ALL Retrospective - Donkey Kong Country (SNES)

In "Retrospective", looks back at games that once blew our minds by astonished visuals, new ways of playing or simply too much fun to put down. In this edition, Lance takes us back to the SNES era with Donkey Kong Country.

While not Nintendo's best known game hero, Donkey Kong's games arguably offered the best platforming experience of the 90s. Previously, he'd only been seen as the antagonist in the popular arcade game of the same name - you know, the one that starred a certain Italian plumber in his first ever appearance. However, in 1994 Rare were given the keys to the franchise, and they decided to take it in a new direction; giving DK his own world, friends and foes, and backstory.

Although they have yet to explain why a family of gorillas includes a monkey of the same surname.

Apart from his signature red tie, Rare kept very little of the original character in their new platformer. Donkey Kong is the lazy, banana-loving grandson of the original character - and compared to Mario, the reasons for his quest are less than noble. New bad guys 'The Kremlins' have stolen the Kong banana hoard and you team up with his (infinitely more agile) sidekick Diddy Kong to pursue them through 40 levels. Other members of the Kong family also help out; the aptly named Cranky Kong offers tips and abuse, the misleadingly named Funky Kong lets you travel between worlds and the downright provocative Candy Kong lets you save your game.

Unlike the Mario games, you get the impression that finishing the quest will earn you significantly more than a slice of cake from the leading lady.


From start to finish, Donkey Kong Country oozes design quality. You quickly acquaint yourself with the basic movement mechanics - running, jumping and rolling/cart-rolling - and afterwards Rare introduce underwater levels, 'animal buddies' that you can briefly ride (each of which has its own abilities,) and of course, barrel cannons to shoot you around the levels at blistering speeds. New enemies are introduced frequently, and the game is challenging without ever becoming frustrating. The bosses are well designed and memorable, however there's an annoying tendency to repeat - the first two bosses both return later with a different colour palette and a ramped up difficulty level.

Where Donkey Kong really excels is level design. The game is divided into 6 worlds, each with 5-8 levels, and every level feels different and fresh enough to maintain your interest. Having said that, some of the landscapes feel a little too similar - having both a forest and jungle world seems slightly unnecessary, and both a cave and a factory even more so. This is just a minor quibble, though, and you'll find yourself having too much fun to care. Especially noteworthy are the bonuses - in order to get a 101% completion, you'll have to hunt down some ingeniously hidden rooms. This concept wasn't really refined until DKC2, but it still makes for some great gaming.

Each level has a theme. In this one, flicking switches briefly puts the enemies to sleep. Just don't hang around too long...


RARE actually manage to make you feel as agile and nimble as any self-respecting ape in the jungle should. Swinging from vines, and swimming and zooming between barrel cannons are all fluid, responsive, and above all, fun. You can take most levels at a run - Sonic style - or slowly, depending on what you're most comfortable with. The controls are all logical and intuitive, and make for a game that's less frustrating than the early Mario titles.

There's little doubt who would win in a scrap between Rambo and Yoshi.


Absolutely stunning. The (revolutionary) use of pre-rendered backgrounds made for graphics that were mind-boggling at the time, and that have aged considerably better than the majority of titles. The ground-breaking ACM (Advanced Computer Modelling) system used motion capturing and light sourcing to create a game which comes far closer to photo realism than anything else on the SNES. Artists spent a lot of time visiting zoos, and it shows - the characters are all well animated and bursting with personality. Donkey Kong was also one of the first games to use foregrounds as well as backgrounds, which makes for some lively levels that feel almost 3D. There are also plenty of weather effects like rain, snow and mist, which other platforming titles at the time could only dream of.

Diddy's yoga teacher was less than impressed by his stance.


The soundtrack includes plenty of memorable pieces, most notably the well-known DK theme tune. There's a good sense of tribal and jungle music, which helps to give the game its own identity and separate it from other titles. Sound effects are all adequate and satisfying; the jingle of exploding a hidden wall doesn't fill you with quite as much elation as opening a treasure chest in Zelda, but it's close. The soundtrack doesn't really stand out as much as some other aspects of the game, but it's never less than competent and has moments of excellence.

This is not one of them.

Final comments

Pros: The graphics are stunning, the controls are smooth and level design is strong.
Cons: The game is occasionally repetitive, and some locales feel too similar.
Final score: 9.1

Posted on 04-12-2012 by Dennis


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