One was a technological marvel, the other made it even better.
It’s funny how often two different things can complement each other so well that you can’t imagine one without the other. This is the case with Rare’s Donkey Kong Country and its sequel, Diddy’s Kong Quest. The two games are so good, logic dictates that they should be separated into their own places in various “Best of” lists. But in this case, we have decided to honor the two of them in one spot.
Donkey Kong Country was a technological revolution back when it was released in 1994. Up until this point, Rare was mainly known as an English development company known for major “classics” like Beetlejuice on the NES (and Anticipation! - NR). Thanks to their technical ingenuity, however, they created a Super Nintendo title that broke new ground in visual fidelity, and also brought back a classic Nintendo character as a major hero.
The game stars the famous Donkey Kong in his own universe. His banana hoard has been ransacked by King K. Rool, leader of the Kremlings. Joining DK is Diddy Kong, a newcomer who would later become synonymous with the franchise. It was a great mix of the old and the new, all feeling like a classic Nintendo experience.
Much like other SNES classics such as Star Fox and Yoshi’s Island, the first thing players noticed about Donkey Kong Country was the graphics. Using an advanced sprite-rendering system, the game gave us an astounding amount of detail not yet seen in any game of its kind. Seeing things like the fur on Donkey Kong’s body or the sunset on the horizon allowed us to feel closer to the game world long before everything went 3D.
The gameplay was very polished, even if it felt basic when compared to the other platformers of the era. So much so that, for some players, the game was all flash and no substance. That’s where Donkey Kong Country 2 comes in. Released a year after the first game, Diddy’s Kong Quest took everything that made the first game a winner and improved upon it in nearly every way, making it the most complete game in the series.
In the second outing, Donkey Kong has been kidnapped by the Kremling crew, forcing Diddy to go and rescue him. Dixie Kong joined him as this game's newcomer, a character many grew to love thanks to her abilities and personality. Even when Donkey Kong was no longer the main character in his own series, the high level of polish of the previous game was still present and accounted for in the sequel.
The visuals were even more impressive than before, especially since it was released just as the PlayStation was slowly taking the world by storm. It also saw significant improvement where it really mattered: the gameplay. The stage design was some of the best seen in the series, introducing an increasing level of challenge that kept players coming back for more.
The one element in both games that really shined was the music. Both games featured some of the best music ever heard on the SNES, featuring dynamic melodies that truly captured the mood of the stages. A large variety of styles, including jolly sea shanties and haunting songs, were featured on the soundtracks, a tradition Rare wouldn’t abandon for years to come.
Donkey Kong Country set the standards of how a platformer could look and play like. Even if the gameplay wasn’t as in-depth, it remains one of the most important achievements of the SNES. Diddy’s Kong Quest took everything to the next level, offering the most complete and balanced experience of any of the games in the series. That’s why we have decided to celebrate them both, as one wouldn’t exist without the other, and both are incredible experiences that shaped the Super NES into one of the most beloved and respected consoles ever made.