Hall Of Fame Review: Donkey Kong Country (1994)
By Jake Rushing
Platforms: Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Wii Virtual Console (Delisted as of November 16, 2012)
Release Date: November 21st, 1994
Mode: Single/Two player
Look at the awesome 3D graphics!
In 1994, Donkey Kong debuted on his first adventure after having a history of kidnapping fair maidens, throwing barrels down on a plumber, and getting held captive by the same plumber for the reasons related to two previous items mentioned. Rare released Donkey Kong Country to high acclaim from many critics. Personally, I certainly enjoyed playing this game a lot as a kid growing up. About less than 20 years after getting it, I finally got around to play it again, and fell in love with it just as much as I did in my earlier years. And not just because of nostalgia; historically, DKC saved the SNES console after Playstation came out to play with their 3D graphics about a month before this game’s release. And there are reasons why this game became THAT successful back in the day.
But first, let’s start off with the premise. Donkey Kong missed his night shift of watching the Banana Hoard by oversleeping while Diddy Kong had to contiune his watch. While DK was sleeping, King K Rool and his Kremlings overpowered Diddy Kong and stole their banana horde. If the player didn’t know about that before playing the game, the game can hint that something happened within the first 30 seconds of playing the first level. Donkey Kong gets blasted out of his house in a way that shows he has a sense of urgency. The player goes inside the hole in the wall immediately only to find that all of the bananas were gone. Donkey Kong shakes his head in shame that he missed his night shift. After going outside, the player discovers that a monkey is trapped inside the DK barrel from watching it shake and hears a monkey scream for help. The player breaks open the barrel to discover that Diddy Kong was captured by the Kremlings and got stuffed inside the barrel. Both of the primates team up and embark on their quest to take back their bananas.
The controls are pretty smooth for a platformer. Even with a few additions to make the experience unique, DKC didn’t add too many moves to complicate the gameplay for the player. Aside from the basic platforming controls, each Kong has their own abilities. Donkey Kong can slap the ground (Down + Y) and take on larger common Kremlings that Diddy couldn’t take down. Diddy, on the other hand, can run faster. The player can also make the Kongs roll into baddies (and even gain a sweet speed boost with each kill from the roll) by pressing Y. If the player needed to switch to Donkey Kong to take on the big Kremling wearing a grenade belt with a hard hat, the player can switch to Donkey Kong with a touch of SELECT button and then select again to switch back to Diddy Kong. With a few additional controls added to a game, it bolsters the experience of travelling through the island as primates as well as adding on to the tag team dynamic.
Speaking of Tag Team, you can also have another player play the game with you. It’s one of the first games to feature a 2-player system of its own kind in a platformer. Two Player Team and Two Player Contest are featured in this game which can bring out cooperation or competition from two players respectively. Two Player Team assigns Donkey Kong to Player One and Diddy Kong to Player Two, where they take on the bad Kremlings together. The Two Player Contest mode would have two players compete on who can complete the game first. In this mode, both players control both Kongs, and they would each take a turn until the player has completed a level or lost a life. These two modes add both aspects of the multiplayer dynamic which makes DKC more fun to play with two players.
The graphics in this game were revolutionary, with 3D prerendered sprites for all of the characters in the game. I mean, think back to 1994 before the release of this game. All of the games that came before such as Teenage Mutant Turtles: Turtles in Time, Mega Man, Super Mario Kart, and others. All of the sprites for these games were drawn in 2D. Rare decided to put their newly acquired 3D graphic tools to good use and create the 3D sprites for DK’s side scrolling adventure. After being exposed to 2D sprites for all of our lives up to that point, we were awed by how amazing 3D looked in a 2D side scrolling game. I mean, look at that picture two paragraphs above. It looks just awesome and beautiful against a 2D background!
Rare managed to nail the level design in a way that makes the game experience memorable. Each area of the game is unique from one another and the levels in the areas are varied in a manner that keeps the experience interesting for the player. In the Monkey Mines area, for example, the player would traverse through a walkway in one level before hoping on a mine cart for a ride in the next level. In Gorilla Glacier, the player would spend the first level venturing the blizzard peaks before barrel blasting in the harsh blizzards for the home stretch. This kind of design and thought that went into each area in terms of level placement and variety keeps the player from being bored by walking through every single level. In certain levels, there are animal companions waiting for the Kongs to hop on them and assist them on their quest with their own abilities. For example, Enguarde the Swordfish can help the Kongs navigate through water levels more fluidly and ram through enemies easily. Espresso the Ostrich, on the other hand, can glide over long distances and avoid small enemies. These creatures are fun to control and make the player want to keep them until the end of the level. Last but not least, the game has bonus rooms in many different levels. Some of the rooms are easily accessible, while others would require the player to search every nook and cranny in each level to find all bonus rooms. These rooms reward the player extra lives along with helping the player earn 101% game completion. Everyone here is aware that level design is the bread and butter of platforming games. And Rare managed to make some tasty bread AND butter with the variety of levels along with great content.
The challenge in this game isn’t enough to make the player go bananas, but it certainly keeps them alert throughout the levels and prevents them through blazing through each one on their first 5 playthroughs. Even though now the game isn’t as hard as it used to be when I first played it, I find myself attempting to complete the first mine cart level over and over until I manage to beat it. It’s even a bit harder than Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, as DKC doesn’t doesn’t hestitate to turn up the heat for the player like other old school games did.
The music in the game added a really nice touch to the varying environments. David Wise did a fantastic job making each track ambient to fit the wide variety of levels, which can make the player feel they are part of the environment. Not to mention, his tracks were mostly relaxing too. He even gave his music an echoing effect in cave and crystal cavern levels which made the cavern settings a bit more atmospheric. I’ll drop this sample on here just to give you an example of how glorious this track is.
Without a doubt in my mind, Donkey Kong Country is a fun experience for the SNES that has aged like fine wine. The bonus rooms add great replay value, making you want to earn a 101% completion. Even though this is the first game to have 3D graphics in a 2D game, the graphics look just as great as they did 20 years ago. Whether you have played it before and want to take a trip down Nostalgia Lane, or if you are curious to try it out for the first time, I can guarantee that DKC is just as great and enjoyable as it was 20 years ago. From the music to the graphics and great level design, along with a satisfying level of challenge, it’s a blast that’ll be fun even 20 more years from now. There are games that came after DKC that improved on what it established, but none of them can top the technical achievement that was accomplished in 1994.