In the early-to-mid 1990s, Nintendo was more or less on top of the world. In the middle of a bitter rivalry with Sega and their Genesis console, Nintendo managed to pull ahead in the race and come out on top. While Sega was busy trying to one-up Nintendo with full-color handheld consoles, CD expansions, and 32-bit add-ons, Nintendo decided to respond by actually making games that people wanted to play.
One of the games that helped Nintendo’s cause was Donkey Kong Country.
At that time in Nintendo’s history, Donkey Kong, as a character, was more or less a footnote. The original Donkey Kong arcade game, to this day, is more known as the game that Mario originated in. When UK-based studio Rare was given the opportunity to work on a Nintendo franchise, Donkey Kong was a bit of an unexpected choice.
What they came up with was a platform game with 3D artwork converted into 2D sprites, which was a visual style that was pretty groundbreaking. DKC wasn’t the first game to do this, but it definitely did it better than a lot of other companies did.
Oh, wow. Shots fired.
This ad was a direct attack on Sega, following their mildly-successful “Genesis Does what Nintendon’t” campaign, intended to show how awesome the Sega Genesis was versus the original Nintendo Entertainment System. For Nintendo, the above ad was basically a strike to Sega’s jugular. It worked.
Donkey Kong Country was a massive hit. It was the second-highest selling SNES game in the console’s history (Super Mario World was the first, mostly due to the fact that it was bundled with the console). It completely revived the Donkey Kong series and character, and made it in to something much more than what it originally was. To this day, Donkey Kong’s appearance is based on his initial appearance in Donkey Kong Country. This game also marked the debut of Diddy Kong, who is faster and infinitely more agile than Donkey Kong himself. He also serves as the second player if you’re doing a two-player team game.
The success of the game spawned sequels, of course. Donkey Kong Country 2 was released in 1995.
Diddy’s Kong Quest (Not “Diddy Kong’s Quest”, as everyone seems to think) improved on the original game in a number of ways. Oddly enough, Donkey Kong himself was not playable in this game. Instead, Diddy Kong was given the spotlight. The second playable ‘Kong is Dixie Kong, Diddy’s girlfriend who could pick things up with her blonde ponytail, as well as perform a helicopter spin to float down to platforms or make longer jumps.
The game’s atmosphere was a gigantic departure from the first game’s rainforest landscapes and mostly-natural surroundings. DKC2 had a darker color palette, and a distinct pirate theme to the various enemies and surroundings. The music was also very dark and moody. It’s probably one of the best soundtracks in a game in the past 25 years.
This game was also a huge success. It is often regarded as the pinnacle of the DKC series.
After the success of DKC2, Rare made sure to work on a third game in the Donkey Kong Country series. The gaming climate had changed considerably in year between DKC2 and DKC3, however. The Playstation had been released in 1995, along with Sega’s 32-bit Saturn console. Nintendo had even released the Nintendo 64 by the time of DKC3’s release.
The once-advanced computer-modeled graphics of Donkey Kong Country 3 had begun to look dated. Hell, even Nintendo themselves were ready to move on to the next generation of video games. On top of that, most retailers probably didn’t have space for past-gen games. They needed that shelf space for the hot new stuff.
DKC3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble is often considered the black sheep of the DKC franchise. There are a lot of subtle changes to the game, such as a very slight art design shift where most of the enemies were given more cartoon-like proportions. Some enemies were clearly machine-made, at least partially, which is a far cry from the organic-looking baddies from DKC 1 and 2.
Rare also committed double-heresy by not including Donkey Kong OR Diddy Kong as playable characters in this game. Intead, you’ve got sidekick Dixie Kong upgraded to the top billing, and the giant-but-still-infant Kiddy Kong as the sidekick.
Let’s take a quick look at this often-hated game:
The pirate theme of the previous game has been axed. Instead, we’re left with a very different kind of atmosphere – one that evokes more of a New England/Canadian sort of climate. Less oceans, more lakes.
Dixie and Kiddy do work well together. Dixie plays identically to how she did in DKC2. Kiddy Kong, on the other hand, is basically a brick. He’s big and heavy, so you can toss him into cracked floorboards and you can make him roll across water to skip across it like you’re skipping a big, fuzzy rock. He can also throw Dixie farther distances, which is integral to a lot of tricky segments in the game.
The world map has changed, as well. There is now a distinct overworld, where you can freely roam around, provided you have the right equipment. As you beat more bosses, more parts are available to make vehicles out of, which means you can pass more terrain into the tougher levels. The one depicted above is the Turbo Ski, which allows you to fly up waterfalls… somehow…
In addition to the cooler-climate of the outdoor levels in the game, there also exists a very heavy steampunk and Industrial Revolution vibe to a lot of the game’s levels. These clash with the cool lakeside spots and the lush forests. Sometimes, the industry collides with the forests in a literal manner, such as with the stage “Ripsaw Rage”, located in the Mekanos area of the game.
In this particular level, you need to keep out of the range of the giant saw that is destroying the forest. It’s a memorable stage, and one that captures the feel of the game – that of industry colliding with nature – very well.
Donkey Kong Country 3 is a game that a lot of people don’t like. As far as I can tell, it’s due to the fact that this game isn’t Donkey Kong Country or DKC2. Honestly? It isn’t either of those games. But it is still a very fun game, and it’s definitely worth a look if you haven’t played it already.
In the grand scheme of things, The Donkey Kong Country series proves that, despite what Sega thought, Nintendo was, for a time, what Genesisn’t.
DKC3 definitely drove that point home.