Remember when Rare was a force to be reckoned with? Remember when you saw an ad for a Rare title, and you instantly saved every penny from your allowance in order to purchase their latest masterpiece? You don’t? Well, who can blame you? After Microsoft’s acquisition of this once mighty developer, the quality of releases has steadily veered towards hitting rock bottom. But older gamers remember a time where you could pick up a Rare developed video game, and always have a blast with it. Enter Donkey Kong Country — a rebirth of sorts to a legendary character, in a 2D platforming world that overflows with beauty that is more than skin deep.
Although this is Donkey Kong Country, our hero isn’t the original Donkey Kong from the arcade games, but Donkey Kong, Jr. Donkey Kong does appear in the game, but in the form of Cranky Kong, the old coot that does nothing but complain and reminisce about the past. Donkey Kong, Jr. who is now just Donkey Kong, is after King K. Rool, who stole Donkey Kong’s banana hoard. It’s up to Donkey Kong, and his nephew Diddy Kong, to recover the banana hoard. A rudimentary storyline, but really, the total package more than furnishes your experience with almost nothing but a good time.
One of the standouts to this package has to be the controls. Mostly anyone else would pick the gorgeous, sumptuous graphics, however, the controls have to be commended before anything else. There’s a certain polish to the controls that only Super Mario Bros. and Mega Man 3 and on had — the stop-on-a-dime movement controls, tight jumping mechanics and just an overall sense of total command of your characters. You also have quite a leeway in terms of hit detection when jumping on an enemy. Even if you fall at an angle into them, and not necessarily on top of them, you’ll likely get away with stomping and defeating said enemy and not lose a character or a life. You’ll also notice that you can end your forward momentum with your melee attacks (rolling with DK and cartwheels with Diddy) by holding the opposite direction that you are rolling. It can come in handy when there’s an enemy in close quarters towards you and is breathing down your neck. Not only that, but you can roll a small distance over a pit ahead of you, and then jump, helping extend the range of your pit jumping distance some.
Of course, you can’t forget those near candy-coated graphics and that well composed audio performance. Using pre-rendered 3D graphics, DKC pushed the boundaries of what a 16 bit video game should look at. Its animations were slick and seamless, the characters were all well detailed and the backgrounds had an attention to detail that made most 16 bit titles look like Atari games. It was a first class performance that can still turn a few heads 15+ years later. The audio presentation is stellar as well, with some great musical pieces that just gel with whatever stage they are accompanying. The sound effects never have a sense of annoyance, and serve their purpose as best as they can.
If you’re a gamer that enjoys discovery and seeking out hidden stages, bonus stages, extra lives and so on, DKC will definitely get your exploration juices overflowing. Throughout each stage, there’s a bonus stage of some sort, hidden in clever places. Whether they are behind a random wall, or underneath a floating barrel that’s floating around, you’ll be looking around for a good while to achieve a 101% completion ranking. These bonus stages will offer you either a quick one up, or bundles upon bundles of bananas that may roll your count past 100 and earn you an extra life. Sometimes you’ll come blasting out of your bonus stage as a living projectile, taking out numerous enemies that lay in your path.
The biggest slip up in DKC comes with the difficulty. As you progress, the game dabbles between a steady pace of difficulty raising, to sudden spikes in the difficulties, to sudden drops in difficulties. It’s not something that degrades your experience in a harsh way, but it does get annoying when you go into one stage, have a challenge, go into the next stage and get hung up on a certain jump over something, and then have the next stage after that seem like a walk in the park.
A lot of people have said that this particular game was overrated. While it did not redefine the genre it was featured in, it really doesn’t feel like it was overrated. Donkey Kong Country is quite enjoyable, with tight controls, beautiful visuals and well produced audio. There’s a lot of hidden bonus stages that give you even more reason to keep playing the game long after you beat it. It’s definitely a classic, and well worth your time and money, whether you buy the original Super Nintendo console, or download it via Virtual Console on your Nintendo Wii. It may not have revolutionized the genre, but what’s available looks, sounds and plays extremely well.