The Mezunian

Die Positivität ist das Opium des Volkes, aber der Spott ist das Opium der Verrückten

Worst to Best Levels – Donkey Kong Country


During the 1st few years I’ve been writing this blog I’d make brief mentions, usually in footnotes, as a running gag, to some article comparing the levels in Donkey Kong Country games that I was s’posedly working on. I’m not quite sure if I was actually working on such @ the time o’ making these jokes, tho I do remember @ 1 point starting to work on an analysis o’ the Donkey Kong Country games, with level-by-level analyses o’ Jeremy Parish’s Anatomy of Games1 as a kind o’ rebuke gainst Parish’s slanderous claim that Donkey Kong Country was all style & no substance; but that fell off before I e’en finished the 1st world.

Howe’er, I’ve been ( very slowly ) working on worst-to-best articles for levels in platformers recently, which coincidentally includes Donkey Kong Country. Thus, I proudly present to you the punchline to a decade-long running joke — ¿& what could be a better 10-year anniversary on the internet?2


Donkey Kong Country is a commonly misunderstood game. While hyped for its visuals, which were so amazing for its time that it practically killed 2 3D consoles, in later years it has been attacked by many as o’errated, usually by people who look @ it shallowly. While there are millions o’ articles where game critics cream themselves ’cause the 1st level o’ Super Mario Bros. repeated a setpiece but with a hole in the center this time, a search for “Donkey Kong Country level design” found 1 good-for-usual-game-critics article ’bout “Jungle Hijinxs” on Medium & a bunch o’ videos ’bout Tropical Freeze o’ all things — the game that thinks “time button presses on enemies’s heads” is the apex o’ level design. Unsurprisingly, these videos sound like they’re written by someone who just discovered basic level design & think any game that employs the same trite tropes as e’ery other platformer, like “make things harder later in the level”, is great level design. Clearly we are still in the dark ages o’ level design, with illiterate peasants still blindly chanting their personal god’s rituals. ¿Can we bring fire to these lost souls?

Like probably its closest cousin, Super Mario World, which was itself not invulnerable to criticism, specially compared to its close sibling, Super Mario Bros. 3 or main rival, the 1st Sonic the Hedgehog, Donkey Kong Country’s strengths & inspirations on other games are subtle: Donkey Kong Country isn’t as much a revolution on platformers as Super Mario Bros. 3 as a refinement, which are, unfortunately, harder to discern for people who, quite frankly, don’t e’en bother to look closely @ level design or mechanics.

Within this broad view o’ games, Donkey Kong Country can look bad. In regards to its o’erworld system, for instance, it could be seen as going backward from both Super Mario World with its multiple exits & less strict borders ’tween worlds & Super Mario Bros. 3 with its many minigames, battles, & simple item mechanics for creating alternate paths. While the 3rd DKC game would arguably make up for this deficiency by implementing fetch quests & secret banana bird locations, the 1st game mainly just has you go from level to level. The only innovation Donkey Kong Country could be said to have is 1 that is generally hated: the seemingly arbitrary placement o’ Candy’s save point & Funky’s warp point in each world, leading to a weird difficulty imbalance wherein the 1st half o’ a world is dangerous if you’re low on lives, as you have no way to save, but the 2nd half is as safe as a modern game without lives thanks to a save point you can go back to @ any point & use. ( & yet it’s still an upgrade to Super Mario World, which made you rebeat a designated save level whene’er you want to save. )

The DKC games do have 1 subtle but major influence, which is arguably inspiring the collectathon genre. While Mario games have been encouraging players to explore levels for secret money & power-ups since Super Mario Bros., only the then-recent Super Mario World acknowledged anything beyond beating the game, & e’en that only counted beating extra levels & goals, rather than collecting things. Donkey Kong Country, with its prominent ( albeit mathematically questionable ) percentage & challenging players to find secret bonuses, & then later games challenging players to collect special hero coins, as well, seemed to truly solidify the idea o’ collecting trinkets as an end in itself, rather than a means for some other end.

Granted, to some end, these games still fell short. For instance, just like Super Mario World’s “dragon coins”, this game has 4 KONG letters in e’ery level; & just like in Super Mario World, collecting all these only gives you a 1-up, rather than any form o’ completion, which makes no sense in either o’ these games as the effort to get so many collectibles is not e’en close to worth a single 1-up in games that throw lives @ you for doing much less. Later GBA remakes would actually challenge you to collect these mini-collectables for 100% completion, & those are, coincidentally, the only versions in which I’ve e’er seen anyone go out o’ their way to collect these.

But in terms o’ level design, the bread & butter o’ a platformer, e’en the 1st Donkey Kong Country is in many ways stronger than Super Mario Bros. 3 & Super Mario World. While Super Mario Bros. 3 had many interesting enemies & mechanics, levels were oft just as bare-bones & repetitive as the 1st Super Mario Bros., seeming to be just areas round which the mechanics existed, rather than integrating them. While many fans fondly remember Kuribo’s Shoe, ¿how many remember the actual level layout in which you find it? On the other hand, while Super Mario World has mo’ developed levels with mo’ intricate puzzles than just going left to right, it can feel mo’ conservative in terms o’ enemies & mechanics, mainly relying on various types o’ moving platforms, & it can oft feel e’en mo’ repetitive & bloated, with many seemingly pointless sections that have nothing to do with their levels. & both games have way too many slow, autoscroll levels that do nothing but waste the player’s time. Donkey Kong Country — & specially its sequels — takes the strengths o’ both, integrating weird, memorable gimmicks with the kind o’ fast-paced action not seen since the original Super Mario Bros.

Pictured 1st: the kind o’ thrilling waiting action as the screen crawls to the right you can expect from Super Mario Bros. 3 airship levels.
Pictured 2nd: Super Mario World’s most brilliant innovation — white moving platforms.

Granted, this applies less so to the original Donkey Kong Country, whose gimmicks are not quite as exciting or well-implemented as many o’ the weird things in Super Mario Bros. 3 & which sometimes falls into sluggish autoscrollers & unfairness, than its successors, specially DKC2. This is perhaps the main reason for the belief that Donkey Kong Country is o’errated: it is in some sense — compared to its sequels. Despite the vast majority o’ fans agreeing that the 2nd game is superior to the 1st in almost e’ery way & e’en many believing the 3rd game to be better than the 1st, the sequels get far less attention than the 1st game, e’en by the official Returns games, the 1st o’ which only referenced the 1st game. But before we look @ those games it’ll be useful to look @ the original.

34. Trick Track Trek

“Trick Track Trek” is nothing mo’ than a horizontal elevator section. For the 1st half you’re doing nothing but dodging Neckies moving up & down or left & right in simple patterns, & then for the 2nd half you’re just dodging 1 or 2 o’ various other enemy types that try to walk onto you from higher-up platforms. For most o’ them you can just stand on the side & wait as they just walk off the edge o’ the platform without offering any kind o’ threat. That’s the entire level. It’s as monotonous as it sounds. I’m not exaggerating when I say this level could’ve been designed in less than a half hour. Definitely the laziest level layout o’ the entire trilogy.

This level also isn’t paced too well. Its length is on the long-side by itself, but when you factor in the fact that you’re riding a slow platform that oft takes inefficient detours going up & down, the level feels e’en longer than normal levels o’ the same length. Obstacles are also ridiculously spaced out, leaving many intervals where you’re doing nothing but waiting for the platform to slowly move to the next real setpiece. This is a perfect example o’ the downside to Nintendo’s famous style o’ starting levels with easy warm-up sections: you have to tediously redo them when you die @ the actually challenging parts later. Tightening the sparsely-populated parts would’ve made the level feel far mo’ exciting & yet less frustrating from less wasted time, a win-win in e’ery way.

The fact that this level uses this sparse walkway background weakens this level e’en further. While I kinda like the look o’ the walkways, you don’t see much o’ them on this moving platform. ’Stead we get nothing but 70% blackness & the same tiny photo o’ a cave wall with a li’l light copy-pasted repeatedly. If I’m standing on this slow platform waiting for the next obstacle, the least they could’ve given me was 1 o’ their nicer-looking backgrounds like the mountain in the snow levels or the trees in forest — or, hey, since this level’s in “Kremkroc Industries”, maybe the factory background. This game only has 2 levels with the factory tileset & music, which is a waste o’ 1 o’ the best songs in the game & a much better tileset than the walkway or cave tilesets used so much.

Surprisingly ’nough, the bonus locations are quite strong. The 1st is placed in a way so that you have to roll off the edge & jump to reach it. Before this you only had to do that to get KONG letters, which are only necessary in the GBA version. They were nice ’nough to put it right before the midway barrel to accommodate players who haven’t quite mastered the art o’ air-roll jumping, which probably wasn’t necessary this late in the game. Since the Game Boy Color version gimped DK & Diddy’s roll jumps, it’s much harder on that version & requires you to jump off the moving platform ’fore it falls off, which is particularly unfair on that version, as its smaller camera makes it e’en harder to see the bonus before you jump off the platform. But we need not talk ’bout that abomination anymo’.

The 2nd bonus is up next to 1 o’ the top platforms where the enemies fall onto you, 1 you can jump on yourself, which is clever. I almost want to be annoyed @ the fact that you don’t know there’s a bonus there till it’s too late to go up there, but part o’ me feels that if a level lets you get up there, there’s no reason not to explore.

Finally, the 3rd bonus is hidden past a Manky Kong in a subtle path under the main path.

The KONG letters are also in all-right places. The autoscroll nature o’ this level does mean that this level can’t make you do some tedious extra area just for a letter. Granted, while I like the K under the Perched Necky, forcing the player to take a risk to get it, I don’t like how they repeat this same idea for the N.

I like how the G looks dangerous to get, but you have to jump o’er that Zinger, anyway, so you’re probably going to get it while avoiding the Zinger. Plus, it acts as a hint that the Zinger’s going to be @ the bottom when you reach there & you need to jump o’er it.

But the biggest problem with this level is that it feels redundant compared to “Tanked Up Trouble”, ’nother autoscroller, but 1 with a far mo’ interesting layout. Replace that level’s stupid bonus & lame KONG letter locations with this level’s & remove the rest o’ this level & I think you’d get something stronger than these 2 levels by themselves.

33. Blackout Basement

“Blackout Basement” has 1 o’ the trilogy’s worst gimmicks & the absolute worst in this game: lights that flicker on & off so that half the time you can’t see the level, making you either memorize the level layout ( which you obviously can’t do the 1st time thru ) or stop & go, which is slow & boring — & may still leave you vulnerable to getting hit. Not letting the player see is 1 o’ the laziest & cheapest way to create fake difficulty & its inclusion in this game, albeit only once, is perhaps the best example that the level designers hadn’t quite hit the quality standard they’d establish with the sequel. If you had control o’er the lights, like in “Loopy Lights”, it’d be far mo’ tolerable, as the darkness ( & stopping & waiting ) is something you could avoid if you’re fast ’nough; but the erratic way the lights go on & off constantly here gives you nothing to work with, with the only palliative being that a’least the lights go on & off @ consistent intervals, so @ best you can predict them ( tho this is not much o’ a benefit, as you’d want to stop before e’ery obstacle & go immediately when the lights go back on, regardless ).

To accommodate this unfair gimmick, the developers made the level layout basic, with just a bunch o’ platforms with different types o’ enemies & moving or falling platforms & swinging ropes, — nothing you haven’t dealt with in the 1st 3 worlds — which doesn’t make the gimmick mo’ enjoyable, it just makes the level mo’ boring while also having no sense o’ cohesion.

That this is 1 o’ the only 2 factory levels makes this feel like an e’en bigger waste, as the factory levels look great & have what many fans agree to be 1 o’ the best level themes in this game; but nobody’s going to want to replay this level just to hear “Fear Factory”. E’en better, since the lights keep flickering off & on, you can’t e’en get a good, long look @ the graphics in this level. You’d think this would be the level where they use bland graphics & not the level with the long pauses where all you can do is stare @ the graphics. Nor does this level utilize this theme well, as its enemies & moving & falling platforms are so generic they could all be found in any other theme. Some don’t e’en belong. I’ll defend Manky Kong’s inclusion if we consider it a callback to the arcade Donkey Kong, ¿but why are there swinging ropes in a factory? ¿Couldn’t they just repaint them into chains a’least? Surely there were mo’ interesting obstacles & setpieces to create for a factory.

The bonus locations aren’t very good, either. The 1st requires you to stand on a falling platform & let it fall down onto the conspicuous banana near the bottom o’ the screen, below which is a bonus barrel. This would be fair ’nough by itself, albeit the “banana means bonus” trick already gets ol’ by this point; but then they put a falling platform before this sequence o’ falling platforms with a banana bunch, but falling down here doesn’t get you a bonus, but kills you, breaking the very rules they set up & rely on to make the 1st bonus work.

The 2nd bonus requires you to bring a steel barrel o’er to the left wall @ the end, which is helpfully pointed out with a yellow arrow pointing @ it. They obviously intend you to throw the steel barrel @ the wall just after where you find it & jump on & ride it past all the obstacles to the end, which does make this last part less cheap, I guess, but also nullifies it, making the level end with a pip rather than a bang.

The bonus itself is much harder in a cheap way, as the lights blink off when you’re s’posed to see where the 1-up is; but since you get the bonus whether you win or lose, it doesn’t matter much.

As you might imagine for such a basic level, the KONG letters aren’t in interesting places, either: the K & G are in plain sight; I feel like you have to go out o’ your way to miss revealing the O, as all you have to do is land on the black item cache that takes up half its platform after a tire jump you have to make to get there; & the N is in the center o’ the 1st bonus.

Oddly, the otherwise unplayably bad Game Boy Color port made this level much better by making the level only darken slightly when the lights go out, killing the gimmick completely… which also sort o’ kills the level, as it’s still just basic jumps.

32. Necky Nutmare

If you’re confused & have ne’er heard o’ this level before, it’s ’cause it’s only in the dreadful Game Boy Color port. I wouldn’t rush out to go try this level, tho: not only would you have to play thru nearly the entire Game Boy Color port, which is unplayably bad, like I did, since this is the 3rd-to-last level in that game, but the level itself isn’t e’en close to worth playing. This level goes the full extent o’ that absurd pattern o’ putting vultures in caves by putting all the different types o’ Neckies in this cave, while throwing in a few Army-spawning oil drums &, o’ all things, a preview o’ the gray Krusha, who normally only appears in “Platform Perils”. I think their inclusion here just dilutes their introduction in “Platform Perils”, specially since, unlike that level, this level doesn’t bother to do anything with them, as you can easily jump o’er them & most o’ them have convenient barrels in front o’ them. The only connection I can find for all these other elements is that they’re difficult, & this level seemed to go out o’ its way to be difficult: e’en if this level were in the SNES version with its superior controls, camera, & e’erything else, this level would probably be the hardest in the game — but not for a good reason.

If this level has a gimmick beyond having e’ery type o’ Necky, it’d be Mini-Neckies in small crawlspaces, which would be a clever mix o’ 2 common elements if it produced compelling gameplay, but ’stead it creates obstacles that are both infuriatingly cheap & tedious. When a Mini-Necky spits a nut out while you’re in the crawlspace, you have no choice but to go back out so you can jump o’er the nut & try ’gain. You have to keep going back & forth till you see the Mini-Necky not spit a nut for some reason — why they don’t sometimes, I have no idea, as that’s not how they seem to work anywhere else; but this illogical quirk is necessary to get thru without being hit. You can wait by the very edge o’ walls & that apparently makes you close ’nough that the nuts will spawn ( I only know this ’cause I saw it in a video — it’s not intuitive in the slightest ), but arguably this is harder, as you have to be keen to how long the Mini-Necky usually takes to spit a nut & start moving the instant you realize it isn’t spitting a nut this time to make it all the way thru the crawlspace before it spits its next nut. These sections feel like rom-hack sections rather than the kind o’ fair-but-hard challenges DKC games usually have & is a perfect representation o’ the lack o’ fairness present thruout the GBC version. These are the only times I’ve e’er seen setpieces in the original Donkey Kong Country where I e’er questioned whether or not an obstacle was e’en possible to get thru without tanking a hit.

This level’s only bonus is in a pretty good spot, up on the cliff with an Army-spawning oil drum you’d normally not go up.

I like the li’l nook the K is in, guarded by a Mini-Necky in a fair place this time, a nook which you have to go back after falling down a cliff to find, something rare for DKC. That said, I feel like they should’ve put a bonus here, since this level has only 1 bonus & the KONG letters don’t need to be that well hidden.

I don’t like that there’s a similar nook after that with nothing in it but a Mini-Necky, wasting your time.

The O’s in plain sight, while the N is stupidly obscure & the G is partly obscure. The N requires you to stop on a falling platform & let it fall so you can get the N hidden ’neath & just have faith that the game will have you fall into a barrel cannon offscreen. If you’re lucky, you might see the N as you’re going from the rising platform to the platform that falls, but there’s no indication that there’s a barrel ’neath & it seems a player would be mo’ likely to make a last-ditch jump after getting the N in the hopes that there’s a platform offscreen to the right than just guess that there’s a barrel cannon down there.

The G is down a pit. But if you go the middle route — the bottom route o’ the top route — you can clearly see a letter below, & if you’re near the pit @ the right time, specially on the right side, you might see a gray Krusha walking round below. Other than the O, the KONG letters feel like they’re hidden as if they were bonuses. Luckily, the GBC version doesn’t care whether or not you have all the KONG letters, — & nobody should care whether or not they 101% the GBC version ’cause they should ne’er play it — so they’re useless, anyway, making this whole section talking ’bout them a waste o’ time.

To add salt to the wound, this new level is yet ’nother cave level, e’en tho the cave theme was already the most o’erused. ’Course they couldn’t add a 2nd ice cave level or a 3rd factory or temple level — that’d be too interesting. They also added this level to what many people consider to be the weakest world, “Chimp Caverns” — I’m guessing since this world normally only has 5 levels when worlds 3-5 all have 6 levels. Other than the difficulty, tho, this level doesn’t feel like it fits in with the other levels, despite being in a cave, since all the other levels have somewhat o’ a mo’ industrial theme to them, which this level lacks, save for 1 aberrant oil drum right @ the end. Adding a new level here seems to have the bad-for-e’eryone effect o’ forcing most players to play thru e’en more o’ their least favorite world & forcing me to play thru almost the entirety o’ this awful port just to try this awful level.

All in all, “Necky Nutmare” was an unnecessary level. But a’least it’s not an autoscroller & doesn’t turn the lights on & off all the time.

31. Clam City

The most basic o’ water levels, wherein you just swim thru a straightforward path & dodge enemies — enemies who are not remarkable: the Bitesizes, Chomps, & Chomps Jrs. are generic fish & sharks who just swim forward or back & forth, the Clambos just shoot projectiles, & the Croctopuses just spin in circles & act as faster clones o’ Urchines from Super Mario World. The basic Bitesizes & Chomps are actually the harder enemies to dodge, as they move rather quickly & can come @ you from offscreen & they’re particularly packed together in this level, & the Croctopuses @ the end have unpredictable patterns when you 1st see them: I oft hit the middle 1 expecting it to go right only for it to go left & smack into me. Ironically, they’re not a threat in the level that focuses on them mo’. Meanwhile the Clambos can basically be ignored as you can zoom past their shots before they have a chance to reach you. The 1 exception is on the shoddy GBC version, where their pearls spawn halfway off the level & seem to come @ you from nowhere.

There is 1 area just before the midway point crowded with Chomps Jrs., which is interesting in that it genuinely takes some paying attention to find a safe route ( squeezing ’long the ground ) thru them in the very li’l space they offer.

I’m kind o’ mixed on how easy this level is compared to its placement in the 3rd world, coming so soon after difficulty spikes like “Tree Top Town” & marathons like “Orang-utan Gang” while not being much mo’ difficult than the 1st world’s water level — & being easier than most world-1 levels. I guess it could act as a breather level, but breather levels are s’posed to be fun, while water levels are not fun, — not in this game a’least — specially with these water levels’ wonky camera, hit detection, & o’erall physics. In truth, while the level design is simple, this level still turns out a bit harder than it appears due to wonky controls & physics, which is ne’er a good outcome — you usually want the opposite. The camera is so slow & your character takes up so much o’ it that it’s easy for enemies to pop in & sneak attack you before you have a chance to see them. This is worsened by the slowness o’ your character, making e’en reacting when you do see them a pain.

I think the biggest problem with water levels in Donkey Kong Country is that they don’t play up its strengths, but only emphasize its weaknesses. Compared to, say, Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country’s levels are superior in terms o’ fast-paced challenges ( Super Mario World levels tending to be plodding & easy ), but inferior in terms o’ puzzle design. I bring up Super Mario World ’cause this level makes me think o’ “Forest of Illusions 2”, but that level was mo’ intricate & had puzzles to make its slow pace bearable — & that level felt harder than this, despite the levels round it being easier than the 2nd level o’ this game.

It’s too bad, ’cause the 1 positive to the water levels in this game is that, other than “Slipslide Ride”, they’re the only levels in this game that aren’t just left to right, usually twisting right, then left, then right as you go upward. It’s still a straight path without any real branching, but it’s better than nothing but left to right. & yet e’en then e’ery water level has you go from the bottom left corner to the top right. Seems like an easy opportunity for cheap variety passed up for no reason. & despite the opportunities mo’ intricate layouts offer for hiding secrets & the way the slower pace might encourage exploration, none o’ the water levels in this game have any bonuses, which is bewildering beyond belief. “Croctopus Chase” clearly shows that they were capable o’ programming barrel cannons underwater, so I can’t imagine bonus barrels would’ve been any harder to program in. I guess I should consider this a plus, since it means I ne’er have to play thru a water level mo’ than once in a playthru, but it doesn’t make them feel any mo’ interesting.

I should add that despite being 2 worlds after “Coral Capers”, “Clam City” has a much simpler layout, tho it does have mo’ enemies that are a bit harder to dodge. There’s certainly less o’ a focus on finding collectibles than just getting thru obstacles. They were so short on interesting places to put the KONG letters that the G is in plain sight & the N is in some random corner.

& yet, the K — ’long with a secret Enguarde — is hidden ’hind magical move-thru wall, which is always a terrible way to hide things. They could’ve made the top o’ that wall have a thin hole like they do in “Coral Capers” & it would’ve eluded many ’nough players while actually rewarding observant players rather than forcing them to rub up gainst e’ery wall — specially since the camera is specifically set so that it doesn’t move left o’ the wall to reveal any space on the other side till you’re right in the wall, e’en if you pass the normal left threshold o’ the camera, making it feel like that’s the edge o’ the screen.

30. Coral Capers

It’s amazing how similar “Clam City” & “Coral Capers” are. E’en their respective gimmicks aren’t all that unique: you could say “Coral Capers” focuses more on the circling Croctopuses & that “Clam City” focuses on the pearl-spitting Clambos, but both levels have either, just with the other enemy not in focus saved once or a few times @ the end. In terms o’ difficulty, they’re not much different, which is striking, as they’re 2 worlds apart.

This level does have 2 Enguards that are easy to find, while “Clam City”’s is hidden. Howe’er, I would argue that the Clambos are easier to dodge than the Croctopuses, as they are slower & you can rush past the Clambos, while you have the wait ’hind the Croctopuses — which actually should be a point in “Clam City”’s favor.

Then ’gain, this level has a mo’ complex design, with mo’ goodies to find & better KONG letter placement — tho the K & N are both rather lazily placed in an incredibly short dead end in 2 “branches”, I guess you could call them. Granted, it’s not as if you’ll particularly want most o’ the “goodies”, specially in the SNES version, which doesn’t count KONG letters for 100%, as this level, like all water levels, doesn’t have any bonuses for some inexplicable reason.

Yeah, 1 o’ these levels is redundant. Like with “Trick Track Trek” & “Tanked Up Trouble”, I feel like it’d have been better to combine their best elements into 1 level.

29. Winky’s Walkway

The shortest level in the game, & probably the easiest to forget from the 1st half o’ the game. As “Coral Capers” made itself simple to give you a chance to adjust to swimming, “Winky’s Walkway” simplicity can be ’splained as a way to help players adjust to Winky’s bouncier controls. The level is certainly full o’ goodies placed high-up to encourage you to use Winky to get them, including the O & G & this level’s only bonus ( which holds the N ) — tho if the player loses Winky before then, the developers were nice ’nough to put a Necky there to act as a backup stepping stone.

I also like how the K, which is before Winky’s introduction, keeps up the bouncing focus by being ’bove a Necky, forcing the player to take a risk ( for extreme novices, a’least ) & jump on it to get it.

This level does introduce oil drums that infinitely spawn enemies, tho it doesn’t do much beyond just having them there in this level. You could say the ne’er-ending onslaught o’ enemies provides a bit o’ extra difficulty otherwise lacking in this level, which comes after the notorious difficulty spike, “Barrel Cannon Canyon”.

’Course, artistically, this level makes no sense. Why a frog would own a walkway is a question nobody @ Rare has e’er answered, nor have they answered why these walkways are so oft populated by vultures. Still, e’en for a game that has bees & orangutans chilling out on a snowy mountain, this level’s bizarre. Those levels still had elements that fit with their themes, e’en if those elements were alimented with the common Zinger. While other walkway levels focus on elements that relate to walkways, like moving platforms, the closes this has are those oil drums. I’m not one to say that this game needed mo’ cave levels, but if any level would’ve fit well with the cave theme, this would’ve, whereas there are cave levels ( like “Elevator Antics” ) that would’ve fit this theme better. I mean, this is s’posed to be the cave world, anyway.

Whate’er complaints I could have ’bout this level’s lack o’ interesting elements, a’least it gets itself o’er with before it could get boring, which is mo’ than can be said ’bout half o’ the walkway levels.

28. Ropey Rampage

This level introduces swinging ropes, which are a good mechanic for such an early level, as they are basically just things that automatically move you round. Thankfully they offer a short, quick trip, so they don’t end up feeling like autoscrollers. Howe’er, this level doesn’t do much with the ropes: for the 1st half o’ the level, they offer no challenge, while the final half challenges you to time your jump off the end round moving Zingers. It’s cool that you can jump the 1st time swinging, e’en with the Zingers, making this part feel fast-paced.

This level also introduces Armies, which are quite challenging for the 2nd level o’ the game. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was killed far too many times by 1 o’ the 2 Armies @ the beginning o’ the stage when I was a kid. Granted, they’re easier with DK, & the 1st area gives you a TNT barrel if you’re stuck with Diddy. This level also introduces a common trick Rare does in this game o’ putting an enemy o’ note right near the end as a way to try & trip you up. In this case it is 1 last Army, who can be tricky to kill on its downward-sloping steps if you’re Diddy. Howe’er, this is just appearances, as you can just jump o’er it & hurry into the cave hole, where the Army can’t hurt you.

This level has the 1 o’ the few o’ this game’s notorious “fall into pit & hope there’s a bonus” bonuses & probably played a big part in feeding that notoriety, being such an early-game level that probably discouraged players from trying to find all the bonuses in the rest o’ the levels: it’s a barrel under a small hole ’tween 2 tree platforms with no indication or hint — no bananas going down there — to show it off.

E’en the hard-to-find bonus barrel after this shows the top lip o’ the barrel @ the bottom o’ the screen, making it a’least fair, e’en if challenging for such an early level.

Other than that bit o’ bullshit, this level is unremarkable. Being “that other jungle level” after “Jungle Hijinx” doesn’t help, nor does the fact that the other jungle level is the very memorable “Orang-utan Gang”. While the KONG letters are all in plain sight, ’cept for the G, which is up on a palm tree round the end — a pretty good place for a letter — 1 interesting quirk is that there are 2 Ns, 1 in a bonus & 1 in the area skipped by the bonus, something the game rarely does.

I do like the rainy, dark cast o’er the level, a continuation o’ how “Jungle Hijinx” goes dark @ the end, whereas this level goes in reverse, back to clear, morn @ the end.

27. Reptile Rumble

“Reptile Rumble” is a deceptively simple level, thanks to its focus on the obvious mechanic o’ hopping Kritters — basically hopping Paratroopas that go all the way back to the 1st Super Mario Bros. Howe’er, this level uses them with a subtle challenge evolution, starting you with fighting them going down-steps, with a height advantage, while forcing you to go thru them while going up-steps, where they have the height advantage, @ the end. This mechanic, too simple to deserve its own level, is broken up with simple Zinger dodging, as well as the introduction o’ Slippa, who is basically just an e’en faster, smaller Gnawty.

Still, this level is basically just jumping on or o’er enemies & is possibly the most generic level in the game & probably the easiest to forget. E’en “Winky’s Walkway”, tho mo’ basic & less inspired in its level structure, has the twist o’ introducing Winky ( ne’er mind that it’s not a good twist ). Still, the subtle strengths o’ this level’s layout, while by no means top-tier, did make this level beat some o’ the sloppier levels — e’en much better-looking levels like “Ropey Rampage”.

This level is also full o’ bonuses that challenge you to keep safe barrels from enemies so you can bring them to a wall to break them, which requires some testing out to find which walls are breakable. They also, for some reason, have a bonus barrel right next to the 2nd DK barrel, out in the open & obvious. Maybe they meant for this to introduce to players who haven’t found any yet the existence o’ bonus barrels.

To add to the meh level o’ this level, the KONG letters are all in plain sight.

This level does lose a lot o’ points in terms o’ aesthetics & specially theming. In a game that already has too many cave levels, there are far mo’ interesting cave levels later on to make this feel lost in the pile; & whereas many later cave levels fall into their cave-themed worlds, this 1 just takes up space in this game’s only jungle world, depriving this game o’ surprisingly scarce jungle levels & loosening the cohesion o’ that 1st world, making it harder to tell this world from other worlds with cave levels, water levels, & outside areas. The water levels being spread out feels nice since there is no water world ( considering the kind o’ water worlds that would appear in later DKC games, this is a blessing ) & water levels would get tiresome all together, cave levels which play like normal levels & which already have their own worlds just feel o’ersaturated for spilling out into other worlds.

& while the variety o’ enemies works well in terms o’ challenge, it would’ve been nice if they could’ve fit the cavernous theme in any way, rather than just being a random assortment o’ enemies from all level themes, none o’ whom truly belong in caves.

26. Misty Mine

Howe’er, “Misty Mines” makes a close competitor to “Reptile Rumble” in terms o’ genericism & forgettability. Coming in the middle o’ the very unmemorable, samey final world, “Chimp Caverns”, which was so bland it couldn’t e’en bother to have true alliteration in its name, can’t have done this level any favors. Based on much o’ the commentary I read ’bout “Chimp Caverns”, I get the inkling that by this point many players had already checked out.

Also not helping is this level’s main gimmick, Mini-Drums that constantly spew enemies o’ different types. Not only have players already seen this gimmick well ’nough in earlier levels, like “Winky’s Walkway” & “Elevator Antics”, but ’twas arguably used to better effect in those levels, as ’twas mixed in with other elements to a’least give better variety. While one could argue that this level provides a greater variety o’ enemies produced & increases the danger, producing Klaptraps & Armies in the latter half, it still doesn’t feel strong ’nough a gimmick to hold an entire level, but ’stead just feels like the level lazily bombarding you with enemies ’stead o’ providing tricky layouts. They don’t e’en bother to provide much variety in enemies: the aforementioned Klaptraps & Armies are the only new enemies this level pumps out o’ these things in addition to the basic Gnawties & Slippas the previous levels already introduced. ¿You can’t have Mini-Drums producing Zingers, Neckies, Klumps, or Krushas — or hell, e’en an enemy as weird as Manky Kong? Yeah, it’d be silly for these bigger enemies to pop out o’ these small drums; but we’re talking ’bout a game starring a gorilla wearing a tie. Taking this gimmick to a hilariously ludicrous level could only have improved it.

Add to this a pointless addition o’ the worst animal buddy, Espresso, who, like in many levels, almost makes the level worse to traverse thru, not the least o’ which ’cause this level requires very li’l air movement, & also since right after you get them you have to pick up a barrel & use it to enter a bonus.

& yet, this level does have some strong bonus locations. The 1st is in cave entrance hidden below a high cliff just after a long rope. If you were expected to just jump down or e’en ride a falling platform or such to find it, it’d be cheap & unfair, but you can safely slide down the rope before it to see it, & players truly should be curious ’bout that rope being far longer than needed for the main trip from the left high cliff to the right cliff. The 2nd bonus is just a wall you need to break with a TNT barrel, but they actually do something interesting with the Mini-Drum by putting it, as well as 2 Klaptraps spawned from the get-go, in your way.

I’m mixed on the decision to put all the KONG letters in the 1st bonus room. On 1 hand, it’s a unique twist on the general pattern o’ strewing the letters thruout the level; on the other, it’s lazier than integrating the letters into the level itself, specially since they don’t implement any kind o’ tricky way to get them in the bonus. I guess the novelty is fine ’nough, & if there were any level to not bother spreading KONG letters out in, it’d perhaps be this 1.

I do quite like the mine tileset this level has — & e’en the music, actually, if you could call it that, which was surprisingly done by David Wise, despite being known as the guy who did the mo’ sing-songy songs. I guess you could say this was his “Hey, Jude”. Tho this game has a bit too much brown & it would’ve been nice if they could’ve had mo’ variety for the mine levels, like maybe a gray palette. I guess the eponymous mist looks nice.

25. Tanked Up Trouble

This is “Trick Track Trek”, but with collectibles you have to collect to avoid your platform running out o’ fuel & dropping you into the abyss, making this level feel a bit mo’ fast-paced & requiring you to make trickier jumps to weave ’tween elements. In fact, unlike that level’s uninspired layout, this level surprisingly has quite a few interesting setpieces.

I specially like the Zinger-dodging near the end, where you’re struggling to keep your platform ’live, collecting single-dot fuel barrel after single-dot fuel barrel while dodging Zingers in complex formations @ the same time, only to finally get a 5-dot fuel barrel in the middle o’ a spinning Zinger.

There’s also a cool puzzle wherein you have to roll a tire past an unending onslaught o’ Gnawties so you can bounce on it @ the end to reach a high-up fuel drum. Granted, savvy players will realize you can just skip the tire & do a roll jump off the edge to reach the fuel drum. It’s not free, as the player will need to wait a bit so they can land on the moving platform, but rolling the tire isn’t free, either.

That said, a lot o’ this level feels like a slog wherein you just wait there & just maybe here or there, specially when you redo sections after dying @ the actually challenging parts. This level could’ve benefited a lot by being cut shorter, as, like “Trick Track Trek”, it’s as long as a normal level, but much slower, with detours going up & down, making it feel 4 times as long with the same amount o’ content.

This level has possibly the worst bonus in the game, without e’en the exoticism o’, say, “Oil Drum Alley”’s infamous bonus: it’s hidden in the bottomless pit below a seemingly random place where the platform 1st goes upward. I actually researched this & found out that it is set up in a way so that if you miss the 1st fuel barrel, you’ll naturally fall into the barrel. So the only way to find this bonus is to somehow be such an idiot savant that you can beat “Snow Barrel Blast” but not be able to collect a giant oil can without anything in its way & while riding a slow-moving platform or intentionally avoid it, e’en tho e’ery sign is telling you to touch it.

The KONG letters aren’t so great, but I don’t think there are many opportunities for good placements. The K has you jump on a Necky ( which was already done for the K in “Winky’s Walkway” ). I kind o’ like how the O is done by doing what you need to do for a fuel barrel just afterward.

The N & G, howe’er, are put in dickish places. The N is under a walkway. Once you see it’s there, it’s too late to go down & get it, & you’re liable to go up on the walkway, as the game generally recommends you go up on any walkways you can ( specially since standing on the moving platform wastes mo’ fuel than being off it ).

The G is ’bove the last Zinger, which you can easily skip if you decide to take a shortcut barrel cannon in plain sight. ¿Why wouldn’t you want to? This is 1 o’ the very rare times this game punishes players for seeking out bonus content by making them lose out on bonus content.

Being a walkway, this level has the same dreary background as “Trick Track Trek”.

24. Poison Pond

“Poison Pond”, the game’s only challenging underwater level, is a good counterpoint to the easy “Coral Capers” & “Clam City”, which, combined, show why the underwater levels in this game don’t work. While those levels were boring in their simplicity, this level, while mo’ complex & interesting, is also frustrating due to this game’s terrible underwater controls, physics, camera, & hit detection. While enemies moving as fast as they do in this level is thrilling, it’s mo’ a cheat on the game’s part when your own character is so slow & the camera shows so li’l ’head o’ you, making it impossible to react to many o’ the elements that just fly onto screen. E’en when you see an enemy coming, such as the upward-moving Squidges, your characters falls so slowly that they’ll hit you before you can e’en move ’way. Thus there’s 2 ways to play this level: memorize the level layout & go by memory ( which is obviously only possible after going thru it the other way 1st ) or go slowly, starting & stopping, to make sure no Mincer’s going to suddenly fly into you, which goes gainst the level design principle in most levels o’ allowing players to rush thru if their timing is good. Then ’gain, one could argue that forcing players to go slow & be careful in 1 level is fair ’nough & adds variety — that a water level should be played completely different; & as redundant as the 2 previous water levels seem compared to each other, 3 water levels is still mercifully rare. This level would probably be a lot less enjoyable if there were mo’ water levels to make it feel e’en less fresh.

It doesn’t help that the developers would sometimes create deadends the player could easily mistake for legitimate branching paths or places for KONG letters or bonuses ( if the player still hasn’t gotten the clue that water levels lack bonuses in this game ). While in some cases if you squeeze gainst the end the Mincer moving back toward you won’t hit you, there are some dead ends where that isn’t the case.

Contrariwise, some obstacles are rendered moot by wonky hit boxes that allow you to hug the ceiling while your bottom half goes thru the Mincers.

Still, I’d rather tolerate cheap bullshit ’long with some thrills than deal with the boring pointlessness o’ “Coral Capers” & “Clam City”.

Plus, this level stands out aesthetically with its green, foggy pollution & rusty spike mincers, whose menacing look fits perfectly the final, most-difficult water level, as well as fitting well the world it’s in, in a game that all too oft doesn’t bother to make its levels fit their world’s theme — specially “Kremkroc Industries”, which has 2 factory levels & a bunch o’ cave & mine levels. This level certainly feels mo’ coherent & focused on its Mincer theme than “Clam City” did to clams or “Coral Capers” to Croctopuses. Perhaps too much, actually, as there isn’t much else in this level ’cept the same Squidges, Bitesizes, & Chomps Jrs. you see in all the other water levels.

That’s not to say that this level offers many thrills to compare with most non-water levels. The Mincers themselves — rare in this game, but not unique to this level — aren’t that different from Croctopuses, when you think ’bout it, tho, I s’pose you could say the same ’bout any moving enemy. Such are the limitations o’ water levels wherein all you can do is dodge things. Still, as to be expected from the hardest variation o’ this theme, this level is busier than the other water levels, & the level designers did seem to make an attempt @ creating greater variation in Mincer arrangements than the other water levels have: I particularly like the parts where you have to weave ’tween holes in a circle o’ 3 Mincers ( granted, without the extra complication o’ gravity, it’s not as interesting as in Manic Mincers ) or weave round a central Mincer after a satellite Mincer passes before it passed back round or places where Mincers meet & depart, back & forth, like a gate.

While the K is pretty cleverly placed ’bove the start o’ the level in a niche that’s easy to miss if you’re not exploring, but not outright obscure like the K in “Clam City” ( the 1st Enguarde is still ’hind move-thru solid wall, tho ), the other KONG letters are just right in your path. This level does have plenty o’ niches, many blocked by Mincers, but they all have banana bunches, or nothing @ all. I would complain ’bout this being terrible level design, but part o’ me does find it pretty funny, actually.

23. Temple Tempest

Honestly, this level feels underwhelming coming a world after “Millstone Mayhem”. While on paper it may seem that being chased by a Millstone Gnawty would ramp up the challenge, it moves so slowly that save for maybe the very end, there’s no challenge to keeping ’head. To ensure that, the developers made the layout o’ enemies much simpler & sparser than “Millstone Mayhem”’s. This goes to the extreme during the stretch after the 2nd-to-last Millstone Gnawty, which has exactly 1 Zinger that’s positioned so that it’s way out o’ your way when you reach it & a bunch o’ tires ( 1 o’ which is pointless, ’less you’re dead set on those floating bananas high ’bove it ). If the 2nd half o’ this level were as exciting as the 1st half, this level would probably be ranked higher.

This level also has far less enemy variety. This would work if they wanted to focus purely on Gnawties, which would make sense & what they seem to do for the 1st half o’ the level; but then they flake out & introduce hopping Kritters & Zingers thruout the 2nd half. I understand that they ran out o’ new things to do with Gnawties; ¿but why not implement Krushas, Slippas, & maybe e’en a Perched Necky, as they had in “Millstone Mayhem”, while they’re @ it? “Millstone Mayhem” was already far from the hardest level in “Monkey Mines”; this level comes just 1 level after “Tree Top Town”, a level that makes this look like a Sunday stroll.

There is 1 section right near the end that is easy, but kind o’ cool: there’s Kritters coming @ you downhill while you’re being chased by a Gnawty, which should be difficult; but you can just run under them safely.

Also, replacing poor neglected Winky with Espresso, the worst animal buddy in the series ( yes, e’en worse than Ellie ), is ne’er a smart trade, specially when their gliding skills are so subpar that it can actually be harder to get items like Os or e’en make it onto the next platform o’er wide gaps with rope ( since Espresso can’t use the ropes ) while riding on them & they’re a greater liability gainst the hopping Kritters.

The most interesting challenge in this level is getting the bonus @ the beginning, which requires you to pick up a barrel & take it a ways while fleeing the chasing Gnawty & avoiding the regular Gnawties coming @ you from the other direction. It’s actually a repeat o’ a bonus-uncovering challenge near the middle o’ “Millstone Mayhem”, but this opening bonus acts as a nice callback, & a subtle 1, as they force you to use an inconspicuous DK barrel you’d be urged to throw immediately rather than the conspicuous, rare TNT barrel. This is 1 o’ the few times DK is useful, as the downside to Diddy holding the barrel in front o’ him is that it makes it easier to break it on a Gnawty — tho DK still has to worry ’bout avoiding bopping on a Gnawty, as that makes either o’ them drop the barrel.

The 2nd bonus is a bit on the nose with its giant arrow o’ bananas pointing down the rope it’s ’hind — probably the most eye-catching version o’ the DKC trilogy’s classic “bananas to indicate secret”; but it arguably works better in this circumstance, as you’re rushing ’head o’ a chasing Gnawty, rather than being able to take your time, so it’s mo’ likely you’ll o’erlook this secret or have to stop & think ’bout it.

It’s certainly better than how they hid the G, which is @ the bottom right o’ the final pit before the end, which also has a rope, tho this 1 moving. Unlike the 2nd bonus, there’s no indication there’s something down there, so the player has to take a chance o’ death right before the end.

Weirdly, the K & O are just in plain sight, with only the K requiring the player to deviate from their path. The N is also hidden, but in a mo’ fair way, under a breakable floor that’s so fair they e’en made the cliff that you jump off to break it just short ’nough that you can jump back up.

1 o’ the very rare improvements the otherwise terrible GBC port o’ this game had was that it had a cool nighttime palette to this level, which helped set it apart from “Millstone Mayhem” a bit mo’.

22. Millstone Mayhem

This level is a notch ’bove the group o’ normie, gimmickless levels where you just jump on enemies & platforms & dodge moving dangers & pits, like “Reptile Rumble”, by giving it a bizarre paintjob, something that Tropical Freeze would do for many more o’ its levels. Whereas Tropical Freeze’s paintjobs are far mo’ extravagant, this Gnawty trapped in a flying giant stone wheel is probably far weirder than any that game had, & probably made e’en weirder by its starker, less-cartoony graphics. That said, this paintjob loses points in that they repeat it in a later temple level. In a series that would oft have no qualms with having quite exotic gimmicks be 1-level wonders, it’s odd that they insist on repeating this far less impressive “gimmick”, e’en if they slightly change how the millstone Gnawties behave in the next level.

For what it’s worth, this level also provides a greater variety o’ dangers mixed with the simple moving millstone Gnawties, — far mo’ than the later temple level, “Temple Tempest” — tho the only ones that complement the millstone Gnawties in any meaningful way are the Slippas that ambush you near the end under the millstone, forcing you to roll into them ’stead o’ jump. & while most o’ the platforming is just basic enemies in a row & dodging obstacles moving back & forth, there are a few interesting setpieces, like the branch the the high platforms leading up to a secret upper area with a Winky crate & a moving platform below with a millstone Gnawty in the middle, threatening to hit you no matter what path you can take. You can actually abuse the millstone Gnawty to get a 2nd jump & get up to the top section without going thru the intended puzzle, which is how I always did it as a kid ’cause I mistook the intended solution. Till this most recent playthru I always tried to roll the tire onto the moving platform, which is very tricky to do without making it roll too far & roll into the pit, only to this time realize that you can just roll the tire up to the edge o’ the cliff before the branch & jump from there.

I also like the jump with the penultimate millstone Gnawty where you have to jump under it while it’s @ the top o’ its path in the li’l space it leaves — made e’en smaller by the fact that you have to jump up to a higher platform without jumping so high that you bonk your head on the millstone.

The bonus locations aren’t bad, either. The 1st requires the player to jump up to the top left cliff ’stead o’ the top right cliff from the starting tire, which is a trick the developers would repeat a few times in DKC2. The 2nd is ’bove a millstone Gnawty, requiring the player to either hop on a hopping Kremling or just damage-boost thru… or just jump toward it as DK, ’cause for once his larger hitbox is an advantage here & allows you to reach it from a normal jump where Diddy’s mousy size can’t.

The 3rd bonus challenges the player to bring a TNT barrel past 2 Krushas without wasting it on them so you can use it on the next wall. While the level encourages you to use TNT barrels on Krushas @ the beginning o’ the level, this secret challenges you to remember the insight the game should have drilled into the player since a’least “Reptile Rumble” to not waste barrels on enemies when walls might need them. Part o’ me thinks this bonus would work better in terms o’ intuitiveness & the level not sending mixed messages by having a bombable wall after the 1st row o’ Krushas that gives you 2 TNT barrels & having that row turn into 1 Krusha so the player naturally bombs the Krusha & brings the other TNT barrel to a breakable wall, only to have to remember this & protect the only TNT barrel later from Krushas, but ’nother part o’ me thinks that might have been too much hand-holding. On the other hand, the fact that they give you 2 TNT barrels @ the beginning e’en tho there are 2 Krushas feels arbitrary, albeit harmless.

None o’ the KONG letters are placed in great places, tho. Most are in plain sight & just require basic jumps to get. E’en the O, which I think you’re meant to get by hopping off a Kremling, can be grabbed with a roll jump off the edge o’ the cliff before it. The K has the other problem in that you don’t see its location in the 1st bonus till you’ve already shot yourself, & after that it’s a crapshoot whether you’ll land back into the barrel & be able to shoot ’gain. Luckily, you can just go back & re-enter the bonus, so it’s mo’ an annoyance & waste o’ time than a serious inconvenience.

21. Oil Drum Alley

I can’t tell whether I like or dislike this level. It certainly gets points for introducing the factory tileset & music, both o’ which are great & criminally underutilized, & this level is the only 1 where you can enjoy the visuals unencumbered by e’erything going black e’ery few seconds like this level’s idiot brother, “Blackout Basement”, does.

“Oil Drum Alley” starts & ends with intricate platforming challenges round the eponymous oil drums, which @ 1st act as glorified munchers. High points include the staircases going up & down with Gnawties you can bop up & down, with the downward path forcing you to weave ’tween lit oil drums, & the weird staircase o’ tires & oil drums ’tween them.

Halfway thru the level, oil drums have their flames go up & down in a consistent alternating pattern, helpfully demonstrated by an optional oil drum on a ledge that’s only useful for revealing a DK barrel if needed. Later on the level challenges you to use them as platforms, timing your jumps when their flames are down, & in the last gauntlet they introduce a twist to their pattern wherein their flames go up & down in quick successions — to quick to land on & jump off in time — till finally lighting up for a long period & going cool for a long period, which is when it’s safe to jump on & off them. These are not helpfully demonstrated in a safe way, making it easy to get tripped up in an unfair way by this sudden twist. While I like the always-lit oil drums fine ’nough, — they’re an interesting paint job on munchers — I feel the on-&-off oil drums have that mix o’ neither feeling original, nor feeling interesting, mo’ an exercise in just waiting till it’s safe than a true challenge. Technically, thanks to the jankiness o’ their hitboxes, you can do weird jump rolls off their edges as Diddy whether their flames are up or not, but the aiming is very iffy & this is clearly a glitch, not how the levels were actually designed.

They introduce ’nother twist in that they give you a hidden Rambi down what seems like a pit, indicated by a banana & maybe the crate-breaking noise a barrel thrown by a Manky Kong up ’head makes when it falls down & hits it. Unlike all the previous levels, where Rambi was an unambiguous powerup that instantly made those levels twice as easy, Rambi here, due to his larger hit box & slippery movement ( specially on the GBA version, wherein he for some reason always feels like he’s moving on ice ), Rambi adds a bit o’ extra challenge when hopping ’cross the tiny oil drums, whose flames can hurt Rambi. Rambi’s only useful for breaking a wall just ’head o’ where you get him, howe’er, so there’s no threat in losing him. 1 last level to give you Rambi after this will truly challenge your ability to keep Rambi.

While the start & end are rather strong, this level’s middle feels like a bit o’ a slog, specially that long path littered with lit oil drums just sitting there on flat ground with what feels like dozens o’ Kritters all hopping forward in the same formations. It’s e’en mo’ tedious if you make the mistake o’ trying to roll the tire that’s revealed @ the start o’ the section all the way to the end only to discover it’s useless. I think maybe it’s s’posed to help you get the O; but you can just bounce off a Kritter, which may not be free, but is much less o’ an ordeal than dragging the tire so long.

’Course, I can’t talk ’bout this level without discussing its infamously obscure bonus: the bonus within the bonus. The thing is, I think hiding a bonus within a bonus is a brilliant idea that is 100% fair. Nowhere does the game so much as imply that bonuses themselves are off-limits for finding bonuses, so it’s reasonable to expect players truly thinking outside the box to consider the idea. DKC2 does this to greater results with a hero coin hidden in 1 o’ its bonuses. That the bonus is found by breaking a wall in ’nother bonus is perfectly intuitive — certainly mo’ intuitive than the bonus found in “Tanked Up Trouble” or that bonus in “Ropey Rampage”. The problem with this bonus is that you break the wall with a barrel that only spawns when you hit all 3 roulette barrels while showing a single banana. This is where the bonus goes completely gainst any intuition or logic. Any reasonable player would assume that 3 single bananas would give you, well, a single banana, as all the other roulette entries give you what they show when you collect all 3 o’ them. So this is a case wherein the developers do break the rules & outright lie to you.

What’s worse is that the developers missed the perfect opportunity for a clever puzzle: ’stead o’ having it be 3 single bananas in a row, they should’ve made 1 o’ the roulette entries show nothing — that is, it shows only the barrel itself. That would’ve been a clever trick that sort o’ makes sense when you think ’bout it, unlike the single bananas, which have nothing to do with barrels — or a’least nothing mo’ than any o’ the other roulette entries — & is just arbitary.

While the bonus game you get for this super-secret bonus feels big, having 3 o’ those “hit the letters” games, which spell out the 3 words “Donkey”, “Kong”, & “Country”, e’en the 6 lives they give you isn’t worth how long it takes to do them all.

But other than that, the bonuses are rather strong. Breaking open the 1st oil drum with a TNT barrel revealed from the clearly-marked breakable floor after falling down to it from a rope is, if not hard, a’least interesting for something you only e’er have to do once. The 4th bonus gives you 2 optional challenges: bring Rambi there without losing Rambi or dodge 1 o’ Manky Kong’s barrels & follow it to the door it opens. Ironically, the least interesting bonus is the 2nd bonus, where the secret 3rd bonus is found, as it’s just a wall right ’hind where you reveal the TNT that breaks it. I guess the fact that you have to think to go backward to open it is the “puzzle”; or maybe it’s intentionally innocuous to make the bonus hidden in it e’en mo’ hidden.

The KONG letters are mostly lame. The K is just right there, gotten by a basic jump. The N is in the 4th bonus, which thankfully you can just mash the jump button to complete. The G is kind o’ interesting, tho: hidden in breakable ground after the last oil drum, challenging the player 1 last time to jump on the oil drum when it’s safe & then jump off to get that extra height necessary to break the floor.

“Oil Drum Alley” perhaps could’ve benefited from being shortened a bit — a’least removing that pointless long section with the hopping Kritters e’erywhere. They also probably didn’t need 4 bonuses in this level — but then maybe they did that on purpose to better hide the 3rd bonus till the player notices that after completing 3 bonuses they’re still missing that “!”.

20. Elevator Antics

¿Why is this a cave level? I couldn’t see any reason why level, whose main focus seems to be be steel kitchen sinks that rise & fall down metal poles, couldn’t use the underutilized factory tileset, in which case this level would fit snuggly in “Kremkroc Industries Inc.” ’stead o’ making me wonder why it’s here & not the “Chimp Caverns” just after. The ropes could be turned into chains. & as for the Zingers, Neckies, & Slippas that inhabit this cave, Neckies & Zingers appear in caves & snowy mountains, where they don’t belong, all the time & there’s apparently not problem with Manky Kong appearing in both the factory levels. Zingers & Neckies are the dominant species in “Tanked-Up Trouble”, which feels mo’ like it belongs in “Kremkroc Industries” ( it’s in “Chimp Caverns” ) than this level.

Anyway, the fact that they decided to make this level the 4th out o’ 5 cave levels doesn’t help this level stand out — specially when it uses the same putrid brown & yellow palette used in 3 out o’ 5 o’ these levels.

That’s not to say this level doesn’t have its subtle touches. Contrasted gainst the dull “Oil Drum Alley”, “Trick Track Trek”, & “Poison Pond” & the challenge-by-cheap-tricks “Blackout Basement”, “Elevator Antics” feels like we’ve gone back to the subtly intricate challenges o’ “Gorilla Glacier” — tho not necessarily as fair. I remember hating this level as a kid ’cause o’ how hard ’twas, which is odd, since it’s definitely easier than some o’ the levels in “Gorilla Glacier”. E’en the fact that this level comes before the save point isn’t a big deal, since by this point I should have had to survive thru 4 other levels after “Snow Barrel Blast”.

1 difference is that I don’t think there were any cheap tricks in any o’ those levels, save the relatively moderate “Croctopus Chase”, while this level is full o’ cheap hits hidden by that giant conspirator, the camera: Zingers that crash into you as you’re slowly moving up & down or jumping from 1 rope to the other from offscreen, giving you no time to react in such stilted movement; Slippas placed so that right after you jump down from a rope they’ll hit you, with no way to know they’re there till you land ( or worse, you might, in the urge to go as fast as possible, you may lean right up gainst the wall as you jump from the rope, only for that to make you go into the small alcove under that wall immediately ’pon landing, where you can’t defend yourself from a Slippa, as you can neither roll nor jump there ). To a lesser extent, e’en the 1st Mini-Necky is rather dickishly placed, right round where you lose the roll you’ve likely used gainst the 2 Slippas before it, leaving you vulnerable to 1 o’ its nuts as your character slowly recovers from their roll.

Not helping is the uncharacteristically finnicky hitboxes on the “elevators”, which, in contrast to how most good hitboxes work in this game, are smaller than they appear & don’t allow you to stand on their edges, which can lead to unexpected deaths in the thick o’ action. Elevators also don’t seem to be physically there when they’re @ the bottom o’ the screen, as players may learn if they happen to try landing on 1 right @ the bottom & see, to their confusion, their character phase right thru it.

Then there are a few places with illogical design, such as 1 o’ the many cliffs with Klumps on it, but this time going the other direction you’re going, so you can just slowly follow them till they fall off the cliff themselves or the drop from 1 cliff down to ’nother with just a row o’ bananas there ( presumably to show you you can go down there safely ), & nothing else.

The eponymous elevators don’t appear till just after the midpoint, which is understandable, as there’s not much to do with it. They’re basically just the elevator platforms in Super Mario Bros.. They do come up with a few interesting ideas, like jumping from 1 to the other with Zingers both ’bove & below, neither o’ which feel as cheap as the rope jumps with Zingers, & the penultimate section with the low ceilings that give you e’en less room to jump from platform to platform. The 1st 2 sections, howe’er, are the exact same, just that the 2nd has an N near the bottom o’ the elevators. Considering the cliff with the Mini-Necky & the steel barrel that kills it before you reach it is pointless, this section & the 1st elevator section could’ve been cut out with no loss. As a kid I always thought these platforms were s’posed to be kitchen sinks, but I think they’re actually s’posed to be buckets. I think kitchen sinks are cooler, tho, so I’m still going to interpret them as kitchen sinks.

I do like that the other gimmick they use for most o’ the 1st half o’ this level, the ropes, a’least still fit this level’s concept o’ elevating up & down, & it does offer this level some variety that mo’ gimmick-heavy levels lack. It perhaps would’ve been better if they mixed these 2 gimmicks together, as by the time you go thru the 4th pair o’ fighting Klumps & riding elevators in a row, I’ve gotten my fill.

If this level’s shining point is anything, it’s some o’ the Mini-Necky sections, specially the parts where the Mini-Necky goes up & down throwing nuts, creating particularly fun dodge & hit situations, & the final challenge with the Mini-Necky throwing nuts ’bove a tire, forcing the player to time their bounce round the constantly volley o’ nuts.

I have mixed views on the bonuses in this level. The final bonus, in particular, is a bit rude. Yes, it makes sense for the player to be suspicious o’ an elevator going downward that seems to have to use other than, perhaps, as a jump that feels very short & easy @ the climax o’ the level ( tho they do move much mo’ quickly than any other elevator in this level ). But you’re still expecting the player to take a risk going down there when there was just as likely a chance there was nothing down there & they have no way to get back up — right @ the end o’ a relatively hard level. As you can imagine, as a kid I rarely took the elevator up on its 1st offer & oft played thru the level ’gain to get it, now that I didn’t care whether I beat the level or not anymo’. This could’ve worked fine if they a’least spaced the platforms close ’nough that you could jump back up them, so the player wouldn’t feel like they were rolling the dice on a level that hasn’t exactly inspired confidence with some o’ its earlier dick moves. E’en better might have been to make the bonus up high, which fits better with elevators which are mainly for, you know, elevating, which has the bonus o’ not seeming suicidal, since there are no “sky pits” in this game to screw you o’er & you’d be able to just jump down back to the rest o’ the level.

Then there’s the middle bonus, which is just invisible & requires the player to randomly guess there’s something o’er a wall that seems to reach all the way to the top o’ the screen, round a hectic rope section full o’ Zingers where you’re as unlikely to try such a Hail Mary as, well, the end o’ the level. It doesn’t help that, due to how slow your character moves on the ropes, you have to unintuitively jump toward the 3rd rope while the Zinger is right in your way to land on the other side safely & get ’nough time to jump ’gain to reach o’er the wall. What’s specially annoying is that, if you look @ the DK Atlas map, it seems like a great bonus placement, since the DK Atlas map doesn’t indicate that that top few blocks are blocked by the camera ( also, it’s questionable accurate, as you can’t climb up past the camera, so those ropes are mo’ likely floating without a top, ending right where the camera ends, rather than extending past it as the map implies ). A perfect example o’ the developers going too far with obscuring a bonus when they had 1 hidden well ’nough without the camera cheat.

I do like the 1st, right in front o’ your face, but still surprisingly easy to miss; & if you do miss it, it’s right @ the start.

Other than the G, the KONG letters feel well-hidden, specially the K @ the end o’ the ropes @ the start & the N @ the bottom o’ an elevator section ( showing ’nother case where the bonus @ the bottom o’ the elevator could’ve been made mo’ fair: put an upward-moving elevator next to the downward-moving elevator ). I don’t like having to keep getting the O in the bonus with the slowly rotating barrel cannons e’ery time I die, howe’er.

19. Vulture Culture

This level has just the right mix o’ a general mechanic to cohere round & other general mechanics to keep the level from getting too repetitive or generic, something the sequel would master. While shooting yourself @ birds from floating barrel cannons is far from the most exot — actually, now that I think ’bout it, that is a very weird gimmick. Such is the staying power o’ DKC that it has managed to make the bizarre seem normal, just as how Super Mario Bros. normalized floating blocks & jumping 7 times your height. Anyway, after our 1st taste o’ the barrel cannons, “Barrel Cannon Canyon”, insisted we avoid the invulnerable Zingers with our cannon shots, it’s refreshing to be able to intentionally aim @ & destroy enemies this time ­— tho it does sneak back to forcing you to dodge Zingers in the latter 3rd or so.

This level does offer some interesting Necky arrangements & paths gainst which to aim your shots, from stationary Neckies to Neckies moving left & right, up & down, & then circling, to a staircase o’ stationary Neckies whom you bounce up. When this level reintroduces Zingers, it does so by forcing you to bounce gainst a Necky to jump o’er the Zinger. I particularly like the tutorial that is the 2nd Necky, who moves left & right with a half parabola o’ bananas showing precisely where they expect you to shoot — only it’s actually safe to hit the Necky when it’s in the wrong place, which is a much mo’ interesting safety wheels than the ol’ “safety ground that lets you climb back up & try ’gain”.

Ne’ertheless, this level’s layout is nowhere close to as interesting as the intricate web o’ cannons in “Barrel Cannon Canyon”, & is thus oddly easier, despite taking place 2 worlds later. I guess this level was meant to be more o’ a warm-up, being the 1st level o’ the world ( as opposed to “Barrel Cannon Canyon”, which is the last level o’ world 1 ) & being before the player reaches the safety o’ the save point. This level comes right before “Tree Top Town”, which is, contrariwise, quite a difficulty spike ( & which also comes before either a save point or a Funky warp that lets you go to an earlier save point, so if “Vulture Culture” is trying to be merciful, “Tree Top Town” makes that mercy fall in vain ). Some set pieces are repeated a bit too oft, such as the aforementioned staircases o’ Neckies, o’ which there are 3 & specially the Mini-Neckies just standing there spitting nuts. While the 2nd iteration where you can throw a barrel down a set o’ steps to plow the Mini-Necky down is interesting, they repeat this idea many other times, including a plainer version 1st & a few times afterward. There are 2 instances o’ just the Mini-Neckies without a barrel, offering something o’ an actual challenge, but by that point they feel diluted with all the other Mini-Neckies. Cutting some o’ these parts probably would’ve strengthened this level.

The bonus locations aren’t that interesting, either. The 3rd bonus does tie itself to the sort o’ micro gimmick o’ this level, the Neckies perched up high dropping nuts, making the 2nd iteration something beyond just falling dangers to be avoided, challenging the player to climb up & bop them while avoiding their nuts so they can jump down &, with that extra weight, break open the floor to produce a barrel to open a cave wall. That said, I don’t like how quick the cave wall rebuilds itself after breaking it just by making it go just the tiniest bit offscreen ( the barrel needed to break it, sadly, does not respawn ). They hide the N in the bonus section itself & I like the way you can just mash the A button to go thru all the barrel blasts.

Howe’er, the 2nd bonus is, ’less you’re unlucky ’nough to precisely move so that you don’t land on either the cave wall or the floor with the barrel or the Necky & then 1 o’ these other 2, which seems like something you have to try to do, just given to you, & otherwise feels like it cheaply robs you o’ a bonus.

The 1st bonus, the least weak o’ them, relies on a trail o’ bananas to indicate its presence, & expects the player to roll the tire under it, which is a repeat o’ a similar bonus in “Stop & Go Station”, but not as cleverly hidden or arranged, despite coming in a later level.

None o’ the KONG letter placements are interesting. Most are in plain sight, with the N in plain sight in a bonus. Only the 1st is hidden in a new place under breakable floor.

18. Croctopus Chase

Definitely the best water level in this game, since this level has a gimmick beyond dangers that slowly move side to side or in circles: the eponymous Croctopuses this time don’t just spin in simple circles but start chasing you after you pass certain points, starting with small, simple paths, & then building into longer, a bit mo’ serpentine paths & starting with breaks ’tween chases, but then ending with chases following right after the other. Granted, I think they could’ve had much mo’ twisty paths than they had here, which doesn’t go beyond zigzagging left, right, left right.

Since this level involves races gainst dangers, this level actually pushes you to go fast, while the other levels usually encourage you to go slowly to avoid running into the enemies that just fly into you from offscreen with li’l warning, including the later “Poison Pond”, which is arguably easier than this level. This level accommodates this by having fewer enemies strewn thru the race paths, tho it still has stealth Chomps that just fly into you from offscreen & obnoxious Squidges that blend in with the scenery. Unfortunately, the developers decided to put 1 Squidge in the path o’ the race, forcing you to stop & wait for it to get out o’ your way. It seems the developers realized there were a few too many cheap hits, as this level has a whopping 5 DK barrels strewn thruout — & I can’t help but notice that they usually placed them after cheap hits, like after the 1st Chomps Jr.

This is not to say this level doesn’t have any interesting arrangements o’ enemies. I do like the 2 Chomps round the middle, 1 on top & 1 on the bottom, forcing you to weave ’tween them, which is tricky when you essentially only move in diagonals.

That said, this level does have an odd difficulty curve. After quite a ramp up in difficult near the end o’ the 1st half, with Squidges & Chomps thrown into your races ’head o’ the Croctopuses, most o’ the 2nd half returns to focusing on just races ’head o’ Croctopuses, with the few cases where they do mix in Chomps being near the start o’ the 2nd half, only to finally culminate @ the end with a whole colony o’ Squidges, which would be hard to get thru if you couldn’t just stop & wait for them to swim by ( or just plow thru them if you found Enguarde ).

Thanks to the races’ somewhat twisty paths, this level has the most intricate shape, e’en mo’ so than the mo’ difficult “Poison Pond” in a later world, which is nice. Unlike the sequels, water levels are the only levels that go beyond straight left to right, so a mo’ intricate layout is refreshing here. I’m still disappointed that — yes — being a water level, this has no bonuses in it, despite being mo’ fit for hiding secrets than most o’ the linear levels.

While I like that the secret Enguarde — which is near the end, so you can’t coast on it thruout the whole level like in other water levels — is hidden using a thin hole @ the top o’ the wall like I recommended for “Clam City” & not magical move-thru wall, I don’t like the way the N is hidden ’hind a hidden wall, in a particularly stupid way. It’s in a space ’tween 2 barrel cannons, 1 o’ which shoots you straight into the other & then onward, skipping o’er the hole. You might expect that you’re s’posed to go back into the 2nd barrel cannon, but that just shoots you back ’way from the middle gap, nor can you squeeze thru the barrel cannons. No, you’re s’posed to just press gainst the right wall to move thru it. A’least this level outright shows you that something’s in the middle there, that doesn’t make magic move-thru walls any less stupid, & a reasonable player would use that as a hint that they can later reach that part from a different point, not that the wall next to you is an illusion. Luckily this is only a problem for GBA players, since the SNES version doesn’t count KONG letters toward 101%.

@ the other end o’ the spectrum, despite this level being full o’ crevices in which to hide goodies, all the other KONG letters are straight in your path. I guess the idea is that needing to hurry by is challenge ’nough; but these letters are all in such narrow spots that you’d have to try avoiding them. Mo’ importantly, this only applies to the K, as the N & G — the latter o’ which I don’t e’en think is possible to avoid if you tried — aren’t e’en on paths where you’re being followed by Croctopuses.

While this level doesn’t look as nice as the toxic green “Poison Pond”, the icy-blue palette ( since this level is in “Gorilla Glacier” ) makes it stand out better than the 1st 2 water levels, which both have the same palette.

17. Bouncy Bonanza

Tho not the most memorable o’ levels, thanks to its focus on basic jumping mechanics, “Bouncy Bonanza” does a better job o’ balancing fast-paced action & slower, mo’ deliberate puzzle-solving than most. For 1, it’s nice ’nough to offer faster solutions to its puzzles, allowing you, for instance, a way to skip e’ery instance o’ rolling tires with way too much momentum for their own good onto small platforms & hopping they don’t fall into a pit, either by using the hidden Winky or just jumping with Diddy.

This level also does a good job o’ creating a cohesive theme for a level without any particular gimmick: it’s just a bunch o’ hopping Kritters & tire jumps. They e’en integrated the midway point into it by forcing you to roll a tire to bounce up & reach it.

Howe’er, near the end o’ the level they seemed to run out o’ ideas, as they repeat the “jump on tires while doddging Zingers” thing 3 times with not much variance to differentiate them. 2 o’ them are literally only differentiated by a single extra Zinger. Challenging you to roll a tire while dodging a moving Zinger @ the end was a nice touch, tho — specially since you can skip it if you were good ’nough to keep Winky to this point.

This level also benefits by breaking the straight left-to-right path by introducing a branch near the middle. I think the top branch is s’posed to be easier, but that’s debatable, thanks to the cheap Kritters that jump @ you from offscreen. Howe’er, this branch does lead you to a cave with Winky ( who can be traded in for Rambi on the 1st North American release, thanks to a great glitch ). My only problem with this branching — other than the cheap Kritters @ the top — is that they have a magical move-thru wall @ the top. I don’t think I was e’er tricked by it, ¿since why would you have a platform moving up if I wasn’t s’posed to go up there?, but that just makes it pointless.

The bonuses are all great. In addition to the aforementioned tire-rolling challenge for the bonus @ the end, there’s a bonus near the middle that challenges the player to weave round Zingers moving up & down to hit a wall with a barrel.

They also did a good job o’ placing the KONG letters in tricky places round enemies without making you do tedious busywork not worth doing to get them. The only 1 I don’t like is the N, which you pretty much have to get while going down the secret path, but you can only get on the secret path. Granted, unlike other levels, the secret path is mo’ a nontrivial alternate path than just a way to skip a part o’ the level.

While “Bouncy Bonanza” uses the o’erused & uninteresting cave tileset, it a’least uses a unique dark pink palette that looks nicer than that gaudy yellow-brown palette most cave levels use.

16. Mine Cart Carnage

“Mine Cart Carnage” is probably the most famous level in this game, e’en mo’ well-known than the 1st level. Despite mine cart levels being far from the rarest, most exotic level gimmick in a game, much less a platformer, this level single-handedly elevated DKC to the top o’ people’s minds when it comes to mine cart levels. Mine cart levels play such a big part o’ the general consciousness o’ what is DKC that Returns dedicated half a world to mine cart levels.

“Mine Cart Carnage” is also a perfect example o’ the great difficulty curve the classic DKC trilogy has, with its general upward trajectory pocked with minor difficulty spikes that also increase in difficulty thruout the game. For many kids “Mine Cart Carnage” was the 1st difficulty wall ( if not “Barrel Cannon Canyon” from the 1st world ), only to be superceded later on by far harder levels like “Tree Top Town” & “Snow Barrel Blast”. By having both the average upward difficulty trajectory & the minor spikes here & there, DKC is able to have its Twinkie & eat it, too: you get the enjoyment o’ feeling the game gradually become harder as your skills gradually increase while also getting the excitement, surprise, & memorability o’ the minor spikes.

This notoriety ’mong people’s childhood memories is amusing in hindsight as an adult with better skills, ’cause if you try the level now, it’s not that hard — far from the hardest level. It’s far easier than the mine cart levels Returns unleashes on you. Whereas that game would oft change the level & add gotchas right as you’re playing it to trip you up, this level operates purely on “What You See Is What You Get”: you see an abandoned cart in the track, a hole in the track, or a Kremling in a cart charging toward you & you need to time your jump to just before you collide. If you jump too early, you’ll risk landing on the danger & get hit; if you jump too late, you’ll bump into the danger as you jump. With this greater simplicity comes a greater fairness, something the original trilogy did a lot better than the Returns games.

The only true trouble comes from the Kremlings riding toward you @ a faster speed, as you have to time your press with 2 moving objects ’stead o’ just 1 & a 1 that’s static. This can actually make remembering the level a bit worse, as you can become paranoid that you know a Kremling’s coming & get twitchy fingers, only to jump too soon & land just before a Kremling charges into you. This is particularly the case for the last section, where you have suspicious empty track for quite a long time for the end’s ramped-up pace, e’en tho you know a Kremling’s coming, you know he’s coming…

The layout o’ obstacles is also tamer than one might remember, with the 1st half relying entirely on small gaps ’tween tracks, only to gradually introduce lying carts & Kremlings with large plots o’ safe track ’tween them, till it finally starts putting them closer & closer together, with the rails pointed @ sharper angles for added difficulty. This can make the earlier parts a bit boring on repeat playthrus when you’re only having trouble with the early parts ( a common problem with levels slowly going from safe & easy to hard that many critics who lavishly praise Nintendo for doing this kind o’ level design of neglect to address ), but your cart moves just quick ’nough that you can rush thru these parts without making the cart go so quickly that a normal player can’t react to obstacles in time. While “Mine Cart Carnage” is the longest level in the game, you move so quickly that it feels shorter than the average level. The rush o’ this level also probably makes its simplicity a positive rather than a negative, as it’d be hard to appreciate too much complexity while blasting past e’erything.

Aligned with this, the KONG letters are in plain sight, tho they all but maybe the G require a jump to get them, & it’s easy to accidentally jump o’er the N just after a fallen mine cart.

’Course, if this level’s still not easy ’nough, the devs offer what we would now call a “dev path” ( but back then was known as “the way to get you to subscribe to Nintendo Power” ) that allows you to skip the entire level but the last Kremling by jumping o’er the 1st barrel cannon & pressing gainst the leftmost wall to enter an invisible barrel. While obscure, this is just an extra not required to get so much as 100% — tho I will add with amusement that, since this level has no bonuses in the level proper, using this warp to skip the entire level not only allows you to beat the game without playing this level, but allows you to 100% the game, as well. In essence, it’s not different from a cheat code.

15. Torchlight Trouble

If anything gives this level an advantage, it’s that it knows when to end when other levels with just-as-1-note gimmicks are mo’ likely to stretch their gimmicks out. This level’s gimmick is not the eponymous torchlight, which is mo’ a visual distraction ( specially the screen flashes that happen whene’er you turn, which were removed from the Virtual Console for obvious reasons ). Honestly, I would’ve prefered a fresher palette, specially a blue, white, or purple palette that might have made this level feels like it belongs in “Gorilla Glacier”. In contrast, I do like the flaming oil drums, which makes this level feel like warm shelter ’way from all the other cold levels.

This level’s gimmick, gameplay-wise, are precarious jumps made e’en mo’ precarious if you’re playing the better jumper, Diddy, by the Klumps & Krushas who cause Diddy to bounce back if he lands on them. This forces players into a dilemma: ¿use DK, with his weak jumps that can, for example, barely clear the Mincer & reach the rising & falling small platform @ the end o’ the level, or use Diddy & take extra pains to avoid the Klumps & Krushas?

This level has some great challenges near the end with the Klumps on thin platforms made e’en thinner for players by the harmful torchlit oil drums & round the end with the Krushas & Mincers, but feels like a lulls round the middle. E’en this short, this level runs out o’ ideas rather quickly & could’ve benefited from a bit mo’ variety. They could’ve a’least given a sneak peak o’ moving Mincers ( the lightly gyrating Mincer @ the end doesn’t count, which is 1 o’ the easiest jumps in this level ), who won’t appear till “Manic Mincers” 2 worlds later, in simple arrangements.

I like the bonuses in this level. The 1st bonus is so obvious, & yet still easy to miss if you’re rushing: the barrel is right on top o’ the breakable wall with a Krusha coming right @ you when you reach it, daring you to waste that barrel on his stupid face rather than on the breakable wall just ’hind you.

I would’ve made the 2nd bonus harder, tho, by having its barrel earlier, so there is a mo’ extended challenge o’ bringing it past several Krushas. As it stands, you only need to jump o’er a single Mincer, which isn’t e’en a threat to your barrel. I guess the bonus wall itself isn’t in plain sight, but neither are most o’ them; by this point, ¿what player is going to break a barrel for no reason & not notice the obvious wall just after that Mincer?

The KONG letters are all great, being tricky but fast to get. The K requires you to roll off the left edge & jump back while possibly dealing with a Klump if you haven’t killed him 1st; the O requires you to make a chancy extra jump in the middle o’ a tiny moving platform’s path & land back on that tiny platform; the N requires you to roll jump off a tiny platform moving up & down; & the G is hidden in the final bonus, requiring you to jump off the Klaptrap to reach it & making this otherwise too-tedious-&-too-low-scoring-to-be-worth-playing bonus interesting for once.

14. Barrel Cannon Canyon

While not the most obscure level in DKC, “Barrel Cannon Canyon” is still less renowned than you’d expect coming from the level that introduces that long-lasting staple o’ the series, the barrel cannon. & as an introduction, it’s no slouch. While the level starts with basic barrel cannons that just shoot you straight upward, 1st stationary & then moving left & right, the level quickly expands into mo’ complex arrangements o’ barrel cannons going up & down, left, & right, & spinning, culminating in a long stream o’ barrel cannons @ the end strewn with Zingers also moving in e’ery direction, an arrangement that’s far closer to the complexity & challenge found in the kind o’ apex this game reaches in “Snow Barrel Blast” in the 4th world, what many consider to be the hardest level in the game, than you’d expect in the 1st world. Granted, the trick that the developers pull to make this level easier than “Snow Barrel Blast” is to make the barrel cannons move much slower, giving you much mo’ time to react.

Which is to say, “Barrel Cannon Canyon” is quite a difficulty spike with which to end the 1st world, a spike which wouldn’t be met ’gain till a’least the 3rd world’s “Tree Top Town” ( yes, I’d definitely stand by “Mine Cart Carnage” & “Stop & Go Station” being easier than this level — a’least without shortcuts ). Not only do we have these tricky barrel shooting section, but also plenty o’ sections full o’ hopping Kremlings, making for a rather long level, too — a full 4th longer than the 2nd longest level in the 1st world. Granted, I don’t think I’d consider these sections to be e’en harder than some o’ the arrangements in the 2nd level, “Ropey Rampage” ( itself a minor difficulty spike ).

The developers, ’course, knew what they were doing, as they filled the level with shortcuts that let you skip the hardest parts, including the whole final gauntlet. & unlike the shortcuts in “Mine Cart Carnage” & “Stop & Go Station”, these are not obscure shortcuts, but whose access points, the top palm tree sections, are in plain sight; & players having just played “Jungle Hijinxs” should be well aware o’ the importance o’ the tree tops areas. I think they squander this point, howe’er, by putting a barrel cannon that starts the skip on top o’ the cave entrance @ the beginning. They already do a trick like this in “Millstone Mayhem” ( but with a bonus barrel ), & the 1st normal barrel cannon already shoots you up so high that you can clearly see the tree tops & the next warp barrel cannon, & allows you to reach them without the 1st barrel cannon.

On the other hand, unlike “Mine Cart Carnage”, this doesn’t make the bonuses any freer. The 1st bonus, unforunately, is obscure & requires the player to take a gamble & guess that deliberately missing a barrel cannon going up & down & shooting yourself directly into a wall will make you enter a bonus stage. While it makes sense, given that the game established that there are bonuses in breakable walls, the game also establishes that most walls aren’t breakable, & I’d suspect that most players would assume this’d be mo’ likely the case for a wall with a barrel cannon clearly meant for you to shoot to, with the clear message that failure to do so would end in death like all other misses. I distinctly remember that I had to look this 1 up, as I’d probably try falling into e’ery bottomless pit ( & this is a large level with many pits ) before trying something so unintuitive, specially when the 2nd level, unfortunately, seeded the idea o’ bonus barrels beind down bottomless pits.

The 2nd bonus is tricky, but a fair challenge where you have to knock out Kremlings so you can bring a TNT barrel to a cave wall. It’d be annoying to try ramming this TNT barrel into e’ery 1 o’ the many walls here, but thankfully 1 o’ the earliest walls you’d be likely to try has the bonus. The only problem is if you make the mistake o’ bringing the TNT barrel in the bottom right area & can’t get back up; but it’s obvious you can’t go back up from there, so any player paying attention & thinking shouldn’t be foolish ’nough to bring the TNT down there till they exhausted all options up ’bove. I ne’er remember making such a mistake, tho I certainly recall accidentally breaking the TNT barrel on a Kremling or despawning the TNT barrel while going off to get rid o’ a Kremling in my way.

The KONG letter placement is rather strong in this level, tho. While half o’ the KONG letters are virtually impossible to miss, since they’re right in your path, I like how the developers placed them so you can get them whether you take bonus paths or not: the K is in the path o’ both the secret skip barrel cannon & the main barrel cannon, while there are 2 Os, 1 in the secret shortcut path & the regular path. The only exception is the N, for which you have to take a detour to an out-o’-the-way barrel cannon to break it out o’ the ground in which it hides. Finally, the G is hidden up in the treetops @ the end.

To be honest, this level perhaps has too much content for its own good & can feel kind o’ bloated, specially the Kremling sections, which can feel a bit repetitive. Granted, if you’re not going for the 2nd bonus, hopping from Kremling to Kremling in that middle section is very fun, as can rolling thru the column o’ hopping Kremlings earlier on. But other parts just have regular walking Kremlings that don’t add much.

This level has much less variety after “Ropey Rampage” gave us the mo’ complex Army enemy. E’en “Reptile Rumble” gave us Slippa, e’en if it’s just a shorter Gnawty with a different appearance. I’d say this level feels less memorable than “Ropey Rampage” — tho the fact that I would skip o’er large sections in some runs may have contributed to this. & part o’ the problem with the barrel cannon sections, specially the most memorable last part, is that they’re so similar to the sections in “Snow Barrel Blast” — just slower so that timing is easier to time — that it’s easy to forget ’bout them compared to the versions in this level’s mo’ notorious brother. Which is to say, we have our answer as to why “Barrel Cannon Canyon” doesn’t get all that much attention.

13. Tree Top Town

After “Mine Cart Carnage”, “Tree Top Town” is the next major difficulty spike, & hosts the return o’ the barrel cannons introduced in the 1st difficulty spike o’ the game, “Barrel Cannon Canyon”. ’Twas hard to rate this level vs. “Barrel Cannon Canyon”. The barrel cannon sections in “Barrel Cannon Canyon” seem to have mo’ variety than in this level, with both moving & rotating barrels. On the other hand, “Barrel Cannon Canyon”’s arrangements don’t feel like a repeat o’ those found in “Snow Barrel Blast”, while “Tree Top Town” introduces an interesting twist, seen nowhere else in this game: sections where you need to time your shot not when the next barrel is lined up with yours ( both your barrel & the next are stationary ), like all the other barrel-timing puzzles, but when the next barrel, which shoots immediately ’pon entering, lines up with a 3rd barrel, which is moving. This means the player can’t just time their shot right when 2 barrels are aligned, but have to leave a li’l space to account for how much the 3rd barrel will move during the delay o’ shooting into the next barrel & waiting for it to shoot just after. That said, this level doesn’t do much mo’ with this gimmick than 1 twist wherein you have to stop & wait to time your 1st jump into an autobarrel from the ground level, which feels mo’ like a gotcha trap — specially since the camera seems to lag @ that point, delaying the appearance o’ the 3rd barrel that reveals it’s not in position when you 1st enter till you’re right next to the 1st barrel & probably already jumping in — than an interesting challenge in a game that usually kept ’way from gotcha traps. While maybe the player should be suspicious o’ autobarrels in a level with the aforementioned gimmick, there are plenty o’ arrangements before this that start with an autobarrel that don’t play this trick.

I might also complain ’bout how this “puzzle”, if you solve it, amounts to nothing mo’ than waiting for the 3rd barrel to get in place & then jumping in… but then, ¿isn’t that what all barrel cannon sections are? ¿Waiting for barrels to align themselves?

The enemy arrangements that act as breaks ’tween barrel cannon sections feel e’en mo’ repetitive in this level: they’re all just enemies that drop onto you. The final arrangement with the 5 Kritters is particularly annoying ’cause it puts a barrel where you’re likely to pick it up, & if you’re using Diddy ( ¿& why would anyone not prefer to use Diddy? ) you make it roll, nor roll yourself with this thing in your hands, & the 1st & 2nd Kritters are so close that you have no time to roll into the 2nd Kritter after breaking the barrel on the 1st Kritter. The DK barrel just after the midway point is also annoyingly placed, as they placed the Kritter to fall in just the right delay so that they land on you & dodge the barrel in your hands; howe’er in this case you can just jump to hit them without slowing down, so that part’s actually kind o’ cool. But, hey, a’least these arrangements have some subtle twists to them & are, mo’ importantly, much shorter, making this level feel, despite how repetitive it can get, like a short jaunt compared to “Barrel Cannon Canyon”, which feels quite bloated. ( Tho, I just looked it up & was surprised to find that “Tree Top Town” is only a screen or 2 shorter than “Barrel Cannon Canyon” ).

This level does end much mo’ strongly, with a subtly interesting twist wherein you have to time a moving barrel cannon with a moving Necky, tying this level back to “Vulture Culture” without straying from this level’s gimmick, but adding an extra difficult complication, as “Vulture Culture” lacked moving barrel cannons. This final barrel cannon challenge is followed by precarious cliffs with a hole in the center & a tire, forcing the player to continue being careful e’en after bopping off the Necky. I love how this difficulty apex, for this point o’ the game, comes after the lull o’ just timing a few basic moving barrel cannons moving up & down.

I would say it begins strong, too, with a bonus barrel in plain sight that the player can’t reach. The player needs to follow the Necky that appears later back & use that Necky as a springboard to reach it. I specially like how they add the extra twist o’ that same Necky being useful as a springboard where it 1st appears to reach a tire just visible @ the top o’ the screen to bounce high ’nough to reach a warp barrel that allows the player to skip this level. While “Barrel Cannon Canyon” constantly throws its many skips in front o’ the player, the player needs to work far harder to get this level’s skip. There’s also a bookends element to the Neckies, which only appear @ the very beginning & very end o’ the level. My only problem is the Gnawty that comes before the Necky. It’s easy to think you can use that Gnawty to reach the bonus barrel, only to fall short & fall into the pit, which feels cheap. The least they could’ve done was put the Gnawty after the Necky.

The 2nd bonus is far less interesting, being just a banana floating into the air that you’re obviously s’posed to shoot @. I guess an obvious secret is better than a secret that requires telepathy ( or rather, a subscription to Nintendo Power ), like the wall you need to shoot @ in “Barrel Cannon Canyon”.

I’m mixed on the KONG letters: their placement seems mo’ interesting to the level designer than the player — well, ’cept for the K, which is right in the player’s path. The O requires the player to do a vertical barrel cannon puzzle where failure is safe, which is interesting in theory, but just feels like a delay for just a letter. The N is @ the top o’ the 2nd bonus, which requires timing a rotating & moving barrel when it’s straight in the middle. The G, which is in the best position, is ’bove the final Necky, challenging players to aim their jump to grab it in addition to the aiming they have to do to stay ’live on their fall back to ground. Placing KONG letters requires a delicate balance ’tween not making their placements right on the main path, & thereby feeling superfluous, & not requiring too much effort for what amounts to very li’l advantage ( specially in the original SNES version, where getting all the KONG letters only grants you a single 1-up in a game that just throws 1-ups @ you ). For an otherwise fast-paced level like this where you’re liable to get plenty o’ deaths, forcing the player to stop & make detours to do simple challenges e’ery time they die feels mo’ like an annoying chore than a fun challenge & I could not imagine anyone bothering on the majority o’ versions that don’t care ’bout the KONG letters for 100%.

But the final tiebreaker is this level’s far superior aesthetics to “Barrel Cannon Canyon”’s: its unfortunately-rare treetops visuals, ’long with its jazzy music, which stand out e’en in “Vine Valley”, which already has the most beautiful levels in the game & the amazing “Forest Frenzy” song.

12. Forest Frenzy

This level’s main gimmick, holding onto a rope while dodging Zingers or Neckies, has the distinction o’ having 1 o’ the few autoscroll sections in the original trilogy ( the only other I can recall is “Stampede Sprint” from DKC3 ) that goes fast ’nough that I don’t mind the autoscroll, since there’s no boring wait period, like in “Trick Track Trek” or “Tanked Up Trouble”. The developers change up the gimmick in its different pieces, getting gradually harder, as expected, starting with stationary Zingers, then Zingers moving up & down, then Zingers going in circles, & then finally Neckies charging toward you, giving you much less time to react.

While the last iteration is the hardest & is iconic in its own right, I find the iteration before it with the Zingers spinning in circles & going up & down mo’ interesting, as it can be very tricky to measure where the Zinger will be when you reach it. In a few cases when a Zinger starts where you are you’re better off staying where you are, as the Zinger will move to the opposite side by the time you reach it.

This level also finds a good balance ’mong keeping a dominant theme ( dodging obstacles on ropes ), but having breaks from that theme so that the level doesn’t feel 1-note ( the Kritter sections ), but without making the level feel like it goes on too long with too much padding. They probably could’ve found a mo’ interesting mechanic for these breaks than hopping Kritters — or tried using other enemies, like Army. I like the 1st setpiece with Kritters, where they both hop up to the higher cliff, which can confuse players not paying attention ready to attack them or e’en get them hit if they try to jump on them as they jump up out o’ the player’s way just as they reach them, but is convenient for players who just want to run right thru. Howe’er, they don’t do anything else with this idea o’ Kritters mixed with walkthru ledges, but just have the rest o’ the Kritter sections be normal ground, albeit sometimes sloping up & down in various ways.

Surprisingly, the bonuses in this level aren’t spread out relatively evenly o’er the stage, but are both near the end, which makes the 1st bonus e’en harder to find, since most players, knowing they’re missing a bonus, would probably aim their search near the 1st half, suspicious o’ the lack o’ bonuses. It’s certainly less predictable. The 1st bonus location is yet ’nother case where the lip just appears ’bove the bottom o’ the screen; but while most levels have this in a calm area where you can just stay & look closely, this bonus is located in the Necky onslaught, where you’re being constantly propelled forward & would likely be too busy dodging Neckies to be looking down there. The 2nd bonus is the last wall on an up & down mountain o’ walls with Kritters on e’ery clifftop & the barrel on the other side, forcing the player to get the barrel past the Kritters without breaking it. I like how there’s a slow, safe way to do this, but repeatedly dropping the barrel & bonking the enemies, or the fast, harder method o’ jumping under the Kritters as they’re jumping. Granted, I’m not so keen on the way the barrel disappears if you let it go offscreen.

I like the KONG letter placements, being somewhat risky to get, but not too much o’ an inconvenience. The O is ’hind a Zinger while riding a rope, forcing the player to try tighter timing & getting right up close to the Zinger. The N is below a circling Zinger, while the G is in the middle o’ a circling Zinger — but 1 that’s ne’er going to hit you if you stay aligned with the G, thanks to how the rope & Zingers are perfectly synchronized. The weakest is the K, which requires rolling off the edge & jumping @ the end, like in many other levels — tho in many o’ those other levels this kind o’ setup is the strongest placement. I think they should’ve made this mo’ interesting & integrated the rope mechanic better by making the gap longer so that you have to time your jump so that you can grab the rope afterward. As it is now the rope is pointless as you can easily reach the other side thru the roll jump by itself.

11. Loopy Lights

Here we see a much better variant o’ the darkness gimmick than the travesty that was “Blackout Basement”’s, for 2 reasons: 1. the darkness isn’t complete black, so there’s a chance you can maybe see things, specially on brighter monitors ( in fact, the GBA version, a casualty o’ the brightness war that the GBA unleashed on all its games thanks to its developers not realizing portable devices might benefit by being actually visible, e’erything is perfectly visible in darkness ); 2. you have control o’er the light by clicking it on yourself whene’er you touch 1 o’ the bizarre switch barrels ( how a barrel being a light switch makes any sense is beyond me ). Unlike “Blackout Basement”, which challenges you to either memorize the level or stop & go ( & still risk getting hit by an enemy coming @ you that you can’t see ), this level challenges you to hurry from light switch to light switch. Since you have control o’er the light switches, you could argue that it’s the player’s fault when the level’s lights go out this time & that they deserve e’en worse than having to roll the dice on getting to continue living for not reaching the next switch fast ’nough.

This level also introduces an interesting enemy that I sorta wish they used in mo’ levels, the purple Klaptrap ( which, oft looks red when in the shadows — which does give them a mo’ menacing look, specially in the dark ), which, rather than just going straight, jumps when the player jumps, forcing the player to make curved jump maneuvers to jump onto them.

“Loopy Lights” finds a good balance ’tween keeping the purple Klaptraps dominant in the level but not letting them o’ertake the level so much that it feels monotonous & repetitive, with moving platforms going left & right & up & down & other enemies thrown in 1 or 2 times, like the 2 Kritters hopping back & forth near the middle, the 2nd on a higher cliff, hopping from edge to edge, requiring dexterious timing & aiming to avoid being hit; a perched Necky guarding a light switch; & the Manky Kong near the end. A particular highlight is the section before the Manky Kong with the swarm o’ Zingers, some stationary, some moving in various patterns, who look particularly menacing with only their bug eyes standing out much in the darkness. This section is only hurt by some o’ the cheap Zinger paths, such as the orange Zingers that move left & right & can come & smack you from offscreen after you’ve already committed to a jump o’er the Zingers below them if you linger; but luckily, like many DKC setpieces, they’re positioned so that the Zinger is on the right side when you reach it & you can rush thru them without stopping.

While a relatively long level, since you’re pushed into going forward, it feels just the right length & feels like it does all that it needs to do without feeling too repetitive. Granted are a few repeated pieces, like the 4 tire platforms in a row, but with the light switch gimmick, these add both urgency — you need to hurry past them all to reach the next light switch — & fairness — since they’re so similar, the player can blindly estimate where they are if the lights go out.

The bonus locations are neither terrible nor great. The 1st is yet ’nother banana in a pit, which feels specially tired this late in the game. The 2nd bonus challenges you to not use the barrel under the Perched Necky to destroy said Perched Necky but to carry it onward, past the next Klaptrap, & then break it on the next wall, which is made particularly difficult on darker screens ’cause you can’t rid yourself o’ the Perched Necky & safely hit the light switch under them in this scenario. As for the bonuses themselves: I like how you can just mash the jump button to plow thru the barrel cannons in the 1st bonus. The 2nd bonus has an interesting upward staircase section, which is ruined by them putting that dumbass Espresso token in the way. I’m just glad that the N is before it, as having to play that bloody Espresso bonus e’ery 3 failures to get all the KONG letters in the GBA version would be intolerable. For some reason they have a banana bunch next to a tire you can roll, which heavily hints that there’s a bonus up there, but there isn’t — it’s just a useless banana bunch & the tire is just as useless, only for hitting the light switch you can easily reach from the cliff just before it.

Speaking o’ the KONG letters, their placements are OK. Having both the K & N in bonuses is kinda tedious, tho. The G is in a quick but precarious place in the Zinger swarm & the O is just off the edge o’ a platform, forcing the player to do an edge roll jump. I feel like there are many better places they could’ve put letters, like round that useless tire surrounded by Kritters.

A strange, subtle quirk to this level is that it has the sparse walkway background with all the li’l yellow lanterns, rather than the usual wooden supports. I’m not sure if this was done to make the background stand out mo’ from the foreground in the darkness or just a mistake.

10. Manic Mincers

“Manic Mincers” gives us the ultimate challenge for Rambi in his final appearance in the 1st DKC. Unlike most enemies, who Rambi can plow thru effortlessly, the eponymous Mincers plow thru Rambi ’stead. Add to that Rambi’s mo’ slippery movement ( specially on the GBA version, where he feels like he’s ice-skating all the time ) & his large hitbox, & we have an animal buddy who’s not worth keeping round all that much, specially thru those sections with the small moving platform that Rambi can’t e’en fit completely on & the tight jumps round the giant Mincers.

Tho there are 2 bonus caves you can open with Rambi, 1 near the start & 1 right @ the end, you don’t need him for either, as the game gives you plenty o’ barrels. I’m not sure why: as a final-world level, it would’ve been perfectly fair to force the player to bring Rambi all the way to the end. The cave that leads to the TNT barrel that can be used for the final wall is particular: the cave room is a sorta bonus, sorta not a bonus: it doesn’t count toward your percentage, but if you get hit by a Mincer, it just kicks you out. The only thing @ the end is a G, so ’less you’re playing the GBA version, getting hit by the 1st Mincer just speeds things up.

Tho this level focuses on its gimmick to such an extent you wouldn’t see till DKC3, this level doesn’t feel repetitive or that it goes on too long. The developers were able to create plenty o’ interesting arrangements to dodge. In addition to the aforementioned moving small platform sections, I like the tire before the wall o’ 2 Mincers & the rotating Mincers where you have to weave ’tween them. This is like an actually good version o’ the Boo carousels from Super Mario World. Boo carousels are painfully slow & have holes ’tween almost all the Boos so tiny it’s a virtual crapshoot whether you can make it thru them without being hit & 1 large hole where there’s no challenge getting thru, forcing the player to choose ’tween waiting & getting guaranteed success or making a mad gamble, neither o’ which feel fun, & the latter was clearly not intended. DKC’s Mincer carousels, howe’er, are clearly designed for weaving ’tween the holes, which are large ’nough that it’s not a gamble getting thru, but are small ’nough that it still takes skill to weave ’tween them: there’s not nearly as long a wait for the carousel to line up correctly & still the fun challenge o’ timing your movement thru, a win-win in all cases.

That said, thanks to how big & fast the Mincers are, & how small the camera feels, there are a few cheap hits if you’re rushing thru: in particular, during the section with the Mincers & Gnawties on the ground. You have 3 Mincers with gaps ’tween them, only for the gap after them to have a Mincer that zooms in from offscreen. If you don’t wait, you’re guaranteed to get hit by it, which you won’t realize till you already commit to a jump. There’s also that weird rotating Mincer with a wide radius near the end that can just pop in & slam down on you without warning.

The KONG letters is half & half. The K is right in you path & I don’t e’en know if it’s possible to avoid the O without taking damage, as it’s in the only spot ’tween 2 Mincers. I do like how the N requires an extra jump on the already precarious small moving platform section. I’m glad it’s the G @ the end o’ all those Mincers moving up & down in that weird cave, so you ne’er have to do it ’gain, e’en if you die ( well, ’less you missed the other letters ).

This level’s green palette is refreshing after all the brownish palettes in all the other cave levels.

9. Platform Perils

As a final level, “Platform Perils” is rather underrated. A part o’ the problem is the underwhelming nature o’ this game’s general final world, “Chimp Caverns”. Caverns are ne’er the most exciting level theme, which is why games rarely have them as the final world theme, but usually have them early in the game, but in this game this isn’t e’en the 1st cavern world — the 2nd world, “Monkey Mines”, is basically a cave world, too — & cave levels are the most common level theme in this game. The aesthetics — which are, after all, what most people talk ’bout when discussing this game — doesn’t help. “Platform Perils” uses the particularly common & particularly bland walkway theme. While many level themes are full o’ lush scenery, this theme’s background is mostly black, with the same li’l cave wall with a light copy-pasted many times; & with the foreground being thin platforms, full o’ holes ( this is the last level o’ the game, after all ), there’s a lot o’ background to see. Add to that that same droning “Life in the Mines” music, & you have a level that feels like just ’nother level, rather than the grand finale. Contrast that with the sequel’s final level, which was a particularly challenging bramble level with a rotting autumnal palette.

But the familiarity o’ this level hides the subtle way it ramps up difficulty. E’en this level’s main gimmick is subtle: this level introduces a unique new enemy, Gray Krushas, which can’t be defeated thru rolls or jumping on them by either Diddy or Donkey, but can only be defeated by a barrel. In an interesting twist to how gimmicks are handled in most DKC levels, Gray Krusha is introduced in his simplest form, on a flat platform with a barrel right there to try out on him, & then he goes ’way for the 1st half o’ the level while the level ’stead inflicts moderately tricky jumps on thin platforms with Armies, & e’en easier jumps on platforms that move in the direction o’ the arrows painted on them, some surrounded by a Zinger to add a li’l difficulty.

This 1st half has nothing beyond what players had experienced yet, but feels like just a warm up for the 2nd half. Granted, the Armies, Zingers, & Klumps, common in so many other levels, are made mo’ precarious here with such short platforms pocked by so many holes, but hardly much mo’ precarious than in the icy world 2 worlds ago.

The 3rd quarter ramps up the difficulty o’ the moving platforms, with the N token requiring a particularly tricky jump to get it without hitting the Zinger. While almost all levels before this, like “Forest Frenzy”, positioned circling Zingers round their treasure in a way that you’d be able to grab it without much threat o’ hitting this Zinger spinning too quickly to go all the way thru while it’s still on the top or bottom sides, this N is an exception, requiring a precise jump to the side to maneuver round the Zinger timed just as the Zinger is going on the other side. ’Less you’re playing the GBA version, which requires getting all the letters for 100%, it’s not e’en worth going after just for an extra life.

Then, when the 4th quarter arrives, Gray Krusha reappears, but this time on the moving platforms you saw all thruout the level, & we get to the true challenge o’ the level. These moving platforms don’t have nearly ’nough room to fit both your Kong & him, & as established, you need to throw a barrel @ the Krusha to defeat them. Adding to this challenge, you’re also likely riding a moving platform that has a short lifespan, which usually ends right as you near the Krusha. So this part’s challenge is timing a barrel throw @ just the right moment & then jumping off your platform just before it falls to jump onto the next platform newly freed from the Gray Krusha. This is played with a few mo’ times, making you go backward @ 1 point, & @ ’nother making you go downward & forcing you to time a barrel throw as your platform sinks, right as the Krusha appears, as if you wait too long, you won’t have time to jump onto the next platform.

This then culminates into 1 last barrel & 1 last moving platform with 1 last… Gnawty. When I saw this I thought ’twas an intentional joke — & I’m still not entirely convinced it’s not. Honestly, I think the ruin this by having 1 mo’ Klump in a tricky place @ the left edge — not nearly as hard as the Krushas before, but not free — before the end. Ending the game with the same basic Goomba-like enemy with which it started would’ve been a great troll to end this goofy game.

For the most part, “Platform Perils” is the original DKC @ its best. It’s far from having the most exotic gimmicks in the world, nor does it have what anyone would call an intricate or creative map, being just a straight series o’ platforms. But damn is it fun to seamlessly jump from platform to platform, bopping down a staircase o’ Gnawties, weaving thru spinning Zingers on falling platforms, expertly positioned so that you don’t have to stop & wait for them to get out o’ your way. In a way, it’s like the temple levels from the modern Returns games, but with the expert timing o’ the classic trilogy. In a way it’s fitting that the most straightforward DKC — some would say 1 o’ the most straightforward platformers — ends with a level that focuses on, ¿what else?, platforms in their purest form.

Unfortunately, the bonus locations are a less savory kind o’ challenge. I guess since this was the last level they truly wanted to ramp up the meanness, &, sadly, obtuseness was their main trick. While the 1st barrel’s existence is obvious, since it is right in plain sight under the starting platform, getting to it requires one to take a guess &, after jumping on a moving platform going right just after the 1st platform jump back to the spot the moving platform started to land on a platform just off the bottom o’ the screen which goes left. What kind o’ person would assume such a thing, I don’t know. My 1st instinct is always to try doing a roll jump off the visible top platform, only to quickly learn that there’s no way e’en the best-timed jump could make it there. I think on my most recent attempt & failure the secret under platform managed to unlodge itself from my subconscious; but if I had to guess, I probably had to look it up when I 1st tried to 100% this level nearly a decade ago.

Then we have the 2nd bonus, right @ the end, which is quite the perverse place to put it, right below the final platform. I guess this has a bookends quality to it, tho that’s quite a logical leap to make, ’less one has searched e’erywhere else & tried that out o’ desperation. Unlike the 1st bonus barrel, the 2nd bonus barrel is nowhere in sight from ’bove the final platform. I think the idea is that you’re s’posed to find the falling platform with the Gnawty so high up suspicious & guess that riding it down must lead somewhere. The previous falling platform expected you to ride it down, after all. But that was the last platform in sight, so you didn’t have any other choice, while all other falling platforms near other platforms lead only to a bottomless pit. Most would expect this final platform to do the same.

In summary: o’ all the DKC levels, “Platform Peril” is the DKCiest — for better & for worse.

8. Mine Cart Madness

If any place deserves a breather level, it’s right after the sequence o’ slogs, “Trick Track Trek”, “Elevator Antics”, & “Poison Pond” & before the dreariness o’ “Blackout Basement”. In fact, this is such a breather level that it’s arguably easier than infamous difficulty spike, “Mine Cart Carnage”, way back in world 2, due to being shorter ( & feeling e’en shorter, thanks to your faster speed ) & having mostly stationary obstacles: while “Mine Cart Carnage” had Krashes charging right @ you @ high speed, “Mine Cart Madness” has only Krushas who just sit in 1 place, letting you bop them & steal their carts. Tho do have Neckies flying toward you, but most o’ the time they’re flying so slow, they may as well be stationary. Also, while you going faster does make things a bit harder to react to, it also makes jumps easier to make, as you get mo’ distance. Strangely, while the level “Mine Cart Carnage” itself is better known that this level, the name “Mine Cart Madness” is mo’ well-known than “Mine Cart Carnage” ( probably ’cause it sounds better ), which lead me to mix their names up for a large part o’ my youth.

Despite this level being easier than “Mine Cart Carnage”, it’s much mo’ interesting. In addition to the greater speed @ which you move making this level mo’ thrilling & makes the controls feel less stiff, there’s a greater variety o’ obstacles, tho without feeling like distracting from the level’s focus or o’ercomplicating it. Since you now jump out o’ your cart ’stead o’ keeping your cart with you as you jump, there are breaks where you jump out o’ your cart to jump on tires. Granted, there’s not much intricacy to them: e’en the Zingers that circle some o’ them are mostly cosmetic, since they’re perfectly placed so that you’ll avoid them your 1st time thru, ’less you somehow flub a tire jump.

Also, since you’re jumping out o’ the cart, jumping holes means you need to aim & land in the next cart after holes, making these parts a li’l harder than “Mine Cart Carnage”.

While Zingers are arguably o’erused in this game, I think I still prefer their 20th use in this game o’er the turned o’er minecarts in “Mine Cart Carnage”: since Zingers can fly, the map designers were able to place them @ different places, allowing for mo’ interesting placements that just always on the ground, creating places where you have to weave ’tween Zingers, jumping o’er 1 but keeping under ’nother. The Zingers e’en beat the toppled mine carts @ providing on-track obstacles on the uphill track with a sequence o’ 3 Zingers close together, which can be somewhat tricky to jump o’er @ such a steep angle & somewhat tricky to land ’tween them in rapid succession.

I can’t vouch for the bonuses, howe’er. The 1st is hidden off the top o’ the screen & indicated by a lack o’ bananas ’mong a row o’ bananas, a reverse o’ the normal pattern. The 2nd bonus is just a tire floating in the air with a bonus barrel next to it, which can be tricky to reach due to the wonkiness o’ jumping out o’ the mine cart.

The 3rd bonus is the strongest, challenging you to go back from the beginning o’ the walkway where the mine cart leaves you & jump up a staircase o’ tires, with all o’ this foreshadowed as you go up the final crest o’ the mine cart’s path. My only qualm with this bonus is that it’s easy to think you have to jump down from where you 1st see the bonus, only for the mine cart to mess with your momentum on the SNES version ( you continue moving forward with the mine cart e’en after you jump, which is actually mo’ realistic than how most games handle jumping off moving objects ) & cause you to either fall right back into the mine cart as you’re going up or fall right into a pit with no way to go backward onto a tire if you jump while the mine cart starts going down. None o’ the bonus rooms themselves are worth participating in. The GBA strengthens this momentum so you can jump straight into the bonus barrel. Howe’er, this is balanced gainst by the fact that the final jump shoots you so far forward that you’re liable to smack into the Gnawty @ the end, making what was originally an easy jump into a cheap hit.

The KONG letters are much stronger, with the K in a tricky place ’tween 2 Neckies, forcing quick tight jumps to get it without jumping on the 1st Necky & bouncing past it or smacking into the 2nd Necky after getting the K, & the O is atop a staircase o’ Neckies. The N requires the player to delay their jump from 1 cart to ’nother till after the cart has already left its track, which feels trickier with the urgency o’ the constant movement o’ the cart than the usual safe, stationary platform in other levels. The weakest placement, tho still stronger than the placement o’ most letters in most levels, is the G, which is @ the top o’ a tire jump with a Zinger, which you’d likely get without trying as you bounce from the tire to the next cart. For some reason, the GBA version lowers the G to right ’bove the tire — ¿maybe for fear o’ the G being hidden by the top o’ the smaller screen?

1 thing this level does have that’s worse than “Mine Cart Carnage” is its aesthetics: it’s the return o’ the sparse, repetitive cave backgrounds found in most walkway levels ’stead o’ “Mine Cart Carnage”’s marginally better, multicolored mine background.

7. Jungle Hijinxs

’Mong the panetheon o’ 1st levels for platformers, Donkey Kong Country games don’t get much attention. For how many game critics out there writing the 50th article ’bout Super Mario Bros.’s 1st level while creaming themselves @ the developers repeating a setpiece with a hole in the center now, I haven’t read any that talk much ’bout the 1st levels o’ Donkey Kong Country. This is too bad, as the DKC series definitely has stronger 1st levels than Mario’s games ( there’s a reason Super Mario Bros. is the only Mario game whose 1st level anyone e’er talks ’bout — good luck making “Yoshi’s Island 1” look good ), & I think “Jungle Hijinxs” is probably the strongest.

It starts with arguably 4 paths, 2 o’ which are dead ends & exist mainly for immersion: you can enter DK’s treehouse to find a 1up inside, which is a nice way to mix the immersion with actual gameplay importance, while the bottom shows an optional cutscene. It always amazes me how much better the original DKC is @ storytelling in video games that most modern games trying to tell a story. Not only is it an optional cutscene, which is the only kind o’ cutscene that has any right to exist, but it also shows, rather than tells: all you see is DK looking on @ a cave empty save for a sign that says “KONG’s BANANA HOARD”, & then looking down with his hand on his forehead while sad music plays. Without having to write a single word, the game tells you the plot: “Enemies stole DK’s bananas, go get them back”. It’s not Chekov, but neither is the average RPG ’bout knights & mages fighting evil warlocks, & yet the latter still requires reams o’ yapping text to say nothing o’ any mo’ substance.

The level proper is sort o’ like a Sonic level, with a top route that’s easy to fall off, dropping you into the lower route, but which offers safety from enemies & better rewards. Tho people oft praise these kinds o’ levels, in my view they can be flawed in many ways, specially in Sonic games. Ignoring that Sonic’s fast acceleration makes stopping to explore unpleasant & the way many o’ the classic games didn’t let you go back to ol’ levels without restarting the game, having many different paths, which, ultimately, lead to the same exit leads the developer into a dillemma wherein they have to either come up with multiple great layouts where the average player while only experience 1, which is a waste o’ creativity, which can be very scarce ( hence why very few games are consistently @ their high point, level-design-wise ), or be lazy & repetitive with different branches. Sonic games, indeed, have very repetitive level design, & the urge to have huge levels with many paths is probably the cause for the developers running out o’ ideas.

DKC, thankfully, uses this multi-path element scarcely, & to good effect here, where the paths are simple, which works well this easy in the game. The treetops act mo’ as a prettier warp thru half the level & a place to get a boost o’ lives for mo’ experienced players. I say “mo’ experienced”, ’cause 1st-time players will unlikely catch on to the treetop path, which is the least obvious path ’mong the 4, but if one actually explores it’s not hard to find & is not hard to use. Thus, it’s a bonus reward for players who come back to it, but isn’t useless for players so good that they don’t need it.

Unsurprisingly, e’en if the player doesn’t take the whole treetop route, most o’ the bottom route is still easy, with basic enemies, many o’ which are on higher cliffs where they can’t get you. This is specially thanks to Rambi round the middle, who can just plow thru e’erything invincibly. This is similar to the Starman found in the 1st Super Mario Bros., used to the same good effect: starts the player feeling powerful. The tricky thing ’bout designing early-game stages, specially the 1st stage, is you want it to be both easy, exciting, & fast @ the same time, so neither absolute beginners get frustrated ’way nor experts bored. This is 1 o’ the many ways the Returns games’ level design fails: Returns starts by having background elements fall onto you & gotcha traps, such as the 3 Awks who it looks like you can roll thru, but can’t, thanks to the Returns games also botching the rolling mechanic, which makes it feel mo’ like DKC Lost Levels — & there’s a reason absolutely nobody writes articles singing praise for Lost Levels’s level design — than a proper DKC game.

Rambi is also used to reveal this level’s 2 bonuses, & this level lays them out well: the 1st is placed just under a small drop so that you’re likely to run into it & reveal it, e’en if by accident. Howe’er, the 2nd is placed where you’re unlikely to accidentally run into it, specially if you take the 1st bonus. The 1st bonus leaves you up on a palm tree just ’bove the 2nd goal’s wall, but when you fall down from the palm tree, you’re going to be past the 2nd bonus. You have to notice that its wall looks similar to the 1st bonus’s cave wall & go back & hit it. While I’m generally not fond o’ the hidden cave entrances, which in other levels oft devolves into expecting the player to ram a barrel or Rambi into e’ery wall they see, this level a’least puts them in logical places.

Not satisfied with 1 way to plow thru e’erything, the developers also hide a steel barrel in breakable ground near the beginning — & by hide, I mean put a giant arrow made o’ bananas high up ’bove it. Players who throw the steel barrel @ the wall @ the left end & jump on it can ride thru mo’ than half the level, ending @ the 1st bonus entrance, which can also be opened with the steel barrel.

Finally, I like the way it darkens into nighttime as you reach the end, which connects this level to the next, which takes place @ night. Like with the opening cutscene, this is done without words & done in the background while you’re still playing an interesting level. Unlike a certain commonly-lauded game, you’re not left constantly rolling thru empty grass just to slow you down so you can see this weather effect. Interestingly, this effect stays e’en if you go back all the way to the start o’ the level.

6. Rope Bridge Rumble

What a simple level, but what a cool level. Sure, moving rocky platforms with stalactites hanging down from them holding rubber tires swarmed with bees has nothing to do with the snowy theme this level has ( nor rope bridges, which appear only a few times & are just a paint job o’er regular ground ); but neither do rotating barrel cannons. A bigger problem is that this level’s focus on dodging Zingers while bouncing on tires & dodging Kritters who hop back & forth makes this level feel dangerously close to “Bouncy Bonanza”, with the only difference being the greatly decreased land mass in this level & making some o’ the tires move o’er bottomless pits. While “Bouncy Bonanza” had a theme that better fit its focus, its theme was also used 5 times, while this level uses a theme only used twice with a unique palette, making this level a lot nicer to look @. That level also has a mo’ complex layout, with a branching path, while this sticks to a straight left to right path & in general feels much mo’ like a fast-paced romp. “Bouncy Bonanza” is only ’bout ⅛th longer than “Rope Bridge Rumble”, but it feels e’en longer, probably ’cause there are mo’ places where you’re s’posed to stop, whereas all the moving objects in “Rope Bridge Rumble” makes it feel like its pushing you to keep going mo’, &, moreo’er, ’cause there are mo’ chasms, so mo’ places where you have to make large leaps o’er a long plot o’ terrain. “Rope Bridge Rumble” certainly feels less bloated, with fewer repeated setpieces.

If anything, I wish they did mo’ with the wall o’ Zingers idea that use twice, with the only variance being 3 ’stead o’ 2 the 2nd time. They probably could’ve gotten something good out o’ having a tire platform with a longer path that challenges the player to bounce round multiple Zinger formations. I’m surprised they don’t do any trickier Zinger formations, like a Zinger high up, challenging you to bounce round & below it to avoid being hit.

Setpiece highlights include the pits with the Kritters hopping back & forth o’er them, which, due to requiring the player to jump to avoid dying, are much trickier than the variants in earlier levels, & the Army up on the cliff near the end, which is tricky to get past with Diddy — & nice callback to the 2 Armies that appear @ the start o’ the level & then disappear for the whole middle o’ the level.

The 1st bonus can barely be seen by the top lip, which is specially noticeably thanks to the camera suspiciously moving down toward it, which isn’t a particularly clever secret, but a’least 1 that they bothered to give some hint to the player.

The 2nd bonus is e’en easier to find, given ’way by a banana, indicating that you need to bounce under the banana on the moving tire platforms to reach it. This bonus is mo’ a challenge to aim your player @ the banana while bouncing on the moving tires & not letting the distraction o’ this sudden secret cause you to slip up on your timing & fall into the pit.

The KONG letters do a great job o’ putting them ’hind challenges, but making them fast-paced challenges rather than long slogs that aren’t worth it. The K is down on an optional lower-down tire with a swirling Zinger guarding it, while the N is up in the air ’bove a moving tire, challenging the player to aim their jump to get it. The O & G are both in pits surrounded by Kritters, forcing the player to defeat the Kritters & do a roll jump off the edge to get them. The G is in a subtly tricky place, a li’l lower than the O was, so that you’re mo’ likely to o’ershoot it as you roll off, sometimes forcing you to change your trajectory a bit back left, & then right ’gain so you can still jump forward to the next platform.

5. Orang-utan Gang

“Orang-utan Gang”, 1 o’ the surprisingly scarce 3 jungle levels in this game, manages to stand out from the thick shadow o’ “Jungle Hijinx”, not only due to its striking purple-to-yellow sunset background, which fits perfectly for a level right in the middle o’ the game, but its complex level layout, making it feel much bigger than most other levels ( tho in terms o’ sheer horizontal length, there are many longer ). & yet despite this, it doesn’t feel like it goes on too long — probably ’cause most o’ the size is thru hidden secrets & niches, up & down, rather than extra terrain spreading out.

This is also helped by the various means this level offers for speeding thru the level, such as the steel barrel right ’hind the start ( 1 o’ the very few times the game has you go leftward ), which you can ride thru the 1st quarter, — in a specially stylish way, thanks to the way all the elements are perfectly aligned so that they don’t hurt you as you ride thru — & the Expresso you can use to fly thru the 2nd half o’ the level, which has the added bonus o’ alleviating some o’ the monotony o’ the repeated hopping Kritters & barrel-throwing Manky Kongs. O’ all the levels in this game, this level feels like the 1 where Expresso is the least o’ a burden — tho her inability to hop on basic hopping Kritters all o’er the place is still an annoyance. But her ability to go thru Klaptraps unharmed makes her useful during the short land areas where you encounter them, specially while getting the O, down @ the bottom o’ hills swarming with Klaptrap.

Said Manky Kongs are the new mechanic introduced to this level, & this level certainly uses them mo’ than a couple times to enforce that focus — perhaps a bit too much, specially since they don’t have too many new uses o’ them: this level has a couple instances where the Manky Kong’s barrels are going uphill ( let’s not think too hard ’bout the questionably physics ’hind this ) & then later going downhill, which is a li’l harder, with later variations having longer hills that go up & down. I feel like they could’ve done mo’ with this than that. E’en if it wouldn’t have created much extra challenge, — ’haps it would’ve made it easier & would’ve worked best as an early variation — but having Manky Kongs with li’l space before a hole would’ve a’least added some variety. I also find it odd that they have the 2nd variation with a steel barrel you can use to nullify the Manky Kong & its barrels & not the 1st variation.

This level is infamous for having a whopping 5 bonuses, mo’ than any other level in the original trilogy ( tho, compare to the Returns games, where 5 jiggies is the minimum ). Most o’ these are found under the eaves o’ trees that make up the main pathway, accessible only by flying with Espresso, an interesting twist on “Jungle Hinjinx”, which had 2 paths, ’bove & below, but had the treetop path be the bonus path. Here, howe’er, the bonus paths feel like obscure beginner’s traps, as there’s not much o’ a way to know that flying a ways under each line o’ treetops will lead to a bonus or just certain death; there are 2 long lines round the middle that do. Despite this, the bonus locations are relatively clever for this game: the 1 @ the beginning rewards players who think to check back thru the 1st half with Espresso after getting her round the halfway point; there’s 2 below the final treetops line just to trip you up; & the final bonus rewards you for keeping the Manky Kong or barrel before it ’live after you pass so you can open 1 mo’ cave opening.

This level probably has the best KONG letter placements in the game: you have the K right in the middle o’ the Zinger, which isn’t that hard to get, specially if you use the steel barrel to kill it, but looks cool when you get it in any case; the O & N are hidden under cliffs; & the G is hidden in 1 o’ the 5 bonuses in this level.

The sunset effect looks nice & fits perfectly thematically right round the middle o’ the game.

4. Stop & Go Station

After mine carts & barrel cannons, this level’s gimmick o’ invincible enemies that run back & forth very quickly, who can only be mitigated by turning them off temporarily with the on-off switch barrels ( ’cause e’erything in DKC needs to be a barrel ), is probably the most well-known, & for good reason: it’s both a weird, memorable gimmick, & yet 1 that feels smooth & straightforward to play: hit switches, race on thru before they turn back on. Like DKC does many times, this takes a relatively sterile, abstract idea from Mario ( P-switches & magical switch blocks ) & breathes extra life into it by making it weirder ( now it’s red-eyed crock bots controlled by barrel switches ) — which, considering Mario is already weird, is something. This is also 1 o’ the rare well-known DKC gimmicks that hasn’t been used beyond this level, unlike mine carts & barrel cannons that return so many times, they’re mo’ basic mechanics than gimmicks, making this level feel much mo’ unique.

Like “Mine Cart Carnage” the developers created a ’scape hatch for this level in case its exotic gimmick was too difficult for players, offering a secret way to bypass almost the entire level. Howe’er, this level’s version is better in that it isn’t something as obscure as jumping into a random pit & hoping there’s a barrel there, but a clever reward for players curious ’nough to try going back into the entrance whence they came, something that would make some kind o’ sense & wouldn’t threaten the player with death for trying for it. Also, unlike that level, which had no bonuses, & thus could be 100%ed without e’er playing the level proper, this level has bonuses in the middle, so this skip only works for just beating the game, which is mo’ effective @ balancing the need for safety nets for novice players & the need to reward playing thru the actual challenges.

The many uses o’ this gimmick follow textbook level design: it starts by introducing the most easy use o’ the gimmick with a Rockkroc in a small pit, much easier to jump o’er e’en if you don’t hit the switch, & then gradually adds difficulty & extra twists. 2nd you have to jump up stairs after hitting the switch, then you have to jump on a tire to reach a switch, then you have to hop off a Klaptrap to reach a switch, & then they have the area just after the next switch vacant for a while, with 2 enemies father ’head, near when the switch is ’bout to run out, & then later you see mo’ complex arrangements & moving platforms, till the level ends with a wide area full o’ an onslaught o’ Rockkrocs & 2 switches that require a tire, the latter o’ which requires you to roll the same tire o’er to it. I can’t think o’ any arrangement the developers missed, which is a good reason why this gimmick’s only used once. If anything, this level’s biggest flaw is probably that it sticks a bit too closely to its gimmick, with only Klaptraps sprinkled ’long the very linear path to save the level from being nothing but Rockkrocs. But a’least this level is short — which is doubly good, considering how much harder this level is than its surrounding levels. 1 o’ the reasons this level’s gimmick is so well-known is that it’s as infamous for being a sudden difficulty spike early in the game as “Mine Cart Carnage” — & unlike that level, which was just basic jump timing, this level deserves it for its tricky enemy layouts, specially the last part — which, I should add, you can’t skip, since the warp @ the beginning warps you to right before the final onslaught.

This level has an interesting twist to its 2 bonuses where ’stead o’ spreading them ’long the level the developers put them both right next to each other in the middle, but in completely different places. The 1st bonus is telegraphed right to the player with a big wall with a Rockkroc running back & forth in front o’ it, both o’ which you can easily jump o’er & have no use other than to throw a barrel @ that wall — &, hey, there’s a barrel just before it. Granted, there’s still difficulty in not breaking it on 1 o’ the Rockkrocs instead or getting killed on the way there.

The 2nd bonus is much better hidden, specially since it’s right after the 1st, the last place you’d expect. Its barrel is offscreen, telegraphed only by a banana trail going upward. I think you can maybe reach it using the Klaptrap just below it, but you’re probably s’posed to use the tire after it, ostensibly put there to help you reach a switch farther on, but can be pushed back to the bonus — 1 o’ the rare times the game expects players to go backward.

Most o’ the KONG letters are right in your path, ’cept for the O, which is the 1st time a KONG letter is o’er a pit in a way that requires you to roll jump off the air, something, which, as we’ve seen, they do plenty o’ other times.

While the mine graphics are 1 o’ the most boring tilesets in the game, the green & red tints showing the switch’s status adds something to make it stand out from the other levels.

3. Snow Barrel Blast

The 1, the only. “Snow Barrel Blast” is a difficulty spike so infamous legend says that Nintendo’s help hotline had a prerecorded message specifically for dealing with this level. This is due to its intricate paths o’ barrel cannons, this time spinning @ electric speed, many o’ which have Zingers swarming round them, making you not only time shots when you’re aligned with the other barrel but also when the Zinger isn’t in your way. I would argue that it is, to this day, the ultimate barrel cannon level.

This level is also a perfect example o’ Gregg Mayles’s technique o’ having timed obstacles passable on the 1st try: you can always shoot from cannon to cannon the 1st time they connect & a Zinger will ne’er be in the way. ’Course, you still need to time them when connected. In this way these levels can still be fast to zip thru if the player’s reflexes are fast ’nough without sacrificing challenge.

If the player is clever ’nough, they can skip large sections by aiming ’way from the main path, such as a few places where shooting up & right will skip a few cannons. This is trial-&-error, ’course, but since it’s off the developer-intended route ( indeed, other than the obvious shortcut @ the beginning o’ the final gauntlet, these minishortcuts may have been unintended & unknown @ development ), it’s not the kind o’ trial-&-error I usually criticize. A bit o’ risk & reward is fine if the “reward” isn’t basic success, ’less the game is specifically catered toward chance, like a board game or an RPG. That said, I think the shortcut near the beginning o’ the final onslaught cheapens the level a bit, since that final onslaught is the main attraction. Without it, this level’s mostly normal platforming with slippery physics. While the “Mine Cart Carnage” shortcut makes sense for how early in the game that level is, this is a late-game level; by this point the player doesn’t need hand-holding.

I like that they don’t focus too much on the barrel cannons, since players will have already seen them used prominently in 3 previous levels before, saving the main onslaught for the end, while balancing out with interesting layouts o’ Neckies, Klaptraps, & Gnawties thruout the 1st half o’ the level. For instance, this level introduces Klaptraps on slippery slopes, where they’re the hardest to hit, which will be further expanded on in “Ice Age Alley”. Tho not the most jaw-dropping layouts, there are a few interesting setups, like some upward staircases o’ Neckies near the beginning & the onslaught o’ Neckies on the steep downward slope not long before the final barrel cannon bonanza. E’en Gnawties, the Goombas o’ this level, are spiced up with a steel barrel you can roll on thru them. It’s not as memorable as the 1 in “Orang-utan Gang”, but it’s something. & e’en the the midway point has some pizazz to it in that you’re blasted into it from a blast barrel — a clever integration with this level’s focal mechanic, which is rare in this game.

That said, e’en tho I’ve mostly ignored animal tokens thruout these reviews, since they’re completely useless — a hindrance, in fact, if you accidentally get 3 & get sent back to the start or midway point after a pointless bonus game — I want to bring up this silly setpiece right before the final barrel cannon bonanza: a barrel cannon surrounded by Zingers with a Rambi token up ’bove. ¿Who’s going to go for this? It’s so risky & tricky to get & the reward is nothing. It doesn’t hurt the level in any way, really; it’s just funny to me.

The bonuses are all right. The 1st is up ’bove the start, accessible by jumping off a slow-moving Necky, an ironic twist gainst the fast-moving enemy you jump off to reach a bonus barrel @ the start o’ “Tree Top Town”, ’cept here they outright hide the bonus barrel, so it arguably takes advantage o’ the way DKC repeats setpieces by rewarding players clever ’nough to remember “Tree Top Town”’s 1st bonus & put 2 & 2 together.

The 2nd bonus is 1 o’ the rare times DKC expects players to go backward, thanks to a blast barrel that shoots you past a lot o’ area. It’s all to easy in a game that’s mostly just going left to right to keep going right afterward, but the map designers reward suspicious players who investigate what they missed. Granted, I feel the barrel way below the camera in a pit with just a single banana pointing it out was a bit much. Since the blast barrel shoots you way ’bove, out o’ sight o’ the ground, they could’ve just had the bonus barrel be on the ground in plain sight. It’s not that much more obvious, & is still hidden, & also doesn’t risk the player missing the bonus barrel they can’t see & falling into the pit round it, which I can say from experience is definitely a possibility.

I’m not fond o’ the 3rd bonus location, tho, which is 1 o’ the few outright obscure bonuses, wherein you have to shoot downward from a barrel cannon without any hint to find hidden platforms with a bonus barrel in the middle. Since there are already 2 other perfectly find bonuses, I don’t see why this needed to be here @ all — it’s fluff that sticks out awkwardly in an otherwise well-put-together level.

Most o’ the KONG letters are right in your path, where I feel like you have to try to avoid them, with the exception o’ the O, which requires actual effort in the 2nd bonus, forcing you to time blasting up round the center to get it, making it 1 o’ this game’s strongest letter placements, tho it’s just a repeat o’ what they did in “Tree Top Town”.

Like “Barrel Cannon Canyon”’s K & O, the N & G in this level can be gotten on both the shortcut paths & the regular paths, which is always a nice thing to do.

If this level’s infamous challenge wasn’t foreboding ’nough, this level enhances that aesthetically by gradually adding mo’ & mo’ snow, starting in the background & then smothering the foreground, — tho thankfully not to the extent o’ actually making it hard for me to see — & making the level grayer & grayer till its full grayscale as the level goes on & becomes harder. ’Hind only the main forest levels, I think the snow levels are probably the best-looking areas in the game, & I still feel torn on that decision. & while “Northern Kremisphere” is nowhere near as famously catchy as, say, “Forest Frenzy” or “Treetop Town” ( don’t ask me why they make the song name 2 words & the level name 3 words ), it’s menacing atmosphere perfectly fits this infamous level. For as much as people talk ’bout DKC2’s “Stickerbrush Symphony” & the famous/infamous bramble levels that have it, I’m surprised & disappointed that not as much talk is given to the match o’ “Northern Kremisphere” & “Snow Barrel Blast”.

2. Ice Age Alley

A much better “Snow Barrel Blast”. While “Snow Barrel Blast” arguably had a mo’ memorable gimmick with its barrel cannons, said gimmick was used in 3 other levels; while this level lacks a strong gimmick, it makes up for that with much stronger terrain layout & enemy placements that do a better job o’ testing your actual platforming skills, with plenty o’ precarious steep cliffs pocked full o’ holes. This level also has a better variety o’ enemies, with Kremlings, Mini-Neckies, & Manky Kongs thrown in with the usual Neckies & Klaptraps. These enemies are balanced out well, with only a few instances o’ each, which keeps this level from feeling o’ersatured & for mechanics to outstay their welcome, specially since all o’ these enemies have been used before.

Probably the weakest part o’ these setpieces are the ropes, returning from “Ropey Rampage”, which are timed, & therefore sometimes requiring waiting for them to swing back to you. Unlike most levels in this game, the ropes don’t seem to be consistently timed with the setpieces that come before them, so there are times where you have to wait for them to come back if you don’t want to fall in the pit as the ropes go ’way from you. This is particularly annoying after the steel barrel section, when trying to jump off the steel barrel to the rope after the edge. Plus, I would argue that their use here is less interesting than in “Ropey Rampage”, as this level doesn’t make you time jumps round Zingers or anything beyond just jumping from rope to rope or rope to platform. A’least they managed to integrate the midway point into it by having you jump into the midway point from a rope.

This level’s most interesting setpiece is near the end with the set o’ icy steps barely wide ’nough for DK to fit on, followed by 2 short upramps divided by a gap with a Manky Kong @ the top o’ the top ramp, tossing a ne’er-ending stream o’ barrels into the gap, giving li’l space to jump onto without running into either Manky Kong or his barrels & short time to weave ’tween the stream o’ barrels. To make it e’en better, the Manky Kong is standing in front o’ a hole before a 3rd upramp, which you’re liable to fall into if you try rolling into the Manky Kong & don’t jump or adjust just afterward.

This setup is preceded by a straight rampup with a Manky @ the very top, but no holes. 1 anal-retentive quibble I have is that I feel like this is too close to the last Manky Kong area: I think putting the section with similar upward slopes with gaps ’tween them but with a Klaptrap ’stead here & putting the 2nd Manky Kong area before that would’ve been stronger & would’ve also introduced this slope formation. Then ’gain, it would’ve been hard to connect these 2 upward-sloping sections ( specially since DKC was probably limited in how high its levels could be ), so this setup might’ve been chosen mo’ ’cause its general shape fit better rather than its elements. In any case, unlike the last Manky Kong setup, this penultimate 1 you can skip thru by rolling on the steel barrel conveniently placed @ the top o’ the slope, as well as the small steps with Klaptrap on them.

Before that a mo’ interesting setpiece where you have flat platform steps going upward with a Klaptrap, & then down a slope with the Manky @ the bottom. Like the 1st uses o’ Manky Kong in “Orang-utan Gang”, it’s much easier going down-slope, where you get mo’ air o’er the barrel, but the part before that with the steps & Klaptrap are harder. But the best part is the way they introduce Manky Kong by moving barrels coming from offscreen, rather than showing Manky immediately, which is quite a shock in a snow level, where you wouldn’t expect this jungle-dwelling enemy.

’Nother unexpected similarty ’tween this level & “Orang-utan Gang”: this level also starts with a secret section to the left, ’cept this 1’s mo’ precarious, with a high-up Mini-Necky guarding the path. The reward is mo’ important than the steel keg, albeit not exactly better, but is ’nother similarity to “Orang-utan Gang” in a different way: it’s Espresso, who adds extra challenge to the level by forcing you to go past the middle o’ the level without losing Espresso to fly high ’nough to reach the 2nd bonus.

The other bonus in this level is interesting in that it’s also high-up, but can be reached with the regular Kongs using conveniently-placed Neckies. You would think you could also reach this bonus with Espresso, & maybe you can, but I for some reason had trouble getting ’nough height with Espresso to reach it, so I would have to dismount Espresso & use the Neckies to reach the 1st bonus. Luckily, this bonus has an extra Espresso crate @ the end, so I don’t have to restart the level to get the 2nd bonus.

To be honest, I don’t think Espresso adds much to this level. Yes, it adds extra challenge to some parts, by, well, sucking, being unable to jump on enemies & having a terrible hitbox ( e’en Klaptrap sometimes hurt Espresso, e’en tho that’s the 1 enemy Espresso’s s’posed to be safe from ), but that’s not a fun kind o’ challenge, as it feels janky & inconsistent; meanwhile, you can still skip large plots o’ interesting setpieces. Playing this level with just Diddy & DK is much funner than with Espresso & I find I dump Espresso as soon as I’m done with the 2nd bonus. Which made ranking this level tricky: without Espresso, it belongs @ #2, with Espresso thruout the whole thing, I think I would rank it below “Snow Barrel Blast”. Since Espresso isn’t manadatory ’less going for the 2nd bonus, & since there’s an extra quality to having the same level change so dramaticlly by whether or not you use Espresso, adding a bit o’ replay value to it, I went with the former.

The letter placements are uninspired: the K & N are in places with the Espresso & 1 o’ the bonuses, which arguably is redundant — tho the N does add extra annoyance by requiring using Espresso while getting the letters, too. The O is in a hole that requires rolling off, like a few other levels, & the G is in a random place in the air. I think there were far mo’ interesting places to put letters, like in the path o’ a Manky Kong’s barrels.

Aesthetically, this level does the opposite o’ “Snow Barrel Blast”: it starts snowy & grayscale & then warms up & becomes clearer & brighter as you reach the end. Since this is the last snow level ( not including the ice cave level, “Slipslide Ride”, there’s only 2 ), this is a fitting way to show the Kongs leaving the snowy areas.

1. Slipslide Ride

O’ all the levels in this game, this is the most like a DKC2 level, & is strikingly different from all the others in DKC1. In addition to the much brighter, mo’ colorful, mo’ fantastical tileset reminiscent o’ DKC2’s ice levels or mine levels with its purple ( a rare color in this game that normally sticks to natural greens & browns ) crystalline background, unique to this level, you have a level that completely breaks ’way from the straight left to right layout that all other non-water levels have. ’Stead, here you have to go up & round in a zigzagging pattern — a mo’ intricate kind o’ layout that’ll become mo’ common in the next 2 games. In particular, I like this weird series o’ downward slopes, going right & left, all going downward, only to continue leftward & back upward ’gain. There’s no challenge to it, but it’s such a breath o’ fresh air after so many levels just going from left to right.

As if that weren’t ’nough, this level adds a unique gimmick as well: ropes that automatically slide you upward or downward, depending on their color. While these start safe, they soon become e’er mo’ swarmed with Zingers, forcing you to jump ’tween them as you’re pushed upward or forcing you to jump ’long downward-moving ropes fast ’nough so that you don’t hit the Zingers below or to jump on upward-moving ropes low ’nough to not hit the Zingers ’bove but high ’nough not to fall off the bottom. They use virtually e’ery variation for these ropes one could probably do. Tho this level is broken up a few times with regular enemies like hopping Kritters & Armies ( particularly dangerous here, with how slippery it is, specially the 1 near the edge @ the top o’ a slope near the end o’ the level ), the level keeps its focus on its gimmick mo’ than almost any other level, but thanks to all the clever variations, it ne’er feels tired. The way it’s all tied together in a sequence that folds onto itself, rather than a straight line, makes it e’en mo’ impressive.

I particularly like how the 1st Zingers are only dangerous if you try to jump ’tween them for a barrel necessary to break open a bonus door just below ( tho the player may be tricked into using it to safely dispatch the Army, just like the player likely did with the DK barrel & Army just before this section ).

An e’en better bonus is 1 round the middle o’ the level, @ the top o’ an upward-moving rope with Zingers ’long the top, ’cept for the 3rd rope, which also has a small gap ’tween its Zinger & the Zinger @ the top o’ the 4th rope, allowing players who notice it a way to squeeze thru & reach the true top o’ the 3rd rope.

The only bonus I quibble ’bout is the 1st, @ the top o’ the very beginning — not for that reason, but ’cause it redundantly requires you to bounce off a Kremling to reach the rope, a puzzle they repeat later to reach the O. I think you should be able to reach this rope without a Kremling as a sneak preview to the gimmick before its proper use & replace the 1st bonus with a letter ( tho, now that I think ’bout it, this would make the K just afterward, which also has you just ride a rope upward, redundant ) & replace the “O” with the bonus. This would better spread out the bonuses, too.

Speaking o’ the KONG letters, they all require using the ropes in various ways to reach them, making this have 1 o’ the strongest, if not the strongest, KONG letter placements in the game. The N is in a particularly precarious place where you have to time riding up ropes while horizontally-moving Zingers are out o’ the way & then use the DK barrel to break a way thru a wall o’ Zingers to go left & continue. Part o’ me thinks this would’ve been a better place for a bonus; but I think players not going for KONG letters are thankful they don’t have to go here.

The G is @ the top o’ downward ropes forcing the player to keep hopping up & left & quickly twisting back to the rope fast ’nough that you go up mo’ than you fall back down, gradually rising. This is such an interesting use o’ the rope that I’m surprised they squandered it on just a KONG letter.

Worlds Worst to Best

6. Kremkroc Industries, Inc.

Yes, it’ll probably come as a surprise that “Chimp Caverns” isn’t @ the bottom; but as bland as its repeated cave theme is, its level layouts are far mo’ interesting & well-constructed, while “Kremkroc Industries” is, as cool as the toxic, factory theme is, — & as great as the song “Fear Factory” is — full o’ weak levels, including the 2 worst levels in this list. To put it into perspective, if not for “Mine Cart Madness”, “Kremkroc”’s only high-ranking level, the highest ranking level is 20th place, with “Elevator Antics”. When “Elevator Antics” is your 2nd best level, you’re not a strong world. Moreo’er, as cool as the toxic factory theme is, this world doesn’t utilize it well: there is 1 factory level where you can actually see the factory mo’ than half the time. Its theme is so halfheartedly implemented that one could argue that “Chimp Caverns” fits the industrial theme just as well. Hell, all o’ its levels involved mechanical things, too.

5. Monkey Mines

I would argue that this is a mo’ forgettable world than “Chimp Caverns”. E’en with such famous levels as “Mine Cart Carnage” & “Stop & Go Station”, those levels are surrounded by mid levels like “Winky’s Walkway”, “Bouncy Bonanza”, & “Millstone Mayhem”. Plus, e’en that world kept a mo’ cohesive theme o’ industrial caves than this world, which mixes in metal walkways, mines, electrified caves, natural caves, & a temple @ the end. E’en “Kremkroc Industries” could be said to have levels that all have some technology in them. ¿What does all the levels in this world have? ¿Rocks?

4. Kongo Jungle

Speaking o’ incoherent worlds, let’s have a jungle world with a cave & water level. While one could praise it for variety, — I praised the 1st world o’ Super Mario Bros. for its variety — here it’s not as impressive. For 1, Super Mario Bros. didn’t have themes to its worlds beyond “night” & “day” &, mo’ importantly, when it did introduce variety into worlds, it didn’t eat into underutilized themes. The underground & tropical levels were rare & ate up not-@-all-rare o’erworld levels; this world eats up a potential jungle level in a game where one would expect jungle levels to be the most dominant theme for yet ’nother entry into the actual dominant theme, a cave level, e’en tho there are already 2 cave worlds. But mo’ importantly, while “Jungle Hijinx” is a great start & “Barrel Cannon Canyon” is arguably underrated, the rest o’ the levels are very forgettable: the blandest cave level in the game, a bland water level just like ’nother, & a bland rope level whose only point o’ interest are its rainy weather & which did a lot o’ harm to DKC’s reputation with its obscure bonuses.

3. Chimp Caverns

Yes, the world that most people would put @ the bottom is in 3rd place in my rankings. But if you look thru my level rankings you will see its levels silently creeping round the top: “Platform Perils”, “Loopy Lights”, & “Manic Mincers” are all strong levels, while “Misty Mine” & “Tanked Up Trouble” are merely mid. Yes, it treads the same level themes as previous worlds; but it does so better than previous worlds. If you had to scrap walkway levels, ¿which would you rather scrap? ¿“Platform Perils” with its intricate layouts & interesting Gray Krusha gimmick or the utterly forgettable “Winky’s Walkway” or tedious & lazy “Trick Track Trek”? & as my rankings show, if you wanted to remove cave levels, “Manic Mincers” would be the last I’d want to remove. Plus, as I said in previous world reviews, “Chimp Caverns” has greater coherency to its theme than most other worlds, including the other cave world, “Monkey Mines”; & for as much as people declare this world forgettable, I find it far mo’ memorable than “Monkey Mines”.

2. Vine Valley

Honestly, I think “Chimp Caverns” has o’erall better levels than this world, but @ a certain point its drab, o’erused themes drag it down, while the forest levels — both the treetop & regular forest levels — are some o’ the best looking levels in a game already renowned for its beautiful graphics & have the best music in the game. Plus, while this world only has maybe 1 or 2 great levels, the only level I’d call weak is “Clam City”, & maybe “Temple Tempest” if I’m being particularly picky.

1. Gorilla Glacier

This should be no surprise given the rankings ’bove, with the top 3 levels coming from this world & 5 / 6 o’ its levels ’bove average. It’s so good that e’en having a water level couldn’t drag it down too much, as it still managed to a’least have the best water level in the game. In addition to having strong level layouts, this level’s snow levels & 1 icy cave level rival “Vine Valley”’s forest levels in terms o’ visual appeal ( in fact, it outdoes “Vine Valley” @ its own game by taking its treetop theme & making it look cooler by, well, making it have a cooler palette ).

Posted in Video Games, Worst to Best Levels