Donkey Kong Country – Still Barrels of Fun

Donkey Kong Country box art

Released on: 21 November 1994

Available Platforms: Super Nintendo, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo New 3DS, Wii U, Nintendo Switch

Price: Free (With Nintendo Switch Online subscription)

Developed by: Rare. Published by: Nintendo

It’s been a hot minute since we talked about a retro game. Today, we are going way back to when Sergie was six years old. Super Mario World‘s introduction into his life set him on a video game-loving path that would last for decades. As he enjoyed the supper his mother made him; he sees a commercial for a new game that gets him excited. His mother recognizes the character as Donkey Kong from the arcade game. Sergie asks his mother to rent the game for him when she gets home from work. The next day, Sergie went to school, waiting with bated breath. To his surprise, his mother did not rent the
game but bought it outright. Young Sergie was ecstatic. He put the game in, turned it on, and played Donkey Kong Country until his mom told him to stop.

Fast-forward to today, I checked the Super Nintendo app on the Switch to see if they added anything significant to its library. Having renewed my subscription to Nintendo Switch Online, I was in the mood to play some Super Nintendo games. I saw that all three classic Donkey Kong Country games are now on Nintendo Switch. I decided to revisit Donkey Kong Country since I’ve been playing recently. Does Donkey Kong Country’s monkey business stand the test of time?

Donkey Kong Country Title Screen

One day, Donkey and Diddy Kong wake up as if nothing is amiss. They then go get some bananas from their banana horde. It was then they realized something terrible happened. THE BANANAS ARE GONE! Upset by this news, they investigate to find out who could have taken their bananas. Their search is short, as they notice a bunch of
Kremlings are running around the forest. At this point, Donkey and Diddy deduce that it must be King K. Rool who stole their bananas. Thus, Donkey and Diddy Kong venture to find King K. Roll and reclaim their bananas.

Donkey Kong Country NOT THE BANANAS!

Donkey Kong Country follows the tried-and-true storytelling method of the ’90s: short, sweet, and to-the-point. What’s more, the game’s plot also has a little bit of humor in it, and it doesn’t involve rescuing a damsel in distress, something prevalent in video games of the era. Another interesting thing about DKC’s (Donkey Kong Country) story is that it doesn’t explicitly tell the player anything. The player only discovers the bananas are missing from the horde when they turn around and enter the cave on the game’s first level. I admire that, as those who know the story (or don’t care) can start their journey.

To say that DKC’s graphics were revolutionary at the time would be an understatement. Rather than emulating the hand-drawn style, DKC opts to use computer-generated graphics (CG) to model the characters and the world. They then optimized said graphics so that the game could run on a Super Nintendo at sixty hertz (frames-per-second, or FPS). As a kid, this blew my mind. Never had I played a game that looked like this. Looking back, it is impressive how they got DKC running so smoothly on Super Nintendo. The game still looks visually appealing and stands out, even to this day.

I can’t keep talking about DKC without mentioning its soundtrack. If I were to make a list of my favorite video game tracks of the Super Nintendo, DKC would be up there with the likes of Mega Man X 1 and 2 and Super Mario World. To give my readers an idea of how much I love the music in DKC, I look forward to playing the water levels just so that I can listen to Aquatic Ambiance. I find myself listening to that song by itself when I’m in the mood to relax.

In DKC, players take control of Donkey and Diddy Kong as they make their way through the level to reach the end. The only time the goal deviates from “get to the end” is when the player fights the boss of the world they are currently on. For players who like finding secrets are in luck, as there are numerous bonus rooms and goodies scattered in every stage for the player to find.

Donkey Kong Country bonus room.
One of the many bonus rooms hidden in Donkey Kong Country.

Most of the time, the player can change who they control by pressing the “A” or “Select” (“-” on Wii, Wii U, or Switch) during gameplay. If the player touches an enemy or hazard, they will lose that Kong until they break open a “DK” barrel. When they take another hit when they only have one Kong or fall into a bottomless pit, they will lose a life. It’s game over if the player loses all of their lives, to which they need to restart from the last save point they used.

DKC’s gameplay is phenomenal. Its goal is easy to understand, the controls are responsive, and there are some subtle tricks to master for those who want more depth to their platformers. Donkey Kong can dispatch bigger enemies by jumping on them, but he moves slower. Diddy Kong, however, moves quicker, but he bounces off of bigger enemies when he tries to jump on them. The level design flows beautifully as well, making it a joy to play through.

One thing I realized upon replaying DKC is that the bosses have elementary patterns. Most bosses’ strategies involve either: jumping on them, throwing a barrel at them, or avoiding the enemies they spit out. Unlike the levels themselves, the bosses (other than the final boss fight) fail to leave an impact.

Despite there being a bunch of secrets within the levels, DKC is a linear game. The only time two paths appear after beating a level is if the level opens a road to Cranky Kong’s Cabin (hints and tips), Candy Kong’s Save Point (saving the game), or Funky’s Flights (world select). I never thought this was a negative personally, as it kept its focus clear, but I did hear that this was a point of contention for some people.

Those looking for a platformer with a simple plot that’s easy to learn and rewarding to master cannot go wrong with Donkey Kong Country. Even twenty-six years later, the game is still worth playing, especially those who have the Nintendo Switch Online service, as it comes free to its subscribers.

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