You want to talk about a masterpiece? A system seller? A game that defined a generation? It doesn’t get any more “classic” than DONKEY KONG COUNTRY. Let me tell you, this game is an absolute banana slamma. It was groundbreaking for its time and remains an icon even to this day. It is perhaps one of the greatest Nintendo titles ever made, and it wasn’t even made by Nintendo. As far as mechanical and aesthetic marvels go, there are few that can top it. More importantly, DONKEY KONG COUNTRY is the ultimate bad boy in gaming, the gorilla-dick god that ape-fucked an entire industry.
Am I biased? Hell yes! DONKEY KONG COUNTRY and its sequel, DIDDY KONG’S QUEST, are neck-and-neck with POKÉMON YELLOW VERSION as my earliest gaming memories, maybe even one of my earliest memories, period. It’s impossible for me to look at them through any other lens than the rose-tinted view of bust-a-nut ‘90s nostalgia. That being said, I also have plenty of fond memories of other SNES home runs that are better, yes, better, than DONKEY KONG COUNTRY. THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: A LINK TO THE PAST is a paragon of the adventure genre and directly responsible for the widely beloved OCARINA OF TIME. The gorgeous SUPER MARIO WORLD 2: YOSHI’S ISLAND is an artistic slam dunk that ended up being a more seminal Mario title than its preceding namesake. But none of these games scream “Super Nintendo” the way DONKEY KONG COUNTRY did.
And NOBODY played it as fucking LOUD as DKC3
The console war between Sega and Nintendo was the fiercest in the history of the industry, and years into the last decade of the millennium, Nintendo was eating shit. Hard. Nobody wanted to buy the “kid’s console” when the Genesis not only had Sonic, but NIGHT TRAP, the uncensored MORTAL KOMBAT, and a slew of technological improvements over the SNES. Nintendo held its native Japan in a vice-like grip, but absolutely floundered against the Genesis internationally, constantly outmaneuvered by Sega’s savvy marketing campaigns. They needed a miracle if there was any chance they’d survive.
The year is 1994: Enter DONKEY KONG COUNTRY.
DKC was Sega’s Pearl Harbor, Stalingrad, and Hiroshima rolled into one. It’s the reason that we live in a world where Nintendo is a household name and Sega skirts by on Yakuza games. DKC was the complete package. Along with solid gameplay and one BANGIN soundtrack (more on that later), the game was a technological marvel. As the one of the first mainstream console release to utilize pre-rendered 3D visuals, it was a graphical powerhouse. Though the SNES fielded inferior specs to the Genesis, DKC looked better than anything Sega had to offer. The game instantly sold out, and continued on to be the second-best selling title on the SNES. With a single release, Nintendo was able to ship millions of copies and go from getting reamed by Sega to selling almost twice as many consoles as their rival. Sega would have one last hurrah later with the Dreamcast, but their grave had already been dug.
Don’t think that I forgot the show, either
And do you know the best part of it all? The OG character that the Japanese giant was built upon was brought back to the limelight not by a first party developer, as is the MO for Nintendo even today, but by a recently acquired, tiny UK studio called Rare. Long before Rare’s golden years on the N64, the only real hit they had under their belt at this point was the infamous BATTLETOADS. Directors Tim and Chris Stamper were working with a team of 12 for most of the production. Gaming godfather Shigeru Miyamoto had a supervisory role, but no real input on development.
This was an underdog effort by all accounts. Nobody at the time, especially Japanese game makers, thought a real hit could come out of the West (many chalked up the success of the aforementioned MORTAL KOMBAT and NIGHT TRAP to spectacle and controversy more so than good design). Even Miyamoto went on record slamming Tim Stamper and DKC, calling the game “mediocre.”
But nobody was laughing when all was said and done. DKC was a mega-hit, critically and commercially. For all their hubris, neither Sega nor Nintendo could withstand the balls-out banana blast Rare was packing. The game that the old guard at Nintendo turned their noses up at ended up being the only thing that saved them from obliteration by their rival, a feat not even their golden boy Mario could accomplish. Once DK was done railing that blue hedgehog, it was the plumber’s turn to pay the piper.
Mr. & Mr. Steal Your Girl
DKC killed Sega, saved Nintendo, and established both Rare and the Stampers as gaming legends. But how does it hold up today? Excellently, if you must know. In the spirit of the platforming genre, the premise is simple: you play as a big ass monkey that smacks the shit out of local wildlife after they steal his banana horde. DKC’s gameplay is the epitome of “solid”: Donkey Kong doesn’t handle as smoothly as Sonic or Mario, but he sure as hell gets the job done. The levels hold the same amount of magic as those other series, easy to complete but a challenge to master. Packed with secret paths, collectibles, and minigames, DKC had enough content to keep players hooked for multiple playthroughs.
SKULL ISLAND has nothing on this
A big part of that magic was also thanks to the DKC’s packaging. As mentioned previously, the 3D sprites were a game changer back in 1994. Even now, the colorful backgrounds and finely honed character design make DKC pop like no other game from the era can. And the soundtrack! David Wise threw together the background tracks as temporary placeholders until a (presumably Japanese) composer could take the wheel. Of course, this was completely unnecessary. Wise’s playlist of tribal synth was not only the best on the SNES, it stands amongst the best gaming scores of all time. There is no bad-nana in this bunch, as every song is a bonafide BANGER. The DKC soundtrack, and those of its sequels, would go on to become major influences on countless other titles, as well as cornerstones of the vaporwave genre.
In the 1990s, there was one rule of the jungle: You fucked with Kong, you got the dong. The scrappy dark horse from a dozen Brits in all likelihood shouldn’t have been the star that it was, but it ended up slaying giants of all stripes. Friend or foe, nobody got in this monkey’s way. DONKEY KONG COUNTRY is a time-proven classic, one that has continued to be re-released, remastered, and re-interpreted ever since it launched. There are plenty of better games out there, but none will ever have the impact that this angry ape did.
DONKEY KONG COUNTRY is available on SNES, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Wii, Wii U, 3DS, and the SNES Classic.