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Donkey Kong Country – SNES

Donkey Kong Country – SNES

Dkc_snes_boxartPlatform: Super Nintendo Entertainment System

Developer: Rare

Publisher: Nintendo

Release Date (NA): November 25, 1994

Genre: Platforming

Nerd Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Reviewed by Flagostomos

While it has been said that Mario is the King of platforming games, Donkey Kong Country takes everything we love about the original 8 and 16 bit Mario games and supercharges them. Even though Donkey Kong Country didn’t saturate my childhood like Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario World did, when I look now at these games in a side-by-side comparison, I can’t help but give the crowning title to DKC.

The game is based off the same old idea for a platforming game: run from the left end (beginning) of the stage to the right (goal), all while dodging bad guys and obstacles. Platforming games at their most basic aren’t anything terribly exciting, so for a game to be memorable, it has to take these elements and amplify them. DKC did exactly that.

In the original Super Mario games, both Mario and Luigi controlled exactly the same. There was no difference to the brothers. However in Donkey Kong Country, the developers added an extra element to the game by giving similar move sets yet an almost completely different gaming experience to each character. Donkey Kong is the muscle of the pair, knocking over most bad guys, slapping the ground so hard bananas come out, and rolling through groups of enemies with ease. He doesn’t control awkwardly or slower than Diddy, but his hit box is bigger and you get a better sense of power playing as Donkey.

Diddy on the other hand, is the nimble character of the two. His hitbox is noticeably smaller and his platforming makes for easier jumps and more fanciful cartwheels than Donkey’s brazen manner. He might not be able to kill enemies as easily, but his cartwheel and nimble jumping greatly reduce the difficulty of many jumps. The enemies don’t pose as big a threat as the natural settings of the courses do, so Diddy almost inexplicably becomes the go-to character for most of the levels. The characters balance each other amazingly well and you could play through any course with either character with ease.

As opposed to the Mario games where you only have control over one brother, Donkey Kong Country lets you take control of both Donkey and Diddy. One character takes the lead with the other trailing closely behind. If you take a hit, the Kong that you are controlling runs off the screen, leaving the trailing character to take over. This makes you play more cautiously, carefully guarding both characters for whatever challenge the course throws at you. If you lose one Kong, all you have to do is find a KONG barrel to release the captive one.

The game also introduces animal companions, a select few of characters that you can ride to better traverse the land. Some add the ability to glide, others give power, and some help you swim. Engarde is the prime example of how swimming in a 2D platformer should be done. These characters only add to the experience, and you genuinely feel the loss when you take a hit and the animal buddy goes flying off the screen.

expresso-ostrich

This is also where the multiplayer experience takes over. You can either play as 2-player competition, or take the more interesting route and play as a 2-player team. Whereas in the competition, each player races through all of the courses, trying to get to the end of the game before the other play, in 2-player team each person controls one Kong. Player one takes over Donkey and player 2 takes over Diddy. When you hit the select button to change characters or are hit and lose your Kong, the other player takes over to finish off where you failed. It adds an interesting challenge to the courses, by making you play better so as not to be shown up by player 2.

The worlds are diverse, adding in their own unique physics. The opening levels give off a jungle, Mayan theme, having you tromp through worlds that were peaceful until the Kremlings came along. Then you meet a snowy world, adding in ice physics and low visibility. The game does an amazing job of introducing new mechanics and levels of difficulty but slowly easing you into them.

Aside from the basic platforming, Donkey Kong Country also utilizes “barrel blasting” as a twist to traversing a level. The barrels either move horizontally, vertically, or spin in a circle, and you have to perfectly time the blast so as not to fall to your death. Some levels are entirely based off this mechanic, others utilize it in the most extreme fashions. It’s a great balance that will leave even veteran platformers wishing for sweet victory.

The game also uses various elements to trick and surprise you to make a mistake. Low visibility in worlds such as ice and night time plays tricks on your eyes, using the beautiful imagery to hide the Kongs and cause you to make errors. Other courses flat out go pitch dark, causing you to find precious sources of light to be able to navigate or relying purely on your sense of hearing. It’s amazing how even though the difficulty spikes through these challenges, the game never feels over imposing. The platforming is masterful and is something that is sadly missing from new games.

Like his older, video game brother Mario, Donkey Kong Country favors more gameplay and less on story. Donkey Kong lives in peace on Kong island with his girlfriend Candy, cousin Diddy, father Cranky and various other members of the Kong family. One day the Kremlings show up to steal his horde of bananas, and off Donkey and Diddy go to rescue their precious bunch.

The most important element of a good platformer is the ability to control it. You can tell that the developers spent a lot of time, honing each Kong’s particular play style while balancing the game. You will never experience an issue with the controls. If you miss a jump, it’s your fault. If you don’t dodge an enemy quick enough, it wasn’t due to the controls. Even the annoying barrel levels handle exactly as you would imagine them to, forcing you to hone your timing instead of spoon feeding you the ability to fly through the course. There are also animal buddies that you pick up, and they control wonderfully as well. Even the swimming mechanics feel solid, which is an area that not even Mario has been able to master.

Graphics and audio are another area that the game shines in. The color palette was the most diverse that the SNES had seen to date. Just look at the sunset levels and tell me that you don’t feel like you’re in the jungle watching the night come to life. Donkey and Diddy’s characters are beautifully animated. Have one of the Kongs stand on the edge of a cliff and you will see what I mean. Or just watch the animation when you lose a mini-game. Donkey and Diddy almost feel like real people.

Crystal caves

The music is amazing. It perfectly matches the environments, setting an ambiance that envelops you in the game. From the Jungles to the Snowy mountains, to the factory and all the way to King K. Rool, the music is some of the best video game music I have ever heard in my life.

The game has secrets scattered throughout each course. Chances are you won’t find them all even on your third or fourth playthrough. But as much as I love to come back to play Super Mario Bros 3 or Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country always draws me back, reminding me of simpler times when video games dominated my childhood.

Donkey Kong Country and it’s successors are in my absolute humble opinion, 16 bit gaming at it’s best. Rare really used to know what they were doing when they made games. I like the new life that has been breathed into the series, but nothing will ever top the first time I saw DK jump onto Cranky’s back with his stereo in hand, blasting his classic tune. This is a must own for any serious gamer.

Written by Nerd Bacon

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5 Comments

  1. InfiniteKnife
    InfiniteKnife says:

    I must have played through the first stage at least 50 times. I definitely know all the secrets in that one. The rest of the game is another story.

    Definitely in my top 10 for SNES titles.

     
  2. Pingback: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze - Wii U - Nerd Bacon Reviews

  3. Great review FS, I loved this game, and played it allot. As for the secrets I don’t think I even scratched the surface.

     
    • Flagostomos says:

      They are hidden pretty well. I think the best I ever got without a guide was 70 percent.

       
      • I was replaying this with a friend not too long ago, and though I’d played the game extensively as a kid, he was showing me secrets I still had no clue about. I find more every time I play.

         

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