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CONSOLE: SNES DEVELOPER: Rare PUBLISHER: Nintendo
RELEASE DATE (NA): November 25, 1994 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

Save the Banana Hoard!

Who doesn't love Donkey Kong?

*points at someone in Iowa* You? You say you don't like Donkey Kong? You must be absolutely out of your mind. Why exactly don't you love Donkey Kong? ...Whaaa? You've never heard of Donkey Kong? Now I KNOW you're out of your mind. Donkey Kong is one of the video game industry's most recognizable characters, you goof! He's that lovable ape that pretty much saved Nintendo in the arcades back in 1981. That's right; remember a little ol' arcade game called "Donkey Kong"? The one with a certain plumber character (the first appearance of video game megastar Mario) hopping up those red beams to rescue his darling damsel in distress? No? You must be way too young for that. Now get off your "Xbox 360" and listen up because I'm going to tell you about a game that could be considered practically revolutionary. Can't quite say that about your little Halo 3 now, can you?

Readers who were somewhat familiar with Donkey Kong Country back when it was first released back in 1994 probably know exactly why this game became so popular. It had nothing to do with any sort of gameplay evolution, because there really wasn't anything DKC did that games prior had not pulled off at one point or another. And surprisingly enough, it had relatively little to do with the fact that Donkey Kong was the prime player (which isn't too hard to believe, considering Donkey Kong hadn't really been in the limelight for over a decade). It had everything to do with the graphics. At a time when the next-generation of video games was just over the horizon, both the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System had to prove they still could compete in the market. That's where British developer Rare stepped up to the plate to give their all. Using state-of-the-art Silicon Graphics technology, Rare was able to create three-dimensional wireframe-modeled graphics that could be used on the SNES to produce far superior graphics to standard sprites. This had never been done on the SNES before; Nintendo was so impressed with the results that they even gave them the Donkey Kong license to play around with. So graphics are the principal reason why this game sold over 9 million copies to date. And what beautiful graphics they are! Everything is well-rendered and colourful; all the characters (main characters, bosses, enemies) are solid yet playfully designed and every setting is lush and vital. In close relation, the music, as composed by Robin Beanland, Eveline Fischer, and David Wise, is a mix of a spunky beats and ambient symphonics, which send to suit whichever area each song is associated with. Likewise, the sound effects are fairly cheerful as well with enough monkey noises to satisfy devoted Donkey Kong fans.

That's not to say that the gameplay itself is dismal. Just the opposite is true: it's a fine platformer indeed. It's up to Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong to get back their treasured Banana Hoard that was stolen by the devious King K. Rool and his Kremling minions. They will have to swing, stomp, and scuttle their way through numerous worlds and baddies in order to locate their lost fruit pile. Every themed world is comprised of a map screen and several levels each, plus home bases for the other members of the Kong family which I will discuss later. Both main characters have the basic moves: they can walk, run, and jump around at ease. They can also pick up barrels that are laying around (there are a large variety of those too -- TNT barrels, DK Barrels for getting back your fellow Kong should death have set in prior, and more). But each character also has their own unique abilities and traits, which will be useful at various points on your quest. Donkey Kong has his ground-slapping abilities and is generally heavier and thus most suitable for stomping the more muscular types of enemies. Diddy Kong is more of a lightweight and thus is more agile. He can perform cartwheels for mowing down foes, but this also has an extra physics-bending function: he can cartwheel off the edge of a platform, and then do a quick jump in mid-air to the next one over, if it's close enough. No man alive can do this, and most primates cannot. These moves are sufficient enough for you to survive... sort of.

You see, the fine Brits at Rare felt that the main members of the Kong clan are clearly incapable of handling their own affairs, so they opted to include some sidekicks in the form of animal buddies! Upon playing Donkey Kong Country, you will make the acquaintances of five fauna friends. There's Rambi the rhinocerous, who can bash walls open with his powerful horn -- what a horny fellow! There's Expresso the supersonic ostrich who can sort of fly (hover sounds more like it) and run quickly as though he drank far too much espresso. Oh... that's where the name comes from! Har-dee-har-har! Someone call a physician, for my sides are splitting! Eh... anyway, there's Enguarde, a swordfish that will take you for a ride and poke underwater foes in their underwater organs. But let's not forget the frog named after a popular anatomical piece: Winky! He can jump rather high and is the same colour as split pea soup, and later, split pea vomit. Finally, there's Squawks the Parrot; his only function here is to hold a flashlight for you in darkened areas. (He will have a greater purpose in subsequent games in the series.) If Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong can't survive, maybe of these animals can...

Speaking of animals, each of them (except for Squawks) has their own themed bonus level that can be reached by collecting three golden statues of the same animal. You are basically running through an enclosed area as that particular animal, collecting as many little versions of you within a time limit. For every 100 tokens, you get an extra life. If you find the large statue in the bonus level, you double the amount of tokens you have currently collected. They're a nice touch, but to be honest, they interfere with the regular flow of gameplay far too much. In a similar vein, and perhaps more importantly, there are over 100 hidden doorways and special barrels cached amongst the regular levels that lead to bonus stages. You can earn extra lives and animal statues here, and only after finding all 100 bonus levels can you get a perfect score of 101% in your game file. (As an added bonus, Cranky won't berate you at the end of the game because you missed a few bonus levels.) And if these methods of earning extra lives are not enough, you can also find some 1-Up balloons here and there (with monkey faces on them as a nice touch -- relax, pal, I said monkey fAces...) or by collecting the letters K-O-N-G scattered around each level. Plus you can re-enter any level you wish and replay it if you are getting a good amount of lives there each time around. You should have no problem surviving with all these options at your disposal.

The locations the Kong duo can visit are quite varied and colourful. They range from snow-capped peaks to mine shafts, from oil factories to underwater aquascapes, and from a pirate ship to, naturally, the jungle setting from whence our hairy heroes sprung from. This particular game is also the origin of the mine-cart riding level, which is always fun and has been modified and included in some shape or form in subsequent games. However, some levels do have annoying features that obscure your view though. Thick falling snow in chillier climates, gigantic stalactites in the foreground during some bonus sequences, and the overbearing darkness in caves (occasionally subdued by the glowing flashlight provided by Squawks) -- they all lead to visual chaos, which I fail to enjoy!

Just as a final point of order, the family timeline and make-up of the Kongs, which was originally thought to have only consisted of the original Donkey Kong and his son (lazily named Donkey Kong Jr.), has been both mutilated and expanded. The Donkey Kong featured on Donkey Kong Country is actually Donkey Kong Jr. from the arcade game of the same name. The original Donkey Kong is now portrayed by an elderly geezer named Cranky Kong who, true to his name, spends most of his free time bitching about the good ol' days of gaming when everything was on a single screen. He also dispenses hints on where to find hidden bonus barrels, but only after you have been subjected to a few solid lines on how gaming stinks nowadays. (Perhaps he has played Bomberman: Act Zero.) Then there's Donkey Kong's buddy, Diddy Kong, who is named after an overrated rapper and serves as the more agile of the two. What Diddy lacks in strength, he makes up in acrobatic ability. Oddly enough, in games such as Mario Tennis for the Nintendo 64, the current Donkey Kong AND the classic-styled Donkey Kong Jr. make appearances. So who is the new Donkey Kong Jr.? A little action with Candy Kong goes a long way... Anyway, there are other members of the Kong clan featured on Donkey Kong Island who provide extra services. Funky Kong, who offers a barrel jet service to get to anywhere you have been before, appears to be the token hippie and reefer master; there's also Candy Kong, the sexiest simian this side of the jungle, helps out by offering use of the Save Barrel (for saving your game, no doubt). Candy is the primary love interest of Donkey Kong; she blows kisses his way, but he seems to remain indifferent to her enticements. What a romantic guy!

This game was remade twice for portable systems: once for the Game Boy Color and again a few years later for the Game Boy Advance. And let's not forget the more recent re-release of the game on the Wii's Virtual Console service. This proves that Nintendo is more than willing to suck all possible profits out of this game. However, neither portable remake has the same effect that the original had. Why, it practically revitalized the slowly aging SNES at a time of doubt and proved that it still had some longevity and fight left in it!

Was that good enough for you, young fellow from Iowa?


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