Game Overkill – Donkey Kong Country

I didn’t grow up with an SNES. I was a Genesis kid, but back in the early 2000s, while attending university, I decided to finally play some of the games I’d missed out on. I bought an SNES, got my hands on some games, and played a bunch of them for the first time. Donkey Kong Country was one of those games. I went in not having any idea whether or not it and its two sequels were any good. A friend just happened to have them, so I played them because they were there. I liked them and played them until I got 100%, but I never played DKC again until a few weeks ago.

Game Overkill - Donkey Kong CountryComing back to the original game about 13 years later, I see it a little differently. I’ve played more games. I have a wife and two kids now. My free time is limited and this is a significant factor in how I play and see games now.

The first thing I noticed is that the game doesn’t look as good as I remembered. It doesn’t look awful, just a little…crappy? I have to remind myself that the game came out in 1994 and its 3D rendered sprites were pretty damn impressive at the time. Regardless, this just an observation, not a criticism. Also, I admit I was playing the game on a screen that is likely 4 times bigger than any screen I had ever played it on in the past. Maybe if I had played it when it came out, I’d have a better idea of what impact, if any, the game had in terms of graphics.

I’m not sure how old FJVeca, one of the people who listed the game, was when he played it, but he definitely liked the graphics:

The original Donkey Kong Country is a game that impressed me a lot when I first played it. It was visually stunning, great platforming, tons of hidden secrets, and it was probably the only platform game series that could actually present a challenge to the Super Mario series on the SNES. – FJVeca

Hop, hop, hop, hop...

Ok, on second thought, looking at this GIF, the graphics do look pretty damn good.

One thing that hasn’t changed by the passing decade is the difficulty. This games pissed me off in the past and it pissed me off in the present. Controllers were thrown. Swears were hurled. My wife asked me to relax or stop playing. Fucking mine carts…

Other folks seemed to have trouble at different areas or no trouble at all. Here’s FJVeca again:

The game is challenging. I do remember having a lot of trouble in some stages, especially on the later stages. The addition of Diddy Kong as an extra hit you could take was great, even if he turned out to be the easiest character to play the game, save for some enemies that were easier to deal with as Donkey Kong, but in the end the game never ceased to be fun for me. It never became frustrating or infuriating which is a nice thing. – FJVeca

BigJonathan91, another person who listed it, also chimed in on this topic:

What else is there to say? The difficulty curve was near perfect save from some peaks around… well… the snow peaks. – Bigjonathan91

Unlike a previous Rare game I’ve covered (on another site and getting reposted here in the future so all this parenthetical text will get replaced with a link some day), the game isn’t game breakingly difficult. Even the mine cart levels require minimal trial and error and memorization, and you get more than enough chances to acquire extra lives as you play that game overs and lost progress can be kept to a minimum if you are careful; however, the save system seems a bit unfair today.

An example of a decision that made sense for a game released in 1994 that just seems unfair today, you can only save your game when you reach Candy Kong, who can be found once in every world. So if you enter a world, beat several levels, but not enough to reach Candy, and lose all your lives, it is game over and all the progress you made since you last saw Candy, typically a few levels before the last world’s boss, is gone. Of course, you could always back track by reaching Funky Kong, who is also found once in every world, using him to get back to a previous world, and visiting Candy again. Of course, this won’t help you if you haven’t beaten enough levels in the new world to reach Funky. It all seems a little arbitrary now, like an excuse to make the game a little more difficult, but it was pretty standard for games back then. You could only save in Super Mario World by completing a castle, ghost house, switch palace, and the even numbered “Special” levels, after all, but I’ve never heard anyone make much of a fuss over it. Honestly, it hadn’t even really occurred to me as an issue until someone brought it up on Twitter. More than anything, I think modern games have spoiled us. Could you save in Super Mario Bros. 3? Would it have been nice? Still isn’t really much of a knock on the game though, right? Still, it was a complaint I came across from a few people on Twitter.

Donkey Kong Country - Candy Kong Save

So, that about covers it for what I think is “bad” about this game. What about things I loved? I’ve said the game is hard and maybe the save feature could’ve been done differently, but the levels are a lot of fun and literally exploding with secrets. At no point does the game feel like it drags, like you are playing more levels that are nothing more than slight variations of the early levels for the sole purpose of making the game longer. I also wouldn’t call it short. It is pretty much the perfect length. Fun from start to finish, leaving you completely satisfied, but only wanting more, which you get with the sequels.

FJVeca and I are in agreement on this:

I remember that this game was one of the first games that you can complete more than 100%. That actually seemed very interesting since it is a nice way to hide some secrets to the player. Plus, the abundance of hidden secrets made navigating the stages more interesting. While it didn’t add that much to the story of the game, having something extra to try on various stages was fun. – FJVeca

I didn’t really have anything to say about the animal friends you encounter during the game, so I’ll let FJVeca and BigJoe handle it:

Speaking of the animal friends, they were used in a way that facilitates the gameplay, but they’re not necessary. You’re not forced to use them, but you feel the pain of losing them. – BigJonathan91


The interesting thing was that the power ups found on the game were developed more like how Yoshi works on Super Mario World, want to swim faster? Instead of having a frog suit, you get Enguarde the swordfish as a ride, want to be able to glide and run faster? You get Expresso the Ostrich, and so on, it was an interesting way to integrate the power ups in a different way. – FJVeca

Oh, I just remembered something else I thought was bad. The boss fights are…meh. I’m not sure how they could be improved, but they’re all pretty basic and are even repeated. As for the final boss fight, epic is a word that gets thrown around a lot when talking about video games, but you can throw it out for this conversation. Other than the surprise I won’t spoil for those who haven’t played it yet, the whole thing is utterly unremarkable.

And yes, that includes the music for the boss fight. I have never understood the love that tune gets. I honestly think it is the worst track in the game, a terrible blemish on an otherwise great soundtrack.

BigJoe seems to back me up on this, mostly.

Really, the only negative point I can raise are the boss battles. Apart from the final boss, everything else is lackluster. – Bigjonathan91

I’ll let FJVeca do sum summing up of things for us here now:

Overall the game was really great. It was fun to play. It offered exploration beyond simply finishing the levels. It literally established the actual Donkey Kong cast, that game left a mark on the platform genre. It is definitely a game that should be played if you have the chance. – FJVeca

Though it might not sound like it, I honestly also liked this game. So it has one song I don’t like, uninteresting boss battles, a couple levels I didn’t like, and a less than ideal manner of saving your game. Big deal. The game still has about 30 super fun levels for you to barrel through (pun fucking intended!) Plus, once you’ve beaten the game, if you still want more, why not try to get 100%? I have now beaten the game at least three times and once spent the time to get 100%. At no point did it feel tedious to do so, thanks in large part to the aforementioned fun factor. Save for a couple of the more frustratingly difficult levels, you’ll be happy to replay pretty much every level to find all the secret areas. Running around, holding a barrel, and banging into walls might not sound very fun, but this game makes it so awesome, you won’t stop until you’ve banged into every wall in every level and finally get that sweet, sweet 100%.

Donkey Kong Country - Game Over

Ultimately, Donkey Kong Country came in at number 31, which is a little high for me. Somewhere in the 80s is as high as it should’ve come, but I agree it deserves to be on the list. Next time, I’ll look at another SNES game: Super Mario Bros. 2: Yoshi’s Island. I’ve read some people consider it the greatest platforming game ever. Join me next time to find out just how wrong they are.

Also, this will be the last time I included comments from the people who listed the game. It was interesting to have other opinions, but it was getting too unwieldy to include somehow within what I had to say. As well, only a couple people would reply for any given game, so the work involved with emailing everyone and splicing everything into the review became more work than it was worth.

Also, if you haven’t yet, please send me your own list of games you think everyone needs to play so I can include the games you loved. If you’ve already sent a list, harass the people you know to send me a list. the more people participate, the more interesting and definitive the list will become.

So with that, what did you think of the game and where it ranked?

Update: Donkey Kong Country is now in 35th place.

Update: Donkey Kong Country is now in 16th place.

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About Atsinganoi

Atsinganoi started gaming in the early 80s on an Atari 2600 and still thinks they're kinda neat. You can find him on Twitter if you want, just don't call him a frog.


  1. I was also more of a Genesis guy, as a kid I always thought that Sega would be the future of gaming. (in my opinion Dreamcast sort of started modern gaming, the first real online console gaming environment) Similiarly I only played them later on when I came across several snes games at the local blockbuster and hollywood video when they both went out of business, really makes me wish that I had been able to play those games during their heyday.

    • This is part of the reason for this project. Instead of periodically asking folks on Twitter “what are good SNES (or TGFX-16, or Dreamcast, or GameCube) games?,” I’m asking people for their personal lists. That way, I get to play them and so can everyone else. With retro games, there’s no time like the present to play them 🙂

  2. It’s kinda funny because I told Chris Swartz that he could appreciate Yoshi’s Island more after playing DKC, but I forgot you did. Can’t wait for the next one, Pierre.
    Considering the theme of the list which is Games you MUST play, 31 isn’t high, but it is definitely high in terms of “best games list”. I’d agree with a 80-120 standing.

  3. Well, people have interpeted it different ways and so have I, I guess. A lot of people treated it as a “best games list.” I’m ok with that. 80 to 120 makes sense to me too. I’ve been working on my personal list, and while I’ve only gotten to #43, it isn’t there yet.

  4. “Fucking mine carts…”

    My sentiments exactly.

    Love the series, and love seeing a new home for it. I should probably send you a list, but a list of RPG’s wouldn’t be fun. So I’ll have to pencil all of those out of it and come up with something better.

    • Are you kidding?! I love RPGs. Regardless, if your list is just RPGs, and it is YOUR list, then it is EXACTLY what I want.

      In any case, there are enough easy, beat them in a couple hours platformers on the list for me to play in between the longer games already, so don’t even think about that stuff. I knew what I was getting into when I started this. I was as pleased with receiving the 5 game list I got as I was with the nearly 900 game list. I just want everyone’s lists. I WANT ALL THE LISTS!

  5. Everything that was wrong with this one was corrected in DKC 2, which is superior in every way. This one will go down as a classic, but compared to the 2nd one it seems like a mini-game. This one is almost more like Sonic 1 to me, and if you know what you’re doing you can breeze through it in one sitting easily. My wife kicks ass at it and can regularly beat the game in about an hour. Her best time is 1hr 1min.

    The second one has a much better difficulty curve, with levels providing a real challenge as it goes on. Not to mention the secret world levels (can’t remember what they’re called) that are pretty brutal. There’s a ton of stuff hidden throughout levels and things to find, it really is the best platformer on SNES if you ask me.

  6. Also, the graphics probably look really grainy and muddy on new HDTVs all upscaled and laggy as shit. On an old CRT like when the game came out it really looked smooth and as “3D” as anything could on the SNES, and everybody was blown away. The real appeal of the game was just how great it looked, even if the color scheme was a little muddy and kind of bland for a game about monkeys jumping around on mutant reptile things. (again, the second one corrected this and has a much more vibrant and colorful look to it). They were probably trying to impress us with the realism that they could produce with the silicon graphics technology…….with cartoon monkeys X(

    For what it’s worth, Killer Instinct on SNES looks like shit. That one doesn’t hold up at all. This one does, though.

  7. Ok, I really enjoyed this and feel bad that I haven’t read your series before.

    I was personally never a fan of the games growing up. I am not sure how I would feel if I revisited them. Maybe I should give it a whirl.

    Also, I think I should try and get a list going for you.

  8. Pingback: Game Overkill – Master List – Skirmish Frogs

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