Sunday, April 18, 2010

Donkey Kong Country (SNES) Retro Review

It's the start of a new week, and the retro reviews keep rolling on here at SuperPhillip Central. This time we're taking a look at the Super Nintendo classic, Donkey Kong Country. So don your red necktie, grab a banana, and let's get to this totally tubular retro review.

If this is Kong, I don't want to be wrong.

Back in the Super Nintendo era and especially the Nintendo 64 era, Rare and Nintendo were bosom buddies, best friends, and friends for life. Under Nintendo's supervision, Rare developed some of the finest games to ever grace Nintendo's consoles. One of their greatest games hit the Super Nintendo in 1994, and it was titled Donkey Kong Country. With specially-rendered graphics and plenty of secrets to explore, DKC is one of the great platformers of the 16-bit era. But how does it hold up today in 2010?

Donkey Kong hasn't been in action for a decade or so, and he's been resting on his laurels. One day unbeknownst to him, the leader of the kremlings, King K. Rool, has captured all of the big bananas from DK's banana horde and have spread them out among seven worlds in Kong Island. It's up to Donkey Kong and his best buddy Diddy Kong to rescue the bananas, purge the kremling menace from the island, and do it in a timely fashion. There's very little in the way of story to muck things up. Just an introduction and conclusion with a bunch of entertaining gameplay in the middle thrown in for good measure. This is pure platforming here, folks.

There are seven worlds in Donkey Kong Country. Each world is built on a different theme from the opening trademark DK jungle to the wintry and icy Gorilla Glacier to the dark confines of Monkey Mines. There's something for everyone here. Donkey and Diddy Kong reach the forty levels of Donkey Kong Country on a world map similar to something you'd find in Super Mario World. Not only are their the challenging levels to explore, but there's also Kong relatives to visit. There's Candy who will give you opportunity to save your game, Funky who will offer you transport to any past worlds free of charge, and Cranky who will give you helpful hints while hitting you with his cane. Again, free of charge.

Rambi rides again!

The levels themselves run the gamut in difficulty. Some are simple while some will test your 2D platforming mettle. The game does a great job of constantly introducing new challenges to the player, and offering a steady difficulty curve with no spikes to mention. One level you'll be fighting off kremlings and other enemies while the lights flicker on and off, another you'll be putting your timing to the test as you blast yourself from barrel to barrel. There's different themes of levels such as jungle, underwater, vine valley, temple, mine cart, tunnel, cavern, glacier, and so forth. There's a midpoint in each stage, so getting to it is a must if you don't like replaying huge sections of levels all over again.

Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong are two Kongs with different sizes. They both have their advantages and disadvantages. Donkey Kong is strong enough to take down nearly the strongest of kremlings without much of a sweat, but he isn't as agile as Diddy. Diddy Kong is weaker than DK and obviously so, so he can't take out every enemy by bouncing off their heads. Some enemies can only be defeated by rolling into them while others can only be obliterated by leaping on their heads. At any time in a level if both Kongs are still alive, you can tag your current sidelined Kong in to play, and vice versa. If a Kong gets incapacitated by getting hit by an enemy, projectile, or obstacle, the other Kong enters into the fray. If that Kong gets hit while he's all alone, the player loses a life and must start either from the beginning of the stage or the midpoint barrel. A knocked-out Kong can be revived by hitting a DK Barrel placed throughout the many levels of the game. Additionally, this can either be played as a single-player game or two friends can team up or play competitively. One player plays as Donkey and one plays as Diddy for some excellent cooperative or competitive play.

These oil drums will light a fire under
any Kong daring enough to stand on them.

Going from point A to point B in a level is fine and dandy, but there's optional bonus areas to explore. These are hard-to-find areas hidden throughout the game. There's usually 1-3 in each level. These are found by entering specially marked booster barrels, by tossing a barrel into a dubiously unmarked wall, or hidden in an off-camera area. These bonus areas give the player the option of winning extra lives and other rewards by playing in mini-games such as one where you try to leap off the head or heads of an increasingly faster klaptrap or guess which barrel the 1-up is hiding in. Winning said games aren't mandatory to completing the game 101%, but they are fun to play and stock up on lives.

These frigid waters are home to some
nasty creatures called croctopi.

Apart from 1-up balloons shaped like Donkey Kong's head, there's other helpful items to collect. Collecting 100 bananas give DK and Diddy an extra life to work with, finding and spelling out the letters K-O-N-G also gives players an extra life, and gathering three golden animal tokens gives players a chance to play a mini-game for, you guessed it, extra lives. And DK and Diddy will need these extra chances at survival as the later stages get fiendishly difficult.

Donkey and Diddy aren't alone in their quest to tackle the kremling menace. In fact, there's a whole host of animal buddies that are placed in specific levels to help the Kong duo out. In underwater levels, Enguarde the Swordfish is there to help. To get some extra flight time, Expresso the Ostrich is willing to lend a wing, to plow through enemies with ease, Rambi the Rhino's horn is your weapon, and finally, Squawks the Parrot and Winky the Frog are available to help out. If a player gets hit while riding one of these helpful animals, the animal runs away while DK and Diddy's life stays intact, so you essentially get three hits to work with before you die.

Expresso helps to speed through
otherwise difficult levels.

The kremlings are a reptilian bunch known for their brute force and not much else. Of course, there's other enemies besides kremlings to worry about such as thorn-filled bees known as zingers, rolling armadillos that only Donkey Kong can take out in one hit, underwater foes that can only be humbled by Enguarde, and barrel-throwing outcasts of the Kong family, Manky Kongs. At the conclusion of each world you encounter a boss battle to reclaim some of Donkey Kong's lost bananas. These fights are relatively simple affairs. Leap on a boss' head five times, throw a barrel at a giant bee six times, dodge attacks from a giant oil drum several times, etc.

Toss barrels at this thorny boss to beat it down.

Donkey Kong Country used specially-rendered graphics to produce a 3D effect. While it looked great in 1994, it decidedly looks dated nowadays. The same can't be said for the music which is still as phenomenal as it ever was. It's amazing how three composers pushed the SNES to its limits with some sensational sound and music. Of course, the DKC trilogy is known for their graphical and audio prowess, and the first game is no exception to this rule.

Overall, you can finish Donkey Kong Country in less than two hours if you don't opt to go for secrets. However, finding all the secrets without a guide is quite a challenge, and a first time player will take plenty of time to discover everything there is to find. It may not be the best game in the series, but it's still one of more memorable titles in the Super Nintendo's awesome library. It's Donkey Kong Country, and you'd be bananas to pass this one up.

[SuperPhillip Says: 9.25/10]

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