Gameplay, Story and Value:
Donkey Kong Country was the game that officially added “Rare” to my video game vernacular. In it, you control Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong as you run, jump, swim, swing and barrel your way through several platforming stages in order to reclaim Donkey’s stolen stash of bananas!
Unlike previous Donkey Kong titles, Donkey Kong Country is a pure platformer. You’ll traverse dense jungles, rocky cliffs, snowy peaks and industrialized wastelands all in the name of potassium. Mechanically the game is fairly straight forward. You can swap between the slower but stronger Donkey Kong or the faster and light Diddy Kong any time you’re standing still, and taking damage will cause you to lose your active primate. Should you find yourself alone, every stage is littered with DK barrels which allow you to reclaim your fallen comrade. As far as controls go, everything is really fantastic once you become accustomed to the game’s nuances. Everything is fast and accurate, but there’s definitely a “feel” specific to this series that you’ll need to pick up on. My only real complaint in this regard, if you can call it that, is that one of the game’s most key abilities (the roll jump) is never explained to you, and knowing it exists is a game-changer.
Stage design in DKC is another highlight. There are very few games where I don’t dread The Water Level™, and even fewer where I actually look forward to them. Donkey Kong Country manages to fall into the latter category. Not only do you get actually good water stages, but you’ll be riding mine carts, navigating blackout stages, riding animals and doing all sorts of other things as you make your way through the game.
Each of the game’s 6 worlds contains 5-6 stages, a save point, an airplane to take you to other world’s you’ve unlocked, and tip station where you can potentially glean some of the game’s many secrets. Finally, each world ends in a boss fight. The boss encounters are… okay… if not particularly exciting. The bosses themselves are just overiszed regular enemies that move in predictable patterns and take a few hits to defeat. You can revisit stages as often as you want which is great if you’re looking to 100% the game. Beating the game is straightforward enough, but uncovering the many, many secret rooms and barrels can prove very challenging.
While not the hardest game on the console, Donkey Kong Country boasts a very challenging difficulty. The good news is that, while it might not seem so when you’re dying repeatedly, the difficulty is completely fair. Enemies are not randomized, and with enough practice and repetition you’ll be able to clear the craziest platforming sections with ease and efficiency, or at least efficiency. This is the best kind of challenge as it becomes highly addicting and makes you want to push forward, even after multiple game overs.
Presentation, Music and Sound:
I remember this game blowing my mind when I first sat down with it as a kid. The graphics looks AMAZING! Unlike anything I’d ever seen on the console before. 20 years later, even though the mystery has faded, Donkey Kong Country still looks pretty incredible. You’d almost expect these kinds of graphics to age very poorly, and while upscaling certainly brings some jagged pixels to light the game still holds up very well. If you pay close enough attention, you’ll see the environments are only really made up of a small handful of tileset. Donkey Kong Country hides this fact masterful by means of weather effects, lighting effects, parallax scrolling and color hues. Every world feels different but there’s a consistency that runs from start to finish. If I had to come up with something bad to say about the game’s visuals, it would be that there’s not much in the way of enemy diversity. By the time you’ve gotten halfway through World 2 you’ll have seen just about every enemy in the game.
The sound effects are excellent, both in the sampled laughs, screeches and grunts of the players and enemies, as well as in the ambient sounds that play through each level. The real gem here, though, is the music which ranks among some of the best in gaming. It’s not my favorite soundtrack, in fact I think the sequel has better music, but there’s no denying it’s absolutely fantastic. I mean, I’m listening to it right now!
It should surprise absolutely no one that I love this game. It’s almost pointless, like saying “I love Super Mario World”. Of course I love this game, because it’s a fantastic game, and the fact that it’s not my favorite game on the console should speak only to the games that trump it.
All in all, had a great time with this one, and I’m glad to see that I can still beat it!