Donkey Kong Country changed the landscape in 2D platforming. Part of it was due to being pretty, the other part was due to the games unique design that, for the most part, was instrumental in shaping how Donkey Kong Country differentiated itself from other platformers of the time. Donkey Kong Country 2 perfected what it really meant to play Donkey Kong Country at the time. In 1996 the series would get one final outing on the Super Nintendo. Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble. For the most part it was a good game. Unfortunately by the time it came out Super Mario 64 had reinvented the wheel of platforming, Crash Bandicoot soon followed thereafter, and platforming was suddenly unique in a different way. Chalk that up with the fact that Donkey Kong Country 3 just didn't offer us anything new... and surprisingly enough... the game was passed over. It still sold several copies and became one of the bestselling consoles on the title, but it never hit the mark that the other two in the series hit, and being passed over for something like Super Mario 64 probably wasn't a bad thing in the end. There were just things about Donkey Kong Country 3 that plain old didn't sit well in the long run.
The story is almost a copy and paste of Donkey Kong Country 2. The only difference is that this time Donkey and Diddy have been kidnapped. It's also not Kaptain K. Rool this time, but rather one of his relatives. At least we think it might be. We're never actually sure. If you were playing a platformer on the Super Nintendo for story there, you might want to get your head examined. With Donkey and Diddy both kidnapped it's up to Dixie to save them. Only this time she's accompanied by Kiddy Kong... a giant baby. Most of the characters in Donkey Kong Country are forgettable, but there's none who are quite as annoying as Kiddy Kong. I guess making a middle game with two light characters meant they needed a heavy one. And Kiddy Kong is big. At least enough that he can be used to discover secrets.
The world map is more expansive in Donkey Kong Country 3, letting you explore a little more at times. There are still seven worlds and a hidden lost world (that cost Bonus Coins to access the levels) but there are also a few other things you can do. The importance of collecting was made much more important in Donkey Kong Country 3. In Donkey Kong Country 2, simply finding all the bonus areas was enough, but in Donkey Kong Country 3 they added the element of caves where going and replaying a musical sequence through a series of button presses, gave you a banana bird. In order to do all this, however, you might've needed several other hidden goodies that you might get from bosses or one of the Bear brothers. The game also didn't stop with the Hero coins. Those giant coins with a DK on them. Again, it's more of a test to see if you can find them all. But even this has an added element to it. By making the coin a puzzle. An enemy only known as Koin holds each DK coin and you need to figure out how to throw a silver barrel behind him in order to hit him and make him drop it. Sometimes it's straightforward, other times it's meticulous.
These are all fine, but it's mostly the levels themselves that aren't as amusing with Donkey Kong Country 3. For the most part the design is unchanged, but that may be part of the problem. Donkey Kong Country 2 was such a step up from the first that I suppose some of us (myself included) were expecting Donkey Kong Country 3 to wow our socks off. It may be that expectations were too high, but for the most part, the levels simply weren't as intuitive as what you saw in the first two games. The first in the series was able to provide some neat challenges, while the second was able to give players a good challenge. Especially in collecting everything. Most of Donkey Kong Country 3's innovative and truly well designed levels... are few and far between. To put it another way, a good deal of the levels in the game are rather boring when compared to the two games that came before it. And if it isn't that, it's too scared to come up with a level that gives us something amusing for Donkey Kong Country. For the most part Donkey Kong Country 3 plays it safe, and there's really nothing wrong with that.
That isn't to say that there are no amusingly designed levels. In fact the ones that are uniquely designed may, indeed, be some of the best levels that the Donkey Kong Country games have EVER given you. They're just few and far between. There's one level, for instance where you have to dodge the shots from a gun. It's not frustrating and it's a good challenge. Moments like these keep the game from feeling stale. Another level puts you in a labyrinth where because of what's in it the controls are backwards (up is down and down is up) and in another level you have to guide a rocket safely down to a canyon and then ignite it and ride it all the way back up (it's easily the best level Donkey Kong Country has ever had... and I mean ever!). These are fantastic levels. It's just that far two many levels don't get as intuitive as this. It may be because a different portion of the team worked on it. Who knows.
On the other hand, Donkey Kong Country 3 has some of the most unique boss fights out there. What Donkey Kong Country 3 lacks in level design it more than makes up for in its approach to each boss fight. In the previous two games it was either jump on a boss or throw a barrel. Donkey Kong Country 3 has more cleverly designed battles. In one fight you have to fight a giant barrel by throwing the bugs it spits out back into his mouth and have him belch off the ledge. In another you have to squirt water in his eyes before you can do away with him. The best fight is actually the final boss in the hidden lost world. It's easily the most challenging and amusing fight you'll find in any of the Donkey Kong Country games. Even better than that climactic battle with Kaptain K. Rool on his flying croc copter in the second game.
Donkey Kong Country 3 provides a good number of challenges. The only real problem is that it feels too much like Donkey Kong Country 2. It doesn't do much beyond the Banana birds to really separate itself from the second game. If it were filled with more uniquely designed levels it might be better than the second game. And if Kiddie Kong weren't such an annoying character.
Graphic wise it's almost the same deal. With Donkey Kong Country 2 reaching it's height of detail... it's not like Donkey Kong Country 3 could hope to look much better. It DOES, surprisingly, but I wouldn't be surprised if someone looked at the two games side by side and couldn't figure it out. Let's just put it this way... the N64 was around and so was the Playstation. The beauty of Donkey Kong Country just wasn't as amusing in 1996. It was still a beautiful game. It may perhaps be the best looking game on the Super Nintendo. It's unfair to punish it just because it didn't (or rather couldn't) look as good as a system designed to be more powerful. So let's not knock Donkey Kong Country 3 for that. What we CAN knock it for is thinking that it's pretty graphics (some of the nicer effects are really fabulous too) were going to be enough to distract us from how mundane some of the levels were. This same thing is true of the music. It was really incredible in the first two games, but the third game goes for a more relaxed soundtrack that doesn't make you think adventure enough. It's still a nice soundtrack, just not as impressive as the first or second title. It's just not exciting enough.
All told it seems like Donkey Kong Country 3 isn't up to snub with its older brothers. That's not entirely true. It is up to snub. It's a brilliant game that follows the formula that helped make the second one the best of the lot. It isn't filled with as much fun and excitement. The campaign is still worth going through and it's still worth mastering... the adventure just isn't as memorable. At some points tackling the levels feels more like a chore than actual fun... and that's really what makes the big difference. If you're nostalgic it's still worth playing. Perhaps it's really that Donkey Kong Country 2 achieved such a good level of greatness that Donkey Kong Country 3 couldn't hope to compare. It's happened to best of video games (and movies, but we'll talk about that some other time, thanks). It means Donkey Kong Country 3 is brilliant but not quite perfection.
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