You know that moment.
That moment of sheer excitement when you start a game that’s so totally different from anything you’ve ever played before and it turns out to be a beautiful thing.
My moment like that happened with Donkey Kong Country.
It’s a familiar game to most and beloved by many; and DKC set Rare on the map of development titans (at least for a little while). It was the first “3D” game I ever played. (Well, it was rendered with 3D graphics, but it was still a side-scroller.) We got the game at Christmas 94 or 95 (maybe 96? The 90s are really just a lump of strange and obnoxious and awesome), and I could hardly believe my bedazzled eyes.
Too dramatic you say? It’s just a Super Nintendo game with pretty graphics…yawn.
Well, yes. Very, very pretty dimensional graphics, solid controls, and great gameplay. And after a decade of playing 2D games, as wonderful as many of them were, DKC was an absolutely new and shiny breath of fresh air.
A few spoiler-y bits might appear ahead – avoid only if this game is current in your emulator queue, or if you’re a lucky bastard with a working SNES and original cartride, and you don’t want to know a thing about the game before playing.
DKC’s story is pretty simple: Donkey Kong had to retrieve his banana stash that was ransacked by the Kremlins (upright crocodilians). His main goal was to defeat the Kremlin’s head honcho, King K. Rool. In order to make his way through the Kremlin hordes and mini-bosses, Donkey Kong could jump onto or roll into enemies. In a nice homage to the original Donkey Kong games, he could also throw barrels, and he occasionally got around by swinging on vines. And certainly there were special items strewn about, gold treasures and such, that racked up points; and there were secrets…lots and lots of secrets that added to the replayability factor.
Analogous to the relationship between Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo only with less annoying vocalizations and the absence of “those darn, meddling kids,” the game added Diddy Kong, Donkey Kong’s nephew, to the mix, as well as a few other secondary but playable helpers. Players could switch between the Kongs at certain points. Having two separate characters (with different abilities), similar to Mario and Luigi, made for fun single and 2-player games. What I remember liking most was how solid the game felt. There was no Mario or Mega Man “slippery-ness.” Though it was sometimes a little hard to judge where 3D Donkey Kong was in relation to, say, the edge of a 2D ledge, controlling Kong never bordered on controller-flinging frustration.
DKC was loads and loads of fun, and it was also a pretty large game with dozens of levels and, as I mentioned, lots of secrets. I only remember playing through the game twice. The first time I skimmed through the levels but beat the game. The second time was over a summer vacation, and I put in much more time into finding every nook and cranny of goodness. Honestly, I don’t remember if I ever beat the game that second time round.
DKC was also the first game for which I had a guide. Not to go off on a tangent here, but I’m not really a guide-type person – never have been. I have nothing against them and I think they are perfectly reasonable publications, but I don’t generally seek them out. My stubborn “I can do it myself” attitude usually reigns supreme during gaming. Admittingly, something about the second round of DKC play brought out the atypical completionist in me enough that spending $20 on the guide didn’t seem like a bad idea at the time. And it wasn’t. It didn’t spoon feed the game, but it did help reveal things that I truly would have otherwise missed.
DKC was more than the sum of its secrets. It was a 16-bit game that stood out in the late 90s growing sea of 32-bit games, and it probably helped the SNES hold the line against the likes of the Playstation and Saturn. DKC was just as good if not better looking than some 32-bit games, and the game was just hands-down enjoyable. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a little banana-collecting, croc-stomping, and vine-swinging action.