Donkey Kong Country 3 (SNES/Wii U VC & GBA) Review (Donkey Kong-a-thon Part 3)

Welcome to the third part of the Donkey Kong-a-thon review series! With the first two games in this series out of the way, we’re now going to be delving into the third game in the original DKC series: Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble. Before I get started with the review, you may want to check out my review of the first and second DKC games if you haven’t already.

As I’ve stated in the previous reviews, this review series was an afterthought after I finished playing DKC 1 and 2. If it weren’t for this review, I most likely wouldn’t have played this game as soon as I have after playing the first and second games, but I hope that I’m not going to be burning myself out on this series anytime soon, since I still have three more games after this to review in the DK series. 

Also, I apologize for the delay for this review, but I was procrastinating a bit on playing this game. Donkey Kong JungleBeat’s review should be out sooner than this review (or even the DKC2 review) took to come out, since it’s a shorter game.

And, I also apologize for any possible jumps in subject matter that may have occurred in the review, as I had to rewrite quite a few sections in order to fit everything in.

With that intro out of the way, let’s get started!

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Introduction:

When it comes to the Donkey Kong Country games, I have a memory of the games that is paralleled only by Pokemon or Zelda. However, these memories all started with one game: Donkey Kong Country 3 for the GameBoy Advance. You may remember about what I said in the last review about the small amount of time that I spent with the GBA version of DKC2, and if you don’t remember, I lost DKC2 on GBA when I was fairly young. Because of that, DKC3 on GBA took its place as the only DKC game that I played back then when I was only five or six years old. It also happened to be the first DKC game that I ever beat, but I’ll try to not let any of these things influence my opinions on this game.

With some nostalgic feelings that I have toward the game and with time away from playing the game since I was younger, I’ve been excited to see my updated opinions on the game since I last played it, because I really remember loving this game, and I might have even said that this game was my favorite DKC game back then. With this introduction out of the way, let’s get into the meat of the review.

Story:


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This story, much like the original DKC1 and 2, has a less up-front story, and in order to figure out the extent of what’s going on, you must read the game’s manual (or look it up online, like I did). Not even the GBA version has a story cutscene at the beginning. This story is basically taken right out of the game’s manual.

Following sometime after Donkey Kong Country 2, Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong go vacationing in the Northern Kremisphere (Hmm, what an unsuspicious name…), and Dixie Kong is not invited for whatever reason. A large amount of time passes with no word back from Donkey Kong or Diddy, and Dixie is worried that something may have happened to them. Dixie traverses to a point in the Northern Kremisphere, and she stops by Wrinkly’s home to see if she knows anything about where the two other Kongs went. After leaving Wrinkly’s home with no help, Dixie comes to Funky’s boat shop, where Funky “gives” Dixie her nephew: Kiddy Kong. Dixie and Kiddy then go on a quest across all of the Northern Kremisphere in search of Diddy and Donkey Kong. The story continues on from there in the game.

This story kind of reuses the basic premise from DKC2 of one of the Kongs getting captured, but I still find it to be quite charming at the least. The story, despite not being very up-front, actually has more in-game exposition in the middle of the game, unlike DKC 1 and 2. The plot is only slightly more complex once you get further in, but it’s overall a decent plot for a non-story-based game.

Environment:


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While I feel that DKC1 had a decent amount of somewhat generic themes and that DKC2 really went wild with creativity pertaining to the level types, DKC3 is a bit different from the other two. DKC3 manages to mix the appeal found in the more natural DKC1 themes and DKC2’s interesting and diverse themes, and it actually works out really well in my opinion. Some themes are a tad generic as DKC1 had, such as a plain, old cave theme, but they still feel more characteristic and creative than DKC1’s themes, in my opinion.

There’s quite a bit of variety in the themes of this game, which include: mills, stilt boardwalks, the insides of trees, coral reefs, waterfalls, and more. Not all of these themes are quite as unique as, say, DKC2’s themes, but they all still feel more fresh than DKC1’s themes. Underwater levels have returned in the form of coral reef levels (which are exactly like the water levels from DKC1), but they don’t quite have the same environmental variations that DKC1 had. Water levels in DKC1 had two true variations (the normal and “Poison Pond” version), but the coral reef levels in DKC3 have two slight graphical change variations (one regular and one slightly darker used for one level). Of course, there’s much more variations in other themes, though I wouldn’t want to spoil many things (since one of the bigger variations is one of my favorite levels in the game).

Overall, I prefer DKC2’s theme variation and color, but DKC3 has so much atmosphere in its level themes (and music, but I’ll get to that later). DKC3 manages to still be better than DKC1’s somewhat bland themes at times, and it still has unique feeling level themes in this point in the series.

Gameplay:


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The game runs off of the same basic formula that DKC1 and 2 go off of, which is basically “make it to the end” while trying to find Bonus Rooms and DK coins if you want to do so. Once again, Dixie returns from DKC2 with her same features as in that game (she has a slow rolling move, but she also has the ability to glide downward with her banana-shaped ponytail) and is still as useful as ever, and the new character this time is the cousin of Dixie Kong, the often-hated Kiddy Kong (and his mouth is very creepy-looking in his official 3D model). Kiddy has a similar weight and feel to Donkey Kong from the first DKC game, and he has almost the same exact moveset (though he trades the near-useless hand-slap move for a more useful move that allows Kiddy to bounce on the water a few times in order to reach two or three Bonus Rooms in the game). Overall, the game still plays very similar to the previous ones in terms of the characters.

This game is quite different, however, when it comes to normal DKC level design, and it really shows in most levels in the game. The feel of certain levels in DKC1 and 2 have been mixed together to form a blend of both wonderful… And absolutely terrible level designs. In my opinion, the good levels outweigh the amount of bad levels, and I do prefer most of the good levels in DKC3 than the best of DKC1; however, the problem comes when the game tries to be harder by introducing bad or annoying mechanics.

I wish to end the gameplay section for this game more positive, as there are many more negatives to talk about here than previous games. Therefore, I will be talking about the negatives in the game first, and there are quite a few more in DKC3 than the previous DKC games.

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Where do I start… Okay, I’ve never cared for the new toboggan levels, which are the “minecart” levels in this game. Everything about these leave a bad taste in my mouth, including the near split-second reflexes needed for even the earlier stages, the far too fast speed that the toboggan goes, and the often annoying level design that is designed to be trial-and-error. These levels aren’t unbearable or anything, but they are a huge step down from the unique roller coaster levels in DKC2 and a small step down from DKC1’s minecart levels. Granted, DKC2’s roller coaster levels had potential visibility issues by going too fast, but you are able to (I didn’t even know this before I played DKC2 again for my previous review of it) control your speed by pressing left or right, which means that any speed issues can be blamed on trying to play the levels too fast (which I definitely did). I’m getting off-topic now, however. The toboggan levels in DKC3 are my first problem with the game.

My second problem with the game is that some other levels in the game can have gimmicks that feel like they weren’t thought out very well. For example, want to play an underwater level where the main obstacle is dodging annoying enemies while having the screen be darker until you poke a glowing fish? How about playing a vertical autoscroll level with bad enemy placement and a very small margin of error (on two occasions, both in different level types)? And it doesn’t stop there, because why wouldn’t you want to play an underwater level with wind physics (in the GBA version anyway)? Perhaps a level where you go “Sonic” speeds toward enemies that you can’t see until they’re right on top of you? Okay, okay, maybe I’m getting a bit too extreme here, but there really are a lot of levels in the game that have very poor mechanics.

But, that’s actually all of the major negatives that I wanted to go over. Now, we get into the positives here, and the game does truly shine in many aspects (some more so than previous DKC games). For example, though a select portion of stages have mechanics that honestly want to make me pull my hair out, some stages that have interesting mechanics actually shine brighter than some of the better stages in DKC1 and 2 (although not many do). For example, one stage puts you into a factory stage while you must dodge fireballs from someone (or something, since you never see what’s shooting you) while ducking for cover occasionally. Another interesting mechanic used well is in one of the later levels in the game where progression is made by jumping on top of barrels flying upward from a central point in the stage, and you must occasionally turn these barrels into explosive TNT barrels in order to kill a tough enemy blocking the way. These very diverse level mechanics with so much creativity put into them are one of the best things about this game. However, I want to save the rest of my thoughts on the levels themselves for a little bit later. Why? Because we have to get into the other things that have changed substantially.


Possibly one of the biggest immediate changes is the world map, which now allows you to swim to the different areas on the map, and the world map now contains several secrets too. What this means for this game is that you now occasionally have options on what you want to do next, and on one occasion, you get to choose which world that you get to go to next (this happens twice in the GBA version with a newly-included world). You will also be able to get a water vehicle right after you get Kiddy Kong, which allows you to get to the first world. This water vehicle can be upgraded after a few worlds, and aside from the final “completionist” upgrade for the vehicle which allows you to reach the true ending of the game, they really only serve a purpose for basic progression. After entering into the first world, you will be greeted with a familiar sub-map style to the previous DKC games, but you’re also able to swim around when there happens to be water, which allows you to find secrets inside the worlds too.


Let me get a little off-track here for a minute, however. In DKC1, you really didn’t have collectibles in the main stages that went toward some ultimate goal, but rather, the old collectibles gave you lives. In DKC2, you got three brand new collectibles in the form of Banana Coins (which are now called Bear Coins in DKC3), Kremcoins, and DK Coins, which allowed you to buy advice/save, access new levels, and have bragging rights, respectively. In DKC3, however, there are two new types of collectibles: Banana Birds and items traded by the player to new NPCs in the game, called the Brothers Bears. Banana Birds and the items traded with the Brothers Bears serve no purpose outside of reaching the true ending for the game, which means that you can play practically all of the game without having to bother with these new NPCs, if that’s not something you want to do. The trading quests themselves that the Brothers Bears give you aren’t very interesting or worthwhile in my opinion, but they’re a decent distraction from the main game. From certain trades, however, you can obtain certain Banana Birds, which help to give these trades purpose. The other Banana Bords, however, are found encased in crystals inside “hidden” caves in the world map and sub-maps, and you’ll need to complete a very simple and repetitive game of Simon in order to free them from their crystallized prison. These new collectibles are decent distractions from the main game and add a bit of atmosphere to the in-game world, but the reward for getting absolutely everything in the game isn’t stellar, if you want a true reason to go out of your way to get these collectibles.

If I can be honest, I have no idea if I forgot to talk about this mostly minor feature in the DKC2 review, but Swanky Kong, the Kong who typically runs mini-games in DKC2 and 3, now returns with a third-person shooting mini-game, which makes you fight against Cranky Kong (also used in a unique boss battle near the middle of the game). This mini-game is rather short and doesn’t have a lot going for it, but you do get paid out in Bear Coins and extra lives somewhat generously, even if you lose.

Now that I’m practically done with talking about the major changes to the overall game mechanics, let’s hop back into the game’s design and level features. In terms of the levels themselves, there’s not a lot more to talk about, actually. Therefore, I mine as well talk about some design changes that help DKC3 to continue to stand out amongst the other two highly acclaimed original DKC games. This time around with animal buddies, we have one true new addition in the form of Ellie the Elephant (who replaces Rambi the Rhino), though a new, stage-limited animal buddy, Parry the Parakeet, makes a few appearances. There really are only a few stages in this game, compared to DKC2, that heavily use or require animal buddies, and, like I said, I think it works for the better in letting DKC3 stand out from its predecessors. The stages that use the animal buddies this time around are almost all great (aside from one majorly flawed level later in the game), and I think that they manage to stay relevant compared to DKC2’s wild usage of animal buddies.


The basic structure of how Bonus Rooms present themselves have also seen a slight improvement in my eyes, as there are now always only two Bonus Rooms per stage (until the final, optional world). This makes it easier for people like me, who want to collect everything, to know when they can finally just relax and breeze through the rest of the stage. The challenges in the Bonus Rooms themselves, however, have seen quite a bit of a downgrade from DKC2, in my opinion, since around half of all of the Bonus Rooms contain brand new “Green Banana” challenges, which are often luck-based sprints through a room filled with instant death hazards. I must say that Bonus Rooms were handled much better in DKC2, aside from DKC3 making it more convenient to know exactly how many Bonus Rooms there are in each stage. If I can be honest, I don’t think that the Bonus Rooms are quite as well-hidden or as thought out in many cases as DKC2’s Bonus Rooms felt. As a side note, I feel that the sub-maps’ indication of levels that have no more collectibles to find is much more “sophisticated” in a way than DKC1 or 2’s method, since levels are visibly marked on the map by two flags (one for beating the stage and one for showing that you’ve collected everything in that stage). 


And now, we enter one of the bigger improvements in DKC3: the boss battles. In DKC1, boss battles weren’t very exciting, and they often boiled down to being repetitive, easy distractions that often got reused. In DKC2, we got bosses of a much higher quality and creativity than the first, though I feel that they were all mostly a bit too easy, aside from the final boss. In DKC3, we have boss battles with unique mechanics on almost all occasions. None of the bosses in the SNES version feel like an afterthought at all, while maybe one or two bosses in DKC2 could be a bit boring. This, in my opinion, isn’t a major improvement for the game though, since a lot of them, though very creative, are often a bit too easy, aside from one or two bosses.

Overall in terms of gameplay, I feel as if a lot of the levels were given much more thought than some of the most creative levels of DKC2, and some of them truly are really great in execution. The world in the game feels a lot more alive this time because of the newly added NPCs and the slightly more direct approach to the story this time around, and many things see minor improvements all throughout the game, including bosses. However, I’m not too fond of a few of the mechanics used in certain levels, and some levels feel a bit bare or boring at times. The Bonus Rooms leave quite a bit to be desired in how they’re hidden, and they often have more luck-based challenges this time. In my opinion, I still prefer the levels on DKC2 over this game’s levels, since DKC2’s levels have a much higher overall quality, but I still think that this game has quite a few good or great levels (and some that are better than some of the levels in DKC2). I will say though that I still prefer this game’s levels to DKC1’s levels.

Oh yeah, the GBA version also adds a new world and changes the mini-games that Swanky has into an entirely different one that now nets you a Banana Bird for completing rather than just extra lives and Bear Coins. (it also gives Funky a new, though mostly bad, set of mini-games, and Cranky gets his own mini-game, which is all right). Some other things are also changed as well, but most changes are respected in my eyes, since certain things in Bonus Rooms are fixed and an improved camera now makes some possible camera issues better.

Graphics and Performance:

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This is how the original SNES version looks.

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As you can see, the GBA version doesn’t look very far-off in terms of graphical fidelity (though, the camera is slightly more zoomed-out in the GBA version, leaving certain sprites less clear on occasion).

In terms of graphics, the SNES version looks absolutely fantastic, though the overall graphical quality can vary from one level type to the other. Environments look very atmospheric and often have a surprising amount of detail put into them for the SNES. I’ve somewhat neglected to mention this until now, but quite a few of the original 3D models for certain characters or enemies look absolutely terrifying sometimes:



However, you can never see these horrid occurences in-game (aside from in pixelated form), which means that your nightmares won’t include these from playing the game. Unless you get nightmares from seeing them here… Oops, sorry.

Er- let me get back on track… The GBA version of DKC3 looks stunning for the GBA, and it manages to pull off almost all of the neat graphical effects present in the SNES version. If I can be honest, however, I don’t recommend playing DKC3 on GBA through the GBA Player for GameCube, since it causes many of the colors to appear washed-out compared to the original version. As much as I may hate to say it, the best way to replay this game while preserving its graphical fidelity is by emulating it (if only Nintendo would put the GBA DKC remakes on the Wii U eShop, but I doubt that would happen at this point). Playing the game on an actual GBA SP like intended will most likely be fine as well, if you don’t mind playing on a very tiny screen.

As for performance, lag tends to be completely minimal in most cases, and the SNES version definitely outperforms DKC2’s rare occurrence of lag. The GBA version appears to be just as stable, which impresses me due to the system’s limitations.

Music and Sound:

All right, here’s my main reason for this review having to cover both the SNES original version of DKC3 and the GBA version. Why? Because, they both have completely different soundtracks from each other, and I think that both are great… but in very different ways. 

I wish to tell a small story here… Back in 1996 with the development of this game underway, Eveline Fischer was chosen to compose all of the level, boss, and map screen themes throughout the game, and David Wise was brought aboard to help out with a few other themes. Fast forward to 2005, David Wise is chosen to do the porting of the SNES version of DKC3’s soundtrack to the GBA, and David Wise explains that the GBA’s sound capabilities would never be able to faithfully recreate the SNES version’s spundtrack, due to it containing a substantial amount of bass. Seeing as it would be mostly useless to try to recreate the original’s music poorly, David Wise decided to compose an all-new soundtrack, and I’m personally glad for this decision, as it now gives us two amazing soundtracks, both with unique styles.

Many other people, now including me, have already said that DKC3 on SNES features a very atmospheric soundtrack compared to the GBA version, and I can’t help but agree completely. The SNES soundtrack is most definitely very atmospheric in its execution, but despite what some may say, I think that these tracks are all very well-made and have a very high depth to them that take quite a few listens to appreciate. I must say that the soundtrack definitely fits the theme of this game with its more direct approach to story and the more detailed stages with background set-pieces, and this soundtrack overall is very soft and bass-y (though some tracks are very snappy). Here are a few tracks from the SNES version that I love:

Here’s Sub-Map Shuffle.

Here’s Enchanted Riverbank.

Here’s Hot Pursuit.

Here’s Nuts And Bolts (no, not that Nuts ‘N’ Bolts!).

And here’s Rockface Rumble.

The GBA soundtrack, on the other hand, is much more snappy and up-front with its music and rhythm.

Here are a few tracks from the GBA version that I absolutely love:

Here’s Treetop Tumble.

Here’s Water World.

Here’s Waterfall (a.k.a. Cascade Capers).

Here’s Jangle Bells (though it’s actually Hot Pursuit).

And here’s the GBA version of Nuts and Bolts.

Overall, I find myself preferring the GBA soundtrack, since it has some of my favorite DKC music tracks (especially Waterfall/Cascade Capers). While I do also like or love a lot of the SNES soundtrack, I find myself only preferring one or two tracks from the SNES version (Frostly Frolics is one of them, especially since it’s one of my favorite music tracks from the SNES version, and it became mostly ambience in the GBA version). If I can be honest, I love both, and I wouldn’t be happy without either one.

Final Thoughts and Score:

With all of my previous thoughts out of the way, I must say that, while I do like this game more than DKC1, there are quite a few things that end up placing it below DKC2 for me. Though this game has a lot of great level mechanics, some of them fall flat on their face, and a few other design choices don’t help the problems in some of the levels.While I did enjoy this game quite a bit, I must say that I overall didn’t end up feeling completely satisfied afterward. 

To expand on what I mean (after this has been uploaded for awhile), I feel that the overall game design and presentation are things that I prefer to DKC1, as level designs have more interesting structure and set pieces than DKC1, much like DKC2 had really nice looking and feeling levels. However, I feel that the level design can be much less appealing at times in DKC3 than DKC1, and the overall quality of the game is lowered because of it. DKC1’s levels were laid out in a way that makes speed-running and playing the game for the first time quick and easy, while DKC2 and 3’s are laid out so that there’s a lot more stuff to do to make much more enjoyable and detailed, as well as making repeat playthroughs much more fun. 

(If you don’t get what I mean, I prefer the way that the levels and structure of DKC2 and 3 work, therefore I prefer to play those games, even though I consider DKC3 to be the lowest actual quality of the original trilogy.)

So in case you’re wondering, DKC3 is my least favorite DKC game (the “Country” part is important for later…), and of the original trilogy, DKC2 is the one that stands out the most to me. So for the the score:

I’ll give this game a 8 out of 10: even though I prefer playing this game to DKC1, it still feels like it ends up being of a lower overall quality than DKC1, which is why I’ve rated it lower than my original 9 out of 10 for DKC1.

(Small Update: I changed the score from an 8.5 to an 8, since I felt that an 8.5 was a bit too generous after re-reading the review a few more times. To be honest, it would probably be closer to a 7.7, but I don’t like to get that specific in how I rate most games, since it’s really just a number.)

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This has truly ended up being one of my longest, most in-depth reviews I’ve ever written. Once again, I apologize for the wait for this review, and I hope to be back sooner this time for the Donkey Kong JungleBeat review.

Also, progress on the Minecraft map slowed down a bit, since I wasn’t able to work on the map for two weeks. A developer diary will be out sometime in the coming weeks, going over the Forest Temple, Windswept Caverns, and Sky Temple. The Water Temple will be covered along with a finished Path to the River Source and also an altered Dark Dimension dungeon (as always I won’t be going too in-depth with the dungeons, however).

(Edit on September 16: Well, school has begun again, and I’ve been completely swamped in every way with homework and writing projects. Mostly because of those writing projects, I haven’t felt much like writing recently, and as a result of that, the Minecraft map is going to take most likely until November or December to get the alpha version of 1.1 out. I’ve honestly hit a bit of “designer’s block” (like writer’s block except for design), and that’s hindered my ideas for the dungeons, which are all that’s left to finish up now until I can release the alpha version. I truly apologize, once again, for these broken release date promises, as I usually set them with the mindset of me working on it continually, but I almost never have. As for the JungleBeat review, it’s getting there, but I still haven’t had much time to work on the review.)

This was easily one of the hardest reviews that I’ve had the privilege of writing, and I’m glad to be able to get back to some simpler reviews starting with DK JungleBeat.

(And yes, I have updated this review quite a bit, and I may change it more in the future.)

Thank you so much for reading, seeya!

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