Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Donkey Kong Country SNES Review

Dkc_snes_boxartPlatform: Super NES, Gameboy Color, Gameboy Advance – Note: Portable versions have compromised graphics and performance
Released: 1994
Developer: Rare
Publisher: Nintendo
Digital Release? Yes, 800 points on the Virtual Console for Wii and Wii U (optimized for Wii U)
Value: $18.52 (SNES)/$6.51 (GBC)/$10.00 (GBA) – cart only, $38.97 (SNES)/$16.24 (GBC)/$20.00 (GBA) – complete, $80.00 (SNES)/$53.07 (GBC)/$51.00 (GBA) – sealed – According to Price Charting 

Donkey Kong Country (DKC) on the SNES is a game held in high regard by a lot of Nintendo fans. Developed by Rare, who at the time was a second party developer to Nintendo and consistently releasing new and unique IPs, which only got better when it came to the follow up console the N64. Nintendo was quite happy for Rare to develop a game starring Donkey Kong, who up to this point was just sitting on Nintendo’s shelf not really doing a lot (development on this title began before the Gameboy re-hash of Donkey Kong ’94). Rare came up with an idea for a platformer that proved to be very successful and led to two additional sequels being developed on the SNES and then a 3D iteration on the N64.  It is now time to peel back a banana and see if this SNES game still holds up today.


I actually briefly got a chance to play Donkey Kong Country on the SNES when I was younger.  My brother and I used to stay with our grandparents we would rent a SNES console and walk to the rental store every day to choose a new game to play around with.  We picked up Donkey Kong Country as it looked like a pretty cool game to play co-op, but it did not provide the sort of co-op we expected. Instead of both players working together at the same time, in Donkey Kong Country you alternate play.  We were imagining something like Sonic and Tails in Sonic 2, although that said, it’s debatable if you can call that “playing” when you control tails and rather you are more the obligatory younger sibling character.  Anyway, this was fine and there is fun to be had with two people in Donkey Kong Country, it’s just not what we expected and as a result the game went back to the rental shop the next day in favour of Zombies! (aka Zombies ate my Neighbors in the US). Much like Super Metroid, this was one of those games I have been told time and time again that I have to revisit and play through. Being a fan of platformers I was told this was an essential purchase, so in preparation for GH101’s Donkey Kong podcast I decided to download the game from the Wii U virtual console and finally see what all the fuss is about – this seems to be the same line I use for most of my SNES reviews now.

dkc_1Donkey Kong Country really has some unique graphics, which for the time really blew people away including me and my brother. It felt like a 3D game on a 2D plane way before that became a thing on the contemporary marketplace. Some people will argue that the game hasn’t aged well graphically and that imperfections are starting to show, but even if you look at it like this, DKC still looks unique and unlike anything you would expect to see on the SNES.  Rare did also use this style with another of its popular titles on SNES, arcade fighter Killer Instinct. The pre-rendered backgrounds look fantastic and the character models are amazingly detailed, the main criticism I have is there just aren’t many of them. A lot of the enemies are simply palette swaps, which doesn’t come across as lazy developers but more a testament to the challenges the they probably had creating the game given how hard DKC pushed the SNES hardware.

dkc_crankyThe level designs of this game are just fantastic; it feels like the developers put a lot of thought into the creation of each level so no two felt the same. Most of the time you will be platforming across various environments like the jungle, a temple, or factory environments. Occasionally you will do a swimming level where you will loose the ability to attack and you have to navigate around obstacles as best you can. Then there are the mine cart stages where you ride on rails and have to use specific timing for jumps to successfully reach the end. These for me where the hardest areas, but once again you felt such a sense of accomplishment when you finally finished it.  The game is separated into levels like Mario World. You can save the game at various intervals thanks to Candy Kong and you will need to save often as this won’t be a game you’ll breeze through on the first try. There are also various hidden levels to find, so if you’re a completionist you can replay levels to gain that milestone 100% at the end of your save file. As well as Candy Kong you also have some other Kongs you can stop at for assistance. Cranky, the old bugger who is believed to be the original arcade Donkey Kong, will give you advice on the world. He also has some of the most hilarious insults you’ll ever hear in gaming, regularly mocking you about how crap at the game you are and how awesome he would be if he were to play. You just don’t get these nineties insults in gaming today.

dkc_gameoverWhat will stand out the most is just how challenging this game becomes.  It doesn’t really build to this challenge, either, right from the start you will learn this game is no pushover. There are constant pitfalls and various enemies that can only be taken out in a specific way. Some can only be destroyed by jumping on their head, some you need to roll at and some can only really be taken out with a specific character. Donkey Kong can only take a single hit before he looses a life. If your companion Diddy is following you he will take over but then if he takes a single hit you loose a life and it’s back to the start of a level. Donkey Kong Country is a platformer you will conquer through persistence and a lot of patience. You will quickly discover that you need to memorize where you went wrong and learn from each of your mistakes to make it to the finish line, but when you do its incredibly satisfying. This game requires so much fine precision that it will definitely appeal to hardcore platforming veterans looking for a challenge, so if you are looking for a nice easy going platformer then you might be in for an unpleasant surprise. The game is very unforgiving as well.  Donkey Kong Country is not a long game but as you can imagine, it will take you a long time to master the difficult levels. I would say around a week or two of playing the game on and off to reach the final boss and then of course you can replay levels to find all the secrets. If that’s not your thing then it’s likely you will replay the game from the start each time as it is fun just to retry over and over while you gradually get better.

dkc_animalThe most unique element of the gameplay is the barrels scattered about the game. These will act as items you can pick up and throw at enemies, some will contain your fallen Kong comrade, others act as checkpoints, and occasionally you will find a crate that will contain an animal you can ride. These animal buddies are also a fun highlight of the game. There’s a Rhino that can charge attack enemies as well as move quite fast through the level, there’s a frog that can jump extra high to reach difficult to reach areas, and a swordfish that helps you swim faster and also attacks under water.  The music in this game is just great. Rare makes excellent use of the Sony sound chip from the console and this game contains a lot of memorable tunes which are still used in the series to this date. What I found most impressive was how the music generally brought a feeling of calm to me as I navigated some of the very difficult levels. Dare I say it, that if the soundtrack was not so good then I probably would have rage quitted the game a lot quicker. The water levels contained my personal favourite scores.

Donkey Kong Country is of course not without fault. At times it feels like controlling your character is quite loose. It felt much like playing most Mario games – I needed to hold the run button down constantly to get the best possible chance of reaching the next platform otherwise I would loose momentum and fall to an inevitable doom. For some reason, even with this button held down, it didn’t always feel like I was in full control of my Kong. It’s one of those games that is tricky to get to grips with comfortably but once you master the controls you will be the envy of your gamer pals. It’s quite the site watching speedrunners play this game on YouTube.


Overall, Donkey Kong Country is a challenging platformer that will appeal to those looking for a title you won’t just fly through. The game looks great and sounds great with a killer soundtrack that will stick with you long after the experience. This will naturally not appeal to everyone, but you can still step back and admire what an impressive achievement this game is (and was). Rare did the unexpected by taking a forgotten Nintendo character and made it into a big name for it in a legacy continues to this day. If you get a chance get Donkey Kong Country on the virtual console, download the game, or find an expensive cart version, peel back a banana and just go ape.

Final Score: 4 out of 5  (review policy)

Written by jamalais

April 17, 2015 at 11:39 am

Posted in Reviews, SNES, Wii

Tagged with , ,

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