REVIEW: Donkey Kong Country (1994, SNES)

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(THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS WHAT WILL MOST LIKELY BE A CONTROVERSIAL OPINION ON WHAT IS OTHERWISE A POSITIVELY-RECEIVED GAME. WITH THAT SAID, CARRY ON.)

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So…Donkey Kong Country. What can I say about it that practically every single human being on the planet Earth hasn’t said about it already? Revolving around the titular character from the 1980 smash hit and his new sidekick Diddy Kong as they travel throughout their island to reclaim their stolen Banana hoard from a group of rowdy reptiles who go by the name of the Kremlings, this 1994 platform title not only had an essential role in making Nintendo the eventual victor during their war with Sega, but also truly kicked off the career of its’ developer, Rareware. Needless to say, this is a title that is beloved by retro gamers everywhere…except for me, that is.

Yes, I know that this will more than likely come off as a shock to my viewers, but I just have to come out and say it: I don’t like Donkey Kong Country. Now, does that mean that I have a problem if you like it? Not at all. If you enjoy something, enjoy something. Don’t let people who try to make you feel bad for liking something that they don’t get into your head. Getting back on topic, what exactly is my problem with this game? Let’s find out, shall we?

THE LOOKS: I’d just like to say that while I don’t find this game to be all that great, I still think that there are at least two things that it exceeded at, the visuals being one of them. During its’ release, the main thing that made DKC so successful and popular as it was can be summed up in three words: pre-rendered graphics. Essentially, it’s when you take footage of 3D-modeled characters from another engine and make certain tweaks to them so they can be compatible for whatever system the game is for. While there were some games that played around with the concept of 3D visuals before, there wasn’t one that ran with them as much as this game did. The backgrounds, character sprites, and the general level aesthetics, while they might seem a bit dated to some, are nothing short of pure beauty. In fact, they’re so good that they could easily be mistaken for a PS1 game if seen from a far distance, and I’m serious. Each world has a major sense of attention to detail, most of them taking place in usual island/jungle settings but still managing to be different from the last, which really helps to give the game a somewhat unique tone that no other game before it had. The character sprites are fantastic, as they all have their own unique look and design to them, with the sheer amount of variety of the Kremlings’ designs being a shining example. In short, the visuals most certainly deserve the reputation that they have.

THE SOUND: Like the visuals, the sound is one of the game’s two major highlights. If there was one word that could perfectly sum the tracks up, it would have to the “atmospheric”. Each and every one of them helps to set the mood and tone of each and every level, which helps in making them feel slightly less like chores to go through. On the other hand, the sound effects have a larger amount of depth and variation than most other games at the time, which kind of makes them stick out above the rest, though that’s not a bad thing. What IS bad however, is right around the corner…

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THE GAMEPLAY: I’m not sure if I can describe my feelings towards the gameplay without making it sound confusing as all hell, but I’ll do the best that I can. First off, I’d like to get the three things that I like about it out of the way. First off, the controls are, for the most part, pretty solid. They might be a bit of a hassle to get used to at first, but after a while you’ll get the hang of it. Second, there are the best part of the gameplay, the Animal Buddies. Essentially, think of Yoshi from Super Mario World, but instead of having just a Yoshi that eats enemies, manages to float in the air for a few seconds, and in some cases spits fire when swallowing a certain one, there’s a whole bunch of them that differ from one another in some way or form. Thirdly, there’s Cranky Kong. Not only are his pessimistic ramblings both hilarious and fun to listen to, they actually kind of have a bit of a truthful side to them as well, when you consider the vast amount of soulless F2P games and cookie-cutter titles that try WAY too hard to be “gritty” and “mature”. Now, with those out of the way, let’s get to what stinks. The level design, in my honest opinion, just feels very tired and monotonous. It’s not like Earthworm Jim where you go through all of these crazy worlds with imaginative set-pieces designed around them while blasting the crap out of your enemies, it’s not like Sonic where you zoom and platform your way through stages with little care in the world, it’s not like Puggsy where you really have to utilize a slow, methodical thought process, it’s not even like Superfrog where it’s like a really well-thought-out platforming scavenger hunt, it’s just…DKC. When you take out some of the more noteworthy stuff like the Animal Buddies and the 3D visuals, there really isn’t much substance to be found, at least in my eyes. Plus, there’s the fact that about FOUR of the boss fights are carbon copies of two different bosses! I don’t know about you, but to me, that is just lazy and uncreative. Speaking of “monotony”, I really do mean it. Aside from the differences in the world themes like I said above, the level design doesn’t have that kind of variation that they do. There are times in which the levels can get downright boring due to how little they offer, and even then they’re not really that exciting most of the time. As someone who has a major soft spot for platformers, I can’t help but to find the gameplay in this to be very underwhelming.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Donkey Kong Country is a game that played an essential role in the industry, and I can respect it for that. However, like Pac-Man 2, it’s one of those games that just isn’t for me, and while I have no problems whatsoever with those who love it, I won’t be going out of my way to come back to it any time soon.

THE RETR0PIA RANKING: C+

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13 Comments

  1. Criticizing anything made by Rare seems to bring out the mob with their pitchforks, but you make some balanced points about a game that has been a bit overrated. Beyond the graphics, I was never sure what the fuss was about!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Aside from the graphics, I guess one of the big selling points of this game was how it “re-invented” Donkey Kong. By the time that this game had came out, he was more or less dormant while Mario was enjoying all the fame.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have no complaints. It was a perfectly balanced review. Donkey Kong himself is a little hard to use, and the stages are sometimes a little plain. I would say that the level design is pretty good though, better overall than a good number of other platformers of its time. Regardless, all of these categories are improved heavily upon in Donkey Kong Country 2, which is also my favorite DKC game. I can see not liking the comparatively primitive (primate-ive?) DKC. Anyway, good job!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for understanding. DKC2 is definitely an improvement, though I still don’t find it to be anything really groundbreaking. Same goes for the third game as well.
      The Retro Studios-developed games on the other hand are the ones that I truly think are amazing. They’re two of the best 2.5D platformers to ever come out over the past several years.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I find that people who like the original DKC trilogy dislike the new games, and vice versa. I’m on the camp of loving all 5 DKC games thus far. They’re all stellar examples of level design, and less importantly (but a big deal to me) music composition (bless David Wise). Though I wouldn’t put DKC2 or its sequel that low, I agree that the new DKC games are amongs the best 2.5D platformers in recent history. I wouldn’t be opposed to a new DKC from Retro Studios.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. As someone who has written a fair share of heretical reviews, I completely understand where you’re coming from here. Between the three games in the trilogy, this is by far my least favorite. Going back and playing this game after having played the sequels makes it feel incomplete by comparison; the level design is a bit bland, the bosses are repetitive, and by the end, it felt as though they ran out of ideas (Chimp Caverns doesn’t actually introduce a single new backdrop whereas each of the previous worlds introduce at least one). All in all, it’s a good game, but it is very overrated.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. If they didn’t, that’s a pretty glaring oversight. If I remember correctly, the sequels were released to comparatively less fanfare, which, if that’s the case, is pretty ironic considering they’re far better games.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Fair points. Despite the impact it had at the time, in retrospect DKC didn’t do much in the gameplay department that hadn’t been done before. It was, as you say, a bit monotonous – even though I enjoyed it at the time, probably more for the amazing graphics than anything else.

    I bought Donkey Kong Country Returns for the 3DS a year or two ago, and I ended up trading it in after only playing a few levels – the whole thing just felt a bit tired… Although I’m aware that many people love it!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You know what I respect. You stated you didn’t like it, but still gave it solid marks where it deserves, didn’t bash it, didn’t belittle people for liking it, and gave reasons for why you didn’t that made sense. It take a lot admit you don’t like something popular without either being a troll or bringing out the defensive ones. So while I don’t share your ennui of the game, I still respect your opinion and the way you presented it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sadly, from all the years that I’ve spent on the Internet, I can say what you said about admitting that you don’t like something that’s popular is certainly true. As a side note, thanks for the follow!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A friend of mine JUST posted today about how he didn’t really like the Beatles, and he was terrified he’d be lambasted for it. He recognized their achievements and influence on music, but didn’t really like the band itself too much. I told him I was never a huge fan of Star Wars (until VII came out). I never hated or even disliked it, but it was never one of my more popular fandoms. I enjoyed the original trilogy, laughed a lot at the prequels, though I do enjoy the cartoons (Clone Wars) and as mentioned TFA is one of my favorite movies, but I’m sure an internet mob is going to descend on my apartment once this gets out. Of course I recognize the cultural impact. Heck my favorite game series Final Fantasy references consistently so I can’t hate it.

        Definitely! Once I saw how you reviewed something you weren’t too keen on, I knew you were a quality reviewer 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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