Donkey Kong Country: SNES nostalgia at its very best
You can forget Pogs, GoGos or even Beanie Babies. The gold plated letters of K.O.N.G, housed within each level of the iconic SNES jungle romp Donkey Kong Country, were the real collectible of the 90’s. They certainly were to me anyway. I can still hear the sound of successfully collecting them all, the letters transitioning to the top right corner of my screen where I would be graced with an extra life.
Mario’s one time enemy ditched the ladder-ridden screens of the 1981 arcade classic and turned hero as he took on the starring role in a visually lush SNES essential. It is nostalgia at its very best.
“He took on the starring role in a visually lush SNES essential. It is nostalgia at its very best”
Let me put you in a barrel and fire you backwards in time to the mid to late 90’s. You’ve just undertaken the standard SNES start-up routine which consisted of blowing on the underside of your cartridge, slotting it in and, with a flick of a needlessly heavy switch, got the game running. Next came the mumbled sounds start as the recognisable ‘Rare’ logo appears and, before you know it, you’re into the adventure.
The menu gave you the option to play as a single adventurer or in a pair, which was perfect when sharing with a pesky younger sibling. Inevitably an argument would break out over who would play as the lovable newcomer and all round cooler (mostly due to him wearing a cap) character Diddy. This was a welcome compromise from the days of watching people hog the controller, preventing you from getting a fair share of game time.
Donkey Kong also had the presence of save files which wasn’t standard at the time. It had sufficient available slots to save your own game and a multiplayer equivalent; perfect for when the aforementioned sibling had to go to bed before you, leaving you to continue alone.
The story followed the primate pair across the various locations on Kong Island as they fought a wide array of baddies to reclaim a hoard of bananas stolen by the Kremling Krew. Okay, the plot wasn’t quite Metal Gear Solid but trust me when I say that, as a six year old, it was a totally valid quest to be undertaking.
There were a huge amount of enemies and you quickly become well versed at dealing with bench pressing lizards, vultures, snakes, armadillos, wasps, (those pesky, pesky wasps) and many more. After every few levels you would come to a boss in the form of a larger animal, which could usually be made light work of with a couple of jumps to the head. Oh the 16-bit era, when life seemed so simple!
Simple it may have been but it was not necessarily an easy playthrough. In fact it was only when I returned to the game many years later that I finally managed to defeat the superbly named final boss ‘King K. Rool’, leader of the Kremlings, and finally reclaim the bananas. At that age it was easy to be put off a game if the difficulty was too great but the freshness of Kong Island had me totally immersed and installed in me a ‘one more go before homework’ mentality that would go on to plague the rest of my school life.
“The quality of music that the composers managed to install into a 16-bit game cartridge is something that I genuinely believe is yet to be surpassed”
The graphics of Donkey Kong Country still hold up today and, when returning to the SNES, I’m always pleasantly surprised at how good the protagonists look. The finest aspect of the game though, in my opinion, was the sound. Usually when I think about retro games, I remember the plot, the gameplay or the characters. However, with Donkey Kong Country I just recall the catchy soundtrack. The quality of music that the composers managed to install into a 16-bit game cartridge is something that I genuinely believe is yet to be surpassed. From the simple knocking sound when you collect a banana, to the fun panpipe track that plays during a mini game, to the fanfare that after each mission accomplishment; the whole score is a real treat.
From start to finish Donkey Kong Country was nothing short of a fantastical delight. There is a reason we’re still seeing new iterations of this classic and it’s down to the fine work by Rare and co in the 90’s. If you somehow managed to miss it back then, I would highly encourage you to give it a spin today. Now, somebody pass me a banana.