Donkey Kong Country (SNES)

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Introduction

Play as Donkey Kong, the great ape of Nintendo lore (Well, it’s really his grandson but they’re both pretty tough). Go to the right (always to the right…) of each stage and jump on beavers and large reptiles. This game introduces Diddy Kong, Donkey’s nephew (I think), a younger and sprier Kong for the younger generation. Roll, handslam, cartwheel, jump, find cool animal buddies, and find the large reptile what took your banana hoard (Did I mention there was a banana hoard? Once again, all this plot is in the manual. Without it it’s pretty obtuse figuring out that Donkey has a banana hoard and that it was taken by a pirate ship dwelling reptile royalty. Until you fight him anyway.)

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Why does reptile royalty live on a pirate ship and steal bananas from large apes? Because he hates you… for reasons.

Development

Donkey Kong Country was one of the first games developed by Rare. Chris and Tim Tamper, Rare’s founders, impressed Nintendo with their work on a boxing game. The game used pre-rendered 3D graphics, something that was new at the time. Pre-rendered 3D graphics, means that the graphics have been recorded on a better device, compressed to fit the limitations of a SNES cartridge, and then played back for the player. This gave the game a never before seen visual style.. Rare redesigned Donkey Kong, altering his physical appearance in subtle ways and adding a bow tie to him. This redesign has been adopted by Nintendo as his new design and Rare is credited in each depiction as such, until it was purchased by Microsoft.

It was released on November 21st, 1994. It released against Doom II for PC, Earthworm Jim for SNES, Final Fantasy VI for SNES, and Sonic and Knuckles for Sega Genesis.

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Pre-rendered 3D, the only thing that could make Cranky Kong look good, ZING! It’s been 15 years, but I finally got the old ape.

Nostalgia

Yet another game that my Grandmother owned. I don’t know if she was trying to appeal to her grandkids or if she actually played these games in her spare time. I can imagine her sitting in bed with a controller in her hand trying to navigate Donkey around enemies shouting “Hell’s Bells!” I would play it with my cousin Zach, i would play as Donkey and he would play as Diddy. He was a year older than I was so it was fun for me to play the bigger stronger character. Although, I’ll admit he was much better at the game and so it makes sense that he’d play Diddy, the character with superior mobility. In a platformer the mobile are king. It’s hard to remember a time when icy, slippery platforms were ever anything more than an inconvenience but as I dig deeper into my memory I remember slippery platforms being death for Zach and I. Zach would also usually beat the bosses for us, I guess the music just freaked me out a little bit when I was 6 (Have I mentioned that I spent my childhood perpetually frightened?)

The emotion I connect with most when remembering this game is frustration. It was pretty, but it was also damn hard for us youngsters. I loved going through the automated barrel chains and collecting a lot of bananas, but doing anything of actual practical use or beating the level was sort of boring. The mine cart sequences are notoriously difficult. Especially that one level, Tanked Up Trouble. Simple premise, the Kongs are on a platform on a track that’s perpetually running out of fuel so they need to hit fuel barrels to keep the platform going. This would be simple if we weren’t 7 and weren’t jumping around, not paying attention. It was so frustrating as the platform slowly grinded to a halt after running out of fuel and slowly puttered forward a little more, Zach and I would hold our breath hoping that these stuttering puts forward would get us to the end. They never did.

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This is what distilled videogame pain looks like for a 7 year old.

The Gush

Going back to it Donkey Kong Country is okay. It’s a serviceable platformer but there’s nothing really driving it. There are secrets all over the levels but nothing to do in them. The reward for finding them is a fun minigame that gives the player more lives, but that’s it. The game is lacking reward. It looks great and the levels are hard, but I don’t know what I’m really earning. The fight with King K. Rool has great music but his design, doesn’t mesh with his nautical theme. His soldiers are dressed in military regalia. Is this supposed to be medieval, pirates, or modern military? The game is a decently fun platformer, but it needed some work with its theming and character unification.

On the topic of Tanked up Trouble, there’s always been something about a timed level that rustles my jimmies. It always puts me on edge and frustrates me a lot. This usually causes me to die, which causes me to game over, which causes me to put the game down for awhile (Or forever). And it’s the inability to fail quickly in this level that really gets me all riled up, having to play out the rest of the level even though I know I can’t make it that’s really agonizing.

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It’s so pretty! But also so simple. Mario had hidden levels and all sorts of junk, why no jungle secrets?

The Verdict

Donkey Kong Country is a good game that was revolutionary for the time. It paved the way for much better sequels, showing that Rare could improve on their designs. I don’t think that Donkey Kong Country has held up well. I don’t go back to playing it thinking, “maybe I’ll find something that I missed last time.” It looks beautiful for its time and it still has its charm today but other games offered so much more exploration and more reward for that exploration. It’s a great start, but leaves much to be desired.

Next week: Earth Worm Jim

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