Continuing my quest in playing old games, I find myself straying back into Nintendo-made territory, with my most recently completion of Donkey Kong Country. Considering how lauded this game is even now, I was curious to see how it’d feel to play it for the first time, and I was pleasantly surprised at just how well it held up, as well as just how difficult they game proved to be.
On the surface, it’s a fairly straightforward 2D platformer, with each level consisting of Donkey and Diddy Kong moving from left to right across the level in order to traverse each point of the map laid out to reach the thief who has stolen all their precious bananas. You can jump, higher if you’re Diddy, roll through enemies, and ground pound as Donkey Kong. Diddy, being the lighter of the two, is generally less reliable for taking out enemies, but a better choice for the many finicky platform sections that players will find themselves facing across each area.
This game is almost fiendishly difficult at times, with some levels sticking out more than others. I may not have played the game decades ago, but I, like many old-timers, will be talking about the mine cart levels for ages to come whenever I look back on some of the cruelties to be found here. While brutal, the levels often avoid being cheap, usually giving the players time to see the danger, even if they’re unable to quite see how to deal with it. When you’re hopping barrels between fast-flying bees, rolling underneath groups of critters riding on top of giant stone wheels, and fleeing urchins underwater as fast as you can, it’s sometimes inevitable you’ll get caught and killed once or twice. Perhaps even three, four, or maybe five times. Maybe.
Some of the music deserves a shout out as well. Despite some of the difficulty to be found, especially in the water and ice levels, the soothing, quiet tones that accompanied those levels made a wonderful contrast to the danger to be found within the areas, often allowing me to comfortable slow down and relax a bit more than I might otherwise have during my play through. In a way, it helped make the game a bit more manageable, as it gave me the chance to take a breather during levels when I decided to slow down and just enjoy what was being offered, not something you’d necessarily expect to have the chance to do for a game made around twenty years ago.
Donkey Kong Country holds up extremely well today. The visuals, while not perfect, are still enjoyable to look at, even with no upgrades or enhancements on the Wii’s Virtual Console. More importantly, however, the game is still fun, with the difficulty and sense of tension from the original title’s release being very present regardless of when you play it, and I say kudos to Rare, who managed to create such a varied, challenging platformer that has gameplay which easily holds its own to some of the titles we see today.
Unfortunately, there were a few hiccups, and though somewhat small, they were enough to be worth mentioning. My first has to do with the length. While the game is packed with hidden content, I single play through of the main game can easily be completed in under three or four hours on your first try, even if you’re not attempting a speed fun. The game is fun to replay, and exploring for all the hidden nooks crammed across the levels is great, but a bit more length would’ve been appreciated. This may just a mark in change in our expectations of game length today versus what would’ve been seen as normal when the game was first released, but ultimately, this is a point worth making when reviewing a game from a retrospective. My second complaint has to go to the boss fights. They were quick, sometimes tense affairs, but they were also a bit too straightforward. Enemy pops up from somewhere, you jump on him, and rinse, repeat. With the other few moves given to Donkey and Diddy Kong, it would’ve been nice to see more variety given to the battles themselves, if only so we could make better use of their move sets throughout the game. As it is, they’re fun, but not entirely necessary aside from when you want to roll into a long jump or the like. I don’t remember Donkey’s ground pound being relevant even once during my whole game.
I still whole-heartedly recommend this game, however. No, it’s not perfect, but there’s plenty of fun to be found here, and at only eight dollars in the Virtual Console, it’s a steal for anyone looking to get involved in Donkey Kong or the platforming world.