Let’s rank the Super NES Donkey Kong games
25th November 2021
I have pretty fond memories of the Super NES days. For me, that was my entry point into gaming - it all started when my parents got me the console along with Super Mario Allstars for Christmas in 1993.
However, it was the 1994 arrival of Rare’s first take on Donkey Kong - the original Donkey Kong Country - that really blew me away. With cutting-edge graphics and groundbreaking audio, it was clearly streets ahead of everything else that was out at the time.
The Super NES ended up seeing three separate Donkey Kong Country releases during its lifespan, and while they were all very good, there were definitely some I liked more than others.
So in today’s post, I’m going to look at the three 16-bit DKC games and decide how I would rank them. (Of course, it’s just my personal opinion - I’m sure many people would disagree with me. Like with just about anything, I suppose).
Let’s get started!
3rd place - Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble
While I’m aware that a lot of people have a soft spot for this entry in the series - and it’s certainly not a bad game by any stretch - something about DKC3 just didn’t quite do it for me.
It certainly had a pretty different ‘feel’ than the first two games in the series. The character designs seemed different, the music wasn’t quite as catchy and earwormy (although the soundtrack definitely had its moments), and there were a lot of new gameplay elements that didn’t all seem to fit (for example, the Brothers Bear and their RPG-esque trading sequence).
In a way, though, Donkey Kong Country 2 had set a ridiculously high bar, and I suspect the follow-up is mostly only guilty of not quite managing to reach the stars despite being excellent in its own way.
Even though it’s my least favourite of the Super NES trilogy, I’d still recommend it to anybody who hasn’t played it. There’s a lot that I do like about it, anyway, such as the frankly remarkable graphics and the responsive, intuitive, and finely honed platformer controls.
Is that a fair assessment, DKC3 fans? I didn’t even complain about Kiddy Kong…
2nd place - Donkey Kong Country
I was obsessed with the original Donkey Kong Country. Even though I was too young at the time to fully appreciate the enormity of the technical feat unfolding on the screen before me, there was something about the game and its general vibe that just sank its hooks into me.
I loved the characters, the music, the gameplay, everything - and I’ve come back to DKC1 time and again over the years. Something about it is extremely accessible; it’s a great game to dive into and get to grips with quickly, and yet offers genuine challenge in its later stages.
It’s also a great game for speedrunning. I briefly got into running Donkey Kong Country a few years ago (don’t worry, I was pretty much terrible at it) and truly came to appreciate the flow and rhythm of the game. You can really tell that Rare’s designers had laid out the stages with an eye for playing at speed, and many of the level elements are placed ‘just so’ to allow you to blaze through if you learn the correct timings.
It’s a fantastic game that still holds up today - as does its follow-up…
1st place - Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest
I love this game to pieces. I still include it among my favourite games of all time, which is pretty impressive something that came out 25 years ago.
Everything about it is fantastic. The graphics, the iconic soundtrack, the inventive level designs, the inspired decision to give the entire game a pirate theme, the atmosphere throughout.
And can we take a momentary diversion to talk about the ballsy-ness of the creative decision to have you not play as Donkey Kong in Donkey Kong Country 2? Imagine making a franchise sequel centred on a famous gaming icon, and then not even putting them in the game!
It’s just a brilliant display of virtuoso game creation by a world-class development team, and looking back from the vantage point of today, it has become even more apparent over the years just how far above every other Super NES game Donkey Kong Country 2 really was in terms of quality.
In my opinion, Diddy's Kong Quest improved on its already impressive predecessor in every conceivable way, and still sits at the very top of the pile for the 16-bit console generation.
Whether you agree with my assessment of the relative merits of the Super Nintendo Donkey Kong games or not, I can certainly reinforce that all three of them were each tremendous pieces of software in their own way.
Of course, that wasn’t the last we saw of the Donkey Kong Country franchise on home consoles, as the series was revived by Retro Studios in 2010 in the form of Donkey Kong Country Returns and its follow-up, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze.
Personally, I’m hoping they might announce a third one sometime soon, and then we could compare a new trilogy to the old one. Hey, I’m never going to not buy a new Donkey Kong platformer, so my fingers are crossed!