Donkey Kong Country 3: A Beautiful Look Back

My first console was Super Nintendo and any mention of it will send me on some boyhood nostalgic rant. Among my favorites were those from the Donkey Kong franchise. By the time SNES was on my living room floor, all three Donkey Kong Country games were released. I played them all at the same time, rotating one out for the next. If anyone asked what my favorite was, I wouldn’t flinch to say Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong’s Quest. It would just come out, like a reflex.

Like other gamers a few weeks ago, I was constantly checking in on the Games Done Quick (GDQ) charity speedruns. I wasn’t following any schedule, and it was by complete coincidence that I dropped in on the speedrun of Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble! Years had passed since I last thought about this installment, but while watching the speedrun I noticed something — the graphics were astounding.

Compared to the overworlds of its predecessors, the Northern Kremisphere is rich in color. This seems appropriate, as it’s based on the northern regions of Europe and Canada. The dedication to detail is also apparent from the first level — we can see the background forest’s reflection in the water of Lakeside Limbo. Levels such as Ropey Rumpus boast chiseled cliffs; others like Pot Hole Panic, intricate caverns. Everything about the game is bright and textured. Even the enemies, from the orange Klasps to the purple Skiddas, stand out against the level designs. It’s almost as if Kiddy’s bright blue bib portends the game’s entire aesthetic.

During the speed run, KOAS Kore level Poisonous Pipeline caught my attention for a different reason. The players explained the added challenge of the controls being reversed (e.g. pressing left will turn right). I forgot about this “twist,” which prompted me to look for other levels in the game that had non-traditional premises. In Krack Shot Kroc, the unseen enemy Kroc tracks the player and tries to shoot them throughout the level. In Ripsaw Rage, the player is in an uphill race to the end while a giant saw chases from below. Some consider these gimmicks, though I don’t. Instead, these levels seem to be calling attention to something that isn’t in front of the player.

It was hard to listen to the game’s music while watching the speedrun. Afterwards, I turned to the internet to watch some more runs of DKC3 with the music playing loud and clear. I was certain the soundtrack couldn’t match the melodies of DKC2. I was right. The soundtrack, composed by Eveline Fischer, didn’t have the catchy hooks of its predecessor. Yet it still worked. “Stilt Village” gives a feeling of light playfulness. Tracks like “Treetop Tumble,” on the other hand, give a hint of subtle urgency. Fisher made sure to not hit the player over the head with an intended emotion.

It seems that upon its release, DKC3 sought to challenge the idea that a Donkey Kong game could be more than just the sum of its parts. Just because an overworld is intended to guide a gamer’s progress doesn’t mean they shouldn’t explore along the way. Just because a background doesn’t contribute to a level’s objective doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be detailed. Indeed, with the game’s release at the end of the SNES’ lifecycle (Nintendo 64 was released two months before), this seems only more appropriate. Yes, the approach to DKC3 could’ve been deliberate, justifying all these differences as obvious and inevitable, but intention doesn’t guarantee results. A new direction doesn’t guarantee a successful game. Overall, DKC3 succeeds in many ways that I’d simply never considered.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, and there are some who defend DKC3 as the best of the SNES releases. Am I now a convert to this camp? Not necessarily, but this beautiful look back has given me more to consider. All I can say is to revisit the game for yourselves. At the very least, you’ll get an amazing view.