[Donkey Kong Country Title Screen]


[Enguarde!]


System: Super NES
Publisher: Nintendo of America
Designer: Rare
Release Date: November 1994
Genre: Action/Platformer
Players: 1 or 2
Save Feature? Yes

Without a doubt, Donkey Kong Country remains one of the most iconic games from the 16-bit era. With its revolutionary computer rendered graphics, atmospheric music, and smooth gameplay, Donkey Kong Country (or DKC for short) gave the once great Donkey Kong series a serious jolt and made monkeys hip again. For those of us who grew up during this time, the nostalgic value of the first DKC game simply cannot be expressed in words.

Overview: Donkey Kong Country.......what great memories of you I have. As a young teenager who loved the NES but was reluctant to purchase the “newfangled” Super NES, Donkey Kong Country was the spark that finally ignited my 16-bit gaming passion. Sure, I enjoyed some of the early SNES hits such as Super Mario World, F-Zero, and Super Mario Kart, but I had a real anti-SNES bias for a long time and this was mainly due to my misguided passion for the NES. I say "misguided" because I loved the old 8-bit system so much that I couldn't stand the thought of it dying at some point. And I viewed the SNES as the console that would eventually doom the good old NES. Boy does that sound silly now! No...the Super Nintendo didn't kill the NES but it complemented it beautifully and today, I can say that both the NES and the SNES remain two of the greatest video game consoles ever made.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand, it was in the fall of 1994 that I became aware of some game on the horizon entitled "Donkey Kong Country." It honestly started thanks to the greatest video game magazine of all-time: Nintendo Power. Like all Nintendo Power subscribers back then, I received a mysterious Donkey Kong Country promo VHS tape complete with the green jungle outer case. This special item featured exclusive videos and tips of this up-and-coming game and boy did it ever wow me! Keep in mind that the internet was still in its infancy back then and you couldn't just go online and visit YouTube to get all the juicy info you could possibly want. Knowing this, you can begin to see the significance of receiving a tape in the mail like this. It was a real surprise and I actually felt really cool having an item like this! And despite not owning a Super Nintendo at the time, I do remember visiting our local Toys ‘R Us (to seek out some late-release NES games no doubt) and playing the demo of DKC. I still remember the awe-inspiring graphics, the catchy bonus stage music, and the surprisingly simple gameplay. DKC felt like a glorified NES platformer (okay...really glorified) and I was honestly floored by how much fun this game was in all of the 5-10 minutes that I got to play it. From that point on, I held DKC in high esteem and couldn't wait to play the full game.

The ironic thing about DKC is that, despite its name, it looks and plays nothing like the classic arcade Donkey Kong games (much to Cranky Kong's chagrin I am sure). Instead of being a one-screen, two-frame animated game like the retro arcade games, Donkey Kong Country plays more like a Super Mario World platformer. However, instead of controlling one main character like in a typical Mario or Mega Man game, you actually have a couple of monkeys at your disposal in DKC. Donkey Kong is big and strong and represents the hero of the game while DK's best friend Diddy Kong is an up-and-coming star who is smaller but is more agile and able to perform a nifty cartwheel move on the fly. Donkey Kong is great at jumping on enemies (especially the strong, burly ones) while Diddy Kong is best suited for cartwheels off of platforms and using this ability to find hidden bonus stages and secret items. Speaking of items, bananas are essentially the life-bread of this game and are the equivalent of "coins" from Super Mario Bros. And like in the Mario series, 100 golden delicious bananas (or is that apples...?) will give you an extra life in DKC. And instead of growing more powerful by eating mushrooms or fire flowers like a certain plumber, your special weapon of choice in the world of DKC is your impressive array of animal friends. By finding wooden crates and jumping/swimming over them, you can enlist the services of Rambi the Rhino and his ability to bust through enemies (and walls!) or Winky the Frog and his outstanding ability to jump sky high!

Another thing worth mentioning is that progressing through and beating each stage isn't enough for diehard gamers because there are literally hundreds of secret items and bonus stages hidden throughout this vast game. By discovering the many hidden bonus barrels in DKC, you can obtain various bonus items and extra lives. However, locating bonuses will also increase the percentage of the game that you have completed and until you see the elusive 101% next to your save file, you haven’t truly mastered this game. Sure, you can beat the game and call it a day but there is just something about finding everything that will pull at the completionist's heart strings...for better or for worse. ;)

[Jungle Hijinx]
[Fighting Kremlings in a cave]
[Shooting through barrels in the snow]

Graphics: Despite the groovy music and the simple-yet-fun gameplay, what most people probably remember about this game is its eye-popping computer-rendered graphics. ACM (Advanced Computer Modeling) is the acronym that we video game geeks threw around back then even though many of us probably didn't have a clue what it meant! However, the important thing is that this game got EVERYONE discussing computer-animated graphics and rightfully so because visually, this game was that much better than the competition back in those days. Even today, I still marvel at how impressive DKC was (and still is!) in this area. Rare, the developer of Donkey Kong Country, had always had a knack for pushing the limits of any video game console (in particular with their 8-bit NES classics such as Battletoads) but this was ridiculous!

I know that this sounds redundant but playing this game for the first time was truly like entering a time warp and visiting the future because 16-bit video games just weren't supposed to look this good! The ACM rendering effects and attention to detail were simply jaw-dropping for the time and the background graphics and in-game animation was equally stunning. The gorgeous sunset in the Orang-Utan Gang stage with its jungle setting and the beautiful underwater visuals in the game's aquatic levels are just a couple of examples of what to expect in DKC. In addition to colors and texture, the unique animated effects gave DKC something that was almost completely devoid in most games: personality. Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong move differently and have some really fun animated sequences (particularly when winning/losing bonus stage challenges) and even the enemies feel alive with their unique movements. Who can forget the villainous Kremlings and their goofy jumping or the creepy Rockkrocs and their ability to settle into the ground or come to life based on the status of the "Stop" and "Go" barrels? The bosses...especially King K. Rool, was brought to life thanks to the capabilities of computer rendered graphics.

As I touched on earlier, the stages in this game really do look outstanding! The color coordination and the unique attention to detail that was now possible all combined to create a really special atmosphere in this game. When the game starts and you find yourself venturing through Jungle Hijinxs with its thick jungle atmosphere and gorgeous background graphics, you feel as if you just stepped out into an enormous jungle! I like how the background becomes dark as you reach the conclusion of the first stage and get set to enter a rainy level during nighttime. The first water stage of the game blew me away as well because it just feels perfect right down to the outstanding music (see below). Heck, even the mines and caves and factory-themed stages have the right feel despite the drab environments and the snow-capped stages are as memorable as they come. While a little additional variety would have been nice, this has still got to be the easiest 5.0 I have ever awarded a video game for Graphics/Animation. DKC is just that good in this regard.

Music: I actually didn't know this until recently but apparently, I have been a huge David Wise fan for a long, long time. David Wise is a British video game composer who worked for Rare back during the NES/SNES era and continues to compose music even today (he recently finished composing the absolutely brilliant Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze soundtrack). He was responsible for the music in Battletoads, Snake Rattle ‘n Roll, and Wizards & Warriors among others but his crowning achievement had to be the Donkey Kong Country series. David Wise has a very distinctive, eclectic style that I have always liked and he really hit the nail on the head with his DKC tunes.

It might seem anticlimactic given my above statements but yes, the music in Donkey Kong Country is absolutely wonderful and is as memorable as video game soundtracks come. The groovy beats and wonderful atmosphere that permeate the game are something to behold and naturally, nostalgia plays a huge role as well. And like with all great game music, there are several themes that stick with you long after putting down the controller.

One theme that will really stick with you is the one that plays in the very first stage of the game: Jungle Hijinx. With its hip jungle beat and calm melody (which you hear only if you allow the music to play long enough...give it a try sometime!), this particular tune has been a mainstay throughout the series and has even made an appearance in the newest DKC games! Another incredible track in DKC is Aquatic Ambiance. My gosh...Aquatic freaking Ambiance. In addition to being nostalgic beyond belief, this underwater melody might be one of the greatest video game treasures of all-time! I cannot imagine a better underwater theme than this one...even some twenty years after the game’s initial release. Another personal favorite of mine is the Fear Factory track that plays during some of the later stages of the game. With its memorable beat and undertones that build up to a fantastic crescendo, this track really gets the adrenaline flowing!

There are plenty of additional tunes that I enjoyed as well. The bonus stage theme was always a real favorite of mine with its cheerful jungle-esque melody while the tune that plays in that one crystal mine stage is equally happy. The various cave/temple/snow stage music is all very fitting and creates just the right atmosphere as well. Also worth noting is the remixed title theme which is essentially a remix of the original Donkey Kong theme (the intro scene is pretty hilarious too). King K. Rool’s grand theme along with the pleasant Ending/Credits track (Cranky Kong makes me laugh every time because of how excited he is about being in the credits.) end the game on the perfect note too.

The last thing I want to briefly touch on before moving on is the game’s sound effects. Honestly, as if the beautiful music wasn’t enough, the game had to go and have awesome sounds as well! Some of the monkey sounds are funny and cool and little things like the sound of thunder or that dripping sound in some of the cave stages add to the game’s atmosphere. Even the Kremlings have some funny sound effects with getting pounded by the Kongs! Speaking of which, some of the “kill” sound effects (most notably the one where you take out a Zinger or two) is so funny! My cousin Mike and I laughed at this hysterically as kids. Ah.......the memories.

Play Control: As the old saying goes, “All Graphics and no Gameplay does not a great game make.” Okay, I added in that last bit but the main point is that, despite having world-class visuals and sounds, even a game like DKC needed great controls/gameplay to become a true classic. Well, any worries that I might have had were laid to rest upon playing this game for the first time because the controls are very responsive and super easy-to-learn as well. Jumping, rolling, cartwheeling in mid-air, and lifting/throwing barrels is a cinch in DKC. Everything just feels very fluid to the point that I would probably put the controls in DKC on the same level as something like Super Mario World or Mega Man. As much as I love playing the newer Nintendo Wii and Wii U DKC games, I honestly feel that the controls in the original SNES trilogy are better. Now that is saying something!

[King K. Rool!]
[The Mine Car Stage]
[Winky!]

Challenge: When I first heard that Rare was responsible for the development of this game, I have to admit that I cringed a little. This was mainly due to Rare being notorious for making their games insanely difficult (Battletoads anyone?). Despite being only 13 years old when DKC was released, I already felt like a video game veteran with some pretty impressive feathers in my cap (Blaster Master, Ninja Gaiden, and the first Mega Man game to name a few) so I felt at least somewhat confident that I could handle Rare’s newest video game offering.

And believe you me...this game did not hold anything back because it can be a beastly challenge at times! This is particularly true if you intend on finding everything in the game and attaining a perfect 101% completion percentage. If you are indeed serious about this, you are in for an old-school, kick-in-the-pants, “Nintendo Hard” ordeal my friend. While the main game itself is probably moderate in difficulty, everything changes if you attempt to discover all of the hidden bonus stages. Bonus stages can be reached by locating hidden, out-of-the-way barrels, destroying fake walls with barrels (or better yet...having Rambi ram into them), or doing something else. It sounds easy enough...until you find yourself playing the same stage 25-30 times and feeling helpless because you just can't find the dang things! The problem is that many of the bonus stage barrels cannot be seen whatsoever and literally require...no...demand blind jumps into the abyss. There are absolutely no worthwhile hints of any kind either. Even Cranky Kong is useless when it comes to finding the truly legendary secrets (I don't want freaking Winky Kong in Barrel Cannon Canyon, okay?!) And that, my friend, is how you create an insane, pull-your-hair-out challenge. It is neither exaggeration nor hyperbole (I credit my good friend Eric Bailey with that phrase.) to suggest that some of the bonus stages are darn near impossible to find in DKC. There is even one particular bonus stage (in Oil Drum Alley) that 99.9% of us will have to look up online because of how stupid the process of finding said bonus stage is. It is literally found within another bonus stage and what you have to do to actually get it is absurd beyond belief. My brother Nate actually found it (by complete accident but still...that has to rank among-st the greatest video game accomplishments of all-time). It is as if Nintendo Power Magazine and Rare made a deal to include a few nearly impossible-to-find bonus stages in the game just so that everyone would have to buy the bloody strategy guide. Stupid money-driven jerks. ;)

To be fair, it should be noted that there are a lot of reasonable bonus stages to be found in this game. Some of the hidden bonuses are very cleverly hidden too and that is one aspect of the game that I truly loved. And since you can backtrack and play any stage(s) you have completed over and over, you don't have to find everything during your initial playthrough. And in general terms, this game is still a legitimate challenge at times. Timing is everything and to succeed in DKC, you will have to execute some tricky jumps, hit/dodge enemies really well (some of them are perfectly placed too so watch out!), and master the art of shooting yourself from barrel to barrel which is actually quite fun.

It goes without saying that DKC containing so much secret/bonus content gives this game an above average amount of replay value. Unlike most platformers where you play through the game once and are done (unless you enjoy it so much that you decide to simply replay the game), this game has a lot of additional content! In addition to the game’s many bonus stages, there are also optional secret paths/items galore in this game.

Storyline: My younger brother Nate had a really good point during one of our recent video game-related conversations. He said that this particular category (Storyline) should really be “N/A” for certain games like DKC due to the game’s genre. Honestly, who really expects a classic platformer to have an intricate backstory? At the same time, should you penalize the few platformers (ala Ninja Gaiden) that actually feature gripping, epic plots by not including the Storyline rating? That is the dilemma and it is worth mentioning because DKC is a near-perfect game but slips a bit with just an above-average background story. The difference between a game like DKC and an all-time epic RPG (e.g. Chrono Trigger) is decisive in this particular category. I personally feel that the story should always play a role in a game’s overall rating but there are certainly some good arguments out there against this mindset.

In any case, despite not having the best story ever, DKC at least shows some effort in this regard. Heck, the story in this game is a heck of a lot more original than most games today so who am I to complain? Basically, Donkey Kong, his friend Diddy Kong, and the rest of the Kong gang (Funky, Candy, and Cranky) live on Donkey Kong Isle and are known far and wide for having the largest banana horde in the world. Give a monkey bananas and plenty of trees to hop on and he (or she) is set for life, right? Well, the unfortunate thing about possessing such a brilliant stash of golden bananas is that everyone wants a slice of the pie...or the entire pie in some cases. And no one wants Donkey Kong’s collection more than the dreaded KREMLINGS! Not to be confused with the Kremlin, these Kremlings resemble a sort of alligator/crocodile hybrid and they have apparently acquired an appetite for all things banana-related. And one fateful night while Diddy Kong guards the banana hoard, the Kremlings sneak up and ambush the poor monkey...snagging the entire stash, tossing Diddy in a barrel, and hurling said barrel into the jungle like a bag of gummy bears. Talk about insult to injury! Obviously, Donkey Kong discovers this and is completely outraged! Diddy feels guilty for allowing the Kremlings to bully him around in such a manner so, without further ado, the two monkeys decide to journey deep into the jungle in search of the banana horde. And so it begins!


[Into the Crystal Cave]


Funfactor: Despite my impossible bonus stage rant, this game is still more fun than...well...you know the answer to that. ;) Donkey Kong Country is such a memorable gameplay experience and it stands the test of time remarkably well. It does absolutely everything you could possibly ask from a 1994 video game and proves that you can have both great graphics and great gameplay. Donkey Kong Country set the standard for platformers and remains a fantastic blueprint even today. It really is one of the finest video games out there so if you haven’t played it yet, find a copy ASAP (or purchase it off of the Wii U Shop Channel).

Negatives: Honestly, the only thing that comes to mind right away is that some of the bonus stages are so cheap and unfair that they are literally almost impossible to find. Despite the fact that I have beaten this game and gotten a perfect 101% score multiple times in the past, there are still 8-10 bonus levels that gave me absolute fits during a recent playthrough. I do appreciate the clever placement of some bonus levels where a thin banana trail or a sliver of the barrel can be seen but there are still quite a few bonus stage barrels where you have to jump into oblivion and hope for the best in order to (luckily) find them. I appreciate the challenge in a way but I do like how later games in the series became more reasonable in this regard (without losing the clever nature of the bonus stage barrel locations either).

Also worth noting is that, despite six action-packed worlds along with a final battle stage, the first DKC game still feels a little on the short side. It would have been nice to have one or possibly two additional worlds. And this might sound a bit odd but I honestly feel that the fifth and sixth worlds should have switched places. The reason for this is that the fifth world (which consists of the factory/industry stages) just feels more like the final world than the sixth world in the game. It is just something minor that I noticed.

[The Orang-Utan Gang!]

Ratings: Graphics: 5.0* Music: 4.7 Play Control: 4.7 Challenge: 4.3 (only blind bonus stages bring this one down) Storyline: 4.0 Funfactor: 4.7 Overall Score: 27.4 out of 30.0 Overall Rating: Golden Classic!!

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