Welcome to the Donkey Kong-a-thon! In this series I will be covering Donkey Kong Country 1, 2, 3 (DKC 3 specifically for both SNES and GBA), Returns (for both Wii and 3DS), and Tropical Freeze. I will consider going over Donkey Kong 64 at a later date if it is requested, but it will indeed be sooner than later if it is requested.
I’m going to preface this review by saying how much I really love the Donkey Kong Country series, and that this review was really more of an afterthought after playing through Donkey Kong Country 1 and 2 on the Wii U Virtual Console (and it gives me a chance to play DKC 3 for the first time in quite awhile). I can preemptively say that this is the most fun that I’ve had in months! Now that I’m done with singing my praises before the review, I shall now sing my praises inside of the review.
Without further ado, let’s get started with this review.
First off, I want to tell a story: back in 1993, Nintendo’s SNES was in a technical specs war with Sega’s Genesis/Mega Drive console (although, Sega was the company that “started it”), and Nintendo needed an incredible game to showcase the power of their system. Around the same time, the company Rareware had just made a costly decision to purchase SGI units (advanced, for the time, 3D graphical units) which could allow for 3D models to be converted into a high-quality 2D sprite. Nintendo soon became aware of Rareware’s graphical capabilities, and Nintendo purchased almost half of Rareware (and Rareware became a second-party company). The Stamper brothers (the founders of Rareware) pleaded to Nintendo if they could make a brand new game centered around Donkey Kong (DK wasn’t as popular anymore at the time), and Nintendo accepted the idea. And in November 1994, Donkey Kong Country for the SNES was released and eventually managed to sell nine million copies, making it the second best-selling title on the system, and it was a huge factor in Nintendo “winning” the technical specs war between the SNES and Genesis/Mega Drive.
It’s truly fascinating to look at how this game came to fruition primarily from the competition between Sega and Nintendo. However, I typically don’t fill the Introduction section of these reviews with how the game came to fruition, but I usually tell the story of how I came into buying this game and my impressions of the game before I purchased it. But this story was too fascinating to skip out on telling once more.
As for my normal Introduction, I honestly only first played/purchased this game recently while it was on sale on the Wii U eShop, whereas I had played both Donkey Kong Country 2 and 3 when I was much younger (both on the GBA with their respective remakes). I really expected to possibly not enjoy this game as much as DKC 2 or 3, but I still had an open mind toward the quality of the game.
The game itself doesn’t greet you with an opening cutscene or text scroll explaining the story, but, like most non-RPG games at the time, you would need to look in the game’s manual to competently figure out the story of the game that you were playing. The story from the manual states that the menacing King K. Rool and his Kremlings have invaded Donkey Kong’s homeland (DK Island), have stolen all of the bananas from DK’s prized banana hoard, and have captured and stored Diddy (DK’s nephew) into a barrel to keep him from stopping them or alerting DK. Upon DK exiting his house and entering his banana hoard’s cave, he covers his face in shame at the absence of his hard-earned sum of bananas. DK comes across the barrel containing Diddy and bursts it open by throwing it. With Diddy by DK’s side, both DK and Diddy progress through DK Island to stop King K. Rool and get back DK’s banana hoard.
Of course, for its time, this is nothing groundbreaking or new, but it’s still a charming story (and I like it).
This game is obviously going for both a cartoony and realistic approach (levels sport realistic settings and looks, but enemies are artistically cartoony), but I honestly think that the more interesting well-designed cartoony characters give the game a lot of memorable moments and levels. As for the environments themselves, every level follows some theme such as jungles, caves, underwater, temples, and snowy mountains. Each level following a different theme makes the game much more enjoyable and pleasing to look at, and they often have theme-specific enemies and hazards. Snow levels usually start out with clear skies, but midway through the levels, the sky darkens and a blizzard appears.
Each stage-type gives a different feeling based on the lighting, graphics, background effects, and music, and it does what it attempts to do extremely well.
This is honestly one of the best atmospheres in games that existed at the time, and it still entirely holds up today.
Donkey Kong Country has a simple to learn and difficult to master feel, and I love it so much. Each level will have you playing as DK and/or Diddy going from point A to a checkpoint barrel to point B with enemies sprinkled around as you would expect. Early levels start out easy with many extra lives, and later levels can be much more challenging while still being fun.
DK and Diddy can both use their signature rolling move and can both jump on most enemies and kill them. DK can kill two of the beefier types of enemies and has a hand-slap move which can do… something? (From experience, I’m still not sure what DK’s hand-slap does in this game.) Diddy can maneuver much quicker and has a smaller hit box but can’t jump on certain enemies without being knocked back. Both DK and Diddy control satisfyingly and have a distinct feel, but I do end up preferring Diddy in most every situation.
As I stated before, each level follows a theme, but most levels also do something new and exciting that keeps you waiting for what’s to come in the next level. For example, most stages have theme-specific enemies and hazards that differentiate them from others, and the game progressively manages to mix these themes together to make a wonderful hodgepodge of interesting and memorable level design.
As for the level design, it’s fun and well-designed as to give new players time to react but also to give experienced players looking for bonus rooms a much more satisfying experience. However, a few levels do have some camera problems, which don’t break the game by any means, but they’re still minor annoyances nonetheless (Poison Pond, the first minecart level, and Forest Frenzy as the main examples of what I’m talking about). There’s not one level which I hate by any means, but some levels are indeed of higher quality than others (take the final non-boss level for example, which is one of the most creative and difficult levels in the game).
Within many levels, you will be able to find animal buddies that you can hop on top of to help you to get through a level. The whole list of animals buddies are “Rambi the Rhino”, “Winky the Frog”, “Expresso the Ostrich”, “Enguarde the Swordfish”, and “Squawks the Parrot” (although Squawks only has one level). Most animal buddies are useful (with the exception of Expresso the Ostrich, who is unable to jump on enemies without sprinting away into a bottomless pit), and each one is typically used well inside of levels that include them. You are also able to find different animal buddy tokens hidden (or in plain sight) throughout levels that take you to a special bonus stage when three of a single animal’s tokens are collected. These stages will have you collecting hundreds of stars for extra lives, and they can be quite rewarding; however, it is quite annoying that these bonus stages always send you back to either the beginning of the stage or the checkpoint, which can ruin the pacing of my difficult level. I personally don’t care all too much for these animal buddies, but they do help to spruce up the gameplay.
Also, bonus rooms with extra lives and animal tokens are located among every non-underwater/boss stage. Most bonus room in the game are located behind invisible holes in the sides of walls, and they can be broken open throwing a barrel into the spot or by walking into the hidden stage’s entrance while holding a barrel as Diddy (the main reason why I prefer Diddy for normal play). They aren’t required to enjoy the game, but bonus rooms have a decent amount of fun to them that can add some small replayability.
Overall, Donkey Kong Country has fantastic structure and level design, and any flaws with the gameplay are miniscule in most cases.
Graphics and Performance:
For the time and even now, this game looks great and is still appealing to look at. The SGI-made models look grand (and even better-looking) as 2D highly-detailed sprites, and everything has a true sense of depth. Backgrounds are detailed and atmospheric at times when they need to be, and the graphics overall were absolutely beautiful then and are still great to look at even now.
As for the performance, there’s a select few times in which the game itself will slowdown due to the amount of enemies on-screen, but nothing is noticeably bad at any given time.
It looks and performs fantastic overall.
Music and Sound:
I shouldn’t even need to speak as to why this is one of the greatest video game soundtracks of all-time, but I know that I must anyway. David Wise, Eveline Fischer/Novakovic, and Robin Beanland all composed a fantastic soundtrack for this game (Robin only composed one track), and you will never be able to forget tracks like Forest Frenzy, Treetop Rock, Life in the Mines, and most of all DK Island Swing. Although, my personal favorites are Ice Cave Chant, Fear Factory, and Forest Frenzy:
Here’s Ice Cave Chant
Here’s Fear Factory
And here’s Forest Frenzy
(I finally fixed the video issue :D)
The whole soundtrack (with the exception of maybe Misty Menace) is one of the most memorable of any game ever, and it deserves all of the praise that it gets.
Final Thoughts and Score:
Donkey Kong Country 1 for the SNES (even now: almost 22 years later) has proved that some games age extremely well and are nearly timeless with their appeal. There are only a handful of moments where I was just a bit annoyed at some camera issues, but I’d still say that Donkey Kong Country 1 on the SNES is worth its $7.99 eShop price tag (for quality alone). You may also find the GBA remake of the first Donkey Kong Country more viable if you don’t own a Wii U or SNES.
I personally feel that this game truly deserves a solid 9 out of 10, and it still holds up today, even after a whole 21 plus years, as still one of the best and one of the most creative platformers in existence. Buy it if you haven’t already done so.
I hope that you enjoyed this review of mine for Donkey Kong Country 1 for the SNES and Wii U Virtual Console. I will be releasing the review of Donkey Kong Country 2 in a week or two if you are curious. Also, I’m planning something special related to Donkey Kong Country within the coming weeks. Stay tuned for more info!
Thanks for reading this review! It means a lot to me that someone could have trudged this far down through this whole review.
Once again, thanks. Seeya!