When you think of Donkey Kong, what comes to mind? Chances are you’ll recall a poorly-postured ape donning a red necktie, with a coconut-shaped head and an inane grimace which pierces your very soul. Another thing you might be interested to know that it was the 1994 SNES title Donkey Kong Country which introduced all of the above, thrusting Nintendo’s first mascot back into the limelight and ensuring his popularity to this very day.
Donkey Kong Country, you see, truly was a stunner of a game; being one of the first mainstream titles to feature pre-rendered 3D graphics, DKC left gamers of the mid-90s stumbling around on the floor in search of their vigorously-detached jaws. The resultant vibrant, chunky visuals were the equivalent of Werther’s Originals for the eyes, whilst the game’s score also deserves a mention, as it offered a brilliant accompaniment to the DKC experience. Whether it be Jungle Groove’s thumping, jazzy rhythm or Aquatic Ambiance’s haunting, um… ambience, the game was a musical treat too.
However, while DKC’s graphics were truly revolutionary, they hid decidedly old-school gameplay; this was platforming gaming of the most antiquated variety. But the levels were imaginatively designed, littered with delightful, countless personal touches. Probably the best example of this comes at the beginning of the first level, where Donkey Kong is dropped in the middle of the jungle near his humble treehouse home. Now, the player can choose to move to the right and progress through the level, but if they were to retreat back to Kong’s abode they can actually enter it and bag a few extra lives. It sounds trivial on paper, but my simple five year-old brain was giddy with delight.
And this translated into commercial success, the game ultimately selling over eight million copies, making it the second highest-selling SNES game. DKC wasn’t without its detractors, however, with many complaining of clumsy and overly-frustrating gameplay. Indeed, even Shigeru Miyamoto, Donkey Kong’s daddy himself, remarked that “Donkey Kong Country proves that players will put up with mediocre gameplay as long as the art is good.” Harsh words from the usually-amiable Miyamoto, but even the most hardened DKC fan has to admit that the game’s graphics outshone its core design somewhat.
It was still a terrific game, and one which not only saw its developers move onto bigger and better things but also spawned a host of sequels and spin-offs. Why, DKC’s second sequel to this day holds the highest rating (98%) given by the Official Nintendo Magazine. Though, to be fair, those guys would give Mario Lawncutting Adventure 94%, so it doesn’t really count.