Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Donkey Kong Country (Super NES, 1994)

And now... Advanced Computer Modeling! Silicon Graphics! Ultra 64! Nintendo Power! The Treehouse! Rare! 32 Megabits! One of the greatest soundtracks in gaming history! Magical times for all! This game was originally supposed to be for the Nintendo Ultra 64 Ultra 64 Nintendo 64, but they managed to transform it into an SNES game for the ages.

Who can forget the iconic image of Cranky Kong listening to an old record? The game insinuates that this guy is, in fact, the original Donkey Kong from the arcade games. This would explain why he's standing on red girders, but I'm not buying it. What would that make the heroes in this game? His sons? Nephews? Sons AND nephews? The inbreeding is strong in the jungle.

Donkey Kong drops in with a RAD TO THE MAX BOOMBOX! Hey kids, Nintendo is just as cool as Sega! Check out the 'tude!

"In yo face, Sonic the Hedgehog!"

In the two-player modes, you function as a tag team. If I remember right, in contest mode you can tag yourself in. Either way, this is a huge step up from the "second player gets a shot when the first player loses a life" system of the old Mario games.

The overworld map. Gotta say, those ACM graphics haven't aged very well, but they're still a step up from anything else up to this point. Hell, four posts/years ago we had this for graphics:

Rush: "Sandra Fluke is a slut!"


Something about these trees is still compelling for me all these years later. As a Nintendo Power subscriber, I was one of the many who got a VHS tape in the mail with a bunch of DKC trees on the box. As if I wasn't already sold on the game. This game, without a doubt, got more hype than any other Nintendo game up until then and possibly since. Super Mario 64 is the only real competition on that front. They absolutely pushed this game like it was the second coming.

 That VHS tape I just mentioned? Here it is. It's twelve minutes of mid-90's rad-to-the-max-ness! MTV! NIRVANA! BILL CLINTON!

While the main selling point is definitely the graphical advancement, the game itself is pretty good too. It plays like your typical Mario, nothing all that new here. The controls are extremely precise and fluid, however; I have no trouble saying that aside from 1990's Mega Man 3, this game sports the best controls of any game I have played in the Three Decade Project so far. Donkey Kong may not move with the speed of Sonic, but if you're confident enough to barrel through the levels, you definitely can. 1995's Yoshi's Island has similarly fast and precise control (though I'd say that game is a little bit faster moving and a little bit less precise, it's close), and it's clear that by this point Nintendo recognized the need to speed up their platformers a bit to compete with Sega and their attitude.

This game has a plot. That plot is: a bunch of evil crocodiles stole Donkey Kong's banana hoard, and now he has to go get it back. What does WWE Superstar Santino Marella think about this game?

"It is on like Monkey Kong!"

The first level of the game is absolutely ripe with extra lives, and it isn't time consuming to build up 99 of them before you even play the rest of the game. That makes it possible for nearly anyone to finish the game on their first go.

More extra lives are in the treetops, like this rare 2Up. That's right, this game has 2Ups! There's an even higher balloon too. Can't remember if it's a 3Up or a 5Up. It's quite rare.

It rains in the second level, which is vastly more difficult than the first. It's worth noting that the music for these first several levels is a two-stage theme. The first half of the theme is a pretty standard jungle beat, while the second half... is amazing. Check it out.

"Fear Me" says the blue Kremling when reached for comment. Speaking of WWE, Donkey Kong looks like he's about to do a midair crotch-chop.

The water levels in this game are a lot of fun and control extremely well. The music is great here, too. While Super Metroid was the first SNES game to hit 24 megabits in size, this game surpasses it with 32 megabits... and it shows. The animations, the colors... everything in this game visually is off the charts.

In how many games do you get to pilot a swordfish? Not many.

Here's Funky Kong, played by Keanu Reeves.

While Funky Kong lets you warp between worlds and Candy Kong lets you save your game, Cranky Kong... well, he doesn't really have much of a purpose. He does like to berate our heroes about how easy they have it, with their fancy-pants ACM graphics and their hoity-toity 16-bit game systems.

"Spinning save barrel"? Yeow. Wait a minute, all of these tertiary characters also have the surname Kong. How deep does the inbreeding go?

The first boss... is a giant rodent. As a boss-thusiast, I'm unimpressed.

Diddy Kong rides a frog through a mine stage. Think about how ridiculous this is. A chimpanzee in a red hat is riding a gigantic frog and doing battle with armored crocodiles. If this game came out today, people on the internet would be bitching about the preposterousness of one to three of the above things.

It's MINE CART MADNESS as our heroes careen down the tracks. The mine cart levels are difficult, but fun, and there are a mere two of them in the game.

Each of the four primary animal friends in the game (or as they'd be known in WoW vernacular, "epic mounts") has their own bonus stage. They all have the same basic premise: grab as many coins bananas emblems as you can before time expires, and you get an extra life for each hundred.

One of the most memorable stages is Stop & Go Station, where you hit barrels to stop the indestructible enemies from moving.

Temple Tempest is another memorable stage; the temple theme is interesting, but gets very little usage in this game. In Donkey Kong Land for the Game Boy, roughly a third of the levels use this theme. Weird.

The next boss is a giant bird. Or rather, a giant bird-head. As a kid, you see something like this and you think of what the rest of the massive bird looks like off-screen. As an adult, you know that there isn't a massive bird - it's just a disembodied head, only as rendered as necessary to be on the screen. Growing up sucks.

World 3 has a bit of a woodland theme. It's worth noting that this world looks a lot like EVERY WORLD in Donkey Kong Country 3, the black sheep of the trilogy. The difference is that in DKC3, every world is generic and boring, while this world is compelling. The only real difference is the color scheme. This world has a dark, interesting color scheme, with an intense sky.

Case in point, part of the DKC3 overworld. Which part? Any part. Zzzzzzzzz

The forest themed levels are really atmospheric and fun, and it's too bad there are only two of them in the whole game. They feel a bit like something out of Donkey Kong Country 2, which has generally darker stage themes. Of course, the music is good here - so good that ever since 1994, it isn't uncommon for me to hear this music in the back of my head every time I go camping.


One of my favorite levels is this one, near the end of World 3. It takes the traditional jungle level and gives it a vibrant color scheme. It's awesome, and I wish there were more levels like this. Donkey Kong Country Returns for the Wii would revisit this sunset theme quite a bit, though.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Tree Top Town stage, which is straight out of Return of the Jedi. However, instead of Ewoks, here one must battle violent rodents. While on paper, they may sound completely indistinguishable from Ewoks, this is not the case. Oh, and of course, these stages have great music.

The bastardly wasp. I used to think that this was the hardest boss in the game, but it really isn't. I like that this boss is unique, while the majority of the other bosses get repeated.

When damaged, he counter-attacks by turning red (and invincible) and roaring around the screen. Due to the constant roaring and buzzing during this fight, it is the one single solitary point in the entirety of Donkey Kong Country where I might mute the TV for a minute.

World 4 is, in my opinion, the best world in the game. It's beautiful to look at and the levels are well-designed. However, it also might be the most difficult world. While the fifth and sixth worlds have individual levels that are more difficult than anything found here, the general difficulty throughout world 4, as well as the lack of a save point for a majority of it, make it more of a roadblock.

The snow levels are among my favorites, though they're very difficult for beginners. And - get this - they have awesome music.

Most people seem to despise these areas due to all the barrel cannons. They're difficult to control, and the blizzard doesn't help.

Here's my single favorite level in the game, Slipside Ride. For some reason, it's the only "crystal cave" themed level in the whole game. All of the other themes get at least two levels, but not this one. It's a shame because this level is outright amazing to look at. It sounds really good, too.

The ropes here pull and push you in different directions. "Wow" is the only word for these graphics in motion, and it was even more the case in 1994. The fact that it's the sole crystal cave in the game is even more unfortunate when you realize that the most dismal and bland themes, the regular cave and tunnel levels, make a bunch of repeat appearances.

The snow levels haven't aged quite as well, and the graphics seem a little bit cluttered. Did you know that in this shot, Diddy is riding an ostrich?

Moments after this picture was taken, Donkey Kong wrestled the shark and pinned him with an Undertaker-style choke-slam. It was astonishing.

Squawks the parrot (he's on the left, while the non-parrot thing on the right is the nefarious Klump) is probably the least useful of the various animal compatriots in this game. Heck, he doesn't even have his own bonus level like the others do. He also has been known to cause epilepsy, what with his flashing light. I hope he's real proud of himself for ruining all those lives!

The second treetop city level is distinctly different from the first, and now has a dusky feeling to it. Not bad at all. Looks even more like the Ewok city.

See? It figures that DKC would draw inspiration from Star Wars, given that it has similar levels of incest.

"Kiss me, you fool!"

Oil Drum Alley is the star of the fifth world, and has one of the best tracks in the game.

Dumb Drum may have a stupid name, but it's another unique boss. The message of the fifth world is that Toxic Waste Is Bad. Barrels of toxic waste will always make me think of the Mor-Taxians from War of the Worlds (show version) and their creepy fusion properties.

The sixth and final world is my least-favorite of the lot. It consists solely of caves and mines, which would be my absolute last choices for an entire world. Especially with how underutilized some of the other level types are. They could have worked in another crystal cave level here.

The stage where you need to grab fuel cannisters to keep your platform going is another memorable one, and seems to be on the shortlist for the most difficult stage in the game. I've never had any issues with it, myself. For me, the title of "most difficult" easily goes to Poison Pond in world 5 (which I neglected to get any shots from, likely because I was busy trying not to die). The hardest level in DKC2 for me was Toxic Tower, which means that the hardest levels in both games are poison-themed.

This is effectively the last level in the game. When I was a kid, I COULD NOT beat this level on my first rental. Now that was quite the bummer, after getting so far. I still remember how hard I tried.

The main reason for the difficulty? These guys. Given that I typically use Diddy over Donkey 90% of the time, and given that Diddy has no real way to kill these guys, I ran into some serious issues.

Is that what the kids are calling it these days?

Final save. Game is really short, but By God those two and a half hours were great.

Here we are, the final level. ...well, really, it's just a boss fight. Nintendo Power actually pretended that this was another world, labelling it "World 7" in their coverage without going into any details about it. It isn't a world, or even a stage... it's a boss fight. When I first reached this point I was expecting another world, and was surprised at what it was. As far as Nintendo Power fibbing about this game goes, it's almost up there with them saying that the game had "100 levels". In actuality, it has about 35 levels. It has 100 bonus rooms to find... but bonus rooms do not = levels.

King K. Rool is the final boss of the game, and bears a striking resemblance to Wart, of Super Mario Bros 2 fame.

Well... sorta. 

It's a bit more visible here, particularly with the crown.

This final battle is very difficult, and definitely a worthy conclusion to the game. After some of those later levels, though, it's a little bit sudden and anticlimactic. The game would have done well to have a Gang-Plank Galleon level before this guy.

"Defeat" him, and fake credits roll. And then...

What? King K. Rool is back! "BUT IT WAS A GOOD AND KIND K. ROOL." said the makers of Golvellius when reached for comment.

Nope, not quite. The battle only intensifies from there. Victory restores the sacred banana hoard of the Kong clan. Check out the island in the background there. I'd like to see an adult, current-gen version of Donkey Kong where a group of explorers are marooned on the island and have to battle their way through the bloodthirsty Kong clan as they struggle to survive. Last I checked, Donkey Kong was never a good guy until this game came along. You're not fooling anyone, "DK".

I'm wondering how they got all of these bananas back to their home cave. Did they drive Gang-Plank Galleon up to it and just tip the boat over?

The game concludes with Donkey Kong slugging Diddy Kong in the face. Just absolutely knocks him the fuck out.

Kinda symbolic, given that this is what the big, slow Nintendo did to the smaller, quicker, hipper Sega at this point.

What does Nintendo President Hiroshi Yamauchi have to say about this game?

"Suck my balls, Sega."

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  1. This game certainly had a lot of hype, but Super Mario Bros. 3 had a whole movie. Wouldn't you say that one takes the cake?

  2. You outdid yourself with this one, talking about all the levels and environments so in-depth. I'm sure the reason the best environments got the least levels is that they were the hardest and most expensive to render, though.
    The jump from normal SNES to this game's graphics is one of the biggest ever. It felt like all other games looked fake and this alone was real. I know everything looks "real" now, but we had that foreshadowed with FMV clips first.
    Another great thing was it had its own unique feel and gameplay elements. They didn't waste the revolutionary graphics on something generic.
    You're right about how good the music is. Could still be a life soundtrack.
    Diddy was certainly more popular so I can see why DK did him that way. Weird that he and P. Diddy were big names at around the same time.

    1. I got that video for Donkey Kong Country, too! And the one from Square for Final Fantasy VII...I don't know how they found me. They must have bought the Nintendo Power mailing list to send it, which is bold.

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