Classic Game Review: Donkey Kong Country

(Available on Super Nintendo, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance and Wii Virtual Console)

by – “Tiger” Oliver

Prior to 1994, Donkey Kong was a bad guy, an old school ripoff of the infamous King Kong who was hell-bent on destroying Mario with barrels as he kidnapped young maidens.

Then, Donkey Kong Country was released on November 24, forever changing the face of Donkey Kong, Nintendo and video games forever.

It was unlike anything anyone had ever seen or played before. There was no time limit (outside of token bonus areas), no damage meter, no point system, no icons on the screen whatsoever until needed. For example, if you got an extra life, a balloon icon would pop up with your lives, then slide off the screen. The same for bananas, KONG letters and animal tokens This allowed for maximum view of the entire playing area, further showing off the groundbreaking graphics.

The storyline was impressively simple, like Super Mario Bros. and SEGA’s Sonic the Hedgehog. Donkey Kong (now clad in a red tie) and his nephew Diddy (no relation to P. Diddy) have had their banana horde stolen by King K. Rool and his reptilian Kremlings, ornery beavers, possessed 50-gallon drums and ticked off spiked wasps. Thus, they go off to recover their precious (and tasty) bananas -er, golden treasure.  Levels range from jungles, vast pine forests and ruins to factories, snowy mountains and underwater environments.

But, they’re not alone. Cranky Kong (perhaps the original Donkey Kong?) gives pointers and lectures to our primate pals, Funky Kong allows the apes to skip across areas on the world map in a jumbo-barreled-747 and Candy Kong allows our boys to save their game (and probably more?). Apart from the Kong klan, Donkey and Diddy have animal friends: Rambi the Rhino (who, well, tanks through things like a rhino), Expresso the Ostrich (who can somewhat hover in the air and wears tennis shoes), Enguarde the Swordfish (the only method to kill enemies in the underwater levels), Winky the Frog (who can jump twice as high as Diddy and three times as Donkey) and Squawks the Parrot (utilized in only one level as the only means of lighting up the level).

Graphically, it was a milestone for Rare and Nintendo, being one of the first games to use pre-rendered 3D graphics (which Rare also used on Killer Instinct). With beautiful backgrounds, lighting changes and animations; it was like nothing anyone had ever played before. It didn’t come without risks, however, as Rare took a major chance by acquiring an expensive Silicon Graphics workstation for creating its “Advanced Computer Modeling” system.

The music and sound effects were also huge hits in the game. All the effects were crisp and clean while the music fit each level type, from industrial music in the factory levels to a jungle beat to the jungle levels.

The controls were, in my opinion, more crisp than any other Nintendo game before its time and probably for the entire life of the Super Nintendo. All the special moves, all of the animals, even the barrel cannons (as soon as you figured out how to fire them at the right time) were more precise than any Super Mario game could ever be.

And, yet, even with all these perfect things put together, this game was one hell of a difficult game. The main thing that got at gamers back in ’94 was the length. Sure, it wasn’t Final Fantasy or Metroid in length, but it wasn’t a cakewalk either. The increasing difficulty made all those going through their first run of the game have nightmares and even force some to quit the game for a few weeks. On top of that, all the secret areas one had to explore to get a 100% (something I finally achieved after owning the game for five-or-so years). All of these things combined meant Hell on Earth for those attempting speed runs.

Donkey Kong Country is, without a doubt, in the running for one of the best games of the 1990’s. This is a definite must-play for anyone with a Wii, DS/Game Boy Advance (SP) or Super Nintendo. You can download it on the Wii Virtual Console (granted you have a Classic Controller or GameCube controller); but, if you need to play the cartridge, you’re in luck. The Super Nintendo, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance cartridges can be found at various pawn shops, used video game stores or on eBay for very reasonable prices.

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