Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Gaming Past: SNES In depth (Part 1) - Donkey Kong Country


My top 3 SNES gems

As mentioned last time, there were three SNES games that I would consider "pinnacle" of the SNES. Obviously, this is a list of what I actually owned back then (pretty small list), and what I've played (which weren't much). Donkey Kong Country 1 was an eye-opening experience on how much visual and graphical fidelity can affect immersion and gameplay; Donkey Kong Country 2 built upon that with even more imaginative world and level design; Super Mario Kart entertained me for countless hours with it's fantastic balance of weapons and racing; and finally, Uniracers, an accidental purchase that I stumbled upon. I've technically cheated a bit here, as I'm wrapping "DKC 1/2" as the same game (I'll get to why DKC3 isn't in there :P). So with the intro out of the way, here goes nothing.

I no longer remember why or where I've heard of Donkey Kong Country, but I NEEDED it (chalk it to magical marketing hype, I guess). So much so, I remembered putting that, and only that game on my Christmas List, over and over. As you can guess by now, yes, I did get the game for Christmas, and I played nothing but that for months on end. Comparing this to Mario World at that time was an unfair comparison, and to a 11 year old, it was a visual feast that made me forget everything that has come before it. Donkey Kong Country, at the time, used this magical "SGI rendering" to create these incredible color and detail in the world that I haven't seen before, and it felt more "fun". The two areas I remembered the most was the underwater swimming stages and the snowy mountain stages; both which were richly detailed and full of character and life. Additional, the music created an unforgettable atmosphere that was a joy to listen and play through (the visuals showing blizzard in Ice Age Alley, combined with the tension inducing soundtrack and the echo effect has been burned into my memory - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJ3wMiPV7DM).

By the time Donkey Kong Country 2 was released, I had made sure I got it as soon as possible (which happened to coincide with my birthday). Visually, the game dramatically improved from it's precursor, with far more detailed characters, enemies and environments. I was so immersed with it's detailed worlds, I ended up playing this fairly quickly just to see everything that the game had to offer. Like the first game, it had memorable environments (the volcano levels, and the marshlands were the most impressive) and suspenseful stages (Screech's Sprint - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6hq-CS3pwA, to me was the most memorable one, especially because a) the awesome music, b) how stupid hard it was, which meant I played that stage way too many times to count, and c) that roll -> jump gap at the start of the stage, which blew my mind when I figured out how to do it).

However, even though I've actually completed the game with 102% (in contrast to DKC1's 87%), I came out somewhat more disappointed at it. So much so that I never did end up buying or ever playing DKC3 (even to this day). Both these games were great, but I've had enough of the platforming by that point to not want to care about the new one. Looking back, I think it's easy to see why:

1) Donkey Kong Country 2 were slowly showing hints of Rare's trademark obsessive collect-a-thons. Each stage had the KONG letters (carried over from the first one); the DK Coin; and numerous banana coins and kremkoins, which were currency for opening up even more content in the game. This drive to collect things were great in forcing replay, but by the end I was sick of trying different tricks to reach for hidden areas to collect things.

2) While Miyamoto might not have actually said that the gameplay was mediocre because of the graphics, I do agree that because of it's awesome graphics, people have dismissed it's somewhat derivative gameplay as a trivial issue (I am also guilty of this). Looking back, while DKC1 had "new" mechanics like barrel blasts, mine kart jumping, they weren't hugely innovative and refreshing. DKC2 suffered even more, as it was merely gameplay refinement and polish over the first. However, in both cases, since the graphics were such standout features, most people were more than willing to forgive it being less than refreshing.

...huh. Didn't realize that I've written way too much for just one game. Looking at the last few post, it seems like it's a bit too much to digest, so I'll try to cut down the length, and maybe switch up to more frequent posting instead. How's that?

...to be continued...


  1. Just wondering, do you ever listen to the DKC music at work or home? Your post reminded me of a winamp plugin found a little before I graduated (and started working at Symcor). Have been playing DKC, Earthworm Jim, Demon's Quest, and Link to the Past music at work ever since.

  2. I never had the soundtrack (I think those were released on CD somewhere...), but I strongly recommend checking out Overclocked ReMix's Kong in Concert (http://dkcproject.ocremix.org/) and DKC2: Serious Monkey Business (dkc2.ocremix.org), both of which are excellent renditions of the original tracks. The fact that David Wise, the original composer for DKC2, gave a thumbs up to them, speaks of their quality.