Man, how awesome did Rare used to be? I know we’ve touched on this before, but seeing Microsoft suck all the nutrients from their still beating heart was hard to watch, especially as a Nintendo aficionado. The only plus side to the story of Rare, is that their classic games are so freaking good that they still play like an absolute dream today. Does Donkey Kong Country? Of course it bloody does.
Such were the lofty expectations of Rare, that they were entrusted by Nintendo to revive their one time big bad, Donkey Kong. In doing so, Rare rejuvenated both the 2D platform game and the SNES itself, as well as creating a franchise that still runs today. Bravo, chaps – but I’m still not saying anything nice about Viva sodding Piñata.
You play as the son of the original Donkey Kong, a nifty way for Rare to gloss over the whole “stealing your girlfriend and chucking barrels full of hammers at you” thing that we’re sure the original DK feels terrible about. Along with him is his unloveable, baseball capped, mush-fed humanoid gimp Diddy Kong. What? Look at the difference between the two of them! He’s one of God’s cruel jokes, and DK brought him along because his sister gave him no end of shit. Probably. If you find that offensive, calm down – he’s an animated monkey. Their nemesis is King K.Rool, another hallucinogen induced nightmare that makes you wonder what Nintendo put in Rare’s water cooler.
Long story short, something something something stolen bananas. Y’know, because monkeys? It’s a 2D platformer, not Citizen Kane. Jump on their heads.
Glorious. DKC is now 21 years old, and it’s still an absolute masterclass of 2D platforming. You play as both DK and Mushgimp, but each monkey can only take one hit before dying. This may sound harsh, but *sits in rocking chair, puts on sweater vest* back in 1994, games used to be hard. This ethos has seen something of a resurgence in recent years thanks to people getting sick of Call Of Duty telling them how to inhale and exhale, but DKC still retains a fantastic ‘just difficult enough’ challenge – partly thanks to the one hit death system. The fact that death is nearly always immediate means that there’s no coasting through levels, and you feel the necessity to explore every nook and cranny (of which there are many), in order to maximise your number of lives. The levels are, by and large, and absolute joy to explore. 21 years later, and I still found myself chucking every barrel I could find into every wall I could find in order to uncover as many bonus laden caves as possible. Risk and Reward! That’s how you entice a player into collecting all your secrets! You reward them! Who knew?! (Everyone except Sega). The design of the levels is fantastic, and truly rewarding for those who take their time. And it truly is a satisfying challenge – on my recent play through, I didn’t spot anything I considered unfair. There’s a logical way around everything, and it’s all presented to you in advance without being obnoxiously obvious. It’s just a huge amount of fun, and I was delighted to see that DKC held up after so long. The much-lauded mine cart levels are a bit of a misnomer now – they still play fluently, and are admittedly still fun, but they have an unfortunate reliance of pixel perfect jumping that spoils the magic somewhat. Even so, I can’t say it happened to a degree that I wasn’t enjoying myself.
Whoops. We call this ‘Starwing Syndrome’. Or ‘Crappy Def Leppard Video-itis’. While there’s no denying that back in 1994, DKC looked astounding, here in the almost Blade Runner future, DKC is…something of a nightmare to look at. It all looks smooth enough when static, but once everything starts moving, it can be a little nausea-inducing. And blurry. I’ve never seen blurring like it. Again though, this didn’t detract from my enjoyment overall, but i know some people who are sticklers for this sort of thing. I definitely got a little headache-y after a while. The music is ace. Always was, always will be. I can’t go into too much detail, because now the theme song is stuck in my head again. Duhnuhnuhnuh Duhdhunuhnuhnuh NUH NUH Duhnuhnuhnuhnuhnuhnuh. Damn it.
DKC was released in 1994 to critical acclaim, along with two fantastic sequels of similar ilk. If it was released again in 2015, the world would be a little bit brighter. And absolutely masterful example of 2D gameplay, that remains as fresh and fun as it was 20 years ago. Diddy Kong is a freak. Pros : Great level design encourages exploration, save points deny frustration, great music, fast and fluid Cons : Character design by Jim Hensons evil twin, graphics have suffered a beating over the years. Shirt but no pants, tie but no shirt – get it together, guys.
Back In The Day
DKC was heralded as a hit by everyone except Famitsu (the Pitchfork of gaming), and went on to become the second best selling SNES game of all time. It was also the subject of this bizarrely intense commercial, where Nintendo use the power of INSERT TEXT to metaphorically squeeze Sega’s collective nutsack.