torstai 19. elokuuta 2010

REVIEW - Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble! (1996)

Genre(s): Platform
Released: 1996
Available on: GBA, SNES, Virtual Console
Developer(s): Rare
Publisher(s): Nintendo
Players: 1-2

As it is well known, Nintendo launched the Nintendo 64 in the summer of 1996. For SNES owners, it meant the same thing as the launch of a new console means to consumers of the previous generation even today: developers focused on the new mammoth of a gaming platform, except those that completely jumped ship to Sony or Sega, and whipped out mediocre titles for those, who couldn’t afford the new console, to “enjoy”. A lot of them were licensed games, European exclusives, or flop sequels to earlier hits. Although it is part of one of the most important platform game series’ of all time, Donkey Kong Country 3 was met with the same lukewarm response as a bulk of SNES games released at the time. What separates the game from many of the last commercial failures of the SNES is that despite its admitted flaws, especially in production and general design, it is still a great, innovative platformer almost on par with its predecessors. A forgotten gem, to say the least.

It’s a long way to the jungle

Donkey Kong Jr. and Diddy go missing on a trip to a holiday resort located in the Northern Kremisphere. Dixie sets out to find the two video game heroes by herself, but soon teams up with her cousin Kiddy, who is still an infant but bears the strength of a grown gorilla. The dynamic duo begins the search for the missing primates on the island which seems to be ruled by someone, or something calling himself KAOS.

A factory in the middle of a holiday resort?
I guess I need not explain that the game does look extremely fine... from a technical standpoint, that is. Pretty much the same as always. It is a bit more dynamic than the games that came before it, especially the world map – which now features real-time movement instead of just porting from point A to point B, for this we owe thanks to the non-linearity of the game. It’s also a bit less rough-edged than Diddy’s Kong-Quest. But... there’s always a but. I know this is more of a design note, but I still have to say it. The game looks like a Disney license, with Donkey Kong characters thrown in for cash. The enemies don’t look the least bit intimidating. Only weird, or cute, or MEAN in a Disney sort of way. They’re enemies, for Pete’s sake, they’re not supposed to look cute! The game is also much more colourful and blocky than the previous two games combined, there was always a certain darkness to them. It also adds to the cutesy factor. It’s not to my liking, that’s all. I really liked the dark look, especially in the previous game. The music is once again great, but once again, just not as great as the material in the previous game. Or even the first one. David Wise worked as just a little more than a consultant this time, while Eveline Fischer, who had a similar job as Dave during the production of the first game, is the main composer. Figures. The Wise/Beanland flow’s missing.

When it comes to design, presentation and even playability, I’m completely torn in half, but I have to find the will and power to concentrate on the most important factor, which is of course the game’s playability. The design of the game is so, so whacked, but for a casual gamer, not a Kong fan like me, it really doesn’t make any difference. Even though I’m about to concentrate on gameplay instead of what lies on the surface, I feel obligated, as a Kong fan as well as a die-hard gamer, to go over some really cooky stuff, right now. At first, it all seems OK. The dynamic world map seems to work really well, despite the fact that we can’t really take advantage of its qualities in the beginning of the game. There’s Wrinkly returning from the previous game, who might mention Cranky who we haven’t seen... YET. Then there’s Funky, then the obligatory partner comes along, and then, there’s the first stage. It all seems all right thus far, really. Yet, as the game progresses, we’re “treated” to plenty of stuff that simply isn’t Donkey Kong Country. “Regular” enemies straight out of a Disney nightmare, a shady pastel-coloured boss... well, thing, that hides behind a waterfall, birds trapped inside magical crystal barriers, a bigger bird sealed behind a magic wall in the sky, nearly a dozen bear brothers that all have huge quirks in their personalities – if they have personalities at all. Running errands like in any fetchquest, DIALOGUE which is dumb in addition to the already stupid idea... these are just examples of things that really bother me about the game’s design and standing as a DKC game. There’s so much stuff that was probably written for some other game entirely, maybe even a Nintendo 64 game; I’m willing to bet Rare and Nintendo thought these ideas wouldn’t sell, or that some particular twists weren’t needed in whatever they were REALLY cooking up at the moment, so they scuffled up the leftovers and squeezed them into this “needless sequel”.

Even the underwater stages don't quite belong.
Indeed, a large part of the game’s surface design really sucks, but the controls and gameplay on the other hand are full-on Donkey Kong Country quality, and it is a really, really fun game if you just sit back and enjoy it, and avoid doing what I do, comparing it to the previous game and pointing out all the stuff that doesn’t belong in the franchise, constantly. Let’s just forget that Junior and Diddy are completely out of the fray. I’m serious, they’re nothing more than red herring in this game. They simply have no significance to anything that happens in the game. Even in the end of the (non-complete) game, they pop up on screen for a whole minute, and if and when you set out to complete the missing percentage of the game, they’re gone – they can’t be found anywhere. They’re just gone and don’t even appear in the credits. You’re in control of Dixie and Kiddy, and I must say this is the most efficient duo in any of the three games. Both have qualities that simply cannot be ignored.

Dixie’s abilities are similar to what she had in store in Diddy’s Kong-Quest, but this time her partner is much larger, so team throwing Kiddy to reach something is quite difficult. Dixie throwing Kiddy around is instead primarily used to break already half-broken floors. They will crack wide open once Kiddy slams his very physical ass on them. Somewhat disappointingly, these broken floors are only found in the very first region in the game, after that you have no use for this feature. One very minor, but practical update to Dixie’s chopper ability is that you no longer have to jump to hover by her hair, you can just step off a ledge and let it rip. Kiddy is absolutely awesome, but like I said, don’t protect one character on purpose. Both of them are of a lot of use to you. Like Junior in the first game, Kiddy can dispose of most enemies by jumping on their heads or mowing them down with a very Junior-ish roll attack, but once again, near the end of the game some enemies emerge even Kiddy can’t harm physically. When Kiddy grabs Dixie for the team throw, prepare to see some stars. You can reach some very high spots with this mirror version of the game’s team throw, and yes, it is mostly used to find bonus barrels and other stuff kept secret for one reason or another. Kiddy has one special move that requires a lot more practice than actual use – he can perform a glorious triple roll jump on water surfaces.

The level design of the game is very unique. Sure, some regions and themes just don’t belong in the game, but there are numerous positively crazy ideas. As far as gameplay goes, some of them work, some will have you cursing the day you were born, or the day you bought the game. There are eight regions in the game: Lake Orangutanga, Kremwood Forest, Cotton-Top Cove, Mekanos, K3, Razor Ridge and KAOS Kore, plus the mandatory Lost World. To my complete, but this time positive astounishment, one single ice stage cannot be found in the game. Finally someone listened! There are some snow stages which are quite slippery, but snow has nothing on the abomination us platformer veterans know as ice. In turn, we get some stages never seen in a platformer before, such as one in which you have to make progress all the while a crocodile sniper has his crosshair fixed on your characters, and one in which you need to run through a forest during the worst thunderstorm ever, while dodging both thunderbolts and enemies. Two stages in the game are based on control invertion – meaning if you press left, you go right, and vice versa. These are some, excuse me, crazy motherfucking shit. If you’re playing on a valid SNES, good luck, since you can’t cheat by changing the controls. Overall, the game still isn’t quite as difficult or intense as the previous one... which isn’t entirely a bad thing. The horror of that Klobber Karnage stage in the previous game doesn’t need to be repeated, ever again.

That living TNT barrel is just one example
of enemy design gone horribly wrong.
As I mentioned, the game is non-linear to a certain extent, which practically means that you can do a lot of stuff in any order you want, as long as you have proper transportation. A surprising amount of time is spent on the world map, searching and trading items among the Brothers Bear, gathering materials for Funky – who’s now in charge of Funky’s Rentals, luckily you no longer need Flights – to work on better transportation for you to use, and looking for Banana Birds. Because they’re such an important part of the game, for the maximum experience, probably not to you personally, let’s go over the many collectables, once again besides the usual bananas and Kong letters. The items gathered for Brothers Bear are everything from mirrors to cannonballs, to sea shells. These items can be found just about everywhere EXCEPT regular stages. Beating bosses helps at first, then there’s one bear who sells some useful items, and nearly all of the brothers trade something random for... well, something random. Bear Coins, the equivalent of the previous game’s Banana Tokens, are found everywhere and some of the brothers will sell you important items and information only in exchange for some hard currency. Lots of it, for even the most completely irrelevant pieces of info. Bonus Coins, which are of course, the Kremkoins of the game, can only be found in – you guessed it – bonus stages. The bonus stages are now exclusively found via barrels marked with a “B”. No more breaking walls or anything of the kind, just find these, beat the bonus stages and you’re home free. Some of the barrels are hidden quite well and disguised as regular items, but all in all, they’re not that hard to find. Like in Diddy’s Kong-Quest, there’s no use of sparing the Bonus Coins, since there’s only one place you can spend them in: Boomer’s Barracks. Boomer is a bear brother who lives in Krematoa, which is the Lost World of the game. Like Klubba in the previous game, Boomer will unlock one stage of Krematoa in his own unique way for 15 coins, 25 in the last one’s case. Oh, how to find Krematoa? That’s another thing entirely. To know that, you also need the bears’ help. Those God damn bears are way too important in this game. I hate them, every single one. But, I digress.

The “DK Coins” are back, and now they’re formally known as just that. Like the bonus stages, these are not too hard to find either. There are usually many clues that will lead you to them quite easily. This time, there’s a major twist. There’s still one in each stage, plus the very final boss stage (the Krematoa boss, that is), which makes up for a total of 41. The twist is that even though finding the coins is relatively easy, actually acquiring them always isn’t. They’re held by a special enemy known as Koin. He can’t do any damage to you, he’s always protecting himself with his shield which is the coin itself. The only way to defeat Koin is to slam a steel barrel on his back, which is difficult since he always turns the coin towards you and therefore makes it impossible to attack him directly from the front. At first, you’ll get along just fine by simply slamming the barrel to a wall behind Koin by throwing it over him and letting the laws of physics do your job, but before long, these unique encounters become very puzzling. If you’re not using some sort of guide, you might even have 30 minute staredowns with Koin. Luckily, he is usually in a spot where you are perfectly safe from outside interference or stipulations related to the stage’s theme. All of these DK Coins are used after the (fake) ending of the game to buy the ultimate form of transportation, Funky’s almighty Gyrocopter.

So, what’s the purpose of all this collectable junk? What’s the goal of the game? Let me remind you that finding Donkey and Diddy isn’t even as important as secondary in this game. It all comes down to the Banana Birds. Absolutely everything in this game is NOT done for the rescue of your primate friends, I can’t emphasize it enough. Yes, the game is “over” once you save them... but, if you want to complete 100 (+3) % of the game, especially if you manage to do it, you’ll notice that the story of the game doesn’t make a stinking difference. The true finale of the game, which you will unlock after acing Krematoa – not nearly as hard as the Lost World in Diddy’s Kong-Quest, I might add – strongly involves Banana Birds. To find these little bundles of joy, you’ll need to find a bunch of secret caves around the world map and free them from their crystallized prisons with series’ of notes, in simple words Y-X-B-A button sequences that will be shown to you once and then you need to repeat ‘em in order to free the birds. The sequences get longer and harder over time, but you can try again as many times as you like. They change every time you retry, but that’s what a pen and paper are for. All of the birds are not imprisoned in caves – some of them are pets of the retarded bears, and you’ll have to bribe them into releasing the birds in equally retarded ways. Did I already mention I hate those stupid-ass bears? I’m not too fond of the birds, either, but the bears... enough, let’s talk about the Kong family.

All members of the family that were there to represent in Diddy’s Kong-Quest are back. No additions, except for Kiddy of course. Another piece of proof that Rare was in haste when they designed the game. Wrinkly is still in charge of the save point, though now she’s retired from her job as a teacher and lives in a cave. No more advice from her, or anyone else, for that matter. You can visit her to save your game and keep track on how much currency you have (Bear, Bonus, DK), as well as how many Banana Birds you’ve freed from their shackles. As mentioned, Funky builds new vehicles for you to “play Metroid” with, as long as you’ve got the raw materials or the DK Coins to cover the labour. Swanky hosts a new playground minigame called Swanky’s Sideshow, in which you’ll need to cough up a few Bear Coins to square off against an opponent in a very simple ball-throwing game, of which there are three variations of: Head to Head, First to 25 and Endurance. In the first one, you’ll play for a given time and the happiest competitor, indicated by a smile meter, wins – in other words, the one scoring the most. In the second one, the first competitor to reach 25 hits wins, and in the third, the first one to miss a target loses. Your opponent? None other than Cranky! Come on... you really thought they were going to make a Donkey Kong Country game without the grandpa of video gaming, no matter how much the design lacks loyalty to the franchise? Cranky once again offers up some damn delicious jabs, but really he’s quite underutilized in the game. Back in the old days, he would’ve minded that fact quite a bit.

Squawks and Enguarde share the honour of being the only two animal buddies to appear in every Donkey Kong Country game. Squawks’ purple version, seen briefly in Diddy’s Kong-Quest, makes a user-controlled, longer and much more physical appearance in this game. He still can’t shoot like his green counterpart can, but he can grab barrels with his talons and drop them on enemies’ noggins, rendering them disposed of. Enguarde works in the exact same way as always, and this time he – as well as the player – are put to the ultimate test as he takes on an underwater boss all by himself. Squitter the half-amazing, half-spider makes a return from the previous game in his old form, and now we see a lot more of him. The new guys and gals are Parry the “parallel bird” and Ellie the elephant. Parry is called a “parallel bird” for a reason. He is a tiny bird that appears upon the characters’ heads and mimics their movement, collecting items high up on the way. He can be utilized by other animal buddies as well. The most special thing about him is that if you can keep him safe until the “No Animals” sign – which is extremely hard since he won’t dodge airborne enemies by himself – you always get something really awesome as a reward, such as a bunch of extra lives or... *cough*... a bonus barrel to jump in. I didn’t just say that out loud, did I? Since Ellie is an elephant, you probably think she can mow down anything, just like Rambi. Well, no dice. Even though Ellie takes on a boss by herself just like Enguarde, her size doesn’t really matter. She can just jump on most enemies like Kiddy when it comes to her physical prowess, but she has the special talent of drinking huge doses from any water source and spit the water at enemies like bullets. There are only a couple of stages with her that contain water, though. Ellie has one very personal weakness: like the elephant myth would have it, she’s afraid of mice and rats. This is actually the main theme of a couple of stages she stars in. One of them’s a Krematoa stage, and I must say I regard it as the most difficult stage in the game.

The bonus stages have pretty much the same
idea as the ones in Diddy's Kong-Quest.
I think I gave away a lot of the boss fights already. They’re innovative and cool just like last time, but there are some unnervingly long, complex and therefore difficult battles, considering that you still have only two hit points at the absolute max, with no chances to replenish your health in the middle of the battles. Also, some of them are just dumb. Ellie’s water fight with the thing behind the waterfall comes first and foremost; whatever the hell that thing is, it lives in water and utilizes the element itself – how in the HELL can spitting water in its eyes possibly harm it? The 3D snowball fight with the snowman gone bad simply doesn’t work, and the fight against the giant spider Arich is straight out from the first Chip ‘n Dale game for the NES. More Disney proof! ...By the way, have you noticed that Ellie’s eyes resemble Dumbo’s? The feel of the final battles in KAOS Kore and Krematoa compensate for at least something. They are as DKC, cool, intense and epic as they come.

This game is definitely not a walk in Kongo Jungle, and I do mean the difficulty level this time around. There are some really, really bitchy stages, but overall, the game is not nearly as difficult as Diddy’s Kong-Quest at its max – if Klobber Karnage in the previous game would deal physical damage to the player, I would have no limbs. The Krematoa stages really aren’t that bad once you’ve tried them a few times, and once you’ve learned the several attack patterns of all the bosses, they’ll be minced meat in no time. Getting 103% is far from an impossible feat since passages to bonus stages and the DK Coin spots are way more obvious, even moreso if you’ve played the previous games to a hilt. However, there are two more percent units, which makes up for a total of 105%, and you’ll get them by hacking through the game AND finding everything, on hard mode. I haven’t tried that one but considering that the game is quite hard in itself, I think I’ll pass and settle with the 103%.

Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble! drives me crazy and rapes my mind using the annoying bear brothers straight out of the ninth plane of hell as its pawns. The storyline and its design are utterly irrelevant to the Donkey Kong franchise. There’s some really sick and twisted level design to be found in the game. But, it’s a great game nonetheless. I find it hard getting enough of it every time I begin it anew. At one time, I even held the game in higher regard than the awesome Diddy’s Kong-Quest due to the sole fact it’s easier and admittedly, slightly less frustrating, but I overlooked a lot of things I now find extremely annoying about it. Let’s just keep in mind, that what I think when I write, and what I think when I actually play a game are quite different things, at least in this case. The fluid and mostly entertaining gameplay luckily overshadows a lot of the game’s downsides.

Graphics : 8.9
Sound : 8.5
Playability : 8.8
Challenge : 9.1
Overall : 8.8


a.k.a. Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble!, Super Donkey Kong 3 (JAP)

GameRankings: 75.08% (GBA), 85.40% (SNES)

The game sold poorly compared to the previous games in the series. Only 2.8 million copies were sold.

During visits to Wrinkly’s Save Cave, Wrinkly is randomly seen playing on the Nintendo 64, and from the sound of it, it seems she’s playing Super Mario 64.

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