"Every now and then a game comes along that you just can't put your feelings for into words. I find that those games are typically games that do nothing incredibly original, yet set a precedent for future games. I realized this just tonight as I sat down to review Donkey Kong Country (DKC) for the GBA. The game, stripped of all it's monkey shenanigans and banana collecting, is nothing more than a clone of Super Mario World for the Super Nintendo. Even if it's just a clone, it's one ..."
Every now and then a game comes along that you just can't put your feelings for into words. I find that those games are typically games that do nothing incredibly original, yet set a precedent for future games. I realized this just tonight as I sat down to review Donkey Kong Country (DKC) for the GBA. The game, stripped of all it's monkey shenanigans and banana collecting, is nothing more than a clone of Super Mario World for the Super Nintendo. Even if it's just a clone, it's one of the best games I've played. This is hard thing to write about, because I've played dozens and dozens of different platformers, a lot of them well-designed and interesting, yet for some reason, Donkey Kong Country stands above them as one of the pinnacle achievements of the Super Nintendo and platform gaming in general. It's safe to say that I have absolutely no idea why -- perhaps it's the story, or the gameplay, or maybe it has something to do with the sharp graphics and melodious soundtrack. In the end though, it's the culmination of all of these that makes this such a great title.
The game begins with monkey hijinks in full effect. Donkey Kong, ruler of all of the apes on Kong Island, is training young Diddy Kong to take the reigns and run the island. Diddy has to start small and work his way up from the bottom, so Donkey Kong entrusts him with guarding the family stockpile of the apeís most prized possession: bananas. This is no easy task, so Diddy takes his role very seriously and doesn't slack off. No amount of training could prepare him for the Kremling Minions who came in and attacked him however. After knocking out young Diddy, the Kremling make off with the banana horde, and an angry Donkey and Diddy Kong set out on an epic journey to track down the missing bananas.
Kong Island is a naturally dangerous place, with perilous chasms of doom to all who fall in and even worse than that, Kremling Minions hoping to stop you in your tracks as you make your way to their bosses. The Kremling's will do anything to stop you, including running at you, blocking your path, and even sometimes throwing rocks and barrels at you. However, Donkey and Diddy didn't forget to train against such baddies, and have a few tricks up their sleeves. For starters, they can jump in the air with the greatest of ease and use their ape weight to crush their foes. Should the Kremling be too fast for this attack, Donkey Kong can use his sheer size to roll into them and crush them, and Diddy can use his agile frame to do a quick and deadly cartwheel. Sometimes though, things have to get dirty, and our pair of heroes can utilize environmental objects such as barrels (in homage to the popular game, Barrel-full of Monkeys) and toss them at anyone who blocks their path.
What's really cool is that you as the player control both of them, in a sense that if you need Diddy's speed, you can tap a button and Donkey Kong will follow Diddy as he completes a task. Sometimes though, you need the sheer might of Donkey Kong, and Diddy will tag along unharmed behind him. This makes for some strategy when navigating and fighting groups of enemies. However, their skills alone aren't going to be enough in some situations, so you can enlist the aide of some of the jungle creatures such as a frog and fish, to help you navigate some of the areas of your journey, adding even more strategy to the game (even if it is a sampling of the Yoshi idea in Super Mario World). Kong Island isn't just a tiny island either, it's an active and large island filled with a variety of areas: jungles, mines, and caves. The exotic environments are filled with life and exciting surprises, like hidden objects that look like little camera icons which unlock images in the games scrapbook, a new feature added to the game for the GBA conversion.
DKC took one of the most noted ideas of the Mario series and took it into the jungle. Taking the pipes of the Mario universe, DKC has converted the idea to the jungle in the form of barrels. However, these aren't just used for finding additional bananas in the game; these actually take the place of most moving platforms. You see, you'll eventually come across some moving barrels in the game, and hopping in them means that you're stuck in it -- until you press a button and get launched out. Sometimes you'll need to launch yourself at groups of enemies, into objects, and sometimes even into other moving barrels. Occasionally the barrels shoot as soon as you land in them, launching you into an abyss if you don't time your shots well, offering up some unique strategy elements. The truly adventurous (and risk-taking) gamer can find secret areas by shooting out of the barrel at random and hoping to find other barrels that bring you to some of the games mini-games. These minor distractions only take a little bit of time but are pretty fun and rewarding.
There are six worlds in DKC, which took me about five hours to beat. It took longer to find all the hidden mini-games and bonuses in the game, so look for a total length of about seven hours. I think that it would have taken me much longer had I not played the SNES version to completion before though. To add a bit more to the game, you can go fishing or play a Parappa the Rapper-style dancing game, both of which are fun. DKC retains all its original controls in the conversion, which remain fast and fluid.
But thereís one problem with the game: it was never designed to be on a system that didnít have a backlight. Since it was originally designed to be played on a TV, it didnít matter that brown characters ran along brown backgrounds because the TV was able to express the slight variation in color. I do not have a GBA SP, and therefore it was a challenge to distinguish some of the games objects from the backgrounds of the game unless I was under a super-bright bulb, which is fortunate that I was. The characters all look very good, with individual animations that are smooth as silk. The levels themselves are of decent size, with lots of moving platforms, barrels, and enemies to mix it up. There arenít too many different enemies, but there are a lot of basic variations on all of them to liven it up a little. The great melodies of DKC are in full effect and on the wimpy speaker of the GBA no less (but the wimpy speaker does diminish the sound effects a little bit).
Overall, DKC is capable of standing the test of time, even 10 years after its original showing. The games action and excitement is still retained on the pocket-sized version. It can be a bit difficult to see, nut Iím sure if you have a fancy GBA SP youíre problems are solved. Anyone who loves 2D platformers and has a GBA should pick the game up today!
Community review by asherdeus (January 15, 2004)
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