The Second Quest - Donkey Kong Country

By Brian • 5 September 2022

Super Nintendo
There is, in my opinion, an even BETTER Donkey Kong game from 1994 than this one! Hmm....

[Author’s Note: If the tone of this post seems off, it’s because I wrote it a few years ago for a different blog, and it is just now seeing the light of day, for some reason. It reads more like a review than what I typically write for Bad Enough Dudes. In any case, I hope you enjoy!]

Donkey Kong Country was okay, but just okay, for the longest time. I didn’t jump on the DKC bandwagon until 1996, two years after its release (and after two years of listening to Cranky Kong play that opening victrola jingle on every Super Nintendo in every retail electronics department in the tri-state area). At the time, Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble was the hot holiday item. But, I wanted the first game in the series, not the too-cute-for-a-12-year-old-boy DKC 3, making Christmas shopping for my mother as confusing as possible. As such, she succumbed to the holiday advertising onslaught and got me the third game, instead of the original. I felt bad and selfish at the thought of telling my mom she got me the wrong game. But after much sullen and decidedly un-Christmaslike behavior, I confessed, and it was not a big deal—an exchange was made for the right game a couple of days later, and I barrel-blasted my way through the Kongo Jungle over the remainder of my Christmas vacation.

I beat Donkey Kong Country some weeks later, and felt largely underwhelmed. It was a serviceable sidescrolling action platformer with good music and a lot of character, but where was the content? I felt like I rolled through the game in no time at all, with little trouble along the way. Was I missing something? In my youthful haste, I had largely overlooked Donkey Kong Country’s most compelling feature: secrets upon secrets upon secrets.

Can you hear this screenshot as well as I can? [Image Credit: MobyGames]

The details, people, are depressingly simple. Donkey Kong’s outrageously immense banana hoard has been stolen by King K. Rool and his gang of crocodile men, the Kremlings. It’s up to Donkey Kong and his nephew sidekick, Diddy Kong, to get the bananas back, not only because they love bananas, but because of principles, man. These Kremlings are clearly carnivores—what do they expect to do with all of these bananas, exactly? They’re just bullies, and Donkey and Diddy Kong have every right to stomp their heads and smash barrels right in their stupid faces. Also they said the Kongs look like dorks. As such, Donkey and Diddy traverse Donkey Kong Island, exploring jungles, caves, treetop villages, snow-capped peaks, dirty factories, and more to beat up Kremlings and cause Kong chaos in order to retrieve the banana hoard.

The clumsy Kremlings make a huge mess along the way, leaving bananas all over the place for Donkey Kong to retrieve. Similar to coins in Super Mario Bros., Kong earns an extra life for every 100 bananas he recovers (possibly explaining why the Kremlings stole them, and why Kong has such a huge hoard in the first place), and can also collect the letters “K,” “O,” “N,” and “G” in every level for an extra life, or various colors of balloons for extra lives. The name of the game is lives—you can pile up a lot of them, but expect to lose a good chunk jumping into holes looking for secrets. More on that later. Players can control one Kong or both Kongs simultaneously, and pressing the select button toggles which Kong is in the lead (including an amusing tag-in/tag-out animation that I can appreciate as a pro wrestling fan). Each Kong can only take one hit, but they share lives, so it’s best to have both Kongs with you as frequently as possible to avoid losing a life when taking a hit. Your Kong sidekick can be recovered by finding a “DK” barrel and smashing it.

Rambi rams it up! [Image Credit: MobyGames]

Donkey and Diddy Kong have a variety of moves to best the Kremlings. They can jump on heads, roll or cartwheel through enemies, throw barrels, and even ride certain rolling barrels (an ability I was not aware of until my most recent playthrough, some 17 years after acquiring the game). There are also a variety of animal friends that will let the Kongs ride them, including Rambi the Rhinoceros, Expresso the Ostrich, Winky the Frog, Enguarde the Swordfish, and Squawks the Parrot (you can’t ride Squawks, but he’ll light up a dark cave for the Kongs), each with a specific ability that will make a level much easier to pass. The Kongs can also use barrel cannons to fire themselves across pits or into secret areas. Some levels employ series of moving barrel cannons that, when timed properly, will shoot the Kongs across extended bottomless areas. The iconic barrel-blasting sequences are great fun and play a significant role in setting Donkey Kong Country apart from its contemporaries, and is still a key element in recent Donkey Kong Country games. A lot of satisfaction can be found in getting the slick timing down, as well as the sound of the firing barrels.

Levels are well designed and have just the right amount of challenge to be demanding, but not frustrating. Most are fairly lengthy, as well, and offer a good variety of platforming, barrel-blasting, and bouncing off enemies to reach bonuses or hard-to-reach platforms. It’s the bosses that are unfortunately underwhelming—the designs are good, but they’re all too easy, and several of them are repeated. The only true redeeming quality of the bosses is that there aren’t very many of them.

The snow levels are among the most beautiful the game has to offer. [Image Credit: MobyGames]

One of the drawbacks to the visually stunning graphical style (especially for its time) is that the edges of platforms can be ambiguous, leading to some irritating deaths by falling. The more I played, the more adept I got at determining edges, fortunately. I also had difficulty recovering from taking hits during sequences in which the Kongs ride a minecart or other moving platform. The Kongs’ movement freezes when taking a hit, but the ride moves on without them, so it’s hard to determine whether the surviving Kong will automatically be placed back on the moving object, or if the player has to make an effort to get back on, which made for some clumsy deaths. But overall, control is fluid and fun, and just looking at the game is a joy, even all these years later. The music is great, too, particularly on the underwater levels, the factory levels, some of the mine levels, and Gangplank Galleon.

Bottomless pit, or bonus stage? YOU decide! [Image Credit: MobyGames]

As was previously mentioned, the majority of my time playing Donkey Kong Country was spent attempting to track down its Kong-load of secret bonus rooms. Bonus rooms are accessed by busting open certain walls with a barrel (or Rambi the Rhino), or jumping into certain barrel cannons, most of which are off-screen. Finding the rooms in the walls is not too difficult—usually there’s a nearby barrel or a bunch of disruptive enemies, indicating that there’s something suspicious about a particular wall. Many of the barrel cannons leading to secrets, on the other hand, are quite elusive. The easy ones are in plain sight, or there might be a trail of bananas leading off-screen to clue players in. However, other barrels require clever thinking or even leaps of faith into deadly pits. I won’t lie—GameFAQs did a lot of the heavy lifting for me in finding many of the secret rooms. I took a lot of pride in the rooms I did find, but there were others I never would have even thought to look for in the places they were hidden. Donkey Kong Country is a completionist’s dream—there are enough well kept secrets on Donkey Kong Island to keep even the best secret hunter busy for a long, long time.

Donkey Kong Country is the quintessential mid-90s platformer. Great music, top notch controls, amazing visuals, and that trademark Rare/Nintendo charm of the era all make it more than worth your while, especially if you enjoy digging for secrets. Track this one down.

  • Was I a Bad Enough Dude to find all of Donkey Kong Country's Secrets?
    Yes (with help)
  • Are all of Donkey Kong Country's secrets Bad Enough to find again?