In 1996, Donkey Kong Country 3 was released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System almost two months after the release of the Nintendo 64. Though it was overshadowed by the new console, the game still became one of Rare’s best games on account of its wonderful graphics, excellent soundtrack, addictive game play, and attractive new features. Nine years later, it was remade for the Game Boy Advance, much as the first two games in the series were ported to Nintendo’s reliable hand held system. Whereas the first two games added a good amount of extra content and felt rather polished, this remake seems to have been rushed out just so Rare could release the entire trilogy before the Game Boy Advance could be discontinued. While there are some new features worth checking out, and the game itself is not terrible, it just was not all that it could have been compared to the original version and even the earlier Donkey Kong Country ports.
The game’s story is that Donkey and Diddy Kong have mysteriously vanished, and that a new group of Kremlings, led by the mechanical KAOS, are wreaking havoc all over the Northern Kremisphere. Dixie Kong, the female protagonist from Donkey Kong Country 2, heads off to find the missing apes, with the aid of her cousin, the gargantuan baby named Kiddy Kong. Unlike the other ports, there is no opening cut scene to explain the plot, though there was not much of one in the first place. Instead, you simply gain control of Dixie immediately as she explores parts of the world map. The absence of an opening movie is just the first of the game’s problems…more shall be explained later.
In terms of game play, not much has changed from the previous games, or the Super NES version, for that matter. Dixie and Kiddy must explore over forty stages, defeating Kremlings, collecting bananas, and finding secrets as they go. Each stage has its own gimmick: in one early level, you play as Ellie the Elephant who runs away when she sees a rat in the light and must use barrels to defeat it from a distance. Later areas will have you climbing a burning rope, riding a sled through a pipe, dodging lightning, and much more. Additionally, most stages have special bonus mini games in which you must complete a task to win Bonus Coins. The challenges include running through obstacle courses, defeating every enemy, accumulating stars, and grabbing green bananas as they appear. Every level also features Koin, a Kremling whom you must take out to acquire a DK Coin. Both types of coins can help you score the maximum score of 103%.
From time to time, you will need the help of several animal friends to reach your goals. The aforementioned Ellie can use her trunk to grab barrels and squirt water at her adversaries. Squitter the Spider can spin webs to create platforms or to defeat enemies. Squawks the Parrot can use eggs (when he is green) or barrels (when he is purple) against the forces of evil. Enguarde the Swordfish uses his bill to give his foes a poke. Lastly, Parry the Parallel-Bird can fly over our heroes and grab items that are otherwise out of their reach. As in the other games, you will be able to ride on or transform into most of these animals, and each of them are fun to use.
The stages are filled with challenges, and the features can often keep you on your toes. However, some of the game’s problems pop up in these areas. For one thing, there are few new secrets to discover…no camera side quest like in the other ports or new items to grab. For the most part, if you know where the items were in the original version, you know where they are here. Also, some of the moves are a bit harder to pull off, particularly Kiddy’s water skip, which requires precise timing; and the team toss, where Kiddy does not throw Dixie up as high as he did before. Luckily, other moves such as Dixie’s helicopter spin as still as useful as ever, and can help make surviving the game’s trials a little easier. Some areas are even harder than before, sometimes unfairly so: one stage has you ascending a mountain by bouncing on barrels, but if you land on it incorrectly, you will get hit.
What separated Donkey Kong Country 3 from its predecessors was having a more interactive world map, where you could discover some cool secrets. The most important of these are caves with Banana Birds trapped inside. To free them, you will need to play a random tune that is demonstrated when you first enter the cave. Play it correctly, and the bird is yours. The songs get longer and harder to memorize as you go, but the birds are required to get 103% and to see the final ending. Also, you can meet bear brothers whom you can help by giving them the items that they seek or by paying them the Bear Coins that you can collect in each stage. These locations have largely remained unchanged from the original title, though you can meet a new bear brother and find a new cave that are both exclusive to the hand held version.
There is not too much in new content, but what is there is a mixed bag. By far the best new addition is a brand new world called Pacifica, which is accessible about halfway through the game. The stages here are quite challenging and fun, ranging from exploring a flooded tree to swimming underwater while avoiding the strong current. Other new features include a new boss named Croctopus, some altered strategies in existing bosses, and some changes in the stages themselves, none of which really made me too impressed. You can now save at any time, though this reduces Wrinkly Kong’s role to being a woman who says things that are no longer relevant to the action or as humorous as they were in the 16-bit version. The worst changes, however, were reserved for the new mini games.
What made the mini games in the other ports fun was that they became tougher and more interesting as you went and you could become inspired to complete them all to get a perfect score. Here, the new games are largely dull and only need to be finished once to get a Banana Bird. Cranky’s Dojo has you protecting the elderly ape from porcupines, while Swanky’s Dash challenges you to collect stars and avoiding spiked balls as you race through a pipe. At least the controls in these games are fairly good…not so for Funky’s challenges. Here, you use vehicles to perform tasks such as racing Kremlings and protecting the other Kongs from abductors. The boats control very loosely, however, and it is far too easy to lose energy, even if you merely brush up against a wall. Since these challenges must be finished to win a Banana Bird, you will find yourself dreading them that much more. This is further evidence that Rare must have been rushing to get the game finished and released before the DS would officially dethrone the Game Boy Advance as Nintendo’s major hand held system.
The graphics were a joy to see in the Super NES version; in the hand held remake, not so much. They now seem a bit too bright in spots, and the rendered images no longer look so impressive. Additionally, some images were altered for the worse, with the maps and the bear brothers being particularly ill-served. Then there is another significant change to the game: the soundtrack, which is entirely new as opposed to having some new songs here and there in the previous remakes. Some people dislike it, but I actually like a few of the new tracks. Particular favorites include the factory, riverbank, pipe, and Funky’s challenge music, while others such as the snow and bear brothers music are annoying or dull. Overall, the new songs are a mixed bag, but they are still an interesting addition to the game.
I loved the original version of Donkey Kong Country 3, and it is a shame that the Game Boy Advance port is inferior to that classic. On the one hand, the stages are fun, the world of Pacifica is truly challenging, and both Dixie and Kiddy make for great heroes. On the other hand, the mini games are uninspired, the controls are a bit messed up, and the game does not have the same great feel that it once had. Both versions were Rare’s swan songs for their respective systems, but it is evident that the remake was not the farewell performance that it could have been. You can still give it a try if you wish…just do not expect it to be a strong port. Rare was not really trying this time, which is a shame, as Donkey Kong Country 3 was worthy of a great remake, but the end product fell far short of reaching that goal.