Nintendo don't do hardcore games.
Really? Go play Donkey Kong Country.
After establishing a solid reputation with games like Battletoads Rare became a Nintendo developer and set to work on Donkey Kong Country for the SNES. DKC featured side scrolling platforming with 3D visuals and was an excellent showcase for what the SNES could do. It has since of course spawned a huge series and is currently in the hands of the current 'Rare', if you will, while Retro studios handle it. The original is a classic and having played it extensively I thought now, with a new series entry due out this year, it would be a good game to review.
The gameplay centres around Donkey and Diddy Kong's quest to retrieve their bananas from the reptile like invaders of their island. During the course of their journey you'll encounter many beasts, swing through trees, race through mines, swim to the depths of the ocean, ride rhinos and swordfish and collect statues of birds because why the hell not? The gameplay is tight as a gnat's arse and features a good mix of fighting, jumping, riding vehicles and animals and exploration. The levels are full of secrets, clever design ideas like the canon barrels and, of course, death.
The gameplay is typical, though damn near perfect, platforming fare so I won't waste words running over the basics. What I will say though is how soul crushingly hard the game is. You start with only a handful of lives (though there is a code for 50) and you can only take two hits and each level only has one checkpoint. Also the first save point doesn't appear until the end of the second region so don't die. If you do fail a level it's back to the start or the checkpoint, run out of lives and its back to your last save point. And you will fail. A lot. The game makes Dark Souls look like child's play. This isn't a bad thing though. The difficulty gives the game a level of addiction that I have seen in very few games and the sense of reward/relief when you reach a save point is almost overwhelming. Rare have managed to strike an awe inspiring balance between challenge and reward and its this that makes the game one of the all time platforming greats. The only other notable gameplay addition is the ability to switch between Diddy and Donkey. Diddy is faster and much better at running and jumping whereas Donkey is a better fighter. You can switch on the fly and doing so is essential to master the secrets and the boss fights that this game offers.
Rare's triumphs don't just end with the gameplay though. Graphically the game is a masterpiece for the time. Pushing the SNES' tech to its limits, they created a 3D world for their 2D play style and everything from the characters to the items to the levels and the effects look truly stunning. Even by modern day standards the game looks far from shabby and it really is a testament to Rare's mastery of the hardware that they pulled this off.
Sound wise the game also excels with a soundtrack that is memorable and perfectly suited to the world that the game creates. In the easier moments of the game ill often hum along, only stopping when one of the game's innumerable challenges demands my full focus.
If you're willing to embrace the challenge, which admittedly can be daunting and is really the game's only potential flaw, then Donkey Kong Country is a must play game whether you're a Nintendo fan or not. This is an absolute gem of a game.