Dark Aspects of Nintendo #5 – Donkey Kong Country Trilogy (Part 1)
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Dark Aspects of Nintendo #5 – Donkey Kong Country Trilogy (Part 1)

January 9, 2020

Super Mario World remains one of my favorite
2D platformers ever- however for everything this classic side scroller did right in the
late 90’s, there was one thing it lacked: depth in atmosphere. There were exceptions, Valley of Bowser emerging
and the final fight were both pretty intense, but for the most part it was a silly romp
through colorful worlds to the tune of some upbeat music (just don’t mind the giant saws…) No, there’s another game series on the same
system that covered what Super Mario didn’t, and that was Donkey Kong Country. You may be wondering now, how can a game about
a gorilla recovering his stolen bananas possibly be any more sophisticated than a plumber saving
a princess? Well, that can be broken down to one major
component: an unparalleled delivery of music and visual ambience alongside the adventure. Today I’ll be looking at the Dark Aspects
of DKC- this time focusing on the mature direction in tone this game-changer established. The plot of DKC is as basic as one would expect. Without the strategy guide backstory that
adds a bit more word-building, in-game the player can head to the bottom of Donkey’s
treehouse to reveal the missing banana hoard he must get back: learning later that the
culprit is King K. Rool- a fearsome dictator with an intimidatingly bloodshot eye. Why exactly he’s taking the bananas is up
for debate- whether he wants to stave off the Kongs (which is dark in itself) or feed
his own pirate “krew” to combat scurvy (as suggested in another video of mine), we’ll
be looking less at theorization and more towards fact. So dismissing hypothetical implications, the
concept of stealing bananas is unarguably silly. What else does this tyrant do then as a villain,
and why should he be threatening? To start, he has unleashed his entire army
to scourge DK island- and in that time was able to construct an entire factory in the
fifth world of the game. Since it was presumably built on once lush
ground, this marks the first time in the trilogy this theme of “technology vs. nature”
is explored, and I quite like its execution here: it’s subtle. “Kremkroc Industries Inc.” is dangerous,
and the music expresses that very well. Flaming oil barrels, hanging chains, and toxic
waste make up most of the obstacles you’ll be facing along the way: the Game Boy Advance
version conveys this even better visually, as the map screen paints a more terrifying
picture of what this water pollution looks like from the outside with a vibrant green. Other than this one “theme” though there
isn’t any other area with a message: which takes me to my main analysis of what this
game is primarily about- a journey trekking through a jungle. And the jungle can be a scary place to be. In addition to the hostile “Kritters”
trying to stop your progress, there are plenty of natural predators like sharks willing to
end your game, too: and in this (again) the music works to really make the player FEEL
fear on a subconscious level. How, exactly? Well, legendary composer David Wise uses his
signature sound to incorporate ambient noises with a tonal tune, directly reflecting his
interpretation of each level theme. Aquatic Ambience is a commonly referred to
example as it provides a calming yet cautious atmosphere- perfect for an underwater stage
where everything is slower-paced. You never know what’s lurking beneath these
depths, so there’s a twinge of suspicion in the melody like most other tracks in the OST. Blizzarding mountains convey danger with even
the environment seemingly against you, temple locations give ominous undertones, and dim
caves mix sounds of dripping ceilings into a mysterious song. David Wise is not only a master of deciding
what songs fit to which stages, but also knowing when to use them. In the case of Misty Mines there’s a complete
absence of an overlaid tune at all: a choice of silence in a dank, foggy arena with only
sound effects to keep you on your toes really emphasises the uncomfortability these levels
emanate. There are also more of the cave types than
any other level layout in the game, meaning a good portion of this adventure is careful
spelunking (thanks to the music track, or lack thereof). To contrast, I feel that I should mention
minecarts and their bringing a different style of fear- they work to intimidate with fast-past
obstacles that require intimate concentration to best. Heart-racing gameplay means hopping over jagged
track to clear bottomless pits, leading to instant death and frustration for many players
hoping to simply make it to the end in one piece. “Minecart Carnage” sounds quite brutal,
too! If you want both high action thrill and ambient
horror combined, check out Stop and Go Station. Or don’t, it’s better to stay far away from
these Rockkroc abominations. BURN THEM! …You can play the GBA version too that lets
you finally kill them. Blackout Basement’s more on the frightening
side, too with flickering lights and lurking Kritters in the pitch black arena. Moving away from level design though I’d like
now to mention the Game Over screen- instead of a simple text pop-up this game clearly
wants to make you feel bad for ending these Kong’s journey early. Battered and beaten, a bruised pair of heroes
look dejectedly at the camera against a background void of light: sporting bandages and a black
eye for Diddy. To top it off, a crude wooden font hangs overhead
with melancholic music, leaving the player with a sole option of mashing their controller
to make it stop. I’m obviously exaggerating its effect a bit
to be entertaining, but the fact remains that it’s at the very least scary. If you manage to pull through and not let
this be the fate of these characters, K. Rool challenges an intense showdown to the beat
of what is arguably the most climactic final boss theme of all time- of course making for
a seriously engaging battle. Defeating him allows the credits to roll (that
is, after the fake ones), but his wrath (and therefore) these Dark Aspects are not over
yet as there are still two entire additional games to cover for this series. Join me next time for DKC2- the much more
foreboding and outwardly intimidating sequel. Thank you all for watching and I’ll see you
in the next episode.

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  1. Dude, where have you been? I'm still subscribed to you but thought you disappeared or something, even sent you a tweet to see if you were okay in RL.

  2. I would say the 2nd game is probably the darkest. Well mostly due to atmosphere. You are basically on K. Rool's island for the entire game and the true final world The Lost World is set inside the island itself and contains the island's core which is presumably in a decorated ceremonial hall of treasure which I am only guessing is K. Rool's throne room. Because this is K. Rool's world pretty much you just got more menacing areas. Decks of wrecked ships, flooded ship holds, ship masts, volcanic caverns, mine shafts, toxic swamps, thorn fields, wasp hives, deadly carnivals, spooky forests, a haunted house, frozen caverns, dank castle dungeons, and forbidden jungles. I am already excited for part 2 and part 1 is still pretty recent.

  3. That Game Over screen was terrifying back then. Now though not so much. Heck there is one thing that's funny and that's DK's swollen man boob. XD

  4. thane described pretty well at the end that the second game is more dark on the outside, while this game is more dark the better you look into it.

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