When people think back to the 90s and to the pinnacle of 2D platforming, it’s not Mario they think of, nor is it Sonic, but rather Donkey Kong Country. Mysteriously yanked from the Wii’s Virtual Console back in 2012, the trilogy has finally made it to the service after much fear that they would never return.
You play as Donkey Kong and his pal Diddy Kong as they swing through DK Island to hunt for their banana hoard, stolen from them by evil crocodile King K. Rool. This takes them through a variety of locales before they can recover it, with gameplay being fairly simple as you move left and right around the stage as with other games in the genre. Although, unlike the Super Mario series, there are no power-ups to be found.
If you get hit you die, but there is an upside. In DK barrels, periodically placed in each stage, you will find Diddy Kong, and can change between characters at any time by pressing the A button. This causes you to essentially have a free hit, and, while both Kongs control essentially the same, Donkey Kong is slower and tougher whereas Diddy Kong is weaker but agiler meaning that you may wish to switch between the two depending on the challenge.
Throughout certain levels, you will also encounter another staple of the series in Animal Buddies. These buddies – Rambi the Rhino, Engarde the Swordfish, Winky the Frog, Expresso the Ostrich and Squawks the Parrot – all have different abilities that you can use once you find them. Whether that be increased speed, firepower and so forth, this will help you take out more stubborn enemies and even find hidden secrets placed in each stage.
The stages themselves are wildly imaginative and varied, taking you from jungle climbs to an underwater locale and then later to a snowy mountain, factories and pirate ships. While you may encounter the same aesthetics multiple times throughout each of the game’s six worlds, the stages are seldom the same. You can go from an awesome mine-cart ride, which has now become a staple of the series, to having to calm enemies with Stop & Go barrels, to just some crazy antics with bouncy tyres, all in the same world.
Controls are remarkably tight, but it often feels a little sluggish. This can work to your detriment as you may come to the end of a roll and be hurt, or just be starting one. You may also sometimes accidentally overshoot a small platform due to a slight miscalculation. This can be frustrating at times, but once you learn to adapt you should be fine.
Donkey Kong Country does have a couple of issues in terms of longevity. While each level has bonus areas and collectable KONG letters that reward you with an extra life, there’s no way of tracking it, and backtracking to the levels is a bit tedious. If you’re good, you can beat the game in around two hours, but won’t really have any need to come back – other than to enjoy it again. That’s not to say that’s a bad thing, but the levels seem short compared to the game’s Wii U descendent.
The graphics are good. The models used back when the SNES came out were phenomenal, and while technology has advanced, these still have their place and still impress, for the most part. If you are playing the game on a large TV, you will, unfortunately, notice the flaws in the imagery, but on the GamePad, it looks stunning. Each of the worlds is varied, and the enemies look very vibrant. In the visual department, Donkey Kong Country continues to succeed, there’s no doubt about that.
It is in the sound where the game truly shines. The music is just calming and amazing. It always fits the level that is being played, and many have rightfully become absolute classics over the last 20 years. Will you find yourself humming them? Probably not, but not all the music has to be catchy. Even the enemy animals make realistic sounds when defeated.
On the whole, Donkey Kong Country has stood up against the test of time. While the graphics can look somewhat iffy on the televisions of today, the gameplay is what truly matters and, besides a few minor niggles, is still rated highly as a leader of its genre. It’s definitely worth a try if you haven’t played it before, and, if you have, it’s most certainly worth tackling again. Why aren’t you on the Nintendo eShop yet?