Donkey Kong Country (DKC) is one of the most famous games to ever come out of the “House of Rare”. Long before the giant palm of Microsoft reached down to scoop up the British developer, Rare became well-known among Nintendo fans for it’s extremely successful Donkey Kong Country games for the SNES. The first in the series drastically helped Nintendo win the console wars of the time (Sega’s Genesis market share in America dropped from 65% to 35% because of games like DKC and Super Metroid).
As word spread about how good the game was and it garnered excellent reviews (Including a 10 from EGM, VERY rare in those days) Nintendo saw a spike in sales and Rare was shot into the spotlight. Rare had hits before, many of them actually, as they were a loyal Nintendo developer since the NES days, but it was DKC that really cemented it’s hit-making status. And from then on Rare was gold to Nintendo, as they rolled out best-selling hits ranging from the DKC sequels to Nintendo 64 smash hits like Perfect Dark and Banjo-Kazooie.
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As is well known by gamers now, Rare was purchased by Microsoft for an astounding dollar-sum total of US$377 million, the most ever paid for a game company. And they now work for Microsoft as a first-party releasing games like Perfect Dark Zero, Kameo: Elements of Power and the recent Viva Pinata for the Xbox 360. Thankfully Rare and Microsoft have been good sports and Rare still releases titles jointly with Nintendo for the GBA and DS, helping in development (their most recent title being Diddy Kong Racing for the DS).
Donkey Kong Country is out now for the Wii’s Virtual Console in Europe, and Monday’s American VC release is rumored to be DKC. Either way, the timing can never be wrong for a review of the game that revived the great ape, eh. So continue reading for my full review.
Also Available On: GBC, GBA, Wii VC
Genre: Side-scrolling 2D Platformer
Released: Nov. 25, 1994 (US), Nov. 24, 1994 (Eur), Nov. 26 (Jap)
Save: Cartridge Save, 3 Files
Donkey Kong Country is one of those games that is very formulaic, and therefore somewhat dated (It’s a platformer with mini-games, yay!) yet it still stands the test of time remarkably well and is no less fun than it ever was.
Platformers generally don’t need much of a story, since gamers are pretty much perfectly fine with trouncing from platform to platform without giving a care to such things. But DKC tries regardless, and does a pretty good job of it.
The game has a cool little intro that plays when you fire up the game and once you press start and pick what mode you want to play (single-player, two player team, or two player contest, more on these later), the game thrusts you into the action after you select the first stage.
You’ll immediately notice that this isn’t your father’s Donkey Kong (referring to the classic arcade game that launched Shigeru Miyamoto’s career). In this new Donkey Kong, the classic 8-bit ape is now the grandfather of a new, younger, stronger ape who takes the title as Donkey Kong. He comes complete with a sidekick named Diddy, a young, spry little guy. Both characters are hip and modern, from Diddy’s red cap to the boombox (Ok, well it WAS modern in 1994) in the intro to the way the elder Kong is portrayed and how he will reminisce about the “good ol’ days” of gaming in the 8-bit and pre-8-bit eras.
Rare definitely did all they could to update the character and it worked wonders. The storyline sees Donkey Kong going up against a new enemy character, an evil croc named King K. Rool. Him and his troop of followers, known as Kremlings (everything in King K. Rool land is spelled with a “K”, you see) have stolen each and every banana in Donkey Kong’s precious “hoard” . . . a stockpile of his favorite fruit that he keeps in a cave under his cabin. This of course won’t do and so Donkey, with Diddy in tow, sets out on his quest to retrieve his banana hoard which has been scattered to the ends of DK Island. For any more story than that you’ll have to consult the game’s instruction booklet (which has a quite lengthy one for being so simple).
The game uses a map system established in games like Super Mario Bros. 3 (err . . . Mario Advance 4), where you move the characters on a map and select a level to play, with a new level opening up after you clear one, until the whole map is opened up. When on this screen you can move freely between levels you’ve previously played. Clearing a map by defeating it’s boss will open a new world that you’ll access on a screen showing the entire DK Island. Each world is generally themed, in classic platformer fashion.
Each level starts you out with both Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong (one follows behind the other), and you can switch between them by hitting the select button. Holding down the Y Button will allow you to run while B jumps. Each Kong then has a few moves of their own. Donkey Kong can do a summersault/roll which can kill some enemies that Diddy is unable too, while Diddy does a cartwheel. Both these moves are accomplished by hitting the Y Button. Donkey Kong can also pound the ground by holding the down button and hitting Y, which will cause him to slap the ground with his hands, which can be used to kill enemies (though you likely won’t use this move much) or reveal hidden banana bunches in the ground.
The major difference between the two characters comes in their speed. Diddy Kong is faster, but he’s not able to destroy all enemies. Generally though you’ll want to play as Diddy since he can leap further and higher. Both characters can actually leap quite far by rolling off the edge of a platform and jumping at the last minute.
Donkey Kong Country was released prior to Rare and Nintendo’s “collect-a-thon” days (which began with Super Mario 64 and hit a high, though some would say low, note with Banjo-Kazooie) so rather than “collecting items”, you simply have the option of grabbing floating bananas in the levels.
Bananas basically work like coins in the Mario platformers, collecting 100 of them will give you an extra life (these come very often in the early portion of the game but will slow in the later levels, so stock up on lives early). Generally all the bananas you can grab will just be floating in the air (in singles as well as bunches) but you can also earn bananas by pounding the ground in certain spots (such as in between trees, where the ground dips, etc.) or earn a single banana by using your ground pound to kill an enemy and bananas are also usually plentiful in DKC’s many mini-games.
Gaining extra lives is really the only point to all the game’s “collectibles”, so you’ll also come across balloons, in various colors, that will give you an extra life instantly if you can grab them before they float away (red being worth one life, green worth two and the ultra-rare blue balloons worth three), and each level has four hidden Kong letters that will also give you an extra life if you collect all of them, and you’ll find them in various places throughout the level (generally they’re in plain view, but sometimes they can be tucked away in a mini-game or in some other hidden location).
The immediate goal of each level is simply to make your way to the end of the stage, although to complete the game 101% you’ll actually have to find and complete every mini-game in the level, and they can be extremely well-hidden. And that is much more challenging than simply beating the game, especially if you don’t resort to using a strategy guide.
Naturally, the levels are full of various enemies. A lot of enemies will simply walk forward or will walk back and forth in one area. Thankfully there are quite a lot of enemies, and they sometimes differ depending on the theme of the level (they also get tougher as the game goes on, with the harder enemies being differentiated by their different color. As the platforming rules dictate) even though you will see the same ones over and over again. But the design of the levels is good and the enemies are strategically placed so as to offer some challenge and it never ceases to be boring.
Most enemies can be defeated either by jumping on their heads or by rolling into them. A few of them such as bees or Krusha’s can only be killed by using weapons, which come in the form of barrels that you can pick up and throw. And in another area where the two Kong’s differ, Donkey Kong lifts barrels over his head, throwing them in a sort of arch; while Diddy holds them to his side, due to this small size, and kinda tosses them in a close-to-the-ground throw.
Barrels play a very large role in DKC, obviously stemming from the fact that Donkey Kong (DK the Elder, that is) used them extensively in the original arcade Donkey Kong to crush his nemesis Mario. So in Donkey Kong Country you will come across three different kinds of barrels that will be of use to you. DK barrels are marked with the “DK” letters and these house your Kong partner when you get hit, which causes one of the Kongs to run away, leaving you to your single-Kongness. Breaking one of these barrels will naturally give you the partner you lost. These barrels are like other barrels although they will always break with the first throw.
Then you have regular barrels (unmarked), Checkpoint barrels (which you will find mid-way through a level. Breaking these sparkling barrels will allow you to begin the level at that point if you die) and TNT barrels. TNT barrels release a little explosion that will damage any enemy who gets touched by the fire cloud. Both barrels can be used as weapons to kill enemies, or to bust open certain walls (as can the “DK” barrels) which will take you to mini-games, which I’ll get to in a bit. Both of these barrels will roll on the ground when thrown and they will continue rolling until they hit an enemy, fall of a ledge, or hit certain breakable walls (most walls they will bounce off of); you can even ride these barrels while they’re rolling if you can manage to jump on top of one mid-roll, or you can simply chase after it and chuckle as the barrel mauls down enemy after enemy.
One of the funnest parts of Donkey Kong Country however comes from its barrel shooting sections. You see, many of the barrels in the game aren’t actually on the ground, rather they float in the air. Jumping into these barrels will shoot you out in various ways and forms and this is one of the aspects of Donkey Kong Country that is very unique and separated it from other platformers of the time.
Some of these barrels will spin, either slow or fast (and sometimes VERY fast), and you’ll have to press a button to shoot your Kong out at the right time, or else you may shoot yourself right into a hazard; be it an enemy bee or straight into a pit and to your Kongly demise. Other barrels will shoot you out automatically (they have an explosion mark on them), and these ones will often involve more than one barrel, resulting in a very cool automatic barrel shooting “chain” in which your Kong of choice is shot off in every which direction, from barrel to barrel, eventually landing at his destination. Which can either be the ground or into another barrel that you have to manually shoot out of. Still other barrels won’t spin but rather move . . . generally right or left or up and down. This can get pretty chaotic as you often times have to time your shots so as to land safely in the next barrel.
Needless to say that these sections are easily some of my favorite in the whole game. Thankfully there are some levels that are almost entirely made up of shooting yourself from barrel to barrel and they are both some of the easiest and sometimes some of the most difficult (especially if you’re a bad shot). Unfortunately at least two of the more notable barrel shooting levels have options where you can skip a big part of the level. Maybe it’s for those aforementioned bad shots, eh.
Another big part of Donkey Kong Country comes in the form of mini-games. These mini-games are generally hidden behind breakable walls, which you can get into by using a barrel to break them. Other times you get to them via barrels themselves, which are often times well hidden, like at the top of the screen or in a certain pit, and getting to these will shoot you off the screen where you’ll get to play whatever mini-game is connected with that barrel.
Generally you can get somewhat of a hint as to the location of these hard-to-see barrels by looking at the surrounding area (which is where your video game and platformer-secret-finding skills will come in handy) while others will seemingly only be reached by scouring the level and jumping in various pits until you find the hidden one. And these mini-games can often be cleverly hidden, such as one which has you shooting yourself from a barrel diagonally downward into what you think would be a pit (as it’s off-screen), but rather it leads to another barrel, which then shoots you to the right and directly into a wall, which breaks, naturally, and takes you to the mini-game.
There are quite a lot of mini-games in Donkey Kong Country and you won’t really get bored of them, which is definitely a good thing. Some examples of various mini-games are described below (note that these mini-games don’t have names):
* Various barrels are lined up in a straight line. When you jump in the first barrel it will move up and down, so you’ll have to time your shot so that you shoot into the next barrel in the line (which stays in place). A variation on this game has the barrels spinning, from slow to fast, instead of moving. And that one is pretty hard to complete.
* Various letters spin around in big circle above your Kong. Easy variations of this game have the letters spelling something like “Kong”, and your have to jump up and hit the letters in alphabetical order to spell the word while they continue spinning. The most complex variation spells each one of your animal friends, one at a time, with spaces between each letter. Touching one will make the letters spin in the opposite direction. To complete it you have to complete each name correctly, one mess-up and the game is over.
* A clap-trap (little crocodile with a big mouth) walk back and forth in the little area you’re in. Jumping on it will make it flash for a few seconds, in which it’s invincible, and it’ll spit a banana out. The goal is to collect all the bananas, but each time the Klaptrap will get faster. Variations include multiple Klaptraps that take more hits to kill, and even one that has jumping Klaptraps.
The Making of Donkey Kong Country
These mini-games are generally fun and help to break up the action reasonably well, although you can sometimes get tired of doing them since you’re only reward is extra lives (whether they come in the form of bananas, Kong coins or balloons).
The last kind of collectible you will come across are tokens of your various animal friends. Collecting three of the same token will take you to a bonus stage where you, riding on top of that animal, will go though an area collecting as many mini-tokens as you can (these tokens FILL the area), and at the end the number collected will go towards how many extra lives you receive (Yes! Another way to get lives! Like we needed one).
Donkey Kong Country has five animals that will help you out through the course of your adventure, and you will find these guys in breakable crates. After you find one they can be ridden for as long as you can keep them alive. They have no health bar or anything, but getting hit by an enemy will cause them to run away from you, and if you can’t catch up to them and they get too far off the screen or fall into a pit, then they are gone until the level is completed.
Your animal friends are: Rambi the Rhino, Enguarde the Swordfish, Expresso the Ostrich, Winky the Frog and last, and least (you only see this animal friend ONCE in the entire game) Squawks the Bird. Rambi can break walls and knock enemies away with his big horn, as well as destroy enemies if you jump on them, Expresso can hover for short periods of time, as well as jump very high, but can’t touch any enemies. Winky can jump very high as well as destroy enemies by jumping on them, and Squawks will use his flashlight that he carries in his talons to guide your way.
Donkey Kong Country Cartoon Intro
While most levels in the game take place on-foot, there are a few levels you will encounter that are underwater. In these levels you can only swim by pressing the B Button, and you will be underwater, amidst the coral, the entire time. These levels actually are quite refreshing (no that is not a pun) and generally welcome, even though the pace is much slower. In these levels you will die if you get hit by any enemies (you obviously can’t jump on them while underwater, so you are completely defenseless and must avoid enemies) and the levels are full of fish, sharks, clams that will shoot stuff at you, octopi that will move in a pattern or follow/chase you and other dangerous beasts. Thankfully your trusty swordfish friend Enguarde will appear at certain places in these levels and using him you can destroy most enemies by ramming them with his face . . . err, sword-face. Whatever you call it. Actually by pressing the B Button he will dart forward in a “ramming motion”, and he does this automatically if you get near an enemy.
Throughout Donkey Kong Country you will come across places on the maps where various Kong family and friends reside (make note that each map has a different layout, so each of these Kongs will appear in different spots on various worlds, for better or for worse). Donkey Kong Country marked the first introduction of these characters in the series and they are: Funky Kong, Candy Kong, and of course, your Elder, now known as Cranky Kong.
Funky Kong is used to take you to any previous worlds you’ve been to via his barrel plane. Simply go to Funky, hop-in and you’ll be on the Island Map screen, from which you can enter any previous worlds, obviously those worlds will have complete maps, so you can go to any level on them.
This is a really good way to get extra lives if you are low, since you can travel to the first map and enter the first few levels which are packed full of extra life opportunities. When you are finished you can simply visit Funky again and fly back to your current area in the game. If you haven’t yet come across Funky on the map you are on then it is impossible to travel back to previous areas. This can be a very bad thing if you find yourself low on lives and have not yet encountered Funky, since there is no way to travel back and gain extra lives until you reach him. So if you lose all your lives then it is Game Over, and you’ll start at the next save point.
And save points come in the form of Candy Kong. This sexy Kong women will save the game via her Save Barrel, simply jump inside and the game will save your progress, also showing the percentage of the game that you’ve completed (this will include completing levels 101% by finding all the hidden mini-games. If you have not done this then you can only get so high in percentage).
Lastly there is Cranky Kong, he will basically scold you in various “grandpa”-ish ways while hitting you with his cane, also espousing various hints to where you can find mini-games or extra live balloons/animal bonus stages. Most of what he says is pretty useless, since you will generally come across this stuff while playing the game. Obviously since this is a SNES title, everything is done via text. So you probably won’t ever visit him, but some of the stuff he says is pretty funny.
Donkey Kong Country has a lot of variety between it’s stages and each world, which keeps everything pretty fresh. The first stage is a jungle stage, as are a few of the other stages in the first world. In these stages you will swing across pits on ropes (the rope will swing back and forth automatically, you just have to jump off at the right time) and face various pretty easy enemies, from beavers that scurry across the ground to vultures that shoot rocks at you, to big fat Kremlings called “Klumps” who you need to kill with a roll. You can gain an extra life in Kong’s cabin at the beginning of the stage, and even enter his empty Banana Hoard. The second stage in the first world is pouring down rain, and you’ll face a few new enemies here, including bees, which you can only kill by using a barrel, and armadillos, that will curl into a ball and roll towards you. Knocking them with a roll or jumping onto them while they are rolled up will cause them to pop out of their roll, and hitting them un-rolled will kill them.
You’ll also see the first underwater stage in the first world, and the first stage that throws quite a few barrel shooting sections at you soon after the water stage. At the end of the world you’ll fight your first boss, who is a giant Beaver. This guy will jump towards you and you’ll have to jump on his head to hit him. Each time you do he jumps further, making him harder to hit.
The second world mixes it up even more by adding levels which have you riding in a mine-cart (a very popular type of gameplay in video games after this, it was even copied by a few games such as Super Mario RPG, which had it’s own mine-cart sequence). The cart continues on the track automatically, and you have to press the A button to make the cart jump, using it to avoid enemies and pits and to collect bananas. There’s even a variation on this mine-cart sequence later on in the game which actually has you jumping out of the cart instead.
Donkey Kong Country AMV
In this second world you’ll also come across some more unique elements. One stage has you hitting special barrels that turn the cave’s enemies “on” and “off” (“Stop” and “Go”), and you’ll encounter your first “Ruins” stage, which basically look like some kind of pyramid-type structure.
I’m not going to go through each stage in the game or even each world, but I wanted to give you some examples of the types of levels you’ll come across. It’s quite a bit of variety, and later stages have everything from crystal caverns (complete with very pretty graphics and sparkling crystal effects) with ropes where you slide up or down the rope automatically, to snowy levels where the snow is falling so fast that it makes it hard to see, to one level where the lights keep turning off, making it impossible to see until it comes back on, to another one that has you riding on a platform that’s on a track, and the platform has these lights on the side that tell you how much fuel is left. As you ride through the cave you encounter fuel canisters, and you’ll have to jump up and collect these (making sure to land back safely on the continuously moving platform) if you are to make it to the end of the level without the fuel running out. If it does, the platform quits moving and you’ll fall to your doom.
Stuff like this won’t make DKC feel like anything more than a platformer game, but what it does do is show the creativity that the Rare team put into it when developing the game, and it’s simply great level design any way you slice it, helping to keep Donkey Kong Country fun from beginning to end.
Likewise you will encounter a nice variety in the bosses, even though a few of the bosses are repeats with slight variations. The favorite of mine being a giant “Drum” in the industrial world of the game. This drum will fall from the top of the screen and slam on the ground. Afterwards he’ll release a few enemies from inside himself. Once you kill these he’ll slam two times, you’ll avoid him, he’ll release enemies, slam three times, repeat. You never actually have to hit the boss itself, rather you defeat the enemies, who get tougher each time he releases them, and at the end he’ll slam so much that he’ll break himself. Heh heh.
The boss of the game is also one of the coolest boss fights in 16-bit history, IMO. He’s always fun to fight and he is quite challenging if you’ve never fought him before. Not to mention there are a few creative story-telling elements during the fight (and at the end of the game, which actually shows the name of every enemy and character in the game) that were fun and original back in the day. Still fun today I might add.
Graphically Donkey Kong Country holds up extremely well. It’s definitely one of the prettier 16-bit platformers, and the graphics are clear and crisp with fun animations for all the creatures in the game. The environments are also well designed and there are some levels that still will invoke an “oooo pretty” reaction from you, even though the game is so old.
For those who don’t know, Donkey Kong Country was the first game to utilize rendered imagery for every art asset in the game. Donkey Kong, Diddy Kong, the Kremlings, the barrels, even the jungle scenery were first rendered in 3D on SGI workstation computers, then converted to lower-color 2D for use in the game design. Beyond that, Rare also implemented some amazing programming tricks to add another layer of depth, including real-time lighting conditions and fogging effects that utilized the Super NES’ hardware capabilities. For this reason the game stood out among the pack more than any other game in the 16-bit ear in 1994, whether it was for the Genesis or the SNES, and it helped Nintendo fend off attacks for a number of years against stronger systems like the Sony Playstation, as the effects that could be made using this technique looked extremely pretty, as they still do today. Though obviously to a lesser extent.
The music in Donkey Kong Country is simply outstanding; easily some of the best 16-bit tunes and many of the tracks in the game are favorites to many gamers nowadays. Personally, as a big fan of game music, I actually still listen to this soundtrack from time to time, and that of it’s sequels, and remixes for Donkey Kong Country are plentiful on the net, especially at awesome sites like OverClocked Remix.
Donkey Kong Country isn’t much of a multiplayer game despite you playing as two characters. There are two modes, two-player team, and two player contest. Team has you and a friend playing the game at the same time, where one of you controls Donkey Kong and the other controls Diddy Kong. Pressing select will switch the characters and let the other player taker control. Two-Player Contest has players alternating playing a level at a time.
Despite it’s age Donkey Kong Country easily stands the test of time, IF you are into these sorts of games. There is nothing here that you haven’t seen before, but it still manages to be fun. The game isn’t very long, but there are a lot of stages and there is a significant challenge if you want to properly beat the game 101%. Many of the mini-games are very well hidden and it’ll take you a lot of trial and error, and thus lots of lives, if you are to find them all.
Overall Donkey Kong Country is easily recommended to fans of platform gameplay. If you haven’t played the game before and enjoy a good Mario-like experience, then I definitely urge you to try it. If you have played it before, well it’s still a fun game, and if it’s been a while then you’ll probably appreciate the design just as much, and re-discovering why it was such a big hit back when it released. It might even fill you with some good nostalgic memories. A good game is a good game though, and Donkey Kong Country is definitely a good game, even in the year 2007.
SHOULD I BUY DONKEY KONG COUNTRY ON THE WII?
If you are in Europe you already have the option to do this, if you are living in America then hopefully you will today. If not on Monday, Feb. 18th, then it’ll probably be soon, as Nintendo won’t go too long without giving gamers the chance to purchase one of the Super Nintendo’s best known games. It is well worth the price of $8 to purchase the game if you have never played it before or if you are a big fan.
If you have played the game then it is a little harder to recommend. It’s a great game, no doubt, but the sequels, especially #2, are arguably better than the first game and they have much more to them (in the way of collectable for the second game, the third game changes up the gameplay significantly with RPG-type adventuring elements).
Also, this game is available on the Game Boy Advance in updated form (despite taking a step back in some ways graphically) with more mini-games, including a fishing and DDR-style Candy Kong dance game (that can also be played via multiplayer), a time-trial mode, and other stuff. Like a save-anywhere function, the game keeps track of various stats like how many Kong letters you’ve collected in each stage and how many hidden mini-games you’ve found, there’s a new intro showing DK’s banana’s actually being stolen, as well as new text between the characters, and hidden camera icons throughout the game that unlock pictures in the gallery mode. They also added a few more sound effects including more grunts and such to the Kong audio palette, as Nintendo had done with the Mario games on the GBA.
So while it may not seem like much, when you add it all up it might be more justifiable to pick up a version of the game with more content on the GBA than the “normal” port on the Wii or even tracking down a SNES cart.
DKC was also released on the Game Boy Color, although that version will probably want to be ignored in light of the GBA version.
The main thing that the Virtual Console version has going for it is price and availability. $8 isn’t bad for a game of this caliber, especially if you’ve never played it before, and it’s definitely easier to get this version than any of the others (You don’t even have to move from the couch!). In the end it’s your choice to make. Since I’ve played the game many times before I’d probably opt for the GBA version myself. Course, being the Nintendo completist I am I may buy the Wii version just to have it in my Wii Virtual Console collection. 🙂
FUN FACTOR – 8.0
Still fun after all these years. Holds up extremely well and still gives off a challenge, especially if you want to complete the game 101%.
Graphics – 9.0
Holds up extremely well. The game is very pretty, the effects are good, and the animations are fun.
Music & Sound – 9.0
One of the best SNES soundtracks. Catchy and good in the 16-bit way, this game really pushed the sound design of the SNES and it easily stacks up there with some of the best soundtracks from that era. Sound effects are plentiful and what you’d come to expect from this type of game.
Ingenuity – 8.0
This is a platformer through and through, but the design of the stages, the mini-games, the barrel-shooting, all add up to make the game better than most, and easily better than average. The gameplay mechanics are sound and fun and hey, barrel shooting is still pretty unique in my book.
Replay Value – 7.5
Once you beat this game you likely won’t want to play through it again, but one thing you WILL want to do will be to complete the game 101% by finding all the mini-games on all the levels, and that is quite the challenge. Sadly the multi-player modes aren’t too great and you probably won’t even bother with them.