collected.  Your bananas.  Way too much phallic imagery in this game!  In order to get 101% completion, the player must enter every secret area.  It is not worth playing the game to completion as it does not equal a better reward.

dkc ice level

While these levels tend to be creative, they also can be very frustrating.  One of the major issues I had with the game was that the camera is a bit too zoomed in.  There many parts in the game in which I was killed by enemies or attacks I did not see coming.  It forces the player to go through the levels slowly until they are able to remember locations of enemies or pit falls.  Leaps of faith become somewhat common. I consider this a negative and a positive.  The game is trying to put the player’s skills to the test.  It does not hold your hand as you play.  The game requires practice to become good at it.  Rushing through the levels without knowing them will results in many deaths.  Inexperienced gamers will see the game over screen many times.  It sure makes you feel like a piece of shit.  Look at this! You did this!

dkc game over screen

The barrel blast levels can be really frustrating as well.  Getting the barrels lined up correctly.  The mine cart levels can also send you into a blood rage.  Luckily these levels also have secret exits that skip most of the levels.  Shout out to Stop N’ Go Station as the level that made me go on a murderous rampage.  Luckily the bodies haven’t been found yet!  The graphics style also adds to the frustration.  At times, it can be difficult to differentiate the platforms from the background.  This can lead to players missing the platforms completely.

There are several characters who will help DK and Diddy on their adventure.  Cranky Kong will give advice and hints to the player.  Candy Kong allows the player to save and show off her hairy cleavage.  Funky Kong allows the player to go back to a place you’ve already been.  This feature is generally used to save or go through levels to find the secrets.  These characters are found on the overworld map.

There are also characters found within the levels that act as a power up.  Rambi the Rhino allows the player to plough through enemies and provides quick transport.  Enguarde the Swordfish fills the same role but only in water levels.  Winky the Frog allows for players to jump really high.  Expresso the Ostrich allows the player to go extremely fast and glide for a period of time.  Squawks the Parrot lights up dark areas.  These characters make more difficult levels easier.  Squawks is probably the least useful of all the support characters.  Rambi was probably my favorite of the support characters.  It feels so good to just blow through the level, seeing the trail of carnage left behind.  These characters tend to be rare, which increases the sense of urgency when you take damage and they are on the loose.

dk on rambi
DK riding on Rambi.

 

One of the weakest parts of the game was the boss battles.  They are somewhat repetitive and formulaic.  Mostly just jumping on top of the boss a few of times and it’s over.

For the most part, the controls work really well and are responsive.  The characters feel like they have weight to them.  Donkey Kong feels heavy and strong.  Diddy feels light and fast.  This game definitely uses momentum.  Running builds up momentum and allows for longer jumps.  An issue I had while playing was jumping accurately.  The jumps felt hard to control.  The weightiness of the characters seems to become floatier.  Most of my deaths were from jumping too far or falling short. This probably because I really suck at games.  Just because I review games doesn’t mean I’m good at them.  As said earlier, the graphics make it sometimes difficult to distinguish between platform and background.  Despite some of these flaws, it still controls decently.

Graphics

When Rare was purchased by Nintendo, they were given advanced Silicon Graphics work stations.  Rare used this to create the revolutionary 3D rendered graphics that DKC is known for.  People in 1994 were blown away by the graphics.  It showed that the SNES was a superior machine to the Sega Genesis (I’m not saying the Genesis is a bad console just that the SNES is more powerful).  While these graphics were great for 1994, they have not aged well.  It is near impossible to play this game on an HDTV.  Everything is so blurry and shaky.  This is not a problem when playing on the Wii U Virtual Console.  The 3D effects just do not hold up at all.  Super Mario World and Yoshi’s Island have aged considerably better.  These games still look great today.  I have already stated several times in this review that the graphics make the game harder to play.  It’s a good thing I do not place much value in graphics in the grand scheme of things.  A positive thing I could say about the graphics is the level of detail in the backgrounds.

donkey-kong-vs-yoshis-island
Donkey Kong Country vs Yoshi’s Island

Music

One of the most memorable aspects of DKC is the music.  The composer for DKC was David Wise.  He was also the composer of DKC 2+3, Diddy Kong Racing, and Star Fox Adventures. The jungle levels have the iconic DK Swing.  It has a jazzy sound to it and mixes in some jungle beats.  It really fits with the jungle atmosphere.  The underwater levels use Aquatic Ambiance.  It has a chilling yet relaxing feel to it.  The levels all have fitting music.  Whether it is to pump you up or give you a chill, the music does the job it’s supposed to do.  It sets the mood of each level very effectively.

Verdict

DKC was not a revolutionary platformer but has very good polish to it.  This game helped breed new life into the SNES and allowed it to beat out the Genesis in sales.  It was able to prove that the SNES was superior on a technical level.  The level designs were interesting and quite creative.  This is a double edged sword as certain levels can be incredibly frustrating.  The 3D rendered graphics blew people’s minds back in 1994 but have not aged well.  This also adds to player frustrations.  The controls are functional and the characters have a weightiness to them.  Unfortunately, jumping can be difficult to control.  The boss battles were sort of underwhelming but that seems to be the case with many Nintendo titles (at least Mario anyway).  Even though the game can be frustrating and difficult, it has a certain addictiveness about it.  I kept wanting more and more.  It leaves the player feeling accomplished when that exit sign comes up.  Not without a lot cursing at the TV with AVGN styles meltdowns!  DKC is really good but not with noticeable flaws.  I would not describe this game as groundbreaking or innovative, but it is definitely one of the stronger platform titles of the 16-bit era.  With all of this in mind, Donkey Kong Country is not a masterpiece but is a very competently designed game.  A strong foundation for a successful franchise.  The next game in the series greatly improves on many of the flaws found in the first.  This game is an excellent addition to anyone’s collection.  This is a must buy for any Nintendo fan.

8/10

Great

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