Thursday, 12 March 2015

Donkey Kong Country 3 Review by Unicorn Hole

 Donkey Kong Country: Why Number Three Is Number One
Let's say you're a rad skater dude. You're at the park with some hotshots who have been attempting the same trick for hours to no avail. They're going on about how hard it is to land, so you decide to give it a shot. You spend a while figuring it out in your head and working up the courage, and when you're ready you go for it. You stick it beautifully- with an extra turn even! Your arms shoot into the air in excitement as you turn towards the other guys for affirmation that you are indeed a badass. But as it turns out, they've packed up and left. You look around the park and discover the sad truth- nobody saw what happened. Henceforth you shall be known as Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble.

Donkey Kong Country was released in 1994, and promptly blew everyone's mind to shit with its insane graphics. Seriously, nothing looked as good at the time. Then DKC2: Diddy's Kong Quest was released the following year, and improved upon almost every aspect of the original game. Every time Nintendo and Rareware made sweet, sweet lovins, an amazing game was conceived. That trend didn't change one bit when DKC3 was released in 1996. What changed, however, was the market. Our beloved Nintendo 64 had been released just a month before DKC3, which means most SNES consoles had about a month's worth of dust on them at this time. And it's a damn shame.

The first DKC featured Donkey and Diddy Kong. These two are a great pair, because they feel very different from each other. DK feels heavier when platforming, and is stronger too- able to kill big enemies that Diddy struggles with. Diddy, on the other hand, is quicker and nimbler. DKC2 featured Diddy and Dixie Kong, who make up a decidedly boring duo. The problem is that these Kongs are identical aside from Dixie's Helicopter Spin. So instead of having two distinct characters, you basically just use Dixie- the better Kong- and then use Diddy when she gets hurt. It's like having a powerup in a Mario game, and losing it when you take damage. You're playing the same character, basically, just without the special move. Diddy and Dixie do gain the ability to toss each other in their game, which is neat.

DKC3 definitely features the best duo of the series- Dixie and Kiddy Kong. These two may not have the star power of DK and Diddy, but they're simply the most fun. Kiddie feels a lot like DK did in DKC, so we're back to the heavy/strong Kong with a light/quick partner mechanic. DKC3 adds in some new twists though. First, the throwing mechanic from DKC2 is brought back, but smarter. Kiddy can throw Dixie very far, because he's strong and she's tiny. When Dixie throws Kiddy, he won't go as high or far, but his weight can shatter certain things as he crashes down. Second, Kiddy is given a unique move to match Dixie's Helicopter Spin. He is able to skip across the top of water like a stone, if the jumps are timed correctly. Why can he do this? Because shut your mouth. It's the same reason finding a leaf makes a fat plumber grow a tail that enables him to fly. But the point is, Dixie and Kiddy make the most dynamic and interesting duo of the DKC trilogy.

Let's take a look at some other aspects of the games in this wonderful series. The graphics aren't significantly better in any of the games, so I won't be comparing them much. The secrets are a different story, however. In the first game, you have to literally jump down every pit to check and see if there might be a secret. That's not fair, and it's not fun. The second and third games are much better about hiding things. For example, if there's something hidden down a pit, you'll see just a couple pixels of a banana at the bottom of the screen, if you're paying close attention. In the sequels, searching for secrets is challenging but rewarding, instead of just tedious.

The first two games feature very similar overworlds that function like any other standard old-school platformer overworld. DKC3 has a large, fleshed out overworld that the player can move about freely, rather than being on rails. There are vehicles you'll unlock as you progress through the game, which allow you to travel to new areas of the overworld. That unique idea, when combined with all the exciting secrets hidden throughout make DKC3's overworld much more exciting and memorable than those of its predecessors. So that's another point for Dixie and Kiddy.

The first game had you complete two missions in each stage. Well, that's how I look at it anyway. You have to clear the level, and find all the secrets within it. Its sequel turned those secrets into minigames that you must complete be credited for finding them, and added a "third mission" in each stage in the form of a hidden DK Coin. DKC3 then made it so that DK Coins had to be taken from a special enemy, which was defeated only when hit in the back by a steel barrel. The method used to actually get the barrell to hit the enemy varied in different stages, and was often very well thought out and difficult to execute. Therefore, DKC3 has the most stuff to do in each level, not to mention the Brothers Bear side quests on the overworld.

As far as level and boss concepts go, I have to give it to DKC3 once more. The first game had some memorable levels for sure. There was one where the player had to keep switching the light from green to red, in order to immobilize enemies. A level near the end, called Platform Perils, stands out for having virtually no stable ground whatsoever. Boss fights were, unfortunately, reused sometimes. The second game had a handful of standout stages as well. There was Rambi Rumble, which had the player running from a giant Zinger enemy in its big conclusion. Toxic Tower also forces me to remember it, by way of haunting my nightmares. The player had to quickly climb a tower to avoid the rising acid below.

That said, DKC3 had more memorable levels than either of its predecessors. There was a stage that had you climbing a tree as it was being cut in half by a saw. Better be quick! There was a stage where lightning struck every few seconds, forcing you to react fast, and be precise with your movements. There was poison water, which reversed your controls, and a level with pushy enemies constantly trying to mess up your jumps and shove you to your doom. Let's not forget the rocket barrel level that inspired an entire level type in the Donkey Kong Country Returns series. DKC3 also featured the most creative boss fights of the trilogy- even one where you fought as Ellie the elephant instead of the kongs.

I won't pretend that the absence of David Wise in DKC3 isn't a sin, because it totally is. If you didn't know, he's the legendary video game composer who wrote most of the music in the first two DKC games. Eveline Fischer did a fantastic job with the music in DKC3. She really did. But she had some big shoes to fill, and she didn't quite churn out any songs as timeless as Stickerbrush Symphony or Aquatic Ambiance.

So there you have it. DKC3 wins in almost every category, or at the very least holds its own. Hidden gems are all too common, but not many of them are sequels to games that are already established as being badass. Plus it was made by Rareware in the 90's, so of course it's gold! Bottom line- if you're a fan of platformers, and you haven't played all of the original DKC trilogy, get to it! You can get them on the Wii U Virtual Console, or be cool like me and play them on a SNES like nature intended. And if you're only gonna play one, make it Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble! It was one of the most badass tricks ever landed, even if no one saw it when it happened.

PS - The Wii and Wii U installments in the Donkey Kong series are absolutely amazing games as well. Do yourself a favor and check them out too!

-Unicorn Hole

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