Donkey Kong Country – IMPLANTgames

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Donkey Kong Country – IMPLANTgames

Donkey Kong Country is a platformer developed by Rare and released on the Super Nintendo during the holiday season of 1994 Despite heavy competition from Sega in the form of Sonic & Knuckles in addition to the Sega 32x add-on, Donkey Kong Country ended up shifting the tides of the 16-bit console war back in Nintendo’s favor, selling over 9 million cartridges worldwide In addition to the massive sales figures, eclipsing everything but the Mario franchise on the system, Donkey Kong Country was a media darling earning universal critical acclaim GameFan magazine gave the game a perfect score of 100 out of 100 stating, “Absolute 16-bit perfection It just does not get any better.” GamePro magazine scored the game a perfect 5 out of 5 noting, “If you want to hit an ape ball in the side pocket, you’ll recognize DKC for what it is: the gorilla of your dreams.” Finally, Electronic Gaming Monthly gave the game a 9.2 out of 10 proclaiming, “Is this really the Super NES I’m playing? Donkey Kong Country is simply mind-blowing.” The accolades didn’t stop in 1994 though In a 2007 review, IGN scored the Virtual Console release an 8.5 out of 10 stating, “Its revolutionary-in-1994 visuals aren’t as spectacular any more, now in 2007 But DKC’s gameplay is still a lot of fun, and it’s still easy to see why this was the game that saved the Super.” Donkey Kong Country has fared well in the YouTube era too In a 2018 video, The Completionist declared, “I had a ton fun replaying this masterpiece.” Needless to say, over the past 24 years Donkey Kong Country has remained a well received and beloved game But of course one must wonder if DKC is still a masterpiece or is Donkey Kong Country best viewed through the lens of nostalgia? Well there is only one way to find out, so let’s dive in Donkey Kong Country is light on story Basically, Kong’s Banana hoard has been stolen by a dastardly King K. Rool and Donkey Kong wants his banana stash back Thankfully, Donkey Kong has a very particular set of skills Skills he has acquired over a very long career Namely jumping and rolling Donkey Kong’s standard moveset feels right at home for a 1994 platformer He can walk, run, jump, and can roll into enemies Even better, he has a sidekick, Diddy Kong Diddy’s moves are identical but there are subtleties between the two protagonists There are certain enemies only the big guy can jump on, but Diddy Kong is a little faster, I think, and has a slightly higher jump I’ve also heard Diddy Kong can roll for longer but I never personally noticed this during gameplay This is probably because I didn’t utilize the roll feature as much as I could have Coming from a long history of jumping on enemies to take them down, this was my main method for taking down a majority of enemies here That isn’t to say the roll isn’t effective, because it absolutely is I enjoyed rolling to have jumping enemies land on a rolling Kong It can even be stacked, increasing the speed of a rolling Kong which is useful for speed running More important, it’s a critical element in platforming The Kongs can roll off an edge, and then jump afterwards This is helpful for nabbing items or just extending the distance of a jump Even better, everything feels very tight and responsive Other than switching characters, Donkey Kong Country is a two button game, with one button jumping and the other used for rolling and then running I should note Donkey Kong can also slam his fists into the ground, which can be used for attacking But I never utilized it But back to the feel Inputs are recognized immediately without having to wait for animation frames to complete Mid-air control is also perfect, allowing just enough tweaking to land on small platforms, yet also retain momentum for the next jump Honestly, Donkey Kong Country is a terrific feeling game and I have no quibbles to speak of In addition to the two main characters, there are a number of animal buddies one can find and utilize too Rambi the Rhinoceros can smash through enemies as well as break through walls revealing bonus rooms Enguarde the Swordfish is utilized in water levels offering better agility and an attack Winky the Frog has exceptional leaping abilities and can dispatch spiky enemies Expresso the Ostrich can walk over small enemies, has a double jump, and can glide Finally, Squawks the Parrot carries a lamp, in one level Besides Squawks the Parrot, which seems to serve no purpose other than to show off hardware effects, each animal buddy is optional and provides a de facto hit point You see, there is no life bar is Donkey Kong Country While running solo, Diddy and Donkey will die in a single hit After securing the other Kong, which will tail the playable character, receiving damage

will cause said Kong to run off the screen and the second character will become the playable one Once another DK barrel is located and smashed, they rejoin the action In this regard, a player may find themselves playing more carefree when they have two Kongs, and far more cautious with one In many respect, it’s a nice way to have a life bar, without cluttering up the screen with a HUD The player always knows exactly how many times they can take a hit without a number or symbol representing it Another thing I like is how the animals are optional for the main quest of the game Besides Squawks, which one cannot get rid of, these aren’t required for progression Rather, they generally make gameplay easier Rambi’s power, Winky’s excellent jumping, and Enguarde’s superior swimming all make the gameplay smoother A player will want to take care not to take a hit and risk losing them It’s a nice little risk versus reward element which I find adds depth to the gameplay Moving along, let’s get to the items First and foremost are barrels The important ones have a DK logo on them, signifying the other Kong is inside Plain barrels can be used as a projectiles against enemies, or used to smash through rocks to reveal bonus rooms TNT barrels pack an even greater punch While steel kegs are cooler still and will roll through multiple enemies, and can even be ridden Moving beyond the barrels are more traditional collectible items Nabbing 100 bananas will reward an extra life, as will nabbing a balloon Each stage also has KONG letters, and finding all four on a stage will yield an extra life Next are animal tokens, and and finding three of the same critter will warp the player to a bonus stage where collecting smaller animal tokens on a timed run will reward even more extra lives While I did find myself getting quite a few game overs on my first playthrough, I ended my 5th playthrough with a whopping 33 If I were to give one piece of advice to first time players, it would be to grab every item seen, because one will need all the lives they can get Like the moveset, Donkey Kong Country follows a traditional game structure Stages are grouped into worlds and unlocked sequentially Each world concludes with a boss fight before the next becomes accessible Standard stuff One can also revisit previous areas to farm for lives if they so choose However, there is no way to get back to the main map and chose a different world until arriving at each areas Funky Kong Each of the worlds in Donkey Kong Country break up the game and act as progression from Donkey Kong’s home to King K. Rool’s ship Kongo Jungle features the now iconic DK settings from lush jungles, to caves, and even an underwater area The Monkey Mines introduce the famous minecart stages and a nifty Stop & Go station, where touching a Stop & Go barrel will cause Rockkocks to stop moving Vine Valley introduces a cool Tree Top set-piece as well a temple area Gorilla Glacier has the obligatory ice and snow levels, complete with slippery mechanics Kremkroc Industries, Inc. adds new industrial set-pieces including a factory area and a stage where one will have to ride along a platform while avoiding obstacles The final world, Chimp Caverns doesn’t offer any new set-pieces, but does feature more challenging versions of things experienced thus far While DKC may not have the most diverse lineup of stages ever created, everything feels logical, like these places could exist on a cartoon island inhabited by anthropomorphic apes What isn’t traditional, are the graphics As everyone knows, the team at Rare utilized high end Silicon Graphics workstations to render highly detailed 3D models, and then digitized them as sprites for use on the low end machine Whether this technique has aged well is certainly up for debate, but I’m also not going to criticize an artist for their choice of tools I will say there appears to be an abundant amount of colors on the screen, so much so that there is virtually no dithering, helping this look like a step up above what was possible on competing hardware I also appreciate how there are often times a few scrolling layers in the background, rather than one, and it does help foreground elements stand out from the background and further sell the 3D effect I also like the palette swapping and other color changing effects These are used to simulate lightning in the Ropey Revenge, giving a brief glimpse of vibrance during lightning strikes It will cause the mines to drip with red after touching a stop-n-go barrel The sun sets in the beginning of Orangutan Gang, causing the whole screen to get dimmer in real time Saturation is lost in Snow Barrel Blast as the snow storm increases with intensity Transparency is also a common element, making water opaque, adding mist in the mines, and even some basic lighting effects, again helping push Donkey Kong Country past it’s main competition

I should also note there is very little slowdown It is most common during the bonus stages, but rarely happens during the regular stages From a technical standpoint, DKC is a tour de force for the 16-bit era, featuring a high color count and plenty of graphical affects to send the 4th generation off on a high note From an artistic standpoint, the graphics can be hit or miss For example, I do find the heroes are animated well Walking, running, lifting, and jumping animations all look excellent and smooth with plenty of animation frames It’s clear the artists had a firm understanding of 3D modeling and were able to make Diddy and Donkey Kong look awesome However, enemy animations aren’t at the same level Jumping enemies always stood out for me, with critters leaping in the air without the appropriate leg motions It’s a small quibble for sure, but a good example of the inconsistent quality Fish and sharks on the other hand, look great I also find the game sometimes lacks contrast Again, this is not consistent The jungle stages look good, with the sky, leaves, and walking paths standing out against the rocks and tree trunks giving the player a great visual queue as to what is a platform and what isn’t Same goes for the underwater areas, with a great color contrast between the background and foreground Other stages are more muted, either lacking color variation, or many objects being a similar brightness, making it difficult to comprehend the structures of the level Additionally, sometimes the pre-rendered art contains more detail than what the limited resolution of the Super Nintendo can display, resulting in very pixelated graphics When the sprites are large and chunky, the art looks really good, but other times, not so much Another defining feature is the soundtrack Instead of just rehashing what everyone has been saying for the past 20 years, I will just summarize and say I agree with the consensus Some of the melodies are seriously catchy The instrument selection is terrific offering a number of sounds I have never heard the Super Nintendo make with rich sounding wind and horned instruments Each environment has a unique vibe from 80’s synth to jungle swing and everything in-between While some are more memorable than others, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as at no time during my two dozen hours did I ever get tired of hearing any of them The sound effects on the other hand, are more hit or miss I really dig the muffled ape sounds when the player comes across a DK barrel The quality is excellent and is a great audio queue to their presence Bees buzz, birds chirp, the kongs make a great thunk when landing on the ground, it’s all very well done and adds to the overall richness of the experience But not everything is perfect The slippas sound like static rather than snakes, and the Klaptraps make an obnoxious biting sound, like someone eating too loud These moments aren’t too frequent, but stand in stark contrast to what is an otherwise terrific audio presentation Of course, simple controls, solid game structure, unique visuals and terrific audio alone aren’t enough to make Donkey Kong Country a masterpiece So I’d like to dive deeper into the actual design of the game But first, I should mention I am playing the Japanese version of the game I bought the Super Famicom versions of the trilogy because they are half the price This means the title screen shows Super Donkey Kong rather than Donkey Kong Country, and most of the text is in Japanese I initially thought this would mean I would only be losing out on the hint system provided by Cranky Kong to find secrets But it turns out there are more differences between the Western release and Japanese release than I initially thought Some enemies were removed from this release, and extra bananas, DK barrels, and 1-up balloons were added or swapped in In fact there are a couple dozen tweaks made to the Japanese release According to game designer Gregg Mayles, Nintendo requested the game be made easier for the Japanese release, which resulted in the changes This means my personal experience with this title is based off an easier build of the game Anyway, despite the decreased difficulty, I still found Donkey Kong Country to be a maddeningly difficult game on my first playthrough First, most deaths will be a result of falling into pits, rather than tricky enemy patterns Donkey Kong Country has a fetish for bottomless pits This means a life bar isn’t necessary But it does mean newcomers are likely to experience a ton of instant deaths for failing to perform a jump correctly While not recorded, I found myself sliding off of tires, slipping off ledges in the snow areas, and finally, messing up sections with barrels That is another thing in abundance, barrels The player is often tasked with launching themselves from barrels that are either rotating or sliding about the stage, with a well timed button press necessary for progress While there is nothing inherently wrong with the mechanic and I can honestly say I experienced no input lag whatsoever, I can’t help but wish this was introduced in a way where a

player could fail a few times without being punished so heavily It takes some time to get a feel for the rotation, timing, and flow of the barrels, and first time players will quickly drain their life stock learning the ropes Next, the collision is a little janky Even on this recorded run things would still catch me by surprise, either missing a collectable or not damaging an enemy when I expected On the flip side the collision is often very forgiving, allowing the player to damage and enemy even if they are just slightly above them Still, new players are likely to get bit by an unpredictable collision box However the worst offense is the trial and error I found the underwater areas most problematic, specifically the Croctopus These things will chase the player, forcing them to swim as quickly as they can through tight corridors with little room for error If a player hasn’t memorized the corridor or gotten a handle on the general flow of these sections, the Croctopus will surely catch them, causing damage or death Same goes for the squidge I can’t tell you how many times I was surprised by one of these things As the Kong’s are dead center on the screen, and squidges can appear from anywhere, it’s all too easy to swim into one of these things And that is because the swimming mechanics are straight out of 1985, meaning the jump button is used to swim Changing directions is slow and it is nearly impossible to get out of the way of enemies in time On subsequent playthroughs, I knew to just take these areas exceptionally slow, something a first time player wouldn’t know Though fast moving Chomps would still catch me by surprise This surprise element is present in the mine cart stages as well Much like the chomps, obstacles will actively move towards the player as the player moves forward, and with the limited 256 pixel wide resolution, enemies often appear in the blink of an eye Sometimes barrels are placed strategically, communicating to the player to jump, but other times it’s just a game of trial and error until a player memorises everything Finally, I should also mention the final level, Platform Perils This level features enemies which are immune to melee attacks and have to be taken down with a barrel throw Unfortunately, the stage is also filled with temporary moving platforms, forcing the player to make split second decisions to perform the one-two combo of throwing a barrel in the right direction, and then jumping before a platform vanishes This level tormented me on my first playthrough, and I found it quite frustrating Now, many of my favorite 16-bit platformers feature similar trial and error gameplay such as Aladdin by Virgin Games, Toy Story by Traveller’s Tales, and of course even the Sonic games So what is the point of bringing all of this up? Well the point is I don’t think Donkey Kong Country is designed any better than many classic 16-bit platformers, which generally contained a healthy dose of trial and error to increase the difficulty and playtime, or increase rental sales And like many of these games, unless one grew up playing this over and over memorizing all of the little quirks, Donkey Kong Country isn’t exactly friendly to first time players, even if they are veterans of the genre This is compounded somewhat by the save system One can only save at Candy’s save point And one cannot exit a world and visit a save point from an earlier world until they reach Funky Kong This means for many worlds, a few levels will have to be played before a save can be accessed For first time players, this becomes excruciating in World 4, Gorilla Glacier A whopping 5 stages must be cleared before a save point is reached And for my money, these are some of the toughest stages found in the entire game Snow Barrel Blast, Slipslide Ride, and Croctopus Chase all caused me many game overs and it sucked the fun out of the game to have to restart the world over and over again with the progress unsaved I don’t recall any of the other worlds causing such anguish either, with a gentler difficulty curve to a save point On the flip side, I was thankful there was a save system at all Because some of those others I mentioned, have limited continues and no saving whatsoever So it has that going for it Now while I don’t find the game to be better designed than the upper echelon of 16-bit platformers, I don’t find it worse either As critical as I have been, I do find Donkey Kong Country to be pretty great For me, it all boils down to the platforming For whatever reason, I just really like jumping in video games, and Donkey Kong Country is one of the best in this regards While holding the run button both characters can jump a lengthy distance, and platforms always seem spaced to allow a player to keep moving forward even if inputs are not perfect And like I said, the game is very friendly and predictable with mid-air adjustments, allowing players to land on tiny platforms with ease The controls are loose enough to allow flexibility, but tight enough to prevent things from being

slippery It’s just perfect And ultimately, this is where Donkey Kong Country grabbed me After a couple of playthroughs, memorizing all of the hazard locations, I finally got to enjoy some tricky, well designed, platforming Timing jumps off springy tires, avoiding zingers, all with the pressure of death looming with each and every leap is a wonderful time, and it seems like a lot of love and passion went into this aspect of the game It really is amazing And at times, the design of the game is excellent I enjoyed this little dead end area, informing the player they will need to jump along burning barrels to progress It stops the player dead in their tracks, and forces them to think about the way forward This simple fire pattern is then used for the rest of the stage The mechanic is communicated to the player in a thoughtful way And when the game isn’t zooming along at breakneck speeds, or enemies darting onto the screen, surprise enemies are not an issue Both Trick Track Trek and Tanked Up Trouble ended up being a couple of my favorite levels in the game Enemy avoidance and pattern recognition are the name of the game, and the player is given time to learn the hazard, and then use their skills to overcome them I also dig the little details, like how the ground shakes when landing from a great height, giving real weight to the great ape I even like the little differences between the two Kongs Donkey Kong can take down most enemies with a jump, which Diddy Kong cannot However Diddy Kong holds barrels at chest level, making it easier to break open secret areas There isn’t much to differentiate the two characters, but enough to give each a strength and weakness Speaking of secret areas, I should probably talk about completion Just to make sure I was getting the full DKC experience and not missing anything, I did go through and complete this game, 101% Many levels contain breakable walls or hidden barrels leading to bonus rooms If a player finds all of them on a given stage, the stage name will then have an exclamation point If one does this for all stages in a world, the world name will have an exclamation point And if one does this on all of the worlds, and beats the final boss, they’ll complete the game The reward for completion is minimal, but at least a final boss isn’t hiding behind the quest Speaking of bosses, these guys are poor, requiring the most basic of techniques to defeat The hardest part of Master Necky and Master Necky Sr. is just getting the appropriate boost when bouncing off a tire None present any sort of challenge, and Dum Drum is just a rush of standard enemies from the main campaign They kind of feel like they are here simply because they are supposed to be, and not acting as a satisfying climax to each world The final boss is slightly more interesting, with three different phases, each ending with King K. Rool tossing his crown to attack This moment is the only time King K. Rool is vulnerable Still, each phase escaletes with 1, then 2, and finally three patterns before the cool down It’s not difficult by any stretch, but far more engaging than any other enemy encounter in the game Yeah, the enemies in Donkey Kong Country are very basic Army is the only standard enemy in the game that will even react to the player, rolling into a ball and then charging Every other enemy follows a predetermined path If the player doesn’t engage, the enemies will just go about their pre-scripted routine On the flip side, none are what I would call annoying either, but combat is certainly not a strength of the game The camera is also inconsistent Most of the time it’s competent, giving the player a good view of what’s ahead, but also reacting quickly to changes in direction Except for the underwater section, where the hero is placed right in the center offering a more limited view I was also disappointed the player can’t look up, or down, to check out hazards above or below While the camera is snappy horizontally, it’s painfully slow vertically obscuring both enemies and platforms below It’s not a deal breaker by any stretch, but at times I would have appreciated some control So with all of that out of the way, I feel comfortable stating Donkey Kong Country is not a masterpiece Enemies and bosses are lacking, the camera could be better, and the game falls into the same trial and error traps many 90’s platformers fell into However, I did end up enjoying Donkey Kong Country and I find it is a great game After memorizing levels one can start to appreciate a lot of the things the designers did really well Bananas and other items do a nice job giving the player hints on bonus areas I love the risk versus reward element with the animal buddies Barrel placement is generally thoughtful Other than the odd difficulty spike in Gorilla Glacier, where most of the difficulty can be bypassed with a completely hidden barrel, there is a real sense of progression The game generally gets harder from beginning to end, with the opening worlds featuring some bottomless pits, and the final levels being nothing but bottomless pits

Levels are made more difficult with more challenging hazards, like an increase in Zingers which can only be defeated with Winky or barrels, or the inclusion of Mincers which are indestructible Oil Drum Alley progresses nicely into Blackout basement, first giving the player a chance to learn the flow of the set-pieces, and later testing them further with flickering lights Trick Track Trek gives the player a chance to learn how the platform moves through the environment, and Tanked Up Trouble increases the challenge by forcing the player to grab oil barrels to keep it juiced up I also dig how the little symbol on the oil barrel will signify how much fuel is in the barrel, which then corresponds to the lights on the platform itself I love little touches like this Overall Donkey Kong Country is a great game and easily one of the better platformers of the 16-bit generation While not perfect, the graphics are certainly unique, never distracting, and are of a style which has never really been duplicated They just scream 90’s and there is an inherent charm The audio too is wonderful and pushes the production values over the top And of course the controls are just sublime, and DKC is nearly unmatched in perhaps the most important aspect of any platformer, which is of course, the platforming, making this a must own for fans of the genre