Even if the timing of its release may have harmed it, the years that have passed ever since have allowed Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble to emerge as a giant of the platforming genre; a status that is certainly well-deserved
Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble is the third installment of the Donkey Kong Country series to be released in that same exact amount of years. And given the entire trilogy is packed to the brim with memorable moments, not to mention a clear development in gameplay features in the transition between all titles, that astounding productivity and high quality displayed by Rare between 1994 and 1996 speaks volumes about the talent that was housed in their Twycross headquarters. As the final piece of an incredible sequence of efforts, Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble is sometimes seen as the lesser of the three, for it is often stated it comes off like a point in which the relentless creativity that had powered its two prequels was beginning to wear off. However, a scrutiny of the title reveals that while it is understandable that, by that point, Donkey Kong Country fans were looking for something more radically different, the game easily ranks as the most complex and ambitious of the trio; a sign that Rare was not willing to rest on their laurels.
In a way, it is quite simple to grasp why Donkey Kong Country 3 is often overlooked or diminished. Besides, obviously, being the third installment in the saga, its 2-D goodness was brought into the world during a time when the Nintendo 64 – armed with the glory of tridimensional visuals – had just hit the market and presented, in Super Mario 64, a sort of gameplay that promised to be the future of platformers and a considerable step up from the sidescrolling genre. Although that context, quite unfairly, certainly made Donkey Kong Country 3 look outdated, the biggest reason why its impact was not comparable to that of its predecessors may be another much more meaningful one. The first Donkey Kong Country was the stunning beginning of a new series, an unexpected game that turned a villain into the hero of his own 2-D adventure and into the ruler of his universe; meanwhile, Donkey Kong Country 2 took on that basic framework that had been put in place and improved it in every conceivable way by introducing countless new elements that would become part of the franchise’s signature.
Therefore, Donkey Kong Country 3, given the mighty leap that preceded it, could not possibly do anything as significant: its room for growth was far smaller. Consequently, it was destined not to leave marks as deep as those caused by the games that had come before it. That does not mean, of course, Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble is an effort that accepts that fate; it actually fights against it quite hard, and the struggle produces results. Because when both Donkey and Diddy Kong disappear in the Northern Kremisphere, and it is up to Dixie, the second banana of the previous adventure, to get together with her cousin, the still very young baby-like Kiddy, in order find out what is behind that event, players are thrown into a major quest that is big, engaging, loaded with challenge, and that tries to push the boundaries of its genre to the edge of the visible horizon.
Needless to say, Donkey Kong Country 3 borrows quite a bit from its two older siblings. Dixie and Kiddy must traverse seven differently themed worlds, each with five stages and a boss battle, on their way to save their relatives. The thirty-five regular levels of Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble are, naturally, packed with the traditional elements that defined the franchise to which it belongs. Gamers will comes across: a hoard of blasting barrels; a great deal of rope-climbing; an eye-popping amount of extremely creative foes that are part of the seemingly endless Kremling army; plenty of segments in which mine-cart-like vehicles are employed; and a satisfying group of animal buddies (which can either be ridden or appear as the Kongs transform into them) that show up frequently to spice up the gameplay with their unique abilities, such as the platform-creating webs of Squitter the spider, the violent thrusts of Enguarde the swordfish, or the ability of Ellie the elephant (a newcomer) to hold onto barrels or suck and expel water with her trunk.
What is truly amazing, though, is that despite the fact Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble does reuse plenty of the pieces that constituted the two classics that gave birth to it, the adventure gives them a rather original format. For example, the enemies, which more often than not serve as the cornerstone upon which each stage’s gameplay is built, are – most of the times – entirely new and creative. The same applies to the vast majority of the mechanics that are employed in the levels. For instance, nowhere in the prequels do players encounter: doors that only open when all mice in the area have been eliminated; a timed course with furious bee swarms; an unstoppable saw that cuts through the hollow tree trunk that serves as the stage which the Kongs ascend quickly and desperately; or a fish that trails the pair at all times and must be fed with the right kind of sea creatures lest he becomes angry and attacks the heroes. Yet, these are just some of the examples of the amusing tricks, which do not ever touch on the same ground, that Donkey Kong Country 3 has on its sleeve. And it uses those to create a set of challenges that are unique not only amongst themselves, but also within the entire franchise.
The controlling of the characters is done in pretty much the same way as in Donkey Kong Country 2. The game can be played as a single-player quest, or in one of two multiplayer options that have each gamer either controlling a member of the pair or taking turns moving individually across the map as they take on the role of two differently colored versions of the duo. Regardless of the chosen format, each Kong goes away after one hit, and the positioning of both the DK Barrels (which allow the missing partner to be recovered) as well as the mid-stage checkpoint gives players some room for error, but not enough to allow them to coast. While Dixie is light and can employ her ponytail to considerably slow her descent, Kiddy can bounce on the water while rolling; and players – as usual – can switch between both by using the select button. In this particular department, what Donkey Kong Country 3 does differently is that when a Kong gives the other a piggyback ride (with the X button) the results of throwing the one that is being carried differ: if Dixie is launched, she can reach higher places; contrarily, if Kiddy is thrown, he will use his weight to break through cracked ground.
It is inside this same-yet-different aura that the game tries, and does succeed to a strong degree, in forging its own identity, and that is a theme that permeates much of Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble. Thematically, for instance, the Northern Kremisphere, which takes several visual cues from Canada and northern Europe, serves as refreshing backdrop to the quest when compared to the more fantasy-like worlds of the original game and of Diddy’s Kong Quest. Dominated by a heavily natural scenery that includes waterfalls, frozen tundras, lakes, a traditional European forest, and even a small industrial town, the region builds an interesting bridge between scenarios grounded on reality and uncanny obstacles, foes, and inhabitants.
Similarly, Donkey Kong Country 3 drinks blatantly from the very successful addition of extra content to the levels done by Donkey Kong Country 2, and gives it a very good spin of its own. As it happened in that game, every stage features hidden bonus barrels (two, in this case) that take the Kongs to a timed challenge such as collecting all stars, defeating all foes, or getting to the end of a tough platforming segment; if cleared, these barrels award players with Bonus Coins. Not only are these mini-games fun to play through thanks to their varied design, but they also push gamers towards full exploration of the levels; an activity that will uncover plenty of great secrets. Unfortunately, as it was the case in Donkey Kong Country 2, some of the barrels (the minority, truth be told) are missable; in other words, they cannot, in the same playthrough of the level, be returned to in case of failure, forcing players to have to restart the stage if they want another shot at getting the coin.
In the field of extra content, the addition that Donkey Kong Country 3 executes comes in the form of the DK Coins. Like the Bonus Coins, they are an optional collectible found in each stage that is sometimes missable; unlike them, there is only one per level and they are held by a Kremlin that uses the large coin itself as a shield. Due to that, getting the DK Coins, sometimes, involves a puzzle element that has gamers figuring out a way of launching a special iron barrel towards the biped armored crocodile so that it hits him from the back. Truthfully, as a big missed opportunity, more than half of the DK Coins are acquired through the same basic mean of throwing the barrel over the enemy and having it bump on the wall that is right behind him. However, on the few occasions when it does try to present a smart and demanding challenge in that regard, the game achieves success quite wonderfully with puzzles that are very satisfying.
The greatest change Donkey Kong Country 3 brings to the table, though, lies elsewhere: in the disposition of its overworld. The overarching maps of its predecessors consisted solely of worlds that, when selected, presented series of levels. Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble goes far beyond that and actually challenges the limits of what a game of its kind can do. For starters, levels are much better integrated into the scenery; it feels they were tucked in corners that made physical sense to their actual design rather than being randomly placed over a still picture representing the world. Additionally, the reaching of new areas is done far more interactively. Funky Kong, running a boat shop in this exotic land, will provide the duo with vehicles that get increasingly more powerful as Dixie and Kiddy advance through the game and bring back to him boat pieces dropped by bosses. As their vessel gets better and more powerful, the Kongs can reach new areas of the Northern Kremisphere, and – consequently – more worlds.
Furthermore, the map is not just made up of worlds, stages, save points, and a fun carnival mini-game that can be played for bananas, lives, and coins; it carries some other meaningful locations. Firstly, there is a number of mysterious caves, which can be either pretty obvious or very well-hidden, that feature a memory mini-game that requires players to press buttons in a certain order to rescue the place’s trapped Banana Bird. Secondly, the overworld also houses a family of bears, living in scattered cabins, that are involved in a trade sequence that will reveal the entrance to extra caves or make some of the bears give the heroes the Banana Birds they have been keeping in cages as pets.
Alongside the Bonus Coins and DK Coins, the Banana Birds are not there just as an empty collectible for committed players who want to uncover all of the game’s secrets. All of those items, together, play a role in unlocking the full extent of the game’s content; that is, an extra world that besides paving the way towards the game’s true ending, also carries a level of challenge that is considerably higher than that of the regular levels, which are already decently difficult on their own. Donkey Kong Country 3 is, therefore, so dedicated to the creation of an overworld that defies the furthest limitations of 2-D platformers that it makes the successful exploration of all its corners into a requirement that must be checked if players are to fully clear the game. And although it is arguable that, especially under a modern light, the results are not particularly mesmerizing, they are – at least – very engaging and unique, for it is hard to find a sidescroller so bent on transforming its overworld from a pleasant level-selection screen into a fully explorable and highly interactive scenario.
That wish to be bigger and to stand out is certainly the hidden theme of Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble. It is easy to understand why, back in 1996, the game was seen as a drop following two titles that left big marks in the minds of gamers all around the world. Hindsight, however, reveals an adventure that although not as excellent as that of Donkey Kong Country 2, for it boasts a lesser – yet excellent – soundtrack and fails to reach the same level-design excellence, shines pretty brightly in the hall of the best platformers of its generation. By understanding that its prequel did not leave much room for improvement, it spends a big amount of its running time trying to find ways to excel, and it comes out of it with an impressive overworld, a fantastic challenge, and a stunning collection of inventive stages that use all tools the franchise had established in magnificent and original ways. As a result, even if the timing of its release may have harmed it, the years that have passed ever since have allowed Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble to emerge as a giant of the platforming genre.