GBA Review: Donkey Kong Country 3

Looking down the limp lineup of Game Boy Advance games for this year, it seems hard-pressed the system will last yet another year - at best Nintendo will be able to squeeze one more GBA holiday shopping season into the mix. Since 2001 Nintendo has shoveled over countless Super Nintendo ports to the system and now almost five years later it seems the company is scratching at the bottom of the well.

History has repeated itself and Donkey Kong Country 3, developed by Rare and released on the dying Super Nintendo in 1996, finds itself being tossed onto the tail end of a system's life. While the game might hold some short-term appeal, playing a couple of levels proves that DKC3 played monkey-see, monkey-do with the original titles in the series and serves up a been-there, done-that experience.

Innocently enough, DKC3 follows the franchise format and begins with something turning up missing. Donkey and Diddy Kong have mysteriously disappeared and DKC2 veteran Dixie sets out to find them. Along the way she is tossed a random (and extremely annoying) sidekick by the name of Kiddie Kong in order to battle hordes of Kremlings through a number of varying environments. While the infant Kiddie looks harmless, he serves as a throwback to the original since he controls exactly like Donkey Kong with the roll, roll jumping and greater overall power. Is he Donkey Kong's illegitimate love child? Only time will tell... We could only imagine because that would make for a much more interesting story than the "find the Kong again" scheme.

But let's put my jaded sarcasm to the side for just one second. By slightly altering the series' tried-and-true format, DKC3 has some interesting ideas going for it. However, I can't really pinpoint anything one thing the game does perfectly - well, aside from wasting even more of your time hunting down pointless extra items and "mini-games."

Of course the most frequently talked about aspect of Donkey Kong Country when it released in 1994 was its revolutionary graphics. The rendering of the graphics turned many heads and just the other day, I was talking with a friend about how impressed we were with the old Donkey Kong Country VHS promo Nintendo tossed around prior to its release. The series remains to this day one of the most visually appealing games on the Super Nintendo and its detailed characters and lush environments are not lost on the GBA's DKC3. The intricate attention to detail not only provides a great look and identity for the game, but all of the action onscreen animates extremely well. With subtle rotation effects, items can appear to actually be three-dimensional and Swanky's Dash (a mini-game very often compared to Sonic 2's half pipe bonus stage) pushes the GBA with great scaling effects and a quasi-3-D presentation.

While the meat of the game has superb graphics, there are a few nuances and other areas of the game that suffer visually. The most notable strike against the game's graphics is its color scheme. While the game accommodates to those with the original Game Boy Advance with an overabundance of brightness in its color palettes, the many people who have since upgraded to any of the backlit systems will be punched in the face with a burst of red, green and blue. While it does actually help out a tad in the darker, cavernous levels, the underwater levels end up looking like a tie-dye factory exploded and generally looks displeasing to the eye. Outside of the levels on the main maps, the graphics are a bit less impressive with generic environments, animations looping in about four frames and since the game is on a portable screen, many of the objects such as your character are a tad too small. Overall, while it isn't a huge deal, the maps are generally unimpressive and players will more than likely mash the buttons toward their goal. It doesn't come close to matching the quality of other areas of the game and makes for an iffy presentation.

Audibly, DKC3 sounds superb as basically every single sound byte produced for the original two games was recycled and music that fits the theme of each stage was created for the new adventure. Rare opted out on supplying gamers with at least a couple more fresh sound effects, but on the plus side the scores from the original production of DKC3 were re-produced in order to accommodate the Game Boy Advance's hardware. While this means the music quality in DKC3 is on par to be among the best on the system, those with the hardcore monkey-fetish might be bothered to know the music doesn't match what was featured in the Super Nintendo cart. Even though the tunes don't match the original, all the music is well composed and really flesh out the different levels - dark levels start out with quiet music and build up, underwater levels feature a tranquil track and the tunnel levels thunder with an urgent, orchestral tune. Rolling along with the island theme of the game, menus and maps feature tropical music and really helps bring the environment alive. Overall, aside from unoriginal sound bytes, the music featured in DKC3 could very well be the game's strongest facet.

Unfortunately, while a rose looks pretty, it also has thorns and after three iterations, DKC3's stale game play mechanics will be pricking players who drop a full-fledged thirty bucks on the title. The game play is pound-for-pound the same as featured in the first two games, featuring the same types of levels, same enemies and same items. While that does mean the game is satisfyingly challenging with fine-tuned controls, it's pretty much like riding a roller coaster three times in a row - the novelty wears off fast and DKC3's resurgence after an entire decade makes the game play seem grossly outdated. Every game in the series continued on with the "same game, different levels" mentality and aside from the changing of characters, each iteration was nothing more than adding another number after the title. Dixie has no new abilities, Kiddie plays exactly like Donkey Kong and most of the animal friends remain the same with the same abilities. Same is the theme here and it seemed part three was a mere excuse to cash in as a last hoorah for the Super Nintendo. And aside from an extra area to explore and a lame "pass-the-GBA" two-player mode, the Game Boy version is nothing more than a straight port of the SNES version. Unless you're constantly on the go or have a good two-hour trip ahead of you, there's no extra benefit to owning the game if you kept a hold of the Super Nintendo cartridge. I got through everything I wanted to see in about two hours, which is not something I wish to spend thirty dollars on.

Since the game play remains unchanged, that also leaves my biggest quirk I have with the series untouched - the pointless searching for extras. While the extras add on to the game play and can stretch a player's game time to up to eight hours, the player must endure dozens of pointless mini-games and fetch quests in order to get the full-fledged 103% and completely finish the game. Searching for all of the bonus barrels opens up some challenging possibilities and branching paths in levels, but once inside, you are subjected to annoying tasks in order to obtain banana coins. Whether it be collecting re-appearing bananas, rushing to an exit or bashing all of the baddies in the room, the medial tasks just grated my nerves. Freeing banana birds reduces you to playing a game of Simon - a completely overused and uninteresting concept in video games. If the items unlocked features, gave additional abilities or something worthwhile, I would be more compelled to uncover everything, but combing over every pixel of every level isn't appealing to me for the sake of adding to my completion percentage. Other trivial items tossed about through the levels are the DK coins, banana birds and an "inventory" which houses nothing but fetch-quest items. They in no way progress the game and are in the game for the excuse to make players trudge through the same levels over and over. The one added item which has any immediate function are the new silver coins which allow you to participate in a few mini-games featuring Cranky and Swanky Kong but other than that they serves as nothing more than salable for your inventory items.

While your inventory sounds like it might be helpful, DKC3's menu holds useless items which are traded back and forth for banana birds and other items which you'll need to pass along to the next character on the world map. The world map got a bit of an overhaul this time around, but even with free roaming swimming and boating areas, the map is still completely linear and does nothing but waste a player's time when the objective is merely getting to the next action level. The free roaming areas open up a possibility for exploration and there are indeed a few hidden areas to find, but they reveal nothing more than the banana birds and coins that have no impact on the game play. The map does reveal a few surprising extras, though, especially in Funky's shop where the boats he fixes not only can be used to float to the next area, but Rare provided an interesting flashback in the form of mini-games that control exactly like Rare's Nintendo Entertainment System game Cobra Triangle. Occasionally you'll come across inventory items which will allow Funky to fix up a few more watercrafts and unlock even more Cobra Triangle-esque missions which should bring a grin to the face of any nostalgic gamer. It seems Rare attempted to do a few new interesting things with the world map in part three but overall the changes just come across as more of pain than the straight-forward approach the first two games took.

Sure, the game play is a little outdated and flat, but that's not to say there is no fun to be had in Donkey Kong Country 3. DKC3 sports some of the most impressive visuals and soundtracks on the portable system and gamers on the go will find a solid platformer with which to kill time. The game is by no means revolutionary but with the system entering the year on its last leg, this is one top tier title Game Boy Advance owners won't want to miss as the field of games available for the GBA is seemingly thinning out from here. Platformer fans definitely need apply as tight controls and decent level design make for enjoyable quick play but in order to complete the entire game, players will have to invest an extra number of tedious hours and have massive patience running on fetch quests and scoping out every corner of each level. I'm not one of those players though. I'm content with merely clearing every level. If I can't shoot lasers out of my eyes or something after collecting 20 of those annoying DK coins, then count me out.

(*** out of *****)

Comments (2)

LKM:

I don't want to comment on this game, since I haven't played it, but on the graphic style of the Donkey Kong games on the SNES. I hate it.

I can understand that Nintendo needed something with a 3D-style effect in it since 3D was all the rage when those games came out, but I honestly never got it. I think one of the greatest advantages that 2D games have are the beautiful hand-drawn graphics.

Donkey Kong's faux 3D graphics take that advantage away, and to me, that game always looked sterile, fake and cold, despite all the colors.

What's amazing is how the marketing worked. I firmly believed back then the Playstation couldn't do what the SNES could. In the end, they were NOTHING special. They were plain old sprites that didn't push the hardware at all.

I can agree with LKM here (more proof the apocalypse is coming soon) that they don't hold up. The colors are so limited that aside from the animation, it probably looks worse than mose of the library.

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