In just about every medium, a classic will always be a classic. Casablanca, Romeo and Juliet, and Sgt. Pepper’s have stood the test of time and remain as popular as ever. The one major exception to the rule is video games. Even the best ones often prove to have all the shelf life of a Chinese buffet in a bad part of town. As technology improves and gamers come to demand more bells and whistles from their software, games that seemed to be the peak of interactive perfection only a few years ago wind up upstaged by their own sequels or the next big release.
That’s what makes the re-release of Donkey Kong Country 3 such an anomaly. Sure, it was one of the best games money could buy for the Super Nintendo back in 1996, but who would have thought that it would hold up so well when so many of its contemporaries look awkward and outdated by comparison? Granted, a great deal has changed in game development over the past nine years, and few developers put the same effort into creating 2D games that they did when Bill Clinton was gunning for a second term, but DKC3 still stands as one of the finest examples of old-school platform gaming ever.
But before we get to gushing about the good stuff, let’s list a very few caveats: first, Rare has never been accused of developing games that you can just blow through in an afternoon without breaking a sweat. The number of controllers that have been thrown in frustration as a result of their games must number in the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands. Despite its all-ages content, very young gamers might have a tough time getting through some of DKC3′s more challenging bits. Parents of easily frustrated children who plan on taking their GBAs on long family trips might want to pass on this one, or at least make sure they’ve got a backup game ready to go if the shrieking threatens to shatter the car windows.
Second, anal retentive retro purists seeking only to relive the mid-90′s in pixel-perfect detail will get plenty of message-board fodder out of this one. Most of DKC3′s levels have very minor tweaks, as a result of reformatting the game for the GBA. The most obvious change is that the soundtrack has been rewritten to better accommodate the GBA’s audio hardware, and many of the background music tracks are completely new compositions. Of course, these same purists lambasted the DKC2 GBA re-release for featuring stripped-down versions of the original tunes, so it’s really a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation for Nintendo and Rare.
Third, Donkey Kong himself isn’t a playable character. Sorry if that disappoints anyone. And the fact that you have to go to those ridiculous extremes to find three criticisms of the game only underscores how solid a title it is.