Diehard GameFAN Hall of Fame Nomination: Donkey Kong Country

Every week, we will present a new game to be nominated for the Diehard GameFAN Hall of Fame and Hall of Shame. These nominations will occur every Monday and Friday, respectively. Our standards are just like the Baseball Hall of Fame: every game will be voted on by members of the staff, and any game that gets 75% of the vote – with a minimum of four votes – will be accepted – or thrown – into their respective Hall.

Game: Donkey Kong Country
Developer: Rare
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: 11/24/1994
System Released On: SNES
Genre: Platforming

Who Nominated The Game: I did. DKC is easily one of my favorite games of all time, and I couldn’t resist trying to get it in the hall.

Why Was It Nominated: Contrary to popular belief, Rare did in fact exist before Donkey Kong Country. In fact, they made a pretty big splash with the Battletoads series a couple of years before DKC was released. However, it was with DKC that they became synonymous not only with Nintendo,(until Microsoft eventually bought them out)but also with platforming greatness.

Donkey Kong Country was an instant upon its release in 1994. To deny that is sheer fallacy. For starters, the graphics were unbelievable for the time. It was the first console game to use pre-rendered graphics, which opened the door for games such as Resident Evil and Final Fantasy VII later on down the line. More than that, the art style was an instant hit and is a huge part of why the game still looks so great today.

Do I really have to go into how awesome the music is? Anytime, and I mean ANYTIME, someone brings up video game music, DKC is at the forefront of the discussion. If somehow, you call yourself a gamer and you haven’t listened to the game’s soundtrack, I implore you to go to youtube and get listening. My personal recommendations are Gang-Plank Galleon and Fear Factory, but you can’t really go wrong no matter what you chose.

Oh, you want to know about the gameplay? Well in my book, the gameplay holds up just as well as everything else. DKC is an action platformer with two big hooks. The first is that you control two Kongs, Donkey and Diddy. Donkey is the brute of the group. He isn’t as fast, but he can take out bigger enemies as well as use his ground pound to find hidden secrets. Diddy is the speed and agility of the group, making him preferable for those tough navigation spots. You could switch between the two on the fly and if one of them fell, you could get them back by finding a DK barrel. The game also allowed two players to get in on the action by assigning a Kong to each player. You couldn’t play simultaneously, but each player could take the parts of the level they were better at.

Perhaps the most important gameplay hook is also its most polarizing. The game puts a heavy emphasis on secret areas, collectibles, and reaching that seemingly impossible plateau of one hundred percent. As anyone who played platformers in the PlayStation/N64 era can tell you, this became a staple of the genre that is still found today. Each level in DKC contained hidden areas that you had to find through exploration and luck. Finding these often gave you extra lives or the ability to play bonus stages for even more lives. If you wanted a full completion percentage, you had to find them all. Some people loved it and some people hated it. The one thing you can’t deny is that because of the game’s success, it became commonplace in the genre.

And that brings me to the game’s legacy. There were two immediate sequels to the game as well a a few spin offs on the Gameboy. These were well received and carried the tradition of great gameplay and fantastic presentation. There’s a reason that no SNES game collection is complete without the DKC games. Also, and this is something not many people realize, it brought relevance to the Donkey Kong name. You really think that DK would be the AAA character he is now if not for DKC? I doubt he would have found his way into MarioKart, Super Smash Brothers, or Punch-Out without this game. Look at other arcade icons of that era. When is the last time a Dig Dug game sold over four million copies on a console? Without DKC, Donkey Kong could very well be one of those games that old school gamers bring up that nobody remembers. Instead, it is one of Nintendo’s most treasured franchises.

And that’s why I want to see it get in the Hall of Fame.

All in Favor:

Branden Chowen: When it comes to the 8-bit to 64-bit era, the games I remember most are ones I played with my family members (which is the opposite of the last two generation of consoles). Donkey Kong Country was a game that always eluded me, though, when I was younger. Going back and giving the game another shot thanks to the Virtual Console, I easily understand why my cousins would stay up all night, playing the hell out of this game.

First off, it is beautiful to look at. This is one of the prettiest SNES games I have played. The colors are vibrant, and the art is well drawn. Second, the gameplay is a blast. This does multiplayer better than New Super Mario Bros. Wii , and it is 15 years older. Third, the characters are funny and memorable because of the witty dialogue woven into the plot. It is difficult to find this anymore, but is refreshing every time I play Donkey Kong Country.

Really, though, I am just getting to the main reason this deserves to be in the Hall of Fame: the music. It is no secret that I stick mostly to sports titles, and have played few of the legendary RPGs, but from what I have experienced with video game music, Donkey Kong Country easily takes the cake. There are few levels that stick out in my mind from this era as well as the water level from the beginning of DKC. The music is, without a doubt, the best I’ve heard in a video game. I could link to music samples all day, but just go to YouTube and enjoy excellent, 16-bit-era music.

Mix this beautiful music with vibrant graphics, fun multiplayer, and memorable gameplay, and Donkey Kong Country easily earns my nod into the coveted DieHard GameFAN Hall of Fame.

Michael O’Reilly: DKC was a revelation. The game looked amazing, it sounded fantastic and it played SO so good. This was the height of 2D gaming on the console that perfected it (SNES), in the generation that demanded it (16 bit). The game was funny and interesting, back before collecting things was seen as a chore. Yes the characters were cheesy, but that was ok back then.




Christopher Bowen: I think the people that are going to say that this game was all about the graphics missed a great game. When it first came out, yes, everyone made a big deal out of the revolutionary (at the time) computer imaging, but everyone also made a point out of the terrific platforming controls and the ingenious level designs. I don’t know why that gets so lost in the shuffle nowadays, but too many people want to talk about what are now antiquated visuals. Because Donkey Kong Country is the only game that had such visuals… oh, wait. Ken Griffey Jr.’s Winning Run doesn’t count, apparently.

I’ve heard some complaints about DKC, such as the requirement to obsessively collect trinkets and find every little angle to the game – oftentimes requiring leaps of faith off of the stage to find a few bonus chapters – in order to get 100% completion and get the “true” ending, which ended up being taken into other games by copycats. I feel these complaints are legitimate. But not only is the game therefore notable because of that – something that some people do enjoy in their games – but concentrating on that obscures a tight controlling, extremely well designed platformer that stands alongside Nintendo’s best work of the era such as Yoshi’s Island.

There are a couple of reasons to disparage Donkey Kong Country, but to me, there are plenty more to see this – the game that carried the Super Nintendo’s last couple of years, established Rare as one of the biggest developers in the world until Microsoft ruined them and brought Donkey Kong back to relevance – as a Hall of Fame game. I choose to view the latter.

Just please, for God’s sake, don’t get lazy and say that it’s all about the visuals.

William Kaye IV: Yes. Rare had certainly done games before, but this is the one that put them on the map for me. Sporting what, at the time, was absolutely state of the art graphics, the gameplay was just as excellent and it was packed to the brim with secrets to uncover. Just a ton of fun, even if the sequels never interested me.

Aaron Sirois: Being that I nominated this game and the fact that anytime I’m asked, it finds its way into my top ten games of all time, I think we can safely assume I’m going to vote YAY on this one.

I remember the first time I played the game. It was on the SNES they had at a day care facility. Whichever of us tykes were the best behaved got to play the game, and I was hell bent on being one of those kids.

I’ve played through this game probably something like four of five times and each time I have a blast. Is it the best platformer? I wouldn’t say that. However, it is one of those few games that has the complete package and that package is so very nice that the game holds up fifteen years later. I love it.

All Opposed:

Mohammed Al-Saadoon: To say the SNES was a platform full of platforming excellence is an understatement. Being home to a Mario game is enough to get most platforming junkies to buy a system but if you throw in Super Mario All Stars and Yoshi’s Island on there then you have a pedigree that’s hard to beat.

Which is why I think Rare focused more on graphics rather than gameplay with their re-imagining of Donkey Kong. Sure there were plenty of levels and extras as well as a great soundtrack but I felt that the use of pre-rendered graphics hurt the title as it made the controls feel…”loose” to me. Platform games live and die on their controls and unfortunately, DKC‘s controls are not up to snuff.

That’s not to say the game was bad though. I enjoyed it a lot in my youth, but it was Super Mario World which was in my SNES the day I switched over to the Nintendo 64.

Sean Madson: I had a hard time deciding on this one, because I really do like the game. I just don’t know that I’d consider it Hall of Fame material. In fact, I had a couple paragraphs written up drawing similarities between Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario World. Ultimately, I scrapped it, since I couldn’t word it without sounding like a dick to DKC, which it really doesn’t deserve.

Honestly, it’s a great game that had some of the best looking visuals at the time and a killer soundtrack. I just don’t feel that it really moved the platformer genre forward in any sizable way. In fact, I think Rare’s philosophy in those days was more about perfecting the art rather than innovation, which isn’t a bad thing by any means. However, I will blame DKC for its hand in introducing the OCD behavior of having to seek out a million different kinds of collectibles in order to achieve 100%, something I loathe in pretty much all games nowadays. In fact, unless the term collectible is referring to a tangible item that I can acquire in the real world, I almost consider it a dirty word in regards to gaming. As a personal remark to all the developers out there, I don’t know what your fixation is with putting hundreds of feathers/puzzle pieces/stars/etc in your games as a way to waste time and achieve 100%, but the formula has gotten rather stale. So could you please find better ways to up replay value in your titles? Please?

So, back to Donkey Kong Country. Do I like the game? Most definitely. Would I consider it one of the best games of all time? Perhaps if we gave it another look down the line, but there are a number of other platformers I’d like to see inducted first. Sorry, DK. I love you, but I love a lot of other games a lot more.

Alex Lucard: Sure DKC was pretty, but when i was a kid, this was just another side scrolling platformer to me. I played it, thought it was okay but not worth buying, and then went back to playing side scrolling shooters…which could get as generic as platformers back in the 16 bit era only they were faster and required more hand to eye coordination.

I thought the switching off mechanics were a neat idea, but I’d seen them in other games even back in the 8 bit era. I thought the helpers were cute, but again, it was something I’d seen done before. At the end of the day, I thought the game was okay for a rental, but the levels eventually blurred together and I found myself bored with the title more often than not. Time definitely hasn’t changed my personal opinion of the game. I was never one that took part in how the graphics were a huge selling point of the game or the side that felt the game was only popular due to the graphics. Both sides had their merits, but I was never one to really put visuals ahead of gameplay.

Basically DKC was a fun little game that tried to give you a bit on non-linearity, especially compared to other platformers, but it boiled down to the fact that like all Rare games, the titles are overrated due to nostalgia and the Nintendo control over their titles during their “golden age.” This is pretty apparent once you look at what Rare has produced since Microsoft took them over. Donkey Kong Country is one of Rare’s better games, but I can’t see it as Hall of Fame worthy. Now the original Donkey Kong on the other hand…

Mark B: I take issue with Donkey Kong Country on three points that are unrelated to the oft-repeated argument with the game being well received because of its visuals:

1.) The game has not aged especially well. I wasn’t a fan of the controls at the time the game came out, and the visuals weren’t likely to impress after the first two years of the PlayStation era, but when compared to other “great” platformers in general, Donkey Kong Country is… I don’t know, underwhelming. Compare it to, say, Sonic CD or Super Mario World or Super Mario Bros. 3, games that stand on their own decades after their release, and Donkey Kong Country generally doesn’t hold up as well as it does when taken on its own merits, and as the game does not exist in a vacuum, we kind of have to do this thing.

2.) It doesn’t do so much beyond what Super Mario World did that I’d consider it a leap forward as a game. Compare Super Mario Bros. to Super Mario Bros. 3. Mechanically, the two were quite similar, but the latter added so much to the formula that it could be considered a massive upgrade in all respects. Now compare Super Mario World to Donkey Kong Country. The latter borrows heavily from the former, but adds in a few new things… many of which were borrowed from other games. It’s more visually and aurally proficient, certainly, but stripping that away, there’s not so heavy an evolution from one game to the next, and the former does a lot more interesting things with its mechanics than the latter.

3.) Rare beat that shit into the ground with two sequels that basically exploited the HELL out of Donkey Kong Country‘s popularity, basically painting the games as a cash grab as much as anything else, and I’m not so excited to pat them on the back for their efforts.

So, I’m not on board. Sorry.

Result: 6 In Favor, 4 Opposed, 60% Approval = REJECTED

Conclusion: Well yet another game I nominated fails to make it into its respective hall. I’m starting to get the feeling there is a pattern here….

Anyways, everyone who voted had their own reasons, which I respect. It was interesting for me to read how others viewed one of my favorite games of all time. More to the point, it showed that even a game that is seemingly beloved by all can have its fair number of detractors. DKC may have its place in history, but it just couldn’t get enough votes to make it into the Hall of Fame.

Next Week: A classic RTS for the PC tries to get into the hall. It’s no secret that a lot of staffers here at DHGF are big on PC games, but will it be enough to get an entry?

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