Donkey Kong has always sort of been part of the Mario universe showing up in Mario Kart and Mario Party throughout the years. While he's definitely been in the Plumber's shadow, he has had his own successful series of games known as the Donkey Kong Country series, developed by famed developer Rare back when they were buddies with Nintendo and not owned by Microsoft. They were praised at the time of release thanks to their high quality visuals, platforming and music, but have the years been kind to the Ape's initial solo outings? Or has time made a monkey out of him?
The Great Banana Caper
Platformers on the good old Super Nintendo were never known for their stories, and the original Donkey Kong Country isn't an exception. What story is there is pretty simple, even if it is a clever spin on the standard video game story at the time. Something has been taken from Donkey Kong by King K. Rool. Something important; his Banana hoard. Donkey Kong isn't going to take that kind of thing from a smelly lizard so he sets out on a grand adventure on his own island to get his precious Bananas back. He's not alone however, other members of the Kong family and their animal buddies are not going to let Donkey take on K. Rool's Kremlings on his own. It's nothing special, and nothing is REALLY said in-game, but it's there.
Banana Slamma, Kongo Bongo's Hero
The gameplay in Donkey Kong Country is as standard as a platformer has ever been, but it's crafted expertly. You move from left to right and avoid all obstacles on your way to the goal; standard stuff. What sets Donkey Kong Country apart from other platformers at the time on the surface is the addition of Diddy Kong. In platformers like Super Mario Bros. you have 1-2 hits before dying. If Mario was powered up to a Fire Flower or a Super Mushroom, getting hit would turn him small and then the next hit would kill. In Donkey Kong Country, Donkey has a single hit at all times. If he's hit he dies, but if Diddy is with him, you'll take control of Diddy, effectively having two hits per life. It was a very neat way of doing things at the time. Sadly, Diddy Kong is only a Chimp and is actually weaker than Donkey which affects gameplay. There are certain enemies Diddy can't defeat as easily as Donkey which can actually make things harder for you. Thankfully, whatever character you are playing as can be switched with a button press.
As soon as you got over the fact that you get a second character as your second hit, you come to what REALLY makes Donkey Kong Country unique for it's time and that is the stages themselves. Donkey Kong Country is a very gimmick heavy game, a vast majority of the levels have unique gimmicks that'll test your skills. These gimmicks range from icy floors to riding in mine carts and having to avoid what litters the track. All of these gimmicks are pretty interesting and were incredible for the time, not to mention it controls really well and has really good jump control. Even now they stand out as being pretty unique.
I mentioned other Kongs previously, and I wasn't just talking about Diddy Kong. Funky Kong is a surfer Kong that owns his own Barrel Plane and is willing to let you use it to return to worlds and levels you've already completed. Cranky Kong, Donkey's Grandfather and the original Donkey Kong that fought against Mario in the Arcades, is always cranking around and "willing" to give you hints about the world you are in. Also to insult you. Finally, Candy Kong, Donkey Kong's girlfriend (confusing), owns the Save Booth where you can save your game and receive some of her blown kisses. Aside from the Kongs there are also animal buddies to help out. Rambi the Rhino is the first you meet and he's basically a stronger Donkey Kong. He allows you to kill certain enemies that you could only kill by throwing barrels at originally. Expresso the Ostrich lets you flap his wings to extend your jump in exchange for being able to jump on enemies. Winky the Frog has a good jump and can kill the same enemies as Rambi but controls awkwardly. Enguarde the Swordfish is exclusive to the atmospheric underwater stages and he lets you actually kill things. These animal friends REALLY make the game more interesting.
As for the actual stages themselves, aside from the gimmicks, they are well designed if not a little simple. They are littered with secrets, however, and each stage holds letters that spell out Kong. Finding all letters gives you a life and lives are usually hidden in the bonus rooms as well. Across the levels you'll find tokens that are shaped like your animal buddies and finding 3 of a matching pair will bring you to a special room where you are in control of that specific animal buddy. Scattered all over the room are mini tokens and your job is to collect as many as possible. Every hundred you collect you gain a life, just like the bananas scattered about the levels. At the end of each world you face off against a boss that holds a piece of Donkey's Banana Hoard and defeating it brings you to the next world. It's simple progression but everything else the game does makes it stand out, and a challenge, even to this day.
Future Jungle Sounds
When this game came out people, critics and gamers alike, were floored by this game's visual presentation and music and they still hold up today. The visuals actually use 3D models on 2D stages and it looks extremely good for the simple Super Nintendo. Every character looks great, the animation is fluid and the environment effects were all stunning. Thanks to it still looking like it's 2D it holds up rather well today as it's not completely early 3D. What holds up better than the visuals, however, is the music. Donkey Kong Country has a legendary soundtrack and each track is amazing and very fitting. It's safe to say that this game would not be the game it is without it's amazing soundtrack. Safe to say, Donkey Kong Country has stood the test of time presentation wise.
Donkey Kong Country stands strong as one of the all time greats on the Super Nintendo. It's great visuals, stunning soundtrack, fun gimmicks and precise gameplay make for a great time when it comes to platformers. It may not be a long game once you are able to complete it without much trouble but it's still a joyous time all the same. When you aren't banging your head off a wall out of frustration, you'll have a big stupid grin on your face while basking in the music and wonder that is Donkey Kong's Island. Donkey Kong earns top honors from this guy and if you have a Super Nintendo, Wii or a Wii U you should do yourself a favor and buy this game if you haven't already. Make way for Kongo Bongo's Hero.
+ Tight gameplay and fun Gimmicks
+ Amazing visuals and music
+ Fun Challenge
+ Loads of gimmicks and environments
to jump through
+ Stands the test of time
Bosses are a little lame
- A little too short