With the release of Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest, Rare had another hit on their hands. However, Director Tim Stamper and his team didn’t intend to stop there. As the Nintendo 64, the successor to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), loomed overhead, Mr. Stamper set out to make a sequel almost immediately after the release of Donkey Kong Country 2. Armed with the company’s trademark Silicon Graphics and Advanced Computer Modelling programs, they were able to finish the game one year later.
This sequel, entitled Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble!, saw its release in November of 1996. Although it fared well commercially, the game moved 3.5 million units, which was a step down from the 4.37 million copies Donkey Kong Country 2 sold. It is speculated that the release of the Nintendo 64 and its signature launch title, Super Mario 64, may have been responsible for the lower sales numbers. Even in light of these setbacks, Donkey Kong Country 3 was an undeniable success with critics and fans alike. Emerging at the tail end of the fourth console generation, did Donkey Kong Country 3 provide a fitting swansong for the venerable SNES?
Analyzing the Experience
Diddy and Dixie Kong have successfully rescued Donkey Kong (DK) from the forces of Kaptain K. Rool stationed on Crocodile Isle. Diddy’s quest saw the destruction of K. Rool’s stronghold, and it appeared all was well.
However, shortly thereafter, DK and Diddy disappear suddenly. Dixie finds a note from Diddy saying that he and DK have gone exploring the islands and will be back tomorrow. He and DK would claim to have similar plans in the past, but they never travelled further than the beach. Dixie looks for them there, but to no avail. After three days pass, neither DK nor Diddy have returned. Realizing that the two of them are probably in trouble, Dixie departs from Donkey Kong Island, swimming to the shores of the Northern Kremisphere in search of her friends.
Upon arrival, Dixie visits Wrinkly Kong, DK’s loving grandmother. Unfortunately, she hasn’t seen him or Diddy either, but just like in the previous game, she is here to help Dixie on her new journey by recording her progress when necessary.
It is through this development that the game’s most significant improvement is made apparent before you even enter the first stage. Wrinkly operates a number of Save Caves throughout the Northern Kremisphere, which perform the exact function their name advertises. The first one Dixie visits is situated on the overworld and can be revisited at any time. This is because, unlike the previous two games, you can exit a world without renting an aircraft from Funky Kong. On top of that, saving is now a free service. This means you need no longer worry about a Game Over screen potentially erasing your progress, for you can always access a Save Cave – whether it’s the one on the overworld or in a world you have already cleared.
With the ability to leave the world at any time, one may assume that Funky has nothing to offer Dixie on her journey. In actuality, and for the first time in this series, his services are required to win. In this installment, Funky operates a rental shop. Map navigation works slightly differently in this game, for while Dixie is still limited to walking along paths, the player is given more autonomy to explore bodies of water. When a path leads into a body of water, Dixie will jump in automatically, allowing you to guide her using the directional pad. Even with this new ability, attempts at swimming to the first world will be inevitably thwarted by a series of rocks jutting out from the water. To reach it, Dixie must rent a powerboat from him.
With the whereabouts of both DK and Diddy entirely unknown, Dixie would need a new partner, as expecting her to take on whatever hostile forces may await her in the Northern Kremisphere is quite unrealistic. It is at Funky’s rental shop that the player is introduced to Dixie’s younger cousin Kiddy Kong. Although just a toddler, he is easily able to hold his own as well as DK and Diddy – something that will become clear when you begin the game in earnest. Using the powerboat, Dixie and Kiddy can reach the game’s first world, Lake Orangatanga.
Adhering to the series’ formula, the game’s first stage, Lakeside Limbo, does a good job introducing the relevant mechanics through visual cues and interactive props. Dixie and Kiddy control exactly as the previous Kongs did in the two installments leading up to this one. Dixie is still capable of spinning her hair like a helicopter, allowing her to both descend slowly and cover a large distance in a single bound.
Continuing to wear their Mario influences on their sleeves, most enemies are easily dispatched by jumping on top of them. Both Kongs also have attacks that involve a charging forward with significant momentum. Dixie has a spin attack whereas Kiddy somersaults in a manner not unlike DK. As some enemies are susceptible to one of these attacks but not the other, it pays to know what a given situation calls for. Then, of course, if neither attack works, you can simply stay true to the Kong family’s legacy by chucking barrels at them.
Of course, with a new character in the form of Kiddy comes many new mechanics revolving around him. Kiddy, despite his young age, is noticeably stronger than Dixie, rivaling DK himself in that regard. This is especially apparent when you encounter Krumples, which are large Kremlings Dixie cannot damage unless she tosses a barrel at them. Kiddy, on the other hand, can dispatch them simply by jumping on top of them.
In effect, Donkey Kong Country 3 brings back a familiar mechanic from the original game by varying the builds of its characters, although the manner in which they hold barrels is reversed when compared to DK and Diddy. This also has an interesting implication when combined with the team-up mechanic the second game introduced. Yes, this does mean that Dixie can carry Kiddy, although she notably struggles to do so. Nonetheless, you can take advantage of this by throwing him into a wall so she can hitch a ride as he somersaults forward. You can also use this ability to toss Kiddy into the air and onto a breakable piece of the floor so you may access the lower area. Conversely, when Kiddy picks up Dixie, he can throw her to higher platforms, anchoring the two of them there.
This isn’t all Kiddy is capable of, however. Kiddy’s most notable technique allows him to skip across the surface of the water. This is accomplished by having him somersault into a body of water and pressing the “B” button as soon as he touches the surface. While it is admittedly a little situational, it is required to reach certain secrets, and as the very first stage demonstrates, there are quite a few stages that feature water below the standard platforms.
Just like the previous game, there are bonus areas that you can access by having Dixie and Kiddy jump into a Bonus Barrel. Your goal flashes onscreen before you’re thrown in. If you do complete the outlined objective, you’re awarded one Bonus Coin. Unlike Donkey Kong Country 2, there is little ambiguity as to how many bonus areas are in a stage. There are two Bonus Barrels in every stage of the game’s seven standard worlds. Regardless, it is easy to tell even from a distance whether or not you have found all the Bonus Coins in a stage. In this game, the stages are marked by flags. If you have missed one of the bonus areas, the flag will sink downwards as though caught on something. If you have found them all, it will begin flowing in the breeze, and an exclamation mark will adorn the stage name when it is selected.
DK Coins also make a return, although the exact manner by which you procure them is quite a bit different. In Donkey Kong Country 2, it was just a matter of finding them like you would any other item. In this game, there exist Koins – armored Kremlings that so happen to have the DK Coins embedded in their shields. These adversaries cannot directly harm Dixie or Kiddy, but attempting to fight them normally will result in a stalemate. No matter what, they always point their shields at the Kongs, and they are too fast to catch off guard. What can you do? It just so happens that every time you find a Koin, there is bound to be a steel keg nearby. As steel kegs do not break when hitting their targets, you can take advantage of this property by having one ricochet off a wall and into the Koin, thus allowing you to claim the DK Coin for yourself.
Nearing the end of the stage, you’re introduced to your first animal buddy, although it is not Rambi this time. Instead, Ellie the Elephant makes her debut appearance. She controls very similarly to Rambi, but lacks his ability to dispatch enemies by running into them. What she instead has is the ability to pick up barrels with her trunk. She can also soak up water with her trunk using the “L” or “R” buttons and shoot them at enemies. It’s important to know that she can use water the Kongs can swim in as well as any source in the background. The latter comes into play when exploring stages that feature waterfalls.
Other than Ellie’s replacement of Rambi, the other animal buddies are returnees from Donkey Kong Country 2. Rattly doesn’t return, but Squawks, Squitter, and Enguarde do. Another returnee is a purple parrot who looks identical to Squawks named Quawks. He appeared in a single stage in Donkey Kong Country 2, acting as a pseudo-parachute to help the Kongs descend down a beehive filled to the brim with Zingers. In this game, he can fly like Squawks, and while he still can’t cough up eggs, he is able to pick up and toss barrels in his talons.
As usual, Dixie and Kiddy are not alone in their quest. World progression is largely dependent on Funky this time around. While the powerboat is capable of reaching the first world, it is unable to pass any rocks you may find. Once you clear the second world, you will obtain a patch. Once given to him, Funky will use it to fix his hovercraft, which you can then rent from him free of charge. The hovercraft is capable of passing rocks, but is thwarted by any rapids you may come across. To overcome them, you must find two skis, which Funky will use to make a turbo ski. This craft is capable of accelerating past rapids, allowing you to access what lies beyond.
In addition to Funky and Wrinkly, Swanky returns, allowing the Kongs to win prizes once again. This time, instead of a trivia challenge, Swanky operates a carnival minigame Dixie and Kiddy can play. It’s a fairly simple game that involves pitching balls at targets. The game is played against Cranky Kong, and there are three different modes: Head-to-Head, Endurance, and Race to 50. The rules are fairly self-explanatory, and true to form, Cranky showboats if he wins and makes tenuous excuses if he loses. If you win, you will be awarded prizes such as banana bunches and Bear Coins – the game’s standard currency. The payout is generally less than you would get in the Bonus Bonanza of Donkey Kong Country 2, but in exchange, this minigame can be played as often as you like.
The other members of the Kong Family aren’t the only ones around to help Dixie and Kiddy, however. The Northern Kremisphere is also populated by a family of bear brothers, who operate various establishments throughout the land. There is at least one in each region in addition to the four on the overworld. The bears provide services that are required to see all the game has to offer. Bazaar, who operates the shop close to Wrinkly’s first Save Cave, has a seashell and a mirror up for sale, which cost five and fifty Bear Coins respectively. These and any other items you may find are then placed in the Kongs’ inventory and can be seen when saving the game or in a shop. It pays to visit each one and hear them out, as you will commonly be awarded with bonus content if you do.
One of the bears, who goes by the name Blunder, is something of an exception to this rule. You can’t exchange any items with him, and he doesn’t play a role in the sidequests. However, upon visiting him, he drops a bombshell revelation: this game also contains a Lost World. In this case, the Lost World lives up to its name, for it is nowhere to be seen in the Northern Kremisphere. You won’t find the entrance simply by stumbling upon a kiosk and paying the operator fifteen Bonus Coins, either. No, this game expects you to seek it out for yourself. Even defeating the final boss isn’t quite good enough to find the Lost World, although the further you progress, the more information about it Blunder will reveal. If you do defeat the final boss, Blunder will spell it out for you: it is found by circling the rocks north of his establishment.
Once you do, the Lost World of Krematoa is revealed. The bear here, Boomer, was banished by his brothers due to his rather overzealous passion for explosives. Unlike in Donkey Kong Country 2, Krematoa is one contiguous world, but you will soon find even the first stage cannot be accessed. This is because there are large boulders blocking the entrance to each stage. Fortunately, Boomer, using his extensive demolitions knowledge, is all too happy to help the Kongs out. Not so fortunately, he isn’t interested in Bear Coins, but rather the far rarer Bonus Coins. The first four detonations require fifteen Bonus Coins while the last necessitates twenty-five. Because DK Coins are found by dispatching a specific enemy, they are not awarded from bonus areas in Krematoa. Instead, bonus areas in the Lost World award Bonus Coins – the same as any other bonus area.
Krematoa isn’t the only thing to be found by exploring the overworld extensively. When operating Funky’s watercraft or even just by swimming in a lake, you can uncover hidden caverns with colored crystals. Once you enter, the crystals will sound tones in a pattern. Because each crystal corresponds to a button, it’s easy to deduce that this is a Simon Says minigame. If you successfully copy the pattern, a creature known as a Banana Bird is released from captivity. Banana Birds take up residence at Wrinkly’s Save Cave upon being freed, and can be found through other means as well – usually involving performing tasks for the Brothers Bear.
When it comes to level design, Donkey Kong Country 3 continues down the trail blazed by its direct predecessor. Mr. Stamper and his team continue to greatly diversify their stages to the extent that they all have their own identity – many of which featuring props only ever seen once. This is apparent as early as the second stage in the game, which is set in a mill with levers the Kongs must lower in order to keep doors open. This adds a mazelike quality to the stage by featuring certain doors that take longer to close and levers you must go out of your way to find. These levers are never seen again after this stage.
Indeed, the marvel of Donkey Kong Country 3 is that, once again, Mr. Stamper and his team were able to successfully gauge how much mileage they could get out of their ideas. If an idea is only used once, you can safely bet they got what they could out of it the first time. Conversely, if they ever reuse an idea, chances are they had a twist in mind for its second appearance. One example that springs to mind involves certain enemies called Klasps. They are Kremlings that hide inside TNT barrels while climbing across horizontal ropes. In their first appearance, they have fixed patterns, turning around when they reach the edge of their rope. When they reappear in a later stage, they imitate the Kongs’ movements on lower or higher ropes. This forces the player to be careful whenever they need the Kongs to drop or jump up a rope and take advantage of the fact that they aren’t as fast at navigating them.
Despite providing more of what made Donkey Kong Country 2 such a masterpiece, Donkey Kong Country 3 is a point of contention among fans of the trilogy. The single most contentious element of the game is more than likely the character of Kiddy Kong himself. He is, in broad strokes, a poor-man’s substitute for DK, fulfilling the same role he did on top of throwing a fairly annoying tantrum when defeated. It’s no coincidence that unlike Dixie in relation to Diddy or even arguably Diddy in relation to DK, Kiddy doesn’t upstage the protagonist of his debut game in any way. Even if he does pull his weight, Dixie remains the more useful character, making otherwise daunting tasks much easier thanks to her helicopter spin. Plus, there’s the simple fact that replacing an established adult character with a child is a bad idea even under the most ideal circumstances.
For that matter, it was pretty difficult to justify replacing Rambi with Ellie. While the stages that require Ellie do successfully cater to her unique abilities and could not have been designed with Rambi in mind, I can see where detractors are coming from. It doesn’t help how Rambi’s defining characteristic was that – with the exception of enemies invulnerable to rolling attacks – he easily destroyed everything in his path. With Ellie, you’re required to use barrels and bursts of water to defeat enemies instead, which while fun in of itself, isn’t a match for the nigh-unstoppable force that was Rambi.
Lastly, I will admit that, for want of a unifying theme, the Northern Kremisphere isn’t quite as interesting of a setting as Crocodile Isle. Donkey Kong Country 2 had a pirate motif that ran throughout the game and managed to find interesting ways to incorporate itself into disparate backdrops. Conversely, Donkey Kong Country 3 returns to the original’s standby, running the gamut of basic video-game areas – albeit in a temperate zone this time around. Having access to some of the greatest rendering technology of their day, Mr. Stamper and his team had a leg up in terms of presentation, but the comparative lack of visual diversity is apparent all the same.
Luckily, I find that while the flaws of Donkey Kong Country 3 are more obvious than those of its predecessor, they don’t even come close to sinking the overall experience. In fact, I posit that, like its direct predecessor, Donkey Kong Country 3 is superior effort to the original game. Simply the fact that it features a Lost World and, by extension, a definable reason to seek out the bonus areas is enough to place it above the original on principle, but I find many of the common criticisms lodged toward this game aren’t as bad as detractors make them out to be.
Yes, Kiddy is fairly annoying, and certainly not a good replacement for DK, but this barely matters when the experience the game provides clearly isn’t reliant on its story. It has been argued that Kiddy’s hit detection when executing certain moves of his is a little bit off, but even this seems to be a bit exaggerated. If you could control any of the previous three characters without issue, you can get used to Kiddy as well. If not, then you can take solace in the fact that Dixie essentially places the game in Easy Mode whenever you’re using her.
Furthermore, while Rambi’s absence is a letdown, I find the game does a great job finding unique challenges for his replacement, Ellie. Her ability to scoop up water and shoot it, while not as cathartic as simply ramming into multiple enemies in succession, lends a more methodical approach to her stages. She also possesses an elephant’s stereotypical fear of rodents, which comes into play in two stages. In the first, you have to pick the rats off from a distance and in the second, they cause her to stampede through the rest of the stage, forcing you to protect her from any obstacles or enemies in her path. It’s probably no coincidence that, being more mechanically developed, she is used more often than Rambi was in either of the previous two games – even having a boss fight to herself.
And while the Northern Kremisphere does have rather generic themes compared to those in Crocodile Isle, Mr. Stamper and his team continue to do justice to every single one they use. This game follows the previous game’s lead in how it will introduce several themes in a world only to reintroduce them later under radically different circumstances. The most striking example is how the second world, Kremwood Forest, sensibly has many stages taking place in large trees and riverbanks. When the tree theme is used again, it’s in Mekanos, a polluted island used as a base for the Kremlings. The industrialization is thus reflected in how the tree stage is being destroyed by a giant ripsaw, forcing the Kongs to climb quickly.
Moreover, while I do feel that Donkey Kong Country 3 runs a basic gamut of video-game settings, I can say with absolute certainty that Mr. Stamper and his team did every single one of them justice. When you’re going through the Kremlings’ factories, you get the sense danger is around every corner – especially in light of how the primary enemies in these stages possess some kind of ballistics weapons. My personal favorite theme, however, would be the cliffside stages. All of these stages involve significant amounts of climbing, and as you near the top, the canyon in the background sinks out of view. By the end, it is completely gone, making you feel a great sense of accomplishment for having successfully reached the peak. It really allows to appreciate the enormity of Dixie’s journey.
Another common complaint about this game regards the quality of the soundtrack. When I’m hearing out criticisms of this game, I can usually see where the detractors are coming from even if I don’t completely agree with them. This, however, is the one criticism I simply do not understand, for the soundtrack of Donkey Kong Country 3 is great. The previous two games were primarily composed by David Wise while this installment had Eveline Fischer produce most of the music alongside him. While debatably not up to the incredibly high standards Mr. Wise set for Donkey Kong Country 2, Ms. Fischer composed many excellent tracks for Donkey Kong Country 3 with the factory, cliffside, and final boss themes especially standing out as highlights. In fact, I would go as far as saying their collaboration surpasses the quality of the original’s soundtrack. The atmosphere and character are still there, and it’s touches like these which contribute to the epic quality of the experience.
In fact, not only does Donkey Kong Country 3 do a great job capturing what made Donkey Kong Country 2 such a great experience, it improves on many of the older game’s ideas. Simply being able to save the game whenever you want is a tremendous improvement by itself, but the most subtle improvement involves the presence of Koins. They turn what was originally an excuse to make players search every nook and cranny of a given stage into an actual puzzle. Koins are seldom hidden from the player, so the challenge lies less in finding them and more in finding out how to guide the steel kegs into their unprotected backs. This also means not having to win a DK Coin as an end-of-stage target prize. There are stages in which the steel keg that is made available doesn’t respawn, but it’s still less annoying to intentionally lose a life and make your way back from the halfway point than it is to begin the stage anew upon every failed attempt.
One subtle improvement over the original I enjoy regards the boss lineup. In the previous two games, bosses were often just larger versions of normal enemies. Admittedly, this wasn’t a problem in Donkey Kong Country 2 because you still had to use wildly different tactics to defeat them, but when compared to the creativity that went into the stage design, it was slightly lacking.
With one exception, this is no longer true in Donkey Kong Country 3. The very first boss you fight is a giant barrel named Belcha. He spews barrels that contain insects you can have Dixie or Kiddy jump on. Doing so causes them to fall on their back, allowing them to be picked up. They can then throw the insects into Belcha’s maw, causing him to live to his name by belching so hard, he pushes himself back. You win by knocking him into the pit opposite the Kongs’ starting position. Other bosses include a giant spider and a large mollusk residing behind a waterfall.
One boss even goes as far as changing up the gameplay itself. The boss of K3, the Northern Kremisphere’s mountain region, is a snowman named Bleak. Taking advantage of the setting, you engage with him in a snowball fight, using the exact same controls and over-the-shoulder perspective of Swanky’s carnival minigame. It’s a neat touch in that the game allows you to familiarize yourself with this unique control scheme as early as the first world, yet it is, strictly speaking, never mandatory. Indeed, because Bear Coins are useless after you have purchased everything, and there isn’t nearly as much of a pressing need to obtain extra lives as in previous games, you could very well march into Bleak’s House only to have no idea what to do when your perspective shifts. Even so, I do enjoy how the game foreshadows this development without directly imposing it upon the player. It demonstrates a lot of faith in the player’s inherent curiosity.
Finally, no Donkey Kong Country game would be complete without some kind of antagonist. For Donkey Kong Country 3, Mr. Stamper and his team seemed to take cues from the Mega Man franchise by having an entirely new antagonist usurp the role from K. Rool. This time, a robot named KAOS leads the Kremlings against the Kongs. This entry even changes up the formula by having the Kongs fight the main antagonist in the game’s fourth world, Mekanos, but the robot naturally escapes before the coup de grâce can be delivered. The Kongs then chase him to Kaos Kore – the castle in the northernmost section of the world.
The reason I say they seemed to be inspired by Mega Man is because as surprising as it is to see a different character lead the Kremlings, it’s even more unsurprising when you learn KAOS was being controlled by K. Rool the whole time – this time under the new moniker Baron K. Roolenstein. Regardless of the hoops you had to jump through to get there, Donkey Kong Country 3, true to form, makes K. Rool the most difficult boss in the game. Like his namesake, he has a fascination with electricity, which he expresses by activating two nodes on either side of the arena, forcing Dixie and Kiddy to platform over the current during the boss fight itself. Surprisingly, it’s not as awkward as it sounds, and continues to demonstrate just how ahead of the curve Mr. Stamper and his team were compared to other Western developers when it came to boss fights.
When K. Rool is defeated yet again, he makes a clean getaway. DK and Diddy pop out of KAOS – the implication being that they were brainwashed and forced to power the robot. Even if she wasn’t created with the express intent of increasing female representation in gaming, I do like how Rare subverted the usual conventions of its day by having Dixie successfully rescue her boyfriend and DK. In fact, she ends the trilogy as one of the only protagonists who never gets kidnapped. She even demonstrates a bit of character growth, going from balking in fear of bosses in Donkey Kong Country 2 only to engage in some trash talking before her battle against K. Rool here.
Naturally, K. Rool’s getaway is a loose end that needs to be tied up. As K. Rool drops the last Bonus Coin upon defeat, you can use it to access the final stage in Krematoa. One thing that is admittedly disappointing about the Lost World is how it sort of falls back into old patterns. The final world of Donkey Kong Country, Chimp Caverns, just rehashed themes found throughout the rest of the game, and Krematoa follows in its footsteps. By contrast, the Lost World of Donkey Kong Country 2 prominently featured a unique jungle motif in addition to its two callbacks to previous themes.
The good news is that the stages of Krematoa are quite a bit more inventive than those of Chimp Caverns. While the latter world used ideas that came across as rejected concepts for earlier stages, Krematoa still maintains a high level of creativity throughout. It’s difficult to argue against a team that came up with a stage where you bounce off of steel kegs fired by an offscreen enemy. Then there’s the final stage, Rocket Rush, wherein Dixie and Kiddy must ride the titular vehicle to the end of the stage, making sure not to run out of fuel in the process.
Every stage in the Lost World rewards Dixie and Kiddy with a cog. As it so happens, there is a machine in Boomer’s Bomb Shelter in which the cogs fit perfectly. Once all five cogs are placed in the machine, Krematoa becomes active, causing the lake in the center to heat up. This exposes K. Rool’s personal submarine: the Knautilus.
While Donkey Kong Country 2 was novel for the series in how it included a second encounter against K. Rool you had to clear in order to get the true ending, I find myself giving even more credit to Donkey Kong Country 3. The true final fight against K. Rool in that game was challenging, but he still only required one shot to defeat. In this game, K. Rool is arguably harder in his second encounter, requiring an incredibly good aim in order to strike him with the steel kegs while avoiding any electrical currents in his arena.
However, upon defeating him, you learn even this effort isn’t quite enough. Rather than being taken to the credits, K. Rool merely drops a DK Coin and makes another getaway. What can you do now? The answer to that question lies with the Banana Birds. If you take all of the DK Coins to Funky, he will make one last vehicle – a Gyrocopter. This vehicle gives you complete freedom to explore the overworld, and if you do, your attention will be drawn to a series of clouds in the northwestern portions.
Here, a being known as the Banana Bird Queen has been imprisoned by K. Rool. She can only be freed if her children are all returned to her. It’s not possible to have found all of the Banana Birds without getting the Gyrocopter, as three can only be accessed by air. It is slightly anti-climactic how the final vehicle doesn’t unlock yet another secret world. It does, in a way, create a puzzle from flying around in the Gyrocopter, the trick being to scour the overworld until the names of the caverns appear on the bottom of the screen, but it’s no substitute for actual stages. Regardless, I do like how the DK Coins have a real purpose now whereas in Donkey Kong Country 2, they primarily existed for bragging rights.
When the queen is freed, she chases after K. Rool, who has absconded with Funky’s hovercraft. As soon as she looms overhead, she drops a giant eggshell on him, trapping him inside. While not as visually impressive as seeing Crocodile Isle sink, I think it’s fitting for a cartoonish game to end on a note that wouldn’t have felt out of place in Looney Tunes.
Drawing a Conclusion
When reviewing Donkey Kong Country, I remarked that it has enjoyed a strange afterlife, but I think the same could be said of the trilogy as a whole. Due to a combination of being the best-selling installment and the only one to actually star the title character in a playable role, most discussion of the trilogy tends to revolve around the original. It was consequently the installment that took the brunt of the critical devaluation when the first wave of independent critics began chanting the “graphics don’t make the game” mantra in the 2000s. In certain circles, it was so bad that they applied the criticism to its sequels as well.
I suspect a lot of this can be at least partially attributed to the rather notorious aversion to sequels cinephiles have, which was, in turn, a trait appropriated by the first wave of independent gaming critics attempting to ape their style. After all, if the first game is a style-over-substance affair, clearly its sequels are as well, right? It’s not an entirely unfair criticism of the original game, which didn’t do anything better that Nintendo hadn’t six and four years earlier with Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World respectively. However, it would be a gigantic mistake to dismiss Donkey Kong Country 2 in such a manner, for it has plenty to offer even today. The good news is that there was an even bigger backlash to this reevaluation, and all three games became perfectly acceptable to like again.
Even so, what makes this especially interesting is even after the acerbic ethos that defined the first wave of independent gaming critics died down, Donkey Kong Country 3 remained – and remains – a fairly controversial installment. You won’t run into many people who think it’s outright bad, but the opinions of this game tend to vary greatly. In a way, I can see why someone would draw this conclusion solely through crunching the numbers. After all, how many trilogies can you name in which the third installment is the weakest? A lot of them follow a very consistent pattern; the first is a beloved classic, the second provides a great follow-up due to creators having more experience, and the third is a letdown because it either couldn’t live up to the audience’s sky-high expectations or provided an unsatisfactory conclusion.
However, I personally assert that the Donkey Kong Country trilogy defies this trend in the strangest way possible because the original game is the clear weak link, coming across as a prototype to both of its sequels – and not just Donkey Kong Country 2. Yes, I can agree with detractors to the extent that Donkey Kong Country 3 has more obvious flaws than its direct predecessor, but they don’t meaningfully hamper the quality of the experience. An annoying sidekick may be able to ruin a narrative-heavy experience, but this generally isn’t an issue in a game almost exclusively focused on platforming. There might be an exception to be made if said character is just that obnoxious, but this game’s deuteragonist doesn’t come anywhere close to exceeding such a threshold.
In fact, once you’re able to get past those flaws, you’ll begin to realize that Donkey Kong Country 3 does an amazingly good job building upon what Mr. Stamper and his team accomplished with the trilogy’s second installment. Indeed, anyone who insists Donkey Kong Country 3 has less to offer than even the original isn’t giving it nearly enough credit. The level design still boasts a ton of variety, and the bonus areas ensure the average player will want to explore these lovingly crafted environments to their fullest extent. Even the heavily criticized soundtrack is still excellent overall – it just had the misfortune of following an especially tough act. At the end of the day, while Donkey Kong Country 3 may not possess the sheer punching power of its direct predecessor, it still adheres to a standard of exceptionally high quality few developers could hope to match.
Final Score: 8.5/10