Retro Respawn – Donkey Kong Country

In last week’s column, I wrote about how I had finally gotten around to making use of the voucher my sister had gifted to me at Christmas for the Nintendo Switch online membership. Included within the membership cost is the ability to download emulators for the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Super Nintendo free from the Nintendo Store. After playing Pop’ N’ TwinBee last week, I had decided that I would move onto a different console for this week’s Retro Respawn, but then I noticed that two other games had been added to the SNES emulator, with one of them being Donkey Kong Country.

I’ve gone on record in the past here on Gaming Respawn that I consider “Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong’s Quest” to be my favourite game of all time, but I still have a healthy chunk of love for the original game in the series. I decided to boot it up just to have a quick go, and after getting through the first world and having a lot of fun with it, I decided to just go the whole hog (or should that be the whole donkey?) and complete it again, which lead to Donkey Kong Country becoming this week’s topic. I will do my best to move away from the SNES for next week’s article, but even as I type that, I’ve already started having a go at Smash Tennis as well, so who even knows anymore?

Having so many SNES games a moment’s touch away on a console I can play anywhere in the house is pretty darn tantalising, and it’s making a good substitute for the overall lack of games I currently have for the Switch (something I’m hoping to rectify in the near future) and having the ability to just stick Donkey Kong Country on during a lunch break or for a quick couple of levels before bed made returning to it a pleasure, especially as it’s still a lot of fun to play nearly sixteen years on from when I first played it.

I’m not sure if I’ve gone into much detail on here before, but the Super Nintendo was the first proper video game console I got in my youth. Prior to that my only exposure to games had been either from playing on my cousin’s NES or from having a go on my Dad’s ZX Spectrum. Much as I enjoyed playing on the Speccy, the lack of Super Mario made me long for a Nintendo console to call my own, and in 1993 Nintendo decided to release Super Mario All-Stars as a pack-in game with the console at a reduced price, which is what finally led to my parents relenting and picking one up for me.

What I’m about to say may blow some of my younger readers’ minds, but the next game I got for my Super Nintendo didn’t come until a whole year later when I got Donkey Kong Country for Christmas in 1994. Yes, I had to make do with just the one game for an entire calendar year, and to be perfectly honest, I had no issue with it either, as far as I can recall. I had Super Mario All-Stars, and that was enough to satisfy me for a year. I was just happy to have an SNES to begin with, so having to wait for another game to come along didn’t really bother me. This, of course, wouldn’t last the older I got, but in my younger days, I would appear to have displayed a shocking amount of patience.

Donkey Kong Country got a lot of hype in the build up to that Christmas period (this was prior to us bothering with the accursed silliness of “Black Friday” here in the UK, so Christmas and Boxing Day was when shops tended to have sales going on), with a big selling point being its pre-rendered graphics. Indeed, rumour has it that when people first saw screenshots, they actually thought it was going to be for a fifth gen game as opposed to a fourth gen one. This may just be my opinion, but I still think the visuals hold up to this day. The game is still a treat for the eyes, with the levels looking lovely and the characters oozing charisma from every pore.

Playing as the titular Donkey and his pal, Diddy, you have to travel through multiple different worlds in order to take out King K. Rool and his devious Kremlins and recapture Donkey’s prized stolen banana hoard. There are three different ways to play the game, with the standard single-player mode seeing you controlling both Donkey and Diddy and the option to “tag” the other Kong in if their personal set of skills are advantageous at that particular moment. Diddy is quicker than Donkey, for instance, so if you need to build up some speed to make certain jumps, then he’s your man, whilst Donkey is bigger and, thus, capable of taking out the bigger Kremlins that Diddy can’t tackle.

Along with single-player mode, there is also the option of a co-op mode where one player controls Donkey and the other controls Diddy, with you once again needing to tag out depending on which Kong you want in control at any given moment. The third option is a competitive multiplayer mode where a player each controls their own team of Donkey and Diddy, with the goal being to see who can complete the game the quickest. It’s nice that the game can be played in different ways like this, and it gives people the option of including a friend in the action in one of the two multiplayer modes. It certainly gives the second person more involvement than in a game like in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, where the second player can only really control Tails in certain situations, thus making it feel like less of a team effort. You also don’t run into issues like Tails’ invincibility essentially breaking all of the boss fights.

Speaking of boss fights, this is one area where Donkey Kong Country doesn’t really bring much to the table, with latter bosses in the game being palette-swapped versions of previous bosses that aren’t especially difficult to dispatch either in their original or latter forms. The worst by far is a massive oil drum that spits out enemies at you until it just gives up on life and spontaneously combusts in shame since the armadillos and snakes it threw at you didn’t get the job done. Aside from the lousy bosses though, the gameplay is generally good in Donkey Kong Country, with a healthy mix of standard platforming, swimming and even some treacherous rides in a mine cart when the need calls for it. Some of the levels are particularly perilous, including the first level of the snow world where you have to avoid boisterous bees whilst getting fired from one quick-spinning barrel to another. I died many a time trying to get through that level on the recent playthrough.

One area where the game excels is the outstanding soundtrack from David Wise and Eveline Fischer, with some of the very best music to ever hit the SNES tickling your ear drums, such as the sombre Aquatic Ambience and the pulsating Fear Factory. Playing through the game again was improved tenfold by the warm, nostalgic feelings I got from encountering these excellent tracks once again. It’s so great that they put such effort into the score, and the music we get is so much better than some of the generic bilge you get in modern games sometimes.

I don’t think it will be a shock to read that I still think Donkey Kong Country holds up all these years later. It has a good difficulty curve that ramps things up the further you progress, plays well, looks good and sounds incredible. Some lousy boss battles aside, Donkey Kong Country is an absolute banana split of a game and well worth your time if you’ve never played it before!

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