Donkey Kong Country (SNES) review
"It was a story so eloquent that you’d think Shakespeare had penned it. Donkey Kong, a large ape, woke up to find his enormous horde of bananas was missing. Enlisting the help of Diddy Kong, a smaller (and less useful, as a few enemies just don’t succumb readily to his weaker attack) ape, the powerful primate sets off on a trail of revenge and redemption....a trail that would not reach its end until he’d bested each and every one of the vile Kremlings and regained his sweet, sweet fruit. Eat your..."
It was a story so eloquent that you’d think Shakespeare had penned it. Donkey Kong, a large ape, woke up to find his enormous horde of bananas was missing. Enlisting the help of Diddy Kong, a smaller (and less useful, as a few enemies just don’t succumb readily to his weaker attack) ape, the powerful primate sets off on a trail of revenge and redemption....a trail that would not reach its end until he’d bested each and every one of the vile Kremlings and regained his sweet, sweet fruit. Eat your heart out, Hamlet -- this is what epic storytelling is all about!
Well, maybe not. But, platformers like Donkey Kong County on the Super Nintendo -- and the Marios and Sonics that preceded it -- don’t tend to concern themselves with complicated things like stories and plot twists. All that really matters in a game of this sort is the way it plays. Early on, Donkey Kong Country (the first of three DKCs for the SNES) hits you up with some excellent ideas. Sadly, as the game drags on to its end, the main thing you’ll notice is those same ideas repeated over and over again....with a few little “twists” thrown into the mix. The game never gets bad, it just gets old, as the enemies and obstacles you have to overcome never change.
The first thing you’ll notice about this game is how good it looks. A lush jungle awaits you as you start play, while other levels place the Kong boys in beautifully drawn factories, mines and water levels, to give a few examples. The Kongs are both well-animated whether they’re running or nearly ready to fall off a cliff. Enemies might not have the degree of animation that your characters do, but still look pretty good and are at least capable of emitting some loud grunts as you bonk them into oblivion.
Donkey Kong Country looks far better than those early Sonic and Mario games and boasts a large world with 33 levels and seven boss fights. But after playing the game, you might get the idea that the designers spent too much time creating a beautiful game and not enough time putting things into it. First, you’ll only find a handful of foes repeated over and over. There are about four or five monsters present only in the handful of underwater levels. Then, you’ll only find a few more monsters littering the entire remainder of the game. There’s only so many times you can bonk beavers (named “Gnawty”) and bounce off vultures (“Necky”) before you start wishing for new enemies to offer a challenge. That lack of creativity extends to the boss fights as you’ll fight giant versions of regular enemies at the end of each multi-level area. AND, two of those “improved” foes (Gnawty and Necky) are used as bosses of two separate areas, with the only difference being that the second fight is a bit harder. Fighting a giant beaver that only can bounce from one side of the screen to the other is bad enough -- fighting a second giant beaver that only can bounce from one side of the screen to the other in a more aggressive manner is just ridiculous. A little variety would have gone a long way in this game.
But then again, maybe it’s fitting that the same few enemies are repeated over and over again -- after all, you’ll be attempting to get past the same obstacles on a regular basis. Not that this originally is a bad thing. After the easy introductory levels, it is quite the enjoyable challenge to have to maneuver over vast bottomless pits by carefully getting shot from one moving barrel to the next OR by bouncing from tiny platform to tiny platform via strategically placed tires while dodging near-invincible bees. But when that challenge is repeated level after level after level, it starts to become a bit stale. Late-game additions like flickering lights and strange contraptions that serve as metallic steeds as long as you keep them fueled add a bit of variety, but not enough to keep the game from getting stale after a while. To make matters worse, it seems like many levels are “one-trick ponies”. Let’s say that early in a level, a gigantic millstone drops behind you and chases you until falling off a cliff, while you (hopefully) were able to jump to a vine to avoid it. Well, that entire level will revolve around that concept and you’ll be spending plenty of time outrunning millstone after millstone, each seemingly trickier than the last. And things like that pop up over and over again. Maybe it’s Mincers (spiked wheels); maybe it’s bee-guarded barrels; maybe it’s spinning octopus-like creatures; maybe it’s something else -- but many levels revolve around one particular challenge which will be repeated constantly until you’ve made it to the next level and it’s challenge.
In an attempt to maintain the interest of players, Rare included a whopping 67 bonus areas hidden within the 33 levels. While this feature was better implemented in the second and third installment in this series (where finding all the extras could unlock bonus levels and other goodies), it still adds a breath of fresh air to this game. While some of these areas are easily spotted, others are far trickier to reach -- sometimes requiring your Kong of choice to make a leap of faith into a seemingly bottomless pit, only to land in an off-screen barrel and get blasted to the hidden area.
Another nice touch is the presence of animal helpers. Find one of these and your ape will ride a rhino, swordfish, frog or ostrich -- each with their own special power designed to either make a specific level easier, assist in reaching a bonus area or both. Another animal, a small bird, serves as a source of light in dark areas. There also are tokens resembling of the four main animals scattered throughout the game. Collect three of a kind to get whisked to a special area to collect tons of icons for bonus lives.
And, let’s not forget the personality this game has. As mentioned before, both Kongs are animated wonderfully.....and their assorted family members only add to the appeal. Surfer dude Funky quickly transports you to areas you’ve already visited, while ape bombshell Candy saves your progress. And then there’s Cranky Kong. Tossing out tidbits of advice while rapping your ape with his cane, bemoaning how games today don’t have the appeal of those of his generation and boastfully stating you’ll NEVER be as good of an adventurer as he was, the assorted mannerisms of the Kong family patriarch provide one of this game’s highlights.
Like I said, Donkey Kong Country is a fun game -- until you start to realize that every new level is little more than a variation of something you’ve already done. Fortunately, Rare worked to correct that flaw in their subsequent DKC games on the SNES, adding more variety and more extras for diligent players and eventually living up to the potential displayed in this initial game in the series.
As DKC starts out, it’s easy to believe it is an improved version of Super Mario World as you collect bananas (the equal of coins in SMW) and balloons (bonus lives) while subduing enemies by jumping on them. However, while SMW offers alternative paths through many levels, this game is completely linear with any side paths only leading to a family member and whatever service they provide. While SMW offers a huge number of monsters and challenges that varies constantly through the game, this game features a scant few level designs, a small number of monster types and a tiny number of obstacles -- which tend to be brought back over and over until you’re wondering just how many times you’re going to have to blast from one barrel to the next while avoiding a hovering bee.
Donkey Kong County isn’t a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, as it possesses a fun atmosphere and a number of entertaining sections. It just doesn’t stand out as exceptional in any way other than appearance and probably could best be described as a decent, but flawed, prototype for a series that would become great after Rare decided to spice things up a bit and add more level variety and items to find.
Community review by overdrive (August 19, 2004)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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