In recent times there’s been somewhat of a backlash towards the original Donkey Kong Country. Okay, it was never Super Mario World levels of brilliance, but it was still highly regarded at the time of release. These days though it’s often looked down on as being “of its time” and those who like it are said to still be looking through the old rose tinted glasses. So, with its recent re-arrival on the Wii U Virtual Console, it marks the perfect time to take a retrospective look at the Rare platformer.
When initially released it was the visual style that made everyone sit up and take notice, and while it may have lost the wow factor as time has passed, they still look pretty decent. DKC definitely needed a way to differentiate itself from the countless platformers on the system and they achieved that quite well. It almost looks like claymation, especially with the many characters in the game and the unique animations.
One such character is Diddy Kong, who makes his debut. The sidekick who would later take centre stage, does feel a little different than DK. He’s lighter, feels more mobile, but unfortunately can’t kill the heavier and armoured enemies. It doesn’t exactly bring much of a tactical edge to proceedings, but then it really can’t, as after only one hit you lose either Diddy or Donkey. So naturally losing one at a crucial time would mean hitting a bit of a brick wall. And the only way to bring them back is by smashing the rare DK barrels. So get hit twice and it’s back to the start of the level or the mid-level checkpoint. And as you’d expect, it gets incredibly difficult.
Not just from the enemies who all have a wide range of attack patterns, but also the many pitfalls that seem to be placed in the most annoying of positions. Many expletives were spoken as we took a tumble time after time after time. One of the most common deaths we succumbed to though were the moving barrels. Nightmares from childhood came flooding back as mistiming when to launch more often than not resulted in flying straight into an enemy or the deep beyond. Not helped by the fact the barrels almost feel like stop motion. A horrible, jerky movement that means it’s hard to judge when to actually fire. Not ideal when seven out of eight possible directions results in death. It’s a challenging game then, yet it is doable. At times it can feel unfair, but the sheer elation when you reach the end of the level makes it all worth it in the end.
The levels themselves being nicely varied. Mine cart levels, that have become a staple of the series since, are great. Then there are the levels you always expect from platformers, including the traditional underwater ones. And also a few animal companions can join you on your adventure, from rhinos to dolphins, it’s a decent length game with enough hidden collectables to keep the completionists coming back.
So is Donkey Kong Country worth going back to? Absolutely. With Tropical Freeze being one of our highlights of the year, it was nice going back to see where it all began, and with the original developers behind the wheel. It may not be the best platformer on the system, or even the best DKC game (that belongs to the sequel), but it can proudly stand alongside them.