Donkey Kong is one of the most recognizable video games of all time. It’s a classic arcade game that was also Mario’s first appearance. It spawned two sequels and an amazing Game Boy Remake/Reboot, but that’s a story for another time. In 1994, Rare made Donkey Kong Country for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, starring the original Donkey Kong’s son, Donkey Kong Junior and his friend Diddy Kong, while the comical and elderly Cranky Kong is actually the original Donkey Kong. We’re going to refer to the grown up DK Jr. as Donkey Kong just for simplicity. Donkey Kong Country is a 2D platformer known for its outstanding visuals for the time released, but visuals alone can’t make a game great. How has Donkey Kong Country aged?
Let’s start off with the visuals, for once. The game used pre rendered graphics for backgrounds and level layouts, and for 1994, this was unheard of. The graphics were so good for the time that they were considered realistic. Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong look amazing, and are both very detailed. The levels in DKC vary and all look amazing, from the greenish jungles, to the depths of the lake, to the snowy mountaintops, to the dark mineshafts, and finally to the modern factories. The graphics of Donkey Kong Country still look good today, and therefore have aged very well.
The music in Donkey Kong Country is also very solid. The tracks are all very memorable, and sound good today. The SNES’s sound chip was very ahead of its time, and therefore many games had memorable soundtracks. DKC’s tracks range from exciting, to comforting, to just catchy. “Jungle Japes”, the first level theme, has a long build up and then explodes with one of the most famous choruses in gaming music. “Aquatic Ambience” is one of the most relaxing songs when Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong swim underwater. The Gangplank Galleon theme is my personal favorite track in the game, and is arguably one of the greatest tunes on the SNES. The music to DKC is fantastic still today.
The gameplay of DKC is mainly standard 2D platforming, but with some variations. Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong are the two playable characters of the game, and are interchangeable. Diddy Kong is objectively a better character to play as than Donkey Kong, because he’s faster, smaller, and more nimble, but can’t defeat some enemies that Donkey Kong can, however he can easily just grab a barrel and kill them with that. The main goal of the gameplay of DKC is to get from point A to point B, but there are plenty of secrets along the way. There are several barrels throughout each level, and sometimes when thrown at walls, the walls with break, revealing a secret area. Inside these secret areas, which can also be found in rouge barrels Donkey and Diddy can perform a small mini game to win more lives, bananas, or animal tokens. Getting 100 bananas will get you an extra life, and getting three animal tokens will take you to a bonus level where you play as the animal the token represents. There are several different animal buddies in Donkey Kong Country. Some of the most notable ones are Rambi the Rhino, Squawks the Parrot, and Engarde the Sword Fish. These animal buddies can also be found in each level and will help the Kongs get to the end of each stage. The gameplay of DKC is fine, but that’s just it. The game really doesn’t have a lot of innovation, and instead is just a solid, albeit barebones 2D platformer. The level design of the game, while pretty, is also super generic. DKC is solid, but can get boring easily.
The controls of Donkey Kong Country are fine for the most part. They’re responsive and simple, B is jump, Y is roll, A is switch Kongs, and the D-Pad moves, nothing special. The animal controls can be a bit shaky, however. Winky the Frog is constantly hopping, and this makes hitting the jump button to jump feel a bit awkward with him. Using Rambi on small platforms is very difficult, as he moves quickly and will fall easily. The controls for the most part are fine, but animal controls can be shaky.
Donkey Kong Country is one of the most iconic games of the 1990s, and rightfully so. The game’s graphics are beautiful, the controls, while shaky with animal buddies, are very good with the Kongs, the music is amazing, and the gameplay has no real issues besides being a bit barebones. The barebones gameplay is still solid, and enjoyable in spurts, and the other aspects of the game make up for this. Donkey Kong Country has aged well.