Donkey Kong Country 20th Anniversary Retrospective

Going back to the country.

The original Donkey Kong was the first video game designed solely by Shigeru Miyamoto, the legendary and influential developer responsible for a significant number of Nintendo's most popular games and series, including Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda. The success of the Donkey Kong arcade game in 1981 jump-started Miyamoto's career at Nintendo, and it gave the company a valuable property to build future franchises from. Donkey Kong saw two sequels at the hands of Miyamoto, Donkey Kong Jr. in 1982 and Donkey Kong 3 in 1983, but the series went dormant until 1994 while Nintendo expanded its creative horizons.

A few months after Donkey Kong was released on the Game Boy in June of 1994 (a version which actually very different gameplay than its namesake), Donkey Kong debuted on the Super Nintendo in November, just in time for the holidays. At the time, Donkey Kong wasn't the sort of series you'd expect to bring in massive sales, but what Nintendo and the talented team at Rare (GoldenEye 007, Banjo-Kazooie, and Battletoads) managed to create was one of the most creative and visually appealing platformers of the day: Donkey Kong Country. Its use of animated sprites derived from prerendered 3D character models that set it apart from its contemporaries. It also featured highly creative level design for a platformer, and one of the best soundtracks of its generation.

The original Donkey Kong Country went on to sell more than 8 million copies worldwide, making it the second-best-selling game on the Super Nintendo. Its success led to two more games on the platform, and numerous sequels on other systems, including the recently released Donkey Kong Country Returns: Tropical Freeze on the Wii U.

Here's what a few of us at GameSpot remember about the original Donkey Kong Country, which will be celebrating its 20th anniversary later this year in November...

Shaun McInnis

Remember that first stage in Donkey Kong Country? How if you turned left instead of right there would be an extra life waiting for you back inside DK's jungle abode? That was the type of game Donkey Kong Country was. On the surface, you had this vibrant and lively platformer, a game that immediately grabbed your eye with the way it employed 2D sprites of 3D renders in a way that felt cutting edge at the time. But it was also a deviously clever game, hiding away little secrets all throughout its superbly designed stages. That balloon floating in DK's home was just the tip of the iceberg.

Growing up, I spent a lot of time watching games rather than playing them. I suppose that's what happens when you have two older siblings, both of whom are loath to pass the controller to their whiny little brother. But for whatever reason, Donkey Kong Country was one of the first games where my older brothers finally took a chance and allowed me to play alongside them. No longer would I have to steal away time with our Super Nintendo when they were busy; we played together as a team.

Of course, I was relegated to playing as Diddy, but I didn't mind. Diddy was the agile one, the one who could leap higher and explore levels more thoroughly. Together, we trekked through jungles and caverns, riding atop rhinos and ostriches, looking for all those wonderful little secrets that Rare so cleverly tucked away beneath the game's simple veneer. I embraced the role of Diddy with all the zeal of youth, jumping up high and grabbing those hidden items while my brothers took turns as DK, he of the macho ground smash and dashing tie. There are few games I look back on quite so fondly as Donkey Kong Country. It was a watershed moment, and a big reason you see my name here on GameSpot today.

Tom Mc Shea

If my childhood self could have designed a video game, it would have been Donkey Kong Country. Always fascinated by simian stars, I would have gladly plopped the necktied one in the hero role instead of that fatso Mario, and even in my early teenage years, I was drawn toward infectious gaming scores. I can still hear that main theme whenever I close my eyes, or the serene underwater song as I glided atop Enguarde. Plus, platformers have been my favorite genre for almost 30 years, so this game seemed to be designed just for me.

And I loved it. How could I not? I spent hours collecting precious bananas, barreling through kremlings as the squirrelly Diddy Kong as I sought out every stray puzzle piece. I was enraptured, enthralled, entertained, excited, and every other positive adjective that begins with an "e."

A couple of years ago, I returned to Donkey Kong Country. I was transported to my younger days when that opening music began, and could not wait to set off on another adventure with my monkey friends. But that joy soon evaporated. My younger self was less discerning, more easily wooed by monkeys and music, but my older self couldn't look past the issues endemic to this game. Everything was as outstanding as I remembered--including the level design and graphical flourishes--but the controls, the very foundation of the journey, faltered. It was a struggle to move. So I sighed and moaned and put down the controller with sadness.

Donkey Kong Country remains a beacon of happiness in my memory. However, I can no longer return to it. Thankfully, Retro Games has done a remarkable job of bringing those feelings to the modern era. Donkey Kong Country Returns and Tropical Freeze not only remind me of what I loved about the originals, but are actually fun in their own right. So I'm glad that I still have great games to turn to when I need my monkey fix.

Peter Brown

Donkey Kong was always on the periphery of my childhood gaming experiences. I occasionally played--and consistently failed at--the original arcade game, and I had a friend who owned Donkey Kong Jr. on the Nintendo Entertainment System, but I wasn't a fan of Nintendo's star ape until Donkey Kong Country hit the Super Nintendo. I'll always remember the first time I saw Cranky Kong during the game's opening cinematic, appropriately cranking an antique record player atop the familiar red girders from the original Donkey Kong. Then, Donkey Kong and his boombox busted onto the scene to music by David Wise that I can't even begin to categorize, knocking Cranky Kong to the ground. Why did Donkey Kong have it out for Cranky? Where did he get that boombox? But more importantly, how did this game look so good?

It may not look like much now, but at the time, Donkey Kong Country's prerendered, faux 3D sprites were the most impressive console graphics I had ever seen. They weren't realistic by any measure, but they were far less abstract than the typical, cartoony sprites of the day. Later levels introduced weather and strong lighting to create an atmosphere of doom and gloom, and I bought into it wholesale.

It's worth noting that I was a Sega Genesis kid, and I had to go to a friend's house to play Donkey Kong Country. It was a blessing that its tag-team multiplayer feature was so strong; I never felt like a mooch when we both got to play, and having a partner in crime allowed us to finish the game without resorting to Game Genie. I didn't stick with Donkey Kong Country through the entire trilogy of games, but I always remember the first time I laid eyes on those sweet, sweet Silicon Graphics visuals.

What are your fondest memories of the Donkey Kong Country series? Let us know in the comments below!

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Discussion

45 comments
goodemon
goodemon

I remember begging my mother for this game. I was probably in the sixth grade and it was like over 60 dollars brand new at wal mart. Cartridges were getting so pricy at the time, which probably led to a quicker cd adoption rate of the playstation era. Anyway after weeks and weeks of begging one day I come home after school to watch Batman the animated series, and there it was, sitting on my bed sealed and waiting to be played. I'll never forget how grateful I was that mom actually remembered something that always seemed so irrelevant to her. Thanks mom, I'll never forget that day.

Coolman13355
Coolman13355

Nintendo and Rare even made DKC without a Super FX chip.

widdowson91
widdowson91

I feel it holds up better than Tom makes it sound. It's a fantastic game, but I personally prefer Diddy Kong's Quest. Everything about Diddy Kong's Quest was an improvement over the original, especially the level design. The Donkey Kong Country games are the main reason Donkey Kong is one of my top 10 franchises of all time.

NTM23
NTM23

My first memories of this game were when my dad would bring home cardboard boxes and we'd make a fort in my brothers and my room, then family came over, and I saw my mom and aunt playing it inside the fort. I was four then.

bubba_1988
bubba_1988

It was rather late in the SNES's life time when I received my first console for my birthday in 1997. With the console, my parents also bought Donkey Kong Country 2, probably not knowing the system came bundled with Yoshi's Island (win for me). Those 2 games are intimately intertwined with my childhood and served as launch platform for my love of gaming. Many of what people have said about DK1 is exactly how I felt about DK2. Having played DK2 first, I never fell in love with DK1 but even at that young age I knew it was a quality well made game.

chechak7
chechak7

wow long time ago i played this game... .lovely childhood

PS4andXoneGamer
PS4andXoneGamer

The original Donkey Kong country was one of my favorite games from my childhood. I still play the rom now and again with my nephew ;)

MrWhalo
MrWhalo

Mine Cart Carnage from DKC, 'nuff said.

Neha23
Neha23 moderator

Spent a lot of my childhood playing DK, so I always think of the series fondly. Thanks for the throwback, nice to see your experiences as well!

Poison-tooth
Poison-tooth

David Wise - one of the best video game music composer.

loafofgame
loafofgame

Well, Cranky's monologue in the video shows how little times have actually changed...

DonBaser
DonBaser

Oh God, the person playing in the video is horrible... Doesn't he/she/it know there is a button for running?

On topic: The soundtrack of this game is so amazing :')

dcr210
dcr210

classic!!!!!...what my childhood was made of right here-

Wej_accept_it
Wej_accept_it

From an era when Nintendo could do no wrong, DLC, microtransactions, DRM, fanboys, forum wars and Half Life 3 confirmed didn't exist.
Either give me HL3 or send me back in time!

silentsnake909
silentsnake909

dokey kong country was better then the Mario games, yeah I said it

GH05T-666
GH05T-666

DKC 2 Diddy Kongs Quest was my favourite DKC game - SNES and N64 were the best Nintendo Consoles Ever!! :) 

ogara0c9
ogara0c9

Never owned a nintendo console myself, but remember when Sears sold the SNES and Genesis (and I think the original playstation later on) and would have a station for each console to play the latest releases.  This was one of the games setup.

Nintendo_Man
Nintendo_Man moderator moderator

I remember being excited for the release of the game as I was with the 2nd and 3rd Country (which I personally prefer over the 1st). I got them again when they came on the Wii VC so I could complete all 3 again 100+% again.

Cellpwn
Cellpwn

The Donkey Kong Country series practically defines my early childhood gaming memories. I ended up going back the original trilogy, and (unlike Tom McShea) I feel like those games still hold some kind of special magic. The soundtracks are still my favorite of all time in terms of video-games, the levels radiated so much atmosphere (the worlds felt natural and alive and even foreboding), and I found the gameplay plenty tight.


DKCR rid itself of the natural aesthetic and went for a more cartoony approach which rid itself of the previous games' foreboding atmosphere. I don't know how to put it but I like Retro but it seems like they took  a mildly silly/ ominous adventure franchise and turned it into a wacky vibrant Disney ride. Regardless, the original games are still awesome titles and I hold them dear to my heart.


Oh, and Toxic Tower is DKC2 is still a nightmare for me.

ceaseless
ceaseless

The new DKCs are great, but they didn't wow me like the first DKC. With the first one on the SNES, they had done something different with the graphics that just made my eyes buck. Not many games looked like that back then and whenever DKC is mentioned, the first images that come to mind are on the SNES. 

I wish they did something special with the graphics on the newer DKCs - just something special like how the first one blew me away or how a game like Mortal Kombat's digital frames from real life actors wowed me when all of the Street Fighter-looking clones were out back then. Even Splinter Cell got me with it's real time shadowing how fence shadows flowed all over the character through the night.


The first Donkey Kong Country is one game I'll never forget and the old Rare is still my favorite video company ever. They just knew how to make great games for the every age bracket. Nintendo was smart to get them on board early on and let them just run on making games with great use of every piece of hardware they encountered. RC Pro AM, Anticipation, Battletoads, Captain Skyhawk, Snake Rattle n' Roll, Wheel Of Fortune, WWF, Battletoads, Killer Instinct, Mickey's Speedway (good racer), Diddy Kong Racing, NARC, Conker's Bad Fur Day, and my favorite game for life, Perfect Dark.  Masters.

arrow2thekneeXD
arrow2thekneeXD

Does anyone else get that Magical feeling when they play the DK country games? When you see the background and hear the music and you take in the wonderfully crafted world and each and every moment feels like a wonderful dream.And As soon as you turn the game on and load up a level you just forget about where you are?..I don't know How to describe the feeling..But I guess that's how you know that a game is a masterpiece. Or at least they are to me.

jharring
jharring

Like Peter, I was a Sega Genesis kid, loudly espousing the virtues of the system to all of my friends at school, who all had Super Nintendo.  I also subscribed to Gamepro magazine (lulz) at the time, and one day they had a cover story on Donkey Kong Country and its revolutionary rendered graphics.  This just further enraged my fanboy-ness, and I insisted that Nintendo was just creating shallow games with pretty graphics.


Well, thankfully a couple of years later I grew out of my fanboy-ness, and bought a Super Nintendo, realizing both systems could happily co-exist.  And you know which game was really fun?  Yep, the original DKC!  I believe I eventually 100%'ed the game (and this is before the days of easily available Internet guides to look things up) which took quite a while.  I believe there was one mine level that I scoured for over a month, before I finally found a tiny edge of a barrel sticking up from the bottom of the screen...

Junior_AIN
Junior_AIN

DKC is gaming in its truest form, I'm sorry but not even Mario represents more what gaming is all about than the original 3 games of this series. 

60-fps
60-fps

retro's games are garbage even they running at 60-fps 

gpuFX16
gpuFX16

Donkey Kong Country is the reason I even started playing games more than just passively. I'd played earlier games as a kid, but it wasn't until DKC rolled around that I truly fell into playing games.


As a kid, I would spend entire days jumping around, throwing steel kegs at Kremlings, and pausing at every Funky's Flights to hear the badass music (HI-YA!). DKC more or less defined my childhood, and ensured that 20 years later, I would still be holding a controller regularly.


Memories? Man where to start. 2-player team mode, infamous levels like Snow Barrel Blast (shortcut tho) and Oil Drum Alley (Bonus room within a bonus room). The false credits during the final battle XD. You could ride a flippin Rhino, for cryin out loud. And then the music. Simply mention David Wise and you will have scores of people to attest at just how good the music was.


I can return to it any day and still have a barrel blast of a good time. As far as my favorite games that I've enjoyed most, only Metroid Prime surpasses it. Thank you Gamespot, for reinforcing what already were delightful, cherished memories.

Poodger
Poodger

Also, I think the game still looks gorgeous, and plays well. The controls are sharp and feel natural, and the music and environments are dripping with beauty and atmosphere.

Poodger
Poodger

To this day, DKC 2 (really 1-3) are the best platformers of all time. They put even Mario to shame back then. The new ones, while not bad, lost alot of what I loved about those old games unfortunately.

Kamina85
Kamina85

These games are absolutely awesome. Me and my friends loved playing the SNES games when we were kids, and Retro did an incredible job with Returns and TF. Great gameplay, challenging but in a way that makes you cheer when you conquer the harder levels, incredible graphics and music, what's not to love?

happyfatman021
happyfatman021

Donkey Kong Country was the first real video game I ever played (I don't count Mario Paint, no offense to anyone else, haha). I remember my frustration of feeling like I would never get past the SECOND level. I remember my parents actually trying to reassure me telling me to keep trying and stop saying I can't. My older cousin beat the game for me first, but it was an amazing feeling when I finally beat it on my own (so many years later). Donkey Kong Country is the reason why I play video games, and it will always have a special place in my heart, along with the entire franchise.

Jd1680a
Jd1680a

Donkey Kong Country came at during the later part of SNES life and it was surprising for some because the Atari Jaguar came out with promising better graphics with 32 bit. This is the game that showed everyone that bits was nothing more then market hype.

Turico187
Turico187

I remember, very vaguely, some sort of trick in the mine carting level. Something about jumping off and flying to the end of the stage. Anybody remember that?

Tsuchikage
Tsuchikage

When I got a Super Nintendo for Christmas--my first console!--I got two games for it; Killer Instinct and Donkey Kong Country. I'd received the tape in the mail (which I still have!) from Nintendo to hype Donkey Kong Country, so naturally my childhood self was anticipating this game unlike anything else before it.  The graphics in the video looked unbelievable, and what was that about secrets?  I tore open the packaging and played the game for hours on end.  Later in the night, after hours of nonstop Donkey Kong Country gaming, I had made it up to the final boss, King K. Rool.  That [expletive deleted] took my tired kid self hours to beat--most of which was spent yelling and throwing hissy fits, especially when the boss got back up after seemingly being defeated--but it was one of the best gaming marathons of my life.

daveyf03
daveyf03

McShea never misses an opportunity to take a dig, even in a game he is praising...sort of.  Has it not crossed his mind that perhaps the controls are fine and that he is simply not as skilled as he once was?

Wej_accept_it
Wej_accept_it

@silentsnake909 True though, I played DKC 1,2,3 and Super Mario 1 and Yoshi's island. ALL were great games but I reckon DK just had a cooler vibe, my parents played DKC with me and thought it was cool, they weren't into Mario though. At 8 years old, having you're Dad play a video game with you is cool

Babugee
Babugee

@Cellpwn "it seems like [Retro] took  a mildly silly/ ominous adventure franchise and turned it into a wacky vibrant Disney ride"

They probably went with that art style because of Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. Which reminds me, I recently found my bongo drums and I should complete that game if I can find the disc.

Poodger
Poodger

@Turico187 I discovered it on accident as a child, and used it all the time.

arrow2thekneeXD
arrow2thekneeXD

@daveyf03  Nothing is perfect,and just because you really like a game a lot doesn't mean you shouldn't bring up its  faults and shortcomings..That is the only way that Games can get better.

Wej_accept_it
Wej_accept_it

@loafofgame @Wej_accept_itI'm not psychic (nor do I buy into that nonsense) so don't presume to know the future.
But in this post Duke Nukem Forever (was a freaking awful mess) world you're right, HL3 could very well be rubbish. Or it could be the game we're hoping for.

loafofgame
loafofgame

@metallinatus That's not what I meant. By now noone has realistic expectations anymore. I fear that for a lot of people Half Life 3 will be a disappointment. Valve games are awesome, but I'm not sure if they can live up to the hype, even if the game turns out to be brilliant. It will be compared to the past, to the future, to the (future) present. It will be compared to every single shooter out there (and most importantly, its predecessors).