There always seems to be the great divide when it comes to talking about the original Super Nintendo Donkey Kong Country and its two sequels. Overseas in the United States they always seem almost mocking in their opinion of the Rare developed trilogy (at least if the podcasts I listen too are anything to go by). Over here in the UK, things are more positive. An important series of games, they’re often mentioned when people talk about their favourite 16 bit platformers. Back before my most recent playthrough (courtesy of Switch Online), I was always more geared towards the latter. Now though, with what is probably my third journey through Donkey and Diddy’s adventure, the rose tinted glasses are starting to melt like the human skin of a T-800.
The beauty of the Switch’s retro library is the ability to create save states at any point of the game, and if it wasn’t for that, my 34 year old self would’ve given up about halfway through. I guess I had a lot more patience when I was ten. The opening of the game is thankfully stacked with extra lives that can be obtained, because by the end if you’re playing this the straight way, you’ll be flying through them.
Spinning barrels that move with all the grace of a Ray Harryhausen stop motion movie, mine cart jumps, and last chance enemies that pop up at the finish line. All these and more cheap moments will be utilised by the designers in order to remove all your lives. And patience.
Graphically while at the time it was a technical marvel, nowadays while still looking good, it does work against the gameplay. Some enemies can almost seem to blend into their backgrounds, particularly on the darker environments. The animations however still remain, for the most part, quite good. You can tell why this was considered a showcase for the SNES and would be the starting point of why Nintendo would grab Rare and hold them tightly through the N64 era.
DKC does try to mix things up with it’s good, but not overly long, length. Everyone knows about the mine cart levels, the underwater sections (a staple for every platform game) and obviously there’s your standard non-gimmick platformer sections. But some levels do bring their own unique challenges. From lights that need to switched on art regular intervals, moving platforms, and chase sections that feel like a 2D Crash Bandicoot. I just wish some of these moments weren’t perpetuated with cheap deaths.
One in particular that comes to mind was due to Donkey and Diddy having a different set of skills. Donkey, being the heavier of the two, has the ability to kill one of the bulkier muscle enemies by jumping on them, Diddy cannot. So during one section of a level, there’s one of these bulky enemies standing on a small platform. The problem being I didn’t have Donkey at this point, only Diddy. So I was essentially screwed, as Diddy just bounces off the enemy when jumping on him, with the jump to the further platform being too far to reach. So at this point I just jumped in a hole because what’s the point in continuing? It’s cheap and frustrating.
And don’t get me started on the final boss. You think you’ve killed him so stand happily over his corpse, only for him to get up mid credits and attack. Oh, you died? Better start the final boss again. This is why save states are the best thing to happen with recent retro releases.
It would be best to describe this as the “Knack” of it’s time. A graphical showcase for the console that once you delve underneath the surface you discover the gameplay really isn’t all that. A warning then that sometimes it’s best to just leave things in the past.
I always remembered Donkey Kong Country 2 being better, but do I dare risk ruining those memories as well?