The only game I’ve been playing for the past week is Donkey Kong Country, which was released not too long ago for the Nintendo Switch Online Super NES.
Not that that’s a bad thing. In fact, it’s a good thing; it just wasn’t my original intention. My initial plan was to download Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze because I’d heard resounding praise deeming it a worthy successor to Donkey Kong Country, one of my favorite games of all time. So I figured, what the hell — let me dust off Donkey and Diddy’s first adventure real quick so I can reacclimate myself with the Kong crew before jumping into their latest adventure.
And that’s what did it. All it took was one quick run through the DKC’s first level, Jungle Hijinxs, and every feeling of fun and wonderment from 24-years-ago came vine-swinging back into my life.
The graphics, although a bit grainier than I remembered are still a pre-rendered joy to behold; slick, stylistic and tinged with realism. It was this groundbreaking visual style that set Donkey Kong Country apart from previous platformer icons like Mario and Sonic, who looked like cartoonish and saccharine by comparison. The levels weren’t cutesy in a contrived way either, with the first stage’s vibrant jungle quickly giving way to caliginous caverns littered with dilapidated minecarts and rusted-through railtracks; screen-blotting rainfall and blinding snowstorms and foreboding factories replete with toxic oil drums.
And the game looks even better once you get moving, with the hulking Donkey Kong lumbering around on his knuckles, red tie flailing and nimble Diddy Kong cartwheeling around and looking over his shoulder and tossing his baseball hat in the air and catching it as soon as you idled the controller. It might be a little bit of rosy retrospection talking here, especially because I lived through the era able to simian squeeze such impressive graphical fidelity from a Super Nintendo system on its last legs before the advent of the Sega Saturn, Playstation and Nintendo 64, but Donkey Kong Country infuses the crazy apes with an abundance of vivacity — a big reason why once I picked this game up again after 24 years, I haven’t been able to put it back down.
Of course, the graphics aren’t the only reason for Donkey Kong Country’s acclaim. The controls are tight and responsive, with Donkey and Diddy each providing their own unique sense of weight and mobility. As I mentioned earlier, Donkey Kong is the bulkier, heavier of the two, who can defeat armored foes as well as use his trademark Hand Slap that both downs foes, rewards bananas and unveils secret passages. Diddy is more agile, able to jump higher and move faster than Donkey, but he’s unable to defeat certain enemies that Donkey can nor can he hoist barrels with as much authority. The distinctions are made only more enjoyable by the unique tag-in system, which allows players to decide for themselves and make strategic use of the Kongs throughout forty levels.
There’s also a flow to the game (one I’m told is augmented even further in Tropical Freeze), a sort of balletic beauty made more evident by speedrunners where Diddy dances across platforms from start to finish and Donkey Kong becomes something of an unrelenting, brown-furred cannonball who steamrolls beavers, Kremlings and anything else in his path, stopping only to hoist the occasional wooden barrel above his head.
And then of course, there’s the soundtrack, which quite simply, slaps. Conceived by British composer David Wise, Donkey Kong Country spawned such soothing, sonically pleasing and mysterious tracks as “Aquatic Ambience,” which alleviated the frustration of the underwater levels rife with swift-moving barracuda and tiger shark enemies (link to DKC enemies article); the pulse-pounding and aptly-named “Fear Factory”, featured in industrial levels or the Donkey Kong Country theme song, whose 8-bit opening notes (which was played on Cranky Kong’s gramophone in the Donkey Kong Country introductory scene) beatdropped into wailing guitars and thumping drums.
Donkey Kong Country isn’t as mind-blowing as it was back in the day, but it’s still a fun, charming and immersive game that’ll have you thumping your chest with enjoyment the whole way through and marveling at the pioneering gaming experience the Rare developers were able to deliver from a supposedly outdated 16-bit gaming system.
What’d you think of our Donkey Kong Country Super Nintendo Switch Online review? Did it bring back any fond gaming memories? Let us know in the comments.