The year was 1994 and Nintendo was struggling in their war with Sega. Led by Thomas Kalinske, Sega had unleashed an onslaught of advertising, devouring Nintendo’s stranglehold on the North American market. That all changed, however, with the release of Donkey Kong Country. The title was a gorilla-sized hit, giving Nintendo a much-needed boost when they needed it most.
Developed by Rare, Donkey Kong Country completely reimagined one of Nintendo’s oldest characters. While Donkey Kong had predominantly acted as an antagonist to Mario in titles past, Donkey Kong Country thrust the character into the spotlight alongside new pal, Diddy. The game also introduced the Kremlings. Led by King K. Rool, the Kremlings stole DK’s banana horde, leading Donkey and Diddy on a quest to regain their treasure.
The game’s presentation proved to be one of the most captivating parts about Donkey Kong Country. While the game’s fully rendered graphics have not aged as gracefully as some other titles from the SNES era, at the time, there was nothing else on store shelves that looked quite like it. Of course, graphics only matter so much, but Donkey Kong Country was also a blast to play. With its pitch-perfect platforming, the title continued the legacy of SNES classics like Super Mario World. From swinging across vines, to minecart races in subterranean tunnels to underwater exploration while riding a swordfish named Enguarde, the title boasted a number of memorable moments.
While the graphics might not have aged as gracefully as the rest of the game, the soundtrack has aged like a fine wine. Composed by David Wise, the soundtrack contained a number of tracks that perfectly fit the game’s locales. Wise would work on all three Super Nintendo Donkey Kong Country games, delivering some of the finest music to ever appear in a video game. Tracks such as Aquatic Ambiance and Stickerbrush Symphony have cemented his role in the franchise’s success.
Whether it was the music, the graphics, the gameplay, or even Nintendo’s own advertising campaign, taking shots at the Sega Genesis and all its various add-ons, Donkey Kong Country proved to be an incredible success. Rare and Nintendo parted ways in 2001, after the latter company sold their majority ownership to Microsoft. Still, the series lives on in newer games, such as the Retro Studios-developed Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, which boasted David Wise’s triumphant return to the franchise, as well as Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which introduced King K. Rool as a playable character just last year. After all these years, the legacy of Donkey Kong Country remains an enduring one, and an important part in the history of gaming.
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