Picture if you will, two rivals, Nintendo and SEGA, in the middle of a very heated war of consoles. SEGA enjoyed the #1 spot after releasing their Genesis, competing against Nintendo’s NES. They steal not only Nintendo’s thunder, but third parties as well that had enough of Nintendo’s draconian bullshit during the 80s. They shelve Alex Kidd and replace him with the hip, the cool (and sometimes creepy), Sonic The Hedgehog. Nintendo, not willing to bow down, release the Super Nintendo. Now the companies are on even ground: two companies, two 16bit consoles, each with their strengths and weaknesses. Nintendo is pulling ahead and netting good game after good game from both them and third parties. A new format is on the rise: the CD. SEGA would invest money into it and make the SEGA CD add-on, with FMV games being their main push. Nintendo, they still got their cartridges, and still kicking ass. SEGA’s frustrated, as their CD format ain’t cutting it. So, they return to cartridge format and make the 32X, capable of rendering polygonal 3D graphics. Nintendo? They’re still sticking with their regular SNES cartridge. Not only that, they release this behemoth: Donkey Kong Country.
Blast Processing? Bitch Please!
What I described up there is exactly what happened during the Bit Wars between Nintendo and SEGA. This was happening right at the height of the war and SEGA was getting desperate to regain that thunder Nintendo was taking back from them. They nearly got it back with the 32X and Virtua Fighter, but DKC came right back and stuffed it in a barrel. Critics were impressed with DKC and the graphics on display. Gamers were just as enthusiastic. Miyamoto…not so much. But it was clear: Rareware meant business this time, and were going to be a bigger asset than they were during the NES era. As for the development of DKC, Rare had done techniques that were similar to the digitizing actors for Mortal Kombat. However, instead of actors, they created the models in a 3D program. Then, they transferred the models to the game in digitized sprite form. They explain this process in the somewhat infamous promo video that they gave to Nintendo Power subscribers. While they don’t really show the process, we can assume they digitize the 3D models. However, this process is done better than what Midway (and certain other companies) did, resulting in faster gameplay and more environmental conditions (as opposed the sluggish and sparse nature other digitized games suffered through).
I was first aware of Donkey Kong Country through its sequel’s commercial. I never caught the commercial of DKC1. As I explained in Episode 8 of the Podcast, I had gotten the game with the SNES. It was one of 3 games that my mother got (the other two being Super Mario World and Wario’s Woods). Upon popping the game it, I saw that it was a used game as there were save files already in it. We kept selecting the file that left off at the mountains, since we figured it was the furthest thanks to Funky’s Flights taking us to the earlier stages.
Getting to Kremcroc Industries would be one of those moments that I remember really well. This is mainly because most of us in the house would just mess around with the game and play the older stages. Not sure why we didn’t advance the stages, maybe it was because the game was pretty hard (and still is to this day). However, I was willing to trying and get further in the game if it meant more stages to play in (we exhausted the earlier stages). So after getting my ass handed to me countless times, I beat Really Gnawty, the mountain’s boss, and made it to Kremcroc Industries. This was it. After two months of playing the same stages over and over, we got some new ones, and boy was that first stage a doozy. A factory, fire, and many, many tires. Losing here meant starting back at the mountain since the only way to save was to go to Candy Kong, and you needed to pass some stages before you got to her. Same for Funky Kong if you wanted to go to Candy in another area. Of course, I lost. But I slowly got better and as I played the stages. Eventually, I finally made it to Candy and saved the game. Now we’ll permanently have these new stages to play.
The other memorable moment: K. Rool’s Battle. Holy crap was this bastard difficult! So, like every other boss, my first instinct was to jump on his head. Wrong move, as his crown was his protection and jumping on it was like jumping on a spike. I figured out immediately that my opening was when he threw the crown. Hit him three times, he jumped to the other side and now, cannonballs! This was the most difficult part of the battle for me as a kid, as my reflexes were crappy compared to today. I had to suffer through this part for three waves. Of course, once I got the third hit in, I was suspicious of the credits. K. Rool comes back up (much to the dismay of my family), and the battle resumed. Now he’s hopping everywhere. This part… was difficult, but not as difficult as the cannonballs.
Finally, the last memorable moment: When the cartridge stopped working. I lent both DKC and Wario’s Woods to a couple of sons of my mother’s friend. When I got them back, they wouldn’t work. I tried everything: hyperventilating, rubbing alcohol, jiggling the pin board a bit…nothing. These two games ceased to function. So, for over a decade, I never play Donkey Kong Country again. As a result, I forgot many parts of the game and forgot pretty much all of the music (save for Jungle Hijinx). Then Youtube comes around…
I never really cared for videogame music around this time. This was long before I would get the PS1 and a Gameboy, for which I’d get Pokemon and my first sign of my adoration of videogame music first started. Like I said in the last paragraph, I forgot practically all the songs in the game. However, once we got broadband internet in the house and I frequented Youtube more often, I went to different youtube channels listening to many videogame songs. It didn’t take long for me to look up DKC music. With such a long gap in between playing the game and having no contact with it, the nostalgia of hearing the music of DKC hit me so hard to the point of nearly tearing up.Aquatic Ambience Composer: David Wise
The fan favorite of many a gamer, Aquatic Ambience played in the underwater levels. Not only were the stages slower paced, but difficult as well. The song itself is somewhat a breath of fresh air for videogame music at the time that leaned more toward either rock or hip-hop. Here, we have something that was generally more calmer to the point of almost sounding like porno music. Not a lot songs around this time sounded like this, and probably never came close to this. The music begins with soft fade-ins of the sythns, followed by light percussion. A somewhat sax-like synth then carries on the melody. In a Soapbox not too long ago, I mentioned that Wise’s style was something unique as sometimes the music would have a slight disconnect with the stage it was played in, and it worked. Here, it somewhat applies as there is nothing necessarily aquatic about the song outside of the name, but it fits.Fear Factory Composer: David Wise
Fear Factory would be another song that stood out of the game. The soundtrack was dominated by mostly rhythmic music that lent itself to the natural part of the world. (or in one instance, with just creepy mine sounds). Here, we have a song with a steady drumbeat and almost sounded like a dance party. It mixed both the rhythmic jungle stylings with dance and some slight rock thrown in there. It fit perfectly with the challenged presented with these stages, as it was dominated with narrow platforms, many stairs, and oil drums that lit on fire. These stage were no joke. With this song playing, it was like you hit the climax of the game. While Kremkroc Industries wasn’t the the last area of the game, it sure felt like it with these stages.
Today, DKC still holds up very well, both in presentation and gameplay. The challenge is still there with the mine cart levels, the factories, and the barrel cannons that shot you across the snowy mountains. I still have my busted SNES cartridge, but now I have the game on the Wii’s Virtual Console. And let me tell ya, after over 10 years of not playing the game, it felt good to play it again.
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