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Donkey Kong Country Review

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On 03/12/2015 at 12:00 PM by Matt McLennan

Donkey Kong's return to console glory in 1994 is definitely a gem!

For side-scrolling platformer fans, and those who never played the original DKC trilogy.

Back in 1994, Rareware breathed new life into Nintendo’s arcade game antagonist Donkey Kong with revolutionary pre-rendered graphics and created Donkey Kong Country for the SNES. Despite the pretty looks, it is a solid side-scrolling platformer with great controls, organic level design and a superb soundtrack.

DKC is a side-scrolling platformer not unlike Super Mario World; you mostly go through stages from left to right, jumping on enemies and avoiding hazards to reach the level goal. While there is a map screen, the game is strictly linear so there are no branching paths on the world map except for visiting either Cranky Kong for hints, Candy Kong to save your game progress, or Funky Kong to return to a previous world.

What makes it unique from other games of its ilk back in the day was a number of things. You had a choice of switching between two playable characters, Donkey Kong and a newly created character, Diddy Kong, both with their sets of strengths and weaknesses. Donkey Kong is stronger and can kill certain enemies in one hit, while Diddy is faster and carries barrels out in front of him, making hidden bonus rooms easier to find. In Yoshi’s place are four different animal buddies: a swordfish, a rhino, a parrot, and an ostrich, which each have lifelike, pleasant animations that add to the realism of the various exotic locales.

There are six worlds, each with about five to six levels to complete, ranging from basic run and jumping levels with numerous bottomless pits to swimming levels with hazardous wildlife. The settings of the levels are varied and unique, encompassing everything from jungle, coral reefs, dimly lit mines, to Aztec temples and dangerous factories. Littered in these levels are hilarious and quirky enemies, like the Kremling troops, dorky looking beavers, and vultures that shoot coconuts from their mouth. It’s all designed like a playground with plenty of swinging on vines, bouncing on tires, and blasting out of moving barrels.

While it borrows heavily from Super Mario World, not every aspect was carefully updated. For example, while finding the bonus rooms are necessary for 101% completion, none of them require any real effort; the bonus rooms are not timed and do not have to be completed as they only provide bananas and the occasional 1-up balloon. They also provide golden animal tokens, one of the collectables in the game and also another glaring flaw. When three of one type of animal token is collected, you get whisked into a timed bonus stage where you collect gold tokens to earn free lives. When these bonus stages are completed, you get placed back to the beginning of the level, which I find frustrating and unfair.

The memorable visuals and audio were another way Donkey Kong Country distinguished itself. The pre-rendered backgrounds and foreground elements, as well as the world maps, have a very organic jungle flair to them. At the end of the first level, the sky changes from daytime to sunset; then, in the next, the SNES’s sprite layering creates the illusion of rain in the foreground and lightning in the newly night time  background. Some people nowadays may call the pixelated character models ugly, but they have great animation and personality in them, with my favorite being Diddy Kong and the idle animations for both Donkey and Diddy. In my playthroughs of this game on the Wii VC, I didn’t notice any graphical slowdown, which is a great achievement for a 1994 SNES game.

What really steals the experience are the music and sound effects. David Wise created amazing music tracks for the levels that perfectly set the mood for their respective environments. Despite being synthesized midis, you can hear the styling of drums in the jungle levels and flute tunes in the Aztec levels which give off an air of mystery.

Besides great graphics and music, the power of the SNES made for some amusing and quirky sound effects. The Kremlings make some sort of “Og!” when they’re jumped on, and the other enemies make the sounds you would expect from a defeated snake, bird, or bee. The idle animation for Donkey Kong is funny enough, but they even added the sound effect of an ape doing the Tarzan chest-thumping thing as well.

Even twenty years after its release, Donkey Kong Country is still a fun platformer to play. As an SNES game it is a stellar achievement in visuals and sound. If you live in Japan or Europe, this game, along with the rest of the SNES trilogy is available for purchase on the Nintendo eShop. When the trilogy gets released in North America, and you haven’t experienced them before, take the plunge!

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Casey Curran Staff Writer

03/12/2015 at 04:11 PM

I may get to this eventually since I haven't played it in a long time but I had to go with 2 first. I'm too attached to that game to not get it.


03/13/2015 at 10:42 PM

Sorry to be a Debbie Downer, but I can't help but feel like the DKC games are overrated. I have the first and second on SNES and have spent plenty of time with them. The gameplay is rather simplistic and gimmicky. Every level revolves around some kind of gimmick. DKC 2 was one of the most frustrating games I played in a long time. Those damn mine cart levels are horrible. I can appreciate their fluid gameplay, and do agree that they are fun, but they have problems. The best thing they had  to offer was great graphics and sound.

Matt McLennan Staff Alumnus

03/16/2015 at 01:24 PM

"The gameplay is rather simplistic and gimmicky."

How funny, this term applies to a majority of indie games released today.

And how you made your post read out, you sound like the type of guy who gets pissy at a game which actually requires skill.

The Last Ninja

03/14/2015 at 12:11 PM

Love this game! It really was impressive back in the day, and holds up well (the graphics are a little dated, yes). Honestly though, I've been playing Tropical Freeze, and that game is far superior to the originals in level design, creativity, and unlockables. But the original game will always have a special place in my heart (plus the music is truly amazing).

Matt McLennan Staff Alumnus

03/16/2015 at 01:27 PM

Can't argue against that, Tropical Freeze is absolutely baller. Should really get around to finishing and reviewing that...


03/15/2015 at 10:17 AM

I find it humorous that out of the three original games, the first one was the only game in which you get to play as Donkey Kong. The only problem I have with the game is that once you play through all the stages, there's not really much else to do. At least in the sequels, there were challenge stages after the fact. Even Super Mario World had them, so why not this one? Looking back now, it really wasn't worth the MSRP. I give it a solid 3 stars if it were made today. But sure, it was a four star game back in the day.

Matt McLennan Staff Alumnus

03/16/2015 at 01:26 PM

Sequels serve a purpose in gaming to improve experiences and fix flaws. I also don't give a rat's rear Super Mario World had hidden challenging stages, a game should be judged on it's own merits but there is sometimes a need to compare if said game got sequels and how they hold up.

Kathrine Theidy Staff Alumnus

04/24/2015 at 03:38 PM

I first played this game in 2010 and I still had fun with it. The graphics look a bit messy on large modern TVs, but not enough to be distracting. I agree it holds up well enough to be worth playing today for anyone who likes platformers, even if I think the sequels are better.

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