Barrels of fun: DKC at 25
Go ape with DK and his bananas kin
It’s easy to get bogged down in clichéd reminiscence and received opinion when discussing Donkey Kong Country. Yes, it certainly prioritises its still-remarkable pre-rendered CGI graphics. No, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest is not better. The original DKC is about momentum and flowing movement, about the difference in weight and control between Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong. It is a consistent and atmospheric experience, laden with disposable secrets that afford you little more than opportunities to get 1-ups and a nebulous, meaningless percentage on your save file. This is a grand thing, because it communicates the crucial idea that you don't have to find the secrets. This keeps things pacey and exciting.
Obviously DKC 2 is a very, very good game. But it’s comparatively gimmicky, regimented in its design and deceptively linear. The hidden collectables are now effectively mandatory, with an explicit currency of “Bonus Coins” and “Hero Coins” unlocking more levels and better endings. Unlike the original game, many of DKC 2’s challenges are based around restricting or transforming player movement rather than challenging applications of the extant mechanics. You’ll get stuck in glue in the hive. Stand still waiting for ghostly ropes to appear. Study a screen of blast barrels waiting for the right time and direction to fire. Get very s-l-o-w-l-y propelled upwards by the wind. Get very s-l-o-w-l-y propelled sideways by a balloon. It’s all very, well… slow. Naturally there are gimmick stages in the original Donkey Kong Country as well, but they routinely tend to be about speedy manoeuvres rather than careful-now tiptoeing. Stop N’ Go Station, for example, sounds like it’d be fits and starts by design, but it’s been crafted in such a way that you can tackle the whole thing at full pelt if you’re skilled enough.
Whatever Rare’s inaugural simian side-scroller may lack in novelty, it makes up for it in its feel, its depth of design and its escalating challenge that pushes the player but never frustrates them with confusing stunt levels. It’s my favourite game in one of my favourite series’. and a shining example of more not always equalling better. Even a quarter century on, this monkey shines.