The Best Donkey Kong Country Ever Made

The Best Donkey Kong Country Ever Made

The Donkey Kong Country series contains some of the most beloved platforming titles to ever grace a Nintendo console.

The series revitalized a classic villlain as a hero. It boasted 3D-esque visuals in a market of predominantly 2D games. It had a swinging soundtrack so catchy that I bet you've already begun to hum the theme.

After the critical and commercial success of the initial Donkey Kong Country, Nintendo commissioned the fine folks at Rareware to produce two more titles in the series. Over the following few years Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest and Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie's Double Trouble rounded out the original DKC trilogy. Both did decently well, but fell far short of their predecessor. In fact with only 3.5 million units sold, Double Trouble is the worst-selling title of the series with the exception of Tropical Freeze, which is hard to include seeing as it hasn't even been out for a solid year. The game's unfortunate release window, only months after the premiere of the Nintendo 64, led to its lackluster sales and recognition.

Of course with advertising like this, who could blame the public from passing on the newest adventure...

The Best Donkey Kong Country Ever Made

But being a not-so-great-selling game doesn't make you the best of the bunch or even cement your status as a cult hit. The magic in Double Trouble comes from a lot of different places. It's not the best Donkey Kong Country game in every regard, but let's look at why overall it's the best adventure two kongs have ever had.

Ambitious Overworlds

The first spot where Double Trouble really shines is its well-crafted overworld. How does it differ from games the preceded and came after it? It gave a clear cut path, but also a chance to explore. Dixie and Kiddy, the heroes of the title, are tasked with rescuing their imprisoned cohorts and exploring the vast Northern Kremisphere. Let's take a gander.

The Best Donkey Kong Country Ever Made

Beautiful, eh? Modelled after the mountainous and forested regions of Northern Europe and Canada, the Northern Kremisphere sure does have a lot of water (some might say too much). But it's the water that gives this world the small amount of freedom that is sadly absent from all other Donkey Kong Country games. There is no straight shot from point to point in these lakes and inlets. The kongs are simply given different forms of aquatic transportation and told to find their own way. This forces players to explore and, unlike other side-scrolling Donkey Kong titles, it often let players choose their next location. Whipping around the waves in a hovercraft is a decidedly enjoyable experience.

The Best Donkey Kong Country Ever Made

Within worlds themselves we find maps that are much more detailed and path-focused than before. I know I was just yammering about how the free the main overworld is, but what I'm getting at is the attention to detail that went into overarching level environments. You can slide down snowy hills, ride chairlifts up mountainsides and shoot yourself onto floating islands. Previous DKC games had players running willy nilly all over poorly-rendered backgrounds. The path was only clear because the game literally drew you a line to your next level. Double Trouble makes the map environment part of the story and not simply a pretty backdrop.

Moody Monkey Music

Now, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that Donkey Kong Country 3 has the best soundtrack of the series. It doesn't, plain and simple. That title goes to DKC2 hands down. But, like I stated above, one category does not a "best in the series" title make. While not top banana in the audio department, Double Trouble does have a fantastic soundtrack superior to most gaming soundtracks in existence. And it's soothing as all get-out.

Like most DKC titles, the tunes produced by composers David Wise and Eveline Fischer perfectly compliment the levels they are linked to. Unlike the classic underwater lullaby "Aquatic Ambiance", the haunting melody of "Water World" creates an uncertain atmosphere that will make your love-hate relationship with underwater levels that much more confusing.

Another fan favourite from Double Trouble is the wonderfully '90s track dubbed "Rockface Rumble", which is also what I plan on naming my band (if I ever start a band). It has the all the tension of a sprawling mountain adventure and all the screaming guitar riffs of a hair metal rock concert.

It's not Stickerbrush Symphony or Jungle Groove, but it brings out some darn fine level atmosphere.

Kong Kolaboration

There are two kinds of kongs in Donkey Kong Country -- nimble ones and strong ones. The original team of Donkey and Diddy was a great mixture of both, but unfortunately they couldn't interact as a team like duos in Kong Quest and Double Trouble. In the second DKC instalment , Diddy and Dixie both had the same type of gameplay, aside from Dixie's helpful hair-licopter abilities. In fact, Dixie's hover skills make her the ideal nimble partner.

Kiddy Kong is far from the most popular kong amonst fans, and it seems the designers knew this would be the case. Luckily they loaded him down with all sorts of special abilities such a ground pounding, water skipping and Dixie tossing. Thus the epic twosome of Dixie and Kiddy was formed. A team that can work together and yet represents two opposite ends of the kong spectrum. This balance of strong and nimble, the kongs' distinct special abilities and their unique teamwork system earn Dixie and Kiddy the title of best team-up.

The Best Donkey Kong Country Ever Made

Ludicrous Level Variety

Would you like be chased by bees? How about lightning? How about the biggest crosscut saw in the world? If you said, "Yes, but only in a video game please," then do I have news for you.

Donkey Kong Country 3 has some of the most creative level designs and gimmicks gaming has ever seen. The game takes the risk of introducing you to a brand new concept in nearly every level you encounter and the best part is that they don't hold your hand in the slightest.

The Best Donkey Kong Country Ever Made

There is no sign saying, "Your directional controls are reversed for this underwater level," or "This level is in slow motion." You just have to figure that out all on your own and adjust accordingly. It can lead to some quick deaths and frustrating learning curves, but boy does it bring a feeling of excitement rarely seen in today's platformers. Other Donkey Kong Country titles have done a pretty swell job of mixing up the madness, but Double Trouble does it best. And screw that lightning level. Seriously.

Bizarre Bosses

The Donkey Kong world is no stranger to off-kilter enemies. Why there are vultures deep in the jungle and why beavers are running wild in poorly-lit industrial facilities I'll never know. There's no need to explain though. Part of the DKC charm is in its underlying strangeness. Unfortunately the bosses in the original are a little too in-sync with their lesser counterparts. Fight a bunch of little vultures? Fight a big vulture boss! Massacre a hoard of some mindless beavers? Fight an oversized beaver boss! Not only that, but every boss battle (aside from the final bout) takes place in the same banana-filled cave. It's not too creative when you come down to it.

The Best Donkey Kong Country Ever Made

Things certainly pick up in Kong Quest with the the addition of some new boss mechanics and much more creative settings. Though there are still two giant vulture bosses... now with pirate hats! It all matches up nicely with the whole "murderous pirate lizards stole my friend" plot, but it's far from the best boss line up.

Then comes Double Trouble, and things get absolutely bananas (GET IT!?). No beavers, no vultures, in fact not even any reptiles, which seems odd, all things considered. You've got an enormous gassy barrell who kills himself by burping, an evil snowman who appears to laugh himself to death, and a giant slug who lives inside a waterfall. That's not even all of them. It's all very bizarre, but Donkey Kong Country is the most fun when it's at its weirdest.

The Best Donkey Kong Country Ever Made

Nerdy Nods and Cheats

In the fall of 1996 every kid wanted to get their sweaty mitts on a shiny new Nintendo 64, and apparently we weren't the only ones. Deep in the bowels of Wrinkly Kong's save cave, players can find a familiar system and a familiar tune. While Wrinkly can be found both napping and getting her sweat on, it's only when she has powered on her N64 that we get to hear the well-known tune of Peach's castle from Super Mario 64. Not only is the Nintendo 64 present, but it also appears that Link has made his way through the North Kremisphere on his travels. One of the first characters you meet, Bazaar the bear, will mention his encounter with the legendary hero of time.

"Some cheeky lad named Link was in last week and he asked about that castle too. He didn't have enough coins, but he seemed such a nice fellow that I agreed to accept 500 rupees instead." - Bazaar

Cheat codes are another part of Double Trouble that weren't used by the series much before or after the title arrived. There are various codes that can be entered that range from making the game insanely difficult to changing all the bonus areas into Christmas-themed wonderlands, with both new music and icons. It shows the level of work and care that went into making the game as well as locking away its secrets.

Friendly Flags

The Best Donkey Kong Country Ever Made

In the first two rounds of K. Rool kon-nappings, it isn't very well communicated how much you've achieved in each level or world. Usually you'll just turn an enemy head icon into a that of a playable character. That's it. All you know is you beat that level. It can be frustrating because you're not sure what levels to return to on your second go. Even Kong Quest's method of adding an exclamation point to the end of completed levels was too subtle to really help out most gamers (especially younger ones).

Modern DKC games have gone the opposite direction. They shove those missing items in your face. All you have to do is browse over a level and you can see all the puzzle pieces, KONG letters and other memorabilia that you've missed. It's nice, but it's almost too much to take in.

Enter the Double Trouble flag system. Perfection. Different colour flags for different aspects of the levels. Are they all up? Then you've found everything. Are any down? Then you need to go explore a bit more. It's simple and it doesn't make you feel guilty by showcasing your missing trinkets. Nice friendly flags.

Banana Birds

The Best Donkey Kong Country Ever Made

What, you need an explanation as to why this is amazing? It's a banana... that is a bird.


The Donkey Kong Country series as a whole is a fantastic example of how 2D platforming should be done. It's a delightful mess of primates battling through an ever-changing world of ridiculous baddies. But when it comes down to which title in the series stands above the rest in an overall mix of gameplay variety, overworld/level design, music and atmosphere -- Donkey Kong Country 3 takes the banana cake. It's unfortunately unavailable in the Wii U eShop for us in North America, but I implore you to seek it out if you've never had the pleasure of playing through this SNES classic.

The Best Donkey Kong Country Ever Made

Ben Bertoli is a teacher and games journalist from Indianapolis, Indiana. He spends much of his time overseeing Kotaku's reader-run TAY blog and hugging his Donkey Kong arcade machine. You can follow his antics on Twitter or find out more about him on his personal site.


Comments

    Ooh, controversial opinion :P

    I think I liked it best at the time, but later grew to prefer DKC2 over it. They're both still pretty great though.

      Me too, but I played the SNES DKC's in reverse order, so DKC3 will always have a special nostalgia factor for me.

      I always felt the same. Looking back on it recently though, I'm not sure if it's because DCK2 was actually more fun or if it was just the fact that I only got to play the second one at a friends house every so often while I had the other two (and played them constantly).

      All great games in my opinion anyway.

        Real answer: Because pirates.

        Originally I think I thought it was 3 > 1 > 2. Just didn't like the second one as much for some reason, though have no idea why. Kids are weird.

    Actually this was the first DKC I actually completed and went back and found all the little extras to get the completion to 100+%. Kicked off my obsession with 100%ing games. Enjoyable game, and a good sequel to DKC2.

    I played this more than the original back in the day. I adored it. Even got the hidden ending. This looked and felt better than the previous entries in the series.

    He's wrong, of course. Diddie Kong's Quest was obviously the best one. I don't need to state why as articulately as Ben since I'm just writing in the comments.

      Remember, it is Diddy's Kong Quest. Not Diddy Kong's Quest.

    For me it's a really difficult decision between each of the three games in the SNES trilogy. All three are a lot of fun and can be quite challenging. This reminds me actually that I never managed to get 102% on Kong Quest. I must remedy this. Anyway, this argument is fairly compelling but I could never truly separate them. As an aside, all three are superior to the recent Retro Studios attempts.

    The author is entitled to their opinion, and so am I. I respectfully disagree.

    As a big fan of the entire DKC series, I need to say that I believe it's DKC2 that's the best of the original trilogy. I think DKC3 certainly had the potential to be the best, but it just missed the mark on many elements.

    I will say that DKC3 is still a great game in its own right, and a game you should definitely still play if you haven't yet...but compared to it's predecessors, especially DKC2, it's not quite there.

    - Kiddy Kong was not a popular character. It seemed he was only created so you could play as another heavyweight kong, but due to Dixie's throwing technique, they couldn't bring Donkey back as they would have overlapped too much, so they basically created another Donkey who held barrels in front of him instead of above his head. I think most players would have preferred Donkey to make a return.
    - Kiddy in general didn't bring a whole lot to the table gameplay wise. Apart from a few occasions where you needed to bounce across water, jump on one of those really strong dudes or toss Dixie into an otherwise unreachable area, there was almost no reason to switch to him.
    - They removed Rambi and replaced him with...a baby elephant that shoots water from her trunk.
    - They went overboard with the "transform into animal buddies" gimmick. This was a novelty in only a handful of levels in DKC2, but in DKC3 it's the rule rather than the exception. It's actually rare in DKC3 to...you know...*ride* your animal buddy.
    - There was possibly a little too many gimmicks, to the point where it sometimes detracted from the core platforming gameplay. Some of them were clever, others not so much. And DKC2 also had many of them (blowing wind, rising floors, rope climbing, moving barrels, disappearing/reappearing obstacles, transitioning from underwater to regular platforming back to underwater in the same level, etc).
    - The new overworld really didn't add all that much, because the levels more or less needed to be completed in a linear order anyway (you had a choice in what order you did the waterfalls area and the factory area at one point, but that's it). The only real point it seems was for the hidden banana birds.
    - Every level (except for the last one in the lost world area) had 2 bonus stages, without fail. It took much of the challenge out of finding the bonus areas...in the previous titles, there could have been as many as 5 in a single level. In DKC3 though you knew you only needed to find 2.
    - Every bonus level was reached by jumping into a bonus barrel. Again, this took some of the challenge away, as in previous games the entrance to bonus levels could be tucked inside a cliff face, or hidden inside an underwater cave.
    - The DK coins were also less creatively hidden than in DKC2, largely because they were always guarded by Koin, that you needed to hit from behind before you could obtain it.
    - The music was easily the least epic and inspired of the series. I still find myself humming the music to the first two games, but struggle to remember the music of the third game.

    There are also a few errors in the article that I can't go without correcting:

    In the second DKC instalment , Diddy and Dixie both had the same type of gameplay, aside from Dixie’s helpful hair-licopter abilities. In fact, Dixie’s hover skills make her the ideal nimble partner.

    If you think Diddy and Dixie had the same type of gameplay in DKC2...you didn't play that game enough. Dixie actually moves decidedly slower than Diddy, which is another issue with DKC3 - the combination of Dixie and Kiddy makes the overall game feel rather sluggish.

    While Wrinkly can be found both napping and getting her sweat on, it’s only when she has powered on her N64 that we get to hear the well-known tune of Peach’s castle from Super Mario 64. Not only is the Nintendo 64 present, but it also appears that Link has made his way through the North Kremisphere on his travels. One of the first characters you meet, Bazaar the bear, will mention his encounter with the legendary hero of time.

    DKC2 had a number of these as well. Remember Cranky's cabin, and all the stuff that was in the background? What about the screen that showed you your DK coin count and stood you on the "hero" podium, alongside Mario and Yoshi, with a garbage bin off to the side with Sonic's signature red shoes next to it and a sign that said "No hopers"?

    Cheat codes are another part of Double Trouble that weren’t used by the series much before or after the title arrived.

    This is just plain wrong. Both previous games had cheat codes, and DKC2 in particular had almost as many as DKC3 did, you just inputted them in a different way (using a more traditional button combination on a menu screen, instead of DKC3's method of inputting the code in your name entry field).

    In the first two rounds of K. Rool kon-nappings, it isn’t very well communicated how much you’ve achieved in each level or world. Usually you’ll just turn an enemy head icon into a that of a playable character. That’s it. All you know is you beat that level. It can be frustrating because you’re not sure what levels to return to on your second go. Even Kong Quest‘s method of adding an exclamation point to the end of completed levels was too subtle to really help out most gamers (especially younger ones).

    *Both* previous titles added an exclamation mark at the end of the level name if you found all of the bonus areas, not just DKC2. DKC2 also added a DK coin icon at the end of the level name if you managed to find it. While it could be argued the flag is a better system (I personally don't think it is), you can't accuse the previous games of not providing the information.

    Hmmm, I wrote way too much on this, especially given this is a US article so likely won't be read by the author. Oh well, that's my 2 cents. I could keep going, but I'll stop there.

    Last edited 05/02/15 10:35 am

      - Every level (except for the last one in the lost world area) had 2 bonus stages, without fail. It took much of the challenge out of finding the bonus areas...in the previous titles, there could have been as many as 5 in a single level. In DKC3 though you knew you only needed to find 2.Are you sure? I could have sworn that DKC2 only had two bonus coins per level as well. Unless you're talking about other bonus areas that just give you more lives or bananas or something, though I can't really think of any like that off the top of my head.

      - The DK coins were also less creatively hidden than in DKC2, largely because they were always guarded by Koin, that you needed to hit from behind before you could obtain it.On the other hand though while Koin wasn't necessarily hidden, there was often a puzzle there to be solved in order to liberate him of it. Some of them a right pain in the arse.

      What about the screen that showed you your DK coin count and stood you on the "hero" podium, alongside Mario and Yoshi, with a garbage bin off to the side with Sonic's signature red shoes next to it and a sign that said "No hopers"?IIRC the garbage bin also had Earthworm Jim's raygun. Also Link was in there too on the podium, if you didn't break 3rd place at all.

      *Both* previous titled added an exclamation mark at the end of the level name if you found all of the bonus areas, not just DKC2.Kinda related to the first one I guess. I don't remember there being exclamation marks in the first one/what was there to be collected in the levels. I vaguely recall Donkey Kong Land having exclamation points appear over the level markers, though can't at all remember what they were for.

        Are you sure? I could have sworn that DKC2 only had two bonus coins per level as well. Unless you're talking about other bonus areas that just give you more lives or bananas or something, though I can't really think of any like that off the top of my head.

        Yep, very sure. in DKC2 you could have 1, 2 or 3 bonus rooms per level. Lockjaw's Locker for example had only 1 bonus room, whereas Hornet Hole for example had 3.

        Kinda related to the first one I guess. I don't remember there being exclamation marks in the first one/what was there to be collected in the levels. I vaguely recall Donkey Kong Land having exclamation points appear over the level markers, though can't at all remember what they were for.

        It was in the level name. So the level name would normally be displayed as "Ropey Rampage", and after you found all of the secret rooms it would change to "Ropey Rampage!"

        Last edited 05/02/15 11:20 am

      This guy gets it *nod*

      I came here to disagree with the article and to correct some of the errors. I certainly wouldn't have gone to the trouble to write everything out like you have though. Props to you sir/madam! Perfectly said!

      Last edited 05/02/15 12:07 pm

    Anyone remember this?

    “Donkey Kong Country proves that players will put up with mediocre gameplay as long as the art is good.” - Shigeru Miyamoto

      The sourest of grapes. Surely he didn't actually say this?

        It seems like he did, but he may have also been misquoted or had something lost in translation. He certainly likes DKC:

        IGN: I was interviewing them earlier, and even though you weren't directly involved you were definitely very inspirational in making sure certain things were done in that game correctly. I'm wondering, which parts of Donkey Kong Country did you like versus not like? And what did you address with them?

        Miyamoto: The first point that I want to make is that I actually worked very closely with Rare on the original Donkey Kong Country. And apparently recently some rumor got out that I didn't really like that game? I just want to clarify that that's not the case, because I was very involved in that. And even emailing almost daily with Tim Stamper right up until the end.

        http://au.ign.com/articles/2010/06/17/e3-2010-shigeru-miyamoto-likes-donkey-kong-country-after-all?page=3

        Even if he did say it, he may have a point, because the gameplay in the original wasn't really all that inspired to be honest. But they certainly fixed that in DKC2.

        Last edited 05/02/15 11:06 am

          It was Mario World with added buddy system.

          I believe he had just been knocked back about the graphics in a game he was working on when this came out.
          He's certainly changed his mind.

    I have to say DKC3 was my favourite, followed by DKC1, then DKC2. DKC1 was one of the first games I ever had for the SNES, and it's one of my favourites ever. DKC1's gameplay was probably the simplest, but there was a sliiiiiiiiiiight disconnect in the world for me. The art style seemed like it was trying to go for realism in a lot of places, despite the fact that you were a gorilla and a monkey bouncing around on crocodiles. That music, though - best in the series.

    DKC2... I dunno. I loved it, played it a LOT (I still regularly replay all three games on the SNES I still have hooked up), but something about it didn't gel with me. I don't really know why. It's possibly because the non-platforming levels - rollercoasters, the bramble levels where you were either mostly in barrels or flying, the water levels etc. - just weren't all that fun to me. There also seemed to be a fair few levels where you seemed to be constantly moving up and jumping from smallish platform to smallish platform. Don't get me wrong - I love DKC2, and the music is boss... but yeah, I just don't like it as much as the other two. Was never a huge fan of the pirate theme either.

    DKC3, in my mind, eclipses the other two in every aspect EXCEPT music - DKC3's soundtrack just lacks something the other two have. I loved 3's map and worlds and all the little hidden bits and pieces around the place, and even the Brothers Bear trading stuff. It was lighthearted and cartoony, packed with secrets, and the vast majority of the levels were good old left to right platforming - or in the very least, the non-platforming levels were more enjoyable to me.

    All three, however, with their intact boxes and cartridges and manuals, will forever be jewels in my collection.

    Diddy's Kong Quest is the best, Dixie's Double Trouble a close 2nd.

    I'm gonna agree with this. Admittedly, I'd played this before DKC2, but I still think this was the better game.

    Sadly doesn't get as much recognition as it should.

    When I was laying in bed looking at my phone I saw this article and was immediately offended.

    Now that I've had a chance to read it, I gotta say it is well argued and has a lot of good points (excluding the ones that are wrong).

    I still think DKC2 is the better one though.

    I loathed Kiddy, both as a playable character and as fictional character. The game had so many new additions and weird aesthetic choices that almost felt like an entirely different game dressed up as a DKC. Having said that I liked the explorable map with secrets, and upgrading your raft to access new areas was cool. Level design was at times more frustrating than challenging; previous and following DKC games have always managed to straddle that line quite artfully. (That last picture in the collage under Level Variety? fuck that level. Almost 20 years later I still remember the rage it made me feel.)

    I'm surprised to see that DKC was a bigger commercial success than DKC2. Almost everybody agrees that DKC2 is by far the superior game.

    Last edited 05/02/15 3:25 pm

    Massive dk fan. So many hours played on the snes getting every secret, and replaying them over and over again. Dk3 was probably the best overall. But had one of the most annoying kongs ever.... kiddy. So my vote goes to dk2 as my fav.

    dkc2 is definitely the best of the bunch. although dkc3 is a close second. i've played through both of them far too many times to keep track of.

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