Platforms: GB, GBA, SNES, Virtual Console
With the global commercial phenomenon known collectively as the Mario Mania reaching to heights never thought possible by a single video game franchise at the time, Nintendo was thriving. Yet, a classic platformer had not been seen for a while; Mario had spun off to different genres. Capitalizing on the Mania before it was too late but also steering away from it at the same time, Nintendo took a trip back to the classic arcade era and dug up Mario’s very first arch nemesis, Donkey Kong. A remake of the original Donkey Kong was released on the Game Boy, but something much bigger was heading for the SNES. This time, Donkey Kong was to be the hero of his very own game. Not just any game, but one of the most technologically advanced games the world had seen at that point, and even today, while it has been exceeded in several qualities by its two direct sequels at the least, Donkey Kong Country is without a doubt one of the most essential platformers in gaming history.
You’ll love this jungle beat
Donkey Kong Jr. who is now all grown up and spends his days harrassing his grumpy grandfather who has adapted the name Cranky Kong, wakes up one day in his cozy shack in the jungle and finds the Kong family’s world famous banana stash completely emptied by the crocodile pirates plaguing the Country, led by King K. Rool. Junior picks up his best friend Diddy, who he left in charge of guarding the stash the night before, but who was then captured by the crocs, and sets out on a journey across the Country to take back his family’s property.
|The Country in all of its glory.|
I gotta tell you right now, I loved this game as a kid and I still smile every time I take another round of Donkey Kong Country straight to the gut, even though I’ve finished 100 (+1) % of the game three times during the course of 16 years. I love the characters, I love the overall feel created by the music and the essential platforming atmosphere, and of course I love the gameplay, the game’s most important and best trait. OK, so basically Donkey Kong Country is a very simplified platformer, that owes a lot to Super Mario World in terms of design and progression. The “Country” (not the official name, but I like to call it that) is split up into seven regions: Kongo Jungle, Monkey Mines, Vine Valley, Gorilla Glacier – yup, the mandatory “ice world” -, Kremkroc Industries Inc., and Chimp Caverns. So, unlike you might expect, a very small portion of the game takes place in an actual jungle. The whole world of the Country is very diverse and refreshingly surprising. Each of the regions mentioned above is in turn split up into five stages, and a boss stage. If you can’t do the math, that makes a total of 35 stages, seven bosses, plus the final boss... and then some. Nobody said this would be a short walk.
Let’s start with the characters. Donkey Jr. and Diddy are the two playable characters and you can either hack the game inside out on your own, against a friend or try the co-operative mode, in which your pal, of course, controls the other character whenever you switch up. Let’s suppose you’re playing alone, for now. Junior has many fine qualities, but Diddy is oh, so much more than a regular, whiny, useless sidekick. So he’s no Batman’s Robin – he really is very, very useful. Perhaps too useful as he, in fact, makes Junior look bad most of the time with his agility, longer and lighter jumps and the fact that he can use barrels as shields, whereas Junior carries them over his head in a classic Donkey Kong fashion; this leaves him vulnerable to many attacks. What Diddy lacks is physical prowess. It practically means that he can’t do swat to certain enemies whereas Junior slaps them silly with any method of offense, but still, Diddy rules the game. He rules so much that I usually beat 99% of each stage using him but finish up using Junior, just to save the poor big ape’s face. Switching characters is easy and it can be done any time, except on some rare occasions such as when they’re riding a mine cart or lift. Having two characters means that you have two hit points at full force; the lead character is always the first to go when the shit hits the fan, and he ain’t coming back until you find a DK barrel, in which he is trapped. There are three main ways to defeat enemies: jumping on them, rolling or cartwheeling towards them and using barrels as weapons against them. Once again, Diddy cannot attack all enemies physically. Near the end of the game, you will come across some enemies even Junior can’t attack, then you’ll have to resort to the different barrels lying around.
|No Ewoks here. Just us Krocs.|
Helping Junior and Diddy out in the actual stages are their animal friends: Rambi the rhino, Expresso the ostrich, Enguarde the swordfish, Squawks the parrot and Winky the frog. Each of the animal buddies have their strengths and weaknesses – except for Squawks, who isn’t of direct help in this game, he’s just carrying a flashlight for the time being. Rambi can break walls easily and defeat any enemy with his gigantic horn without even trying; you don’t have to do anything but run towards any foe or a wall you think you might be able to break to find a bonus stage. He’s very bulky, though, and can’t jump too good. Expresso can use her (?) “wings” to fly or hover for a short while, but against enemies, she’s helpless as she can’t do jack to them. Enguarde is, naturally, only available in underwater stages – which brings us to how long can apes hold their breath, exactly? – and his “sword” is very useful against most enemies, but he swims on a straight track unlike the heroes who can swim in all eight directions. He’s a bit awkward to control, in other words. Winky’s able to jump to incredible heights usually only available to our loveable monkeys via spare tires (which work as coils in the game), but he’s totally out of control due to his amazing physics when it comes to jumping.
There’s no steady HUD in the game, it was one of the first platformers not to have one. It only pops up when bananas (equivalent to Mario’s coins in every way) or Kong letters are collected, and when lives are gained or lost. The Kong letters work like the Yoshi coins in Super Mario World – collect all four in one stage and you’ll gain an extra life. Lives are so easily gained in this game that it almost makes you laugh... until you realize how many you’re going to lose if you don’t take the game seriously, or on the contrary, go on a very serious pilgrimage to find the bonus stages by any means necessary, even if it means jumping down every seemingly bottomless chasm in the game. And that’s just an example.
There are many different stage types in the game, as I somewhat hinted already. Usually the regions consist of a couple of stages suitable to the current theme, one underwater stage and one cave. Pretty Mario-like if you ask me, once again. Some special types pop up here and there, such as mine cart rides and stages based on elevation, which usually involve a lot of trick jumping – which is not my thing in platformers in general one bit more than the mandatory ice region is. But, as a veteran of platformers I’ve seen much worse, and in reality I think I’m getting quite used to these genre peeves as I grow older.
|Yo, testy. Meet my barrel of doom.|
Donkey Kong Country is quite easy. Even getting 100% isn’t that hard once you put your heart into it, and once you figure out the secret of the one missing percent unit, you’ll eventually hit the jackpot. You’re gonna die... many, many, many times during the course of the game, that’s for sure, but you have numerous opportunities to learn from your mistakes and there are no unbearably hectic moments. Usually the most annoying and frustrating phases and sequences in games last for several eternities, but luckily even that’s not the case here at any point. Not too difficult, no, but certainly fun all the way.
It has definitely been outdone by its sequels in several ways, in fact it starts to feel like a beta version of DKC 2 five minutes into the first sequel, but Donkey Kong Country is still a damn fine platformer which I will never, ever forget due to all those fine years I spent with it in my childhood. My childhood friend never let me borrow his SNES – he had his reasons that went way back to our days as NES freaks – and he showed up on several weekends as an overnight guest at our house, only to reveal he had YET AGAIN erased our co-op game from his last visit; so I guess you could say this game was one of the main reasons I practically forced my mother and stepfather to buy me my own SNES. That’s dedication and legacy for ya.
Graphics : 8.5
Sound : 9.3
Playability : 9.1
Challenge : 8.2
Overall : 8.9
a.k.a. Super Donkey Kong (JAP)
GameRankings: 90.22% (GB), 78.06% (GBA), 90.19% (SNES)
Nintendo Power ranks Donkey Kong Country #90 on their list of the Top 200 Nintendo Games of All Time.
Donkey Kong Country is the second best-selling SNES game of all time, with over 8 million copies sold.
Since the game was developed by the British company Rare instead of Nintendo, it was the first Donkey Kong title not produced or directed by franchise creator Shigeru Miyamoto. Somewhat ironically, considering the game’s commercial success and critical acclaim, Miyamoto criticized the game harshly upon its release. He later apologized to Rare and praised the game, citing pressure from Nintendo on his Mario projects as the main reason for his bad analogy. Apparently, Nintendo rejected Miyamoto's first drafts of Super Mario World 2, because they wanted it to look more like Donkey Kong Country.