Now available on: Virtual Console
There comes a time in every console's life cycle when a game comes along and smashes through the boundaries imposed by its hardware limitations. For the Super Nintendo, it was Rare's silicon graphics-pioneering Donkey Kong Country, one of the technological marvels of the 16-bit era.
Nintendo's favourite ape had appeared in several games prior to the SNES masterpiece, but Donkey Kong Country marked the first occasion a third-party studio was given a crack at him. It was also the first entry in the series not to be directed or produced by Shigeru Miyamoto, though the creator was involved in the project.
The resulting game reinvented the character, but retained recognisable hallmarks such as the red necktie he wore in his 1994 Game Boy outing. His new look went on to set a precedent for all of his future outings in first-party and Rare titles alike.
Donkey Kong Country was a side-scrolling platformer in which players guided Donkey Kong and his sidekick Diddy across 40 levels designed in pre-rendered 3D that was worth going ape over. There was more to the game than running and jumping. The two characters offered different attributes, with Diddy more nimble and Donkey boasting greater strength. The duo could switch places via a tag-team system, and the player only lost a life when both had taken a hit.
Other gameplay mechanics included barrel tossing, beast riding, swimming and mine cart escapades. Two-player gaming was supported with both Team and Contest modes available. The former was a co-op version of the solo campaign, while the latter saw players take turns apiece in competition for the fastest completion time of each stage.
The game was also renowned for its brutal level of difficulty, that at times veered into frustrating territory. Although players had the buffer of a second character to prevent them from losing a life when taking a hit, traps and enemies were incredibly difficult to avoid, and there were bottomless pits everywhere. The mine cart stages, where one false move spelt instant death, were equally unforgiving.
To promote the game's release, Rare distributed a VHS tape titled Donkey Kong Country: Exposed through Nintendo Power Magazine. It was a behind-the-scenes tour of Nintendo of America's offices, where the game was being tested, hosted by comedian Josh Wolf. The video gave fans a sneak peak at the game's revolutionary graphics and offered gameplay tips ahead of its release.
The hype surrounding Donkey Kong Country's technological prowess coupled with a swathe of perfect scores in the media helped it become a best seller, going on to shift more than 9 million copies. However, in hindsight some went on to dub the overall experience "overrated".
While it's true that Donkey Kong Country doesn't offer the same degree of unabashed fun as the Super Mario series, its role as a pioneer of graphics and sound tech cannot be understated. It also played a significant part in shaping one of Nintendo's most important characters and raising the bar for multiplayer support in platforming titles. For these reasons, it will always have a place in our hearts.
Do you have any fond memories of Donkey Kong Country? Post a comment below.