Donkey Kong Country
November 21st, 1994 (NA)
I never owned a lot of Super Nintendo titles; if I recall, I've had maybe 10 total, and most came with the console, which had been gifted to me by cousins. I may have bought only one game for it. And as is normal for a kid given multiple new playthings at once, I eventually settled on a couple of favorites. This was one of them.
Donkey Kong's first major platform game on the SNES (and, ironically, the only "Donkey Kong Country" game of the era to feature him, as he has to be rescued in both sequels) felt like a game-changer in several ways. The 3D look given to all of the sprites made it groundbreaking as one of the first "2.5D" titles to exist. It featured not only the famous ape who famously had a beef with Mario in the earliest days of the plumber's career, but also Diddy Kong, a younger chimp clad in red, as well as a handful of additional Kongs serving as varied stops throughout this adventure.
The story? Oh, it's as simple as it gets, really; a group of villainous reptiles known as the Kremlings, led by the ruthless and kooky King K. Rool, has stolen the Kongs' banana hoard. Go kick their asses and get it back. The Kongs will help you, be it Funky Kong allowing you to travel to different areas (worlds) of Donkey Kong Island, Candy Kong saving your progress, and Cranky Kong providing tips, comedy and head-canings, grumpy old ape that he is.
I remember having such a good time with this game. A couple of stages had interesting gimmicks (not a fan of the mine carts, but the stage with the On/Off switches and the zombie-like reptiles was cool). The inclusion of animal helpers was great (Rambi, Enguarde and Expresso have a dear place in my heart; Squawk and Winky, not so much). And there were so many secrets to uncover and ways to earn extra lives - enough hidden areas that the game actually goers beyond 100% and is properly "completed" at 103%, and there's balloon lives, the KONG letters and even animal tokens to collect. The last battle against K. Rool is especially noteworthy with its famous fake-out ending, where credits start rolling too early - then the crocodile gets back up and things get serious.
It's such a great game and I have a huge nostalgic connection to it. With the gift of hindsight, I can see how it set the tone for the Donkey Kong franchise as a whole - its comedic edge, a staple of Rare, would be a part of the following entries, up to and including Donkey Kong 64 and most of the studio's other projects. It's a classic, for good reason, and definitely a must-play.