Donkey Kong Country
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Developer:
    • Rare
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    SNES
    • US 11/21/1994
    • UK 11/24/1994
    • JP 11/26/1994
    GBC
    • US 11/04/2000
    • UK 11/17/2000
    • JP 01/21/2001

    GBA
    • UK 06/06/2003
    • US 06/09/2003
    • JP 12/12/2003
Score: 85%

This review was published on 06/15/2012.

Donkey Kong Country was a joint venture by Rare and Nintendo to turn the Donkey Kong franchise into a platform game that could rival or even surpass Mario. The game's claim to fame is its impressive pre-rendered graphics. People didn't believe such graphics could be created on a Super Nintendo, but Donkey Kong Country proved them wrong. The 16-bit visuals in Donkey Kong Country blew away the graphics in competing 32-bit systems at the time, which showed people that bits weren't everything. These impressive visuals were created on Silicon Graphics workstations... whatever that means. There was quite a marketing campaign behind this game, too. Nintendo went so far as to mail a VHS tape with previews of the game to all subscribers of the Nintendo Power magazine. It's safe to say that this is one massively overhyped game. That's not to say that it doesn't deserve some of that hype, though. Donkey Kong Country is a well developed game that boasts great visuals and solid game play mechanics to back it up.

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Donkey Kong is the main character, and this is his country. Donkey is joined by his nephew, a smaller monkey named Diddy Kong. The two monkeys fight against a race of crocodiles and other reptilian foes that are referred to as the Kremlings. Does Rare have something against Russians? In any event, the Kremlings are ruled by King K. Rool, who acts as this game's head honcho, kind of like Bowser from the Mario games. He's not even that different from Bowser, as they're both large, reptilian kings. King K. Rool steals Donkey Kong's banana hoard, which doesn't sit well with the titular hero at all. Donkey and Diddy aren't the only Kongs you'll see on this adventure; Funky Kong provides the funk, Cranky Kong provides the crankiness, and Candy Kong is this game's sex appeal. These other Kongs help Donkey and Diddy fight against the Kremling army in their own, unique, often indirect ways. The various Kongs help to add personality and flavor to an already hip game. Cranky Kong is said the be the original Donkey Kong from the 1980s arcade game of the same name, but this could just be speculation. That would make the Donkey Kong of Donkey Kong Country the successor to Cranky Kong. Does this new Donkey live up to the Kong legacy? The answer to this question can only be obtained by playing through the game.

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The graphics are far beyond what anyone expected from a 16-bit console like the Super Nintendo. These pre-rendered visuals look excellent and have aged well. This look is as close as you'll get to achieving photorealism on the SNES. As a result of that, most of the game's environments look fairly realistic. The jungle areas are particularly stunning. It's no surprise that the jungle levels are the most prevalent in the game. Don't think that's the only type of environment you'll be seeing; there are ancient temples, caves, forests, tree top towns, and snowy mountains. The pre-rendered graphics make these organic environments shine the most, as they truly look organic. One downside to the environments in Donkey Kong Country is that there are too many caves. These caves look great, sure, but they're not terribly exciting. I feel that there's enough variation in the environments to overcome the overabundance of caves, though. My favorite environment is actually the least organic in the game: the factory world. As good as the pre-rendered graphics are in the jungles, they work really well in industrial environments, too. The only problem with the graphics in Donkey Kong Country is that they can be a bit pixilated or grainy, kind of like a heavily compressed JPEG picture on your computer. That's because these pre-rendered images had to be heavily compressed in order to fit into an SNES cartridge. They still look great despite the severe compression, so Rare did a great job.

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Donkey Kong Country's basic game play is a lot like Mario, but with more precise platforming. There's a world map where levels can be selected, enemies can be stomped on to be defeated, and objects like barrels can be thrown as another means of attack. The player controls either Donkey Kong or Diddy Kong, with the remaining Kong tagging along, much like Tails from the Sonic games. Pressing a button allows you to switch control between the two Kongs, provided they're both present. Donkey is a big, burly ape who can defeat large foes that Diddy can't easily harm, while Diddy is a faster, more nimble monkey who is a breeze to use. Most players will take a preference to Diddy Kong's speedy nature, as his agility makes the game's countless platform challenges much easier. Diddy and Donkey can perform a rolling attack on the ground if the Y button is pressed. It's a useful, multipurpose attack that can also be used to get a sudden burst of speed. The controls in this game are extremely tight, even more so than in a Mario game. Tight controls are a requirement for any decent platformer and Donkey Kong Country has some of the tightest around.

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This game operates on a two hit system: getting hit once will make you lose one ape, getting hit twice costs you a life, and losing all your lives ends your game. The control switches to whichever ape you had in reserve whenever you get hit, provided you had an ape in reserve. There are "DK" barrels hidden throughout the levels that act as extra "health," in that they give you back an ape when broken. This is an interesting mechanic, though it doesn't alter the dynamics of a typical platform game as much as you would think. The main thing to keep in mind is that you lose the ape you were currently controlling, so if you got hit when controlling Diddy Kong, you'd switch to Donkey Kong. This can be really annoying when you want to use a particular character for a certain section. That's all part of the challenge, though. You'll have to be strategic about which Kong you're using at the time: since Diddy is the best at most things, you may want to save him for later and use Donkey for the easy parts. Rationing the Kongs like this adds more tactical planning to a standard platformer, but it never gets in the way of things.

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Donkey and Diddy can find various animal buddies to assist them during the levels. The two apes can ride on these animals, just like Mario rides Yoshi in Super Mario World. One of the animal buddies is a rhino. Rambi is his name, and defeating crocs is his game. Riding this rhino makes you nearly invincible, as you can run into enemies to defeat them with Rambi's horn. His horn can also be used to uncover hidden areas via tearing down walls. Rambi is easily the most enjoyable animal buddy to use, but there are more: Expresso the Ostrich, Enguarde the Swordfish, Winky the Frog, and Squawks the Parrot. Winky allows you to jump high, since he's a frog and all. Enguarde's main use is defeating aquatic foes, because Donkey and Diddy can't attack enemies underwater. This swordfish is probably the second most entertaining animal to use. Expresso can flap his wings to slowly glide down tall chasms, but unfortunately, he's totally unable to harm enemies. The least impressive of the animal buddy bunch is Squawks. You can't actually ride Squawks, since he's too small for it. The only thing this parrot does is hold a light to illuminate your path in dark caves. Squawks is more of a level gimmick than a legitimate animal buddy. Animal buddies other than Squawks will run off when you get hit while riding them, also like Yoshi. If you catch up to them before they run off a cliff, then you can reclaim your trusty stead. The animal buddies add a good amount of depth to the game and are just fun all around.

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The non-playable Kongs, Funky, Cranky, and Candy, all provide various services outside of the levels. There are spots on each world's map that allows you to visit these Kongs to make use of their aid, if they provide any. Funky Kong lets you ride his funky barrel plane to any previous worlds you've already completed. Candy Kong is probably the most essential to your adventure, because she lets you save your game. The catch is that she isn't always accessible when you first enter a world, so you usually have to beat a number of levels to unlock her spot on the map. If you get a Game Over before saving, then you're kicked back to the last save point you used. It's not as harsh as old NES games, but it's still some tough love. Cranky Kong is the least useful of the bunch, though he can be helpful if you're hunting down the elusive bonus stages. This old Kong will give you hints about the different levels and might tip you off on the location of the bonus stages. Sometimes, he'll even tell you a good technique to grind for extra lives. The Internet sort of makes Cranky useless, but it's the thought that count. In fact, even back before the Internet, you could get a Players Guide and learn everything about the game. I suppose Cranky Kong can save you the hassle of looking things up, but his hints are often too cryptic to make sense of. This guy's true purpose is to insult your gaming skills. I know I suck at video games, Cranky Kong... you don't have to be so mean about it.

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This game has a thing for barrels, because that's what primarily comprises the level design in Donkey Kong Country. Barrels can be picked up and thrown, they sometimes conceal power-ups, and they can even blast you off. The "Blast Barrels," as they're sometimes referred to, will blast you in the direction its opened side is pointing to once you press the jump button. These barrels are in almost every level, and are used in clever ways. Some of the Blast Barrels will blast you automatically, while others will wait for your input. These barrel segments really test your reflexes, because the barrels rotate and move around on their own, which makes timing of utmost importance. Admittedly, Donkey Kong Country overdoes it when it comes to these Barrel Blast segments. There's just way too many of them. That's not to say that they're bad, but they get repetitive. One gimmick that doesn't get repetitive, however, is the mine cart ride. Sure, riding mine carts is cliched, but it's very action packed and fun. There are only two or three mine cart sections in the game, so they're a refreshing change of pace. Perhaps the most serene areas in Donkey Kong Country are the underwater levels. There's not much to these levels, game play wise, but they have great music and nice graphical effects. They're like a relaxing break from the more action packed parts of the game. Similar to the mine cart levels, there are very few underwater levels in this game, which is good. Donkey Kong Country has great levels with decent variety, although it does go overboard with the Barrel Blast stuff.

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The end of each world is where you'll find the stereotypical boss fight, and there's not much to say about them. These boss fights are easily the weakest part of the whole game. They're boring, overly simplistic, and there are a lot of palette swaps. What really bothers me are the palette swaps. There aren't that many boss fights in the game, and yet they still felt the need to copy and paste the same set of bosses. The worst boss in the game by far is the one in the factory world, because it's not really a boss at all. It's simply a gauntlet of regular enemies; defeat all the enemies and the "boss" dies. If that's not the very definition of a lazy boss "fight," then I don't know what is. The final boss is pretty good, though, so the game does redeem itself in the end. It just would have been nice if the other bosses didn't suck so bad.

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If you're looking for replay value, then look no further than the bonus stages. Successfully finding bonus stages will boost your file's completion percentage, so you need to find all the bonus stages in order to get 100%. The game goes up to 101%, for some reason. Anyway, finding these bonus stages can be quite a challenge. The game is hard enough as it is, but going out of your way to locate these things makes it that much harder. The bonus stages themselves aren't anything to speak of, as they're merely mini-games that test your reflexes and memory in an attempt to win extra lives. You don't have to successfully complete the bonus stages in order to boost your percent; you merely have to find them. It's not hard to see that the fun lies within finding these bonus stages, and not in actually completing them. There are only a few variations to them, so you're likely to encounter the same ones repeatedly. These bonus stages are hidden in unfair and often cruel ways, so a guide of some sort is definitely recommended if you intend to find them all. If you don't use a guide, then you'll have to fall into every bottomless pit you encounter, as a lot of them are hidden in such areas. Good luck with that. The game is still fairly enjoyable if you choose to totally ignore the bonus stages, so don't worry about this if it isn't your thing. This is just a way of getting a few more hours out of the game, in the event that you are particularly smitten with it.

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Donkey Kong Country is probably one of the most overhyped games in video game history. That doesn't mean it's a bad game, however. It's just that the critical acclaim will give you unfairly high expectations of the game, so you may be let down if you buy into the hype. If you play the game without astronomically high expectations, then you will likely enjoy it. This is one good game, and there's no reason to let the hype ruin that. It's got fantastic graphics, great music, solid game play, and some decent challenge.

Word Count: 2,430

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