Made using the developer’s own pioneering ‘Advanced Computer Modelling’ system, each character may look like a complex 3D model and the box may declare that it is ‘an exciting 3D world’ but despite appearances the playable avatars are in fact a lot closer to every other sprite based game released. As Mayles explains the process was expensive, but simple. “Once the character was modelled in 3D we could render out the frames of a 3D animation, that were then converted to 2D images” What you are controlling may look like a 3D model rendered in real time, rivaling the models seen in films, but in reality what you are manipulating is nothing really pioneering. They are just a series of flat sprites changing quickly enough to give the impression of movement, albeit ones that have a “previously unseen realistic look”. For me though, it’s the world these deceptively simple perfectly rendered monkeys inhabit that is the really stunning part of the game.
Moving from the jungles, with seemingly infinite levels of parallax scrolling, through snowstorms with snowflakes that move individually and gracefully, you end in industrial stages with swirling fog. They may feel a slightly random assortment of themes, that also include pirate ships and Endor-esque tree top villages but the constant flow of stunning locales keep everything feeling fresh, proving a real sense of adventure. Though people sing the praises of the characters, the real technical achievement is these environments.
No two levels in the game feel the same, you may always move from left to right but the process could just as easily involve a mine cart, as it could swimming through lush coral reefs with the most relaxing music heard in any game. With the exception of the ‘Stop and Go’ level these various ideas all hit the mark, and never feel frustrating.
Continually introducing new game play mechanics means that failure is frequent as you learn the new rules of a new level. But each time I play a stage I see myself inching further along, having learnt from every woeful attempt, and I found myself looking forward to what was coming next. What I find also ingenious is the way the game masks the player’s energy using a trailing second character, again stolen from Super Mario Bros 3, and the “big Mario little Mario” system but presented in an invisible way. “We thought the second character could perform this function, look visually impressive and give the player a feeling that they were not alone in the game”.
For another view on 'Donkey Kong Country' make sure you also check out Lenny's view (from the Christmas special when the MegaBites Blog took over Boxed Pixels)