On first release, Donkey Kong Country received a lot of praise for its use of pre-rendered 3D graphics. Thirteen years later, however, those graphics have not aged well. The 3D effect is cheesy and, at times, downright ugly. This is the perfect opportunity to expose the game for what it really is: an overrated, average platformer. Only… it’s not.
Donkey Kong Country takes after the Super Mario Bros. games in some regards–like how your main defense against enemies is stomping on their heads–but there is a lot to separate it from the platformer king (games you should already own on Virtual Console). There are the animal friends you can ride and the barrels to shoot yourself out of, but the real kicker is that Donkey Kong is escorted by Diddy Kong in the levels. You can switch between them at any time, and if one dies, the other acts as an “extra life” until you find the missing monkey again.
This DK/Diddy relationship lends for a great co-op experience. In Super Mario Bros., the second player can’t take over until the first player finishes the level or dies, at which point player two has to start the level all over. In Donkey Kong Country, player two can pick up right where player one died, or they can choose to switch places and play off each other’s strengths and weaknesses to overcome different parts of a level. Donkey Kong Country is worth getting for this alone.
I didn’t remember that the game is as difficult as it is, though. Levels gets pretty hard just after the first world. But it’s not an unfair, unforgiving kind of hard. Each time you replay a level, you get closer and closer to the end. And, fortunately, there is a cheat that will net you 50 extra lives before you go into your save file. Trust me, you’ll need those 50 lives.
Donkey Kong Country is only a 4-5 hour game, but you may find that your save file percentage is incomplete the first time you beat it. There are quite a few secrets to uncover. These aren’t additional levels, just hidden bonus rounds or animals that can help you reach otherwise impossible bananas, extra lives, and letters to spell K-O-N-G. The replay isn’t as high as Mario’s games, but it’s still fun to go back through–with or without a friend–and see how many secrets you can find.
Surprisingly, the game is actually playable with a GameCube controller, though it is not all that comfortable. You have to hold the Y button to run and press the B button to jump, but it isn’t a huge issue, because constantly holding run in this game isn’t as necessary as it is in Super Mario World. The classic controller is definitely preferred, of course. Yet if you’re in a situation where player two’s only option is a GCN controller, it’s at least doable.
Donkey Kong’s image has been a bit shaky since he exited the platformer scene and went rhythm and race crazy. So it’s nice to have a piece of true DK history on the Virtual Console now. But Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario World are not equals. Super Mario World is, by far, a superior game. If you love platformers, though, especially older 2D platformers, Donkey Kong Country comes recommended. It has a good amount of secrets to uncover and a clever co-op mode that makes it one of the better two-player games on the VC.