Tuesday 2 December 2014

Donkey Kong Country (SNES review)

Developer: Rare
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 1994

After Donkey Kong 3's failure in the mid-1980's Nintendo put the character into hibernation mode and he was seemingly resigned to the annals of gaming history. It wasn't until 1994 that he reappeared in Donkey Kong (Game Boy) as well as this side scrolling platformer. 

You can switch between two playable characters on the fly and each of them have distinct differences that affect how you play the game. Donkey Kong is strong, can kill enemies with one hit and swim fast, but isn't the best jumper. Diddy Kong is fast, can jump high and far, but isn't great at swimming and needs a couple of hits to kill certain enemies. Each stage requires strategy and you'll frequently switch between characters so that you're using the best gorilla for the job. There's lots of variety in the level design including on-rails minecart sections, underwater areas and jungle stages, as well as innovative gameplay mechanics such as Stop and Go where you need to keep switching the lights from red to green to temporarily incapacitate enemies. In some levels you'll find crates that once smashed allow you to take control of animals including a rhino (charges into enemies), an ostrich (can fly), a swordfish (can attack underwater), a frog (jumps high) and a parrot (seldom used but lights up dark areas). It might sound like the developers are throwing the kitchen sink at you but each idea is expertly crafted and fun to play. The graphics are astonishing with detailed backgrounds, large character sprites, changing weather patterns and impressive lighting effects. Rare used pre-rendered 3D graphics for the first time and the level of detail is above what I thought the SNES was capable of. In particular, the animation is stunning and Donkey / Diddy Kong move with real fluidity.

Similar to Super Mario World (SNES) the game features a handy map screen where you can select your stage or visit other useful areas such as Candy's Save Point. The only thing I don't like is that your save point comes right before a boss. This means that if you beat it and turn off the game you'll have to redo the battle. There is a way around this but it involves selecting Funky's Flights on the map and backtracking to a save point in a previous world. It's a minor annoyance but one that I think the developers should have taken into account. The game's music is excellent and features a wide range of styles including tribal rhythms, soothing ethereal tones and moody atmospheric tracks. These perfectly compliment each environment while being highly memorable and integral to the whole experience.

Donkey Kong Country is an excellent platform game that ranks up there with the best in the 16-bit era. It can be challenging at points but the varied gameplay and smooth controls will keep you playing, even after you've seen the credits!

Random trivia: Before deciding on Diddy Kong, the developers at Rare brainstormed a number of character names including Diet DK and Dinky Kong! He was also nearly called Donkey Kong Jnr. but Nintendo thought that his new appearance was too different to the already established designs.

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