The Donkey Kong Country series has a special place for me. The first three games were a centerpiece of my childhood, forever cementing the series as my platformer of choice, and consequently making the super excellent Retro DKC games among the faovrite games of their respective generations. With the unveiling of the Wii's virtual console, the SNES Donkey Kong were immeditly what I thought of first, and true to that, all three games were released on the Wii. Since then, I started going through all the games in a nearly annual basis.
That's the Kong family sans Kiddy Kong from DKC3
With the release of Tropical Freeze on the Wii U, the annual marathon had an extra game to play through. This marathon session is the first one I finished after joining Dtoid, and so wanted to take the opprutinty to discuss what I conisder the pinnacle of platforming games.
The abolutely amazing Donkey Kong Country series:
Platformers come in different sizes and shapes, but they generally follow the same format. Going from left to right, navigating obstacles through jumping and the occasional power-up, and a linear sequence of levels to go through. This simplicity in format means that few platformers can actually stand out from the crowd, and the tens of forgotten SNES mascot platfromers are a testemant to that.
Mario is famed for it precesion, imagination, and being mechanically perfect. Sonic is known for that exhilarating sense of speed. Kirby is floaty, and has that copy ability.
With Donkey Kong, its about a sense of weight and atmosphere. Obviously, the big kong moves differently than the smaller protagonists of other games. In DKC, you move with momentum. Every movement carrys a significant thrust forward, which makes movment more complicated. In the latter games, this momentum coupled with the rolls make an excellent speed-running game.
However, its not its platforming mechanics that made the most impression on me, or on many else. Its a sense of atmosphere. The Kong island is not in fantastical realm like in Mario or Sonic, but uses places in nature that are steeped in mystery. With its excellent atmospheric music, and the varied backgrounds that could realistically be in places untouched by humans (except those mysterious factory levels).
Even without the shadow filter, the series already had a deep snense of mystery in its environment
This is the series in retrospective, in chronological order.
It all started with this game. The legacy of the first DKC is almost mythical. While the SNES was clearly dominating the Genesis all over the world, it was actually lagging behind it in North America. However, that changed with the release of the the first Donkey Kong game. The graphics pushed the limit of the SNES, and the 3D rendering suddenly capitulated the SNES in the region. It ended up selling 9 million copies, becoming the second best selling game on the system.
You could have seen the DK rap in the works from the start of the series
As a first game, Donkey Kong Country lays the foundation for the entire series. It introduces the weighty movement of Donkey Kong, the atmoshperic levels, and the excellent soundtrack by David Wise. It still holds up today, with its excellent levels and soundtrack. However, it suffers the most from a washed out color scheme. Time hasn't made it exactly ugly, but it doesn't look as sharp as it used to be in the SNES.
It introduces the animal companions and puzzle rooms the game is known for, as well as the barrels and mine cart levels. Ironically, even with Donkey Kong's size, one hit can cause him to wipe out and give ocntrol to Diddcy Kong (if freed previously) who is more agile. To defeat enemies, you can either jump on some of them, or throw barels and boxes at others.
Generally, I appreciate this game for starting the series. Yet, I recognize that it might actually be the weakest of the five.
With the second game, Rare made the bold decesion to actually NOT USE the titualr character in the game. Yet, it might actually have been made so as to have Dixie Kong in, and to have two faster characters. For a long time, DKC2 was my favorite game ever, and a huge part of it was that I couldnt' finish it back then. In fact, it wasn't until I downloaded it in the Wii that I finally managed to see the ending.
Its the most difficult of the first three games, and it introduced fresh ideas in a regular basis. Blimps that fall down and gain steam with bursting lava steam. Sinking ships that need a lntern fish to guide you through. Parrot races, and theme park mine carts. The second game has the most unique worlds in the series's history. The honeybee theme park and ghost forest stand out specifically, with them even featuring in my dreams.
Kremlin Isle still have the most unique locations in the series
This time around, the bonus levels gives coins that can be used in the various Kong family stores, as well as bonus tokens to unlock levels in the bonus world. Also, the bosses now are significantly better than the lame bosses of the first game.
For a long time, I didn't think a platformer would ever dethrone DKC2 in my eyes, until now.
The thrid game in the series might be the most underrated of the bunch. Alot of people would consider it the weakest of the SNES three, a problem that was exacerbated by the game actually being released after the N64 been in market for months. With a third game using the same graphical engine and style of the last two, it felt like Rare probably had unused ideas that they couldn't fit into the other game.
However, that is an unfair assessment, because DKC3 has as many fresh ideas and charm to put it in serious contention with the other two games. Kiddy Kong was harshly received, but the idea of a baby Kong going in an adventure to save his cousins wasn't something that should have riled so many people. Donkey Kong Jr. already did it before, and Kiddy Kong was animated in such an adorable way, idle animations probably owe a lot to his portrayl in the game.
Look at that adorably cute face, who is a wovly little baby
While not as ground breaking as DKC1, and not as brilliant as DKC2, this third entry justifies its existnece by adding even more ideas and worlds to the franchise. Take the elephant animal companion as an example. At first, it looks like a poor replacment for Rambi the rhino. However, once his ability to hold water and use it in stages comes to play, you realize those stages are damn fun.
I am not going to be as conterversial as calling this game the best i nthe series (as one article in Kotaku actually does), but I will say that this is one underrated game, and even though it has the weakest soundtrack of the series, I now prefer it over the original.
After DKC3, the series went into a 14 year hiatus. The N64 era and afterwards seemed to shy away from 2D platformers, and fans were afraid the Kong family didn't have as much a legacy in the genre like the mustachiod plumber. However, one of Nintendo's best western studios unveiled Returns to much fanfare in 2010, and despite having no experience in the genre before, the game was excellent.
DKCR clearly understood what made the SNES games great, and they managed to transfer that wonderfully on the Wii. It didn't unneccerily use motion controls, and was cleary a call back to the 2D platformers of the past. With a healthy does of challenge, some stellar bosses, and an all new look at Kong island, this was one of the best games on the Wii.
Come on Donkey (is that his first name), chase that ship before they run away with all the bannanas
Fans have had two points of contention with this game however. The first is that the soundtrack was not developed by David Wise, and struggled as a result. While the game did not have the same brilliance of the SNES soundtracks, the team behind the Metroid Prime soundtrack did give the atmpsoheric style of the game justice. Secondly, some hardcore gamers disliked the limited motion ocntrols in the game. To execute a roll, players had to shake the Wiimote as they moved, and rolling is a huge part of the game.
As I am going ot elaborate further down, the motion control DOES NOT hinder the game in any way. In fact, shaking the Wiimote with a quick wrist jerk is FASTER than pushing a button, which made clearing the game's speed tests easier than in Tropical Freeze.
Generally, DKCR was a very welcome return of the franchise, and it basically ensured us that the series can continue in safe hands post-rare.
When Tropical Freeze was announced, butthurt Metroid fans (who are really among the most butthurt of all fanbases) were outraged that Retro would "waste" their time again with Donkey Kong. The idea that Tropical Freeze is in any way a "waste" is a joke, because this is clearly the best platformer ever made.
Filled to the brim with great ideas, challenge, and an excellent sense of adventure. Tropical Frezze takes everything great in the series and amps it further. The soundtrack by David Wise is simply a masterpiece, and several Dtoid bloggers have already made articles discussing it on depth. Whenever I am driving with non-gamers in the car and I play it, they are simply mesmerized that such a complext soundtrack is for a game featuring an Ape wearing a tie.
In a mechanical level, Retro's decesion to have three companions work beautifully. Working with any of them actually changes the gameplay a lot, with Cranky Kong's Scrooge McDuck pogo stick antics nearly making it another game. This variety in gampelay extends to the levels, which are among the best in the series. After missing from Returns, underwater levels are back and they are better than ever before.
Boss battles have never been this good, with each fight looking and playing like what a proper platfromer boss should be like. Nothing of the pedestrian battles in the New Super Mario Bros. games. Even better, once you complete the game, then you can play it in hard mode or go throug the many time challenges. Rarely does a game continue to challenge and delight you as long as Tropical Freeze does.
With a name like Tropical Freeze, we expected an avalanche level, and oh boy did the game deliver
My only point of contention regarding the game is that it should have featured the motion controls of Returns. While a vocal minority complained loudly about it in returns, the fact that wrist movment is faster than finger movment makes their complaints moot. The roll activated quicker and with more oomph on the Wii, and the Wiimote and Nunchuck controll combination was superior to traditional controls in my opinion.
Still, Tropical Freeze is a game I cannot imagine any platformer topping any time soon. It is one of the best games on the Wii U (if not the best) and its existence on the console is frankly reason enough to own it. I didn't think I would ever say this, but if someone were to take all my games except one, it would be Tropical Freeze that I keep and I might continue being a happy camper.
That's it for my Marathon retrospective.
What is your experience with the series?