The Top 18 Fucker Donkey Kong Country Levels (2012)
Please be advised that this feature contains strong language.
As if Mario and his travails weren’t enough to whet the appetite of SNES-owning platforming fans, up stepped Donkey Kong with his fantastic monogrammed tie. And he brought his buddies too! Actually, it’s well he did, since the big man (ape) is only playable in two of the four games we’ll be looking at in this feature. In fact you could easily argue that it’s Diddy Kong who’s the centre of the piece. But who likes Diddy Kong these days?
The difficulty involved in finding every single wee collectible that the games have to offer would be bad enough if some of the levels involved weren’t already ball-busting to get through by themselves. For all the joys brought by these games, they also were capable of ratcheting up some severe frustration. Here, we will look at the four Donkey Kong Country games (the SNES trilogy of Donkey Kong Country, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest, Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble! and the excellent Wii callback, Donkey Kong Country Returns). In particular, I’ll be going through some of the most difficult and aggravating levels they had to offer, from not-too-baddest to hardest. You could probably that I’d be looking at them from a disgruntled player’s point of view, seeing as how I’ve used ‘fucker’ as an adjective to describe these fucking dickcrushingly difficult levels. 18 levels in all, in fact. A level for every… Kong?
18. Barrel Shield Bust-Up (Donkey Kong Country 3)
One of DKC3’s many stop-start levels, this one isn’t too bad but can be frustrating for those who hate slow levels bustin’ up their rhythm. The level takes place on the inside of several large trees, and the Kongs must continually climb up to the top of these trees via ropes. To stop the pair of tits from getting up these trees is a veritable army of nihilistic monkeys who constantly throw acorns at them. Actually, they just throw the acorns straight at the other side of the tree, which is pretty dumb behaviour, although they are monkeys. But why are the little fucks so hateful?
Anyway, to get up the longer ropes past and therefore past five or six of these Minkies in a row requires the use of barrel shields. These small shields are mere half-barrels somehow bolted on to the ropes that protect the Kongs from enemy fire. So you’ll time it right and get past two Minkies, hide behind the barrel for the third, and then get past four and five when they reload. Rinse and repeat often. Yeah, it’s sort of monotonous. And the Minkies’ constant monkey sounds become annoying, especially with four or more deployed. And the DK Coin is a pain in the arse to get as well. Next!
17. Hornet Hole (Donkey Kong Country 2)
To be fair, it’s not a level that’ll have you throwing your controller to the floor (and even if you did, good luck smashing it – nothing made by Nintendo in the 80s and 90s broke on impact). But the hive levels, as uncommon as they are, really bog the game down. For starters, they’re the home of the Zinger enemies, which means you’ll be seeing many of them and precious few other enemies around the level. A tad unfortunate, when you consider that Zingers are like shit in a field, particularly in this game. Then you’ve got to contend with much of the floor being covered in sticky honey, which prohibits you from moving left or right: you’ve got to jump out of it instead, which slows things right down.
Hornet Hole in particular doesn’t win any awards for level design. There are even a few occasions when you’ll be looking for the DK Coin, Bonus Barrels or other hidden nooks and crannies and you can find yourself having to make blind leaps of faith down into God knows what, usually a Zinger’s spiky arse. The look of the hive levels is monotonous as well, just a big mess of orange and yellow, and the music isn’t spectacular. At least Rambi Rumble has a semi-decent chase sequence. This one is just clag.
16. Manic Mincers (Donkey Kong Country)
First of all, tee-hee-hee at the level’s title (mincer being a pejorative British slang term for effeminate or gay person). This cave level makes heavy use of the mincer obstacles, basically just larger versions of Zingers although they are mechanical objects and do not breathe for this very reason. There always seems to be a fast moving mincer ready to come out of nowhere and hit you by surprise, so you can’t get through this level very quickly at all. Careful and therefore boring play is needed.
Adding to the toughness is a glut of Krusha enemies (although the puny Diddy is provided with TNT barrels to take them out) and many swift moving platforms, which require skilful jumps over the mincers. It’s always been a level I’ve had some difficulty with, one of the hardest in the game for me. But it’s not a major wretch, and there’s a cool part at the end where there’s like a big lump of earth that has loads of entrances to different caves. What, that’s not an adequate description?
15. Low-G Labyrinth (Donkey Kong Country 3)
A drainpipe level that fucks about with your controls (we’ve another to come later), here in Low-G Labyrinth your movements are slowed right down and your jumps go extra high. It’s not a bad old concept really, a fun shake-up. The level does go to shit however, mainly for two reasons: firstly, there are Buzz enemies all over the place. Man, Rare really relied on the Zinger/Buzz type enemies didn’t they? Half of them don’t even move.
The second reason lies in the last half of the level, where you change into not Squawks the Parrot but Quawks the Parrot, who is a purple clone of Squawks and who crucially lacks the ability to fire pellets at enemies. That’s sort of like the game is admitting that this joker isn’t even fit to pluck Squawks’s feathers, and Squawks is himself distinctly uncool anyway. Quawks gets a baptism of fire in this level: as soon as the Kongs morph into him, he must make his way past two Red Buzz enemies. As you can see, the manoeuvre must be almost pixel perfect. Good enough for him.
14. Muncher Marathon (Donkey Kong Country Returns)
Spiders… why did it have to be spiders? The game’s going well, nice and cutesy enough, whimsical even. Donkey and maybe Diddy are just cruisin’ thru the jungle, looking for the next painted villainous two-by-four to take down. Donkey pounds his way through a mass of what look like apples or peaches only to trigger the hatching of thousands of black spiders from what turn out to be their eggs. Fuck my old boots! I thought I was seeing things.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, they form a screen-sweeping swarm intent on killing that impudent monkey and his baseball-cap-wearing friend. You’ll need speed and good reflexes to get away from their deathly maul (one touch and you’re both dead, of course), which seems an impossibility when there’s so many hundredweight platforms being dropped in your way and wooden barriers to break through. Never again, Retro Studios. Never again.
13. Poisonous Pipeline (Donkey Kong Country 3)
Ah yes, one of those levels that didn’t have a chance from the off. Mostly underwater? Ohhhh yasss! Reversed controls underneath this water? You bet your ballsack! Even the aesthetics and the music of the drainpipe levels are not impressive. Simply put, when you’re under the murky purple water of the Poisonous Pipeline, left becomes right and vice-versa, the usual carry on. DKC3 seemed to have a bit of a thing about messing about with the player’s controls. This level’s control switch seems simple enough to keep up with, but you’ll be muddled up in seconds when the hazardous fish begin to fly at you, while the plentiful Lurchins swim up and down like the wind.
Enguarde the Swordfish is present to alleviate the pressure, which is nice, but he’ll only be able to help you for part of the level. As it’s the last level before the final boss (spoilers: not the real final boss), challenge is to be expected, but this level and its cheap gimmick is just testicles in your mouth. Not even shorn testicles, not even washed testicles. Big testicles seeping in ballsweat, like oranges left out in the rain, to use a polite phrase. Show me someone who lives for underwater levels like these and I’ll show you a mad man. Jumping in and out of this magic water is a requirement in the level, which messes your controls up for a vital, sometimes fatal, half-second. And yes, it’s a long and arduous level. Is there any other kind of water level?
12. Snow Barrel Blast (Donkey Kong Country)
I don’t think I’ve ever beaten this beast without making use of a handy shortcut at the end that lets you skip at least the last third of the level – classically the prime area for arse-smacking frustration in Donkey Kong Country. Snow Barrel Blast is the first level of the Gorilla Glacier world and we could not have been given a worse start. The level lives up to the name – snow (and therefore slippery surfaces) and lots of barrels to blast through. A chillingly effective recipe for a tough time, it must be said.
The level even gets some help by being graphically very impressive, with the start of the level being marked by calm weather which allows us to see snow-covered trees and mountains in the background. Soon enough though, you’re getting pelted by increasingly heavy snowfall which is an apt analogy for the amount of shit you’ll be pelted by once you reach the checkpoint barrel. The music is also a thing of beauty, to cap it off. But because this level requires some amount of balls from even those chicken enough to take the shortcut, players won’t want to replay it in a hurry, and therein lies the tragedy of the Kongs. But for that shortcut, this icy murder would have ranked higher.
11. Lightning Lookout (Donkey Kong Country 3)
This level is like having a long awaited day off only to wake up and the weather is revolting, dangerous even. It’s strange how you’ve got the pleasant Riverside music providing a dissonance between itself and the nasty gimmick of the level: namely, lightning will strike almost anywhere you stand. You’ll see the forks in the sky before the lightning actually strikes the ground a couple of moments later. If you’re anywhere near this bolt, you’ll be electrocuted. This brings about a fairly creepy looking animation where you can actually see the stricken Kong’s skeleton as they get frazzled. Before they do that classic DKC thing of running offscreen at breakneck speed completely deadpan, of course.
The level doesn’t sound too bad if you’re patient (and it sucks to be patient in a fast moving platformer) but further into the level the lightning shoots like a goddamn minigun and more and more pools in the water get in your way. Of course, if you’re caught labouring in this water the lightning turns on autofire mode and just blasts your ass away in nanoseconds, water conducting electricity and all that. The only consolation is that the lightning will also take out most enemies as well (except the Red Buzz enemies, next to nothing takes these tough mothers out). Even that’s scant consolation since most of the enemies present are stationary and aren’t even in an awkward position for the player. What a foul level!
10. Windy Well (Donkey Kong Country 2)
You’ve battled through the savage difficulty of DKC2 so far. Here you are, at the final world! Well, not even the final world, but it looks for all the world like your masochistic journey through this game is just about over. More than anything else, you have just about mastered the game’s controls and mechanics. The game is yours!
Then along comes a level that just about takes all essence of control away from the player. What the hell? Windy Well is a vertical level set in the mines, like its two excellent forerunners Squawks’s Shaft and Kannon’s Klaim. The thing is, there’s an upwards wind blowing, not dissimilar to the one that took Marilyn Monroe’s dress by surprise. This wind is near constant though, and will blow the Kongs up off their feet. In a questionable strategy, the Kongs decide to adopt starfish formations while being blown through the air, which seems to me to be a cast-iron way of getting hit by one of the level’s seven thousand Zingers, not to mention the Formula 1 speed Kutlass enemies that swing their swords at you on sight. What’s worse is that the wind kicks in when you jump or fall, and the momentum can really fuck you up. At least the music gives it some redemption. But get used to multiple deaths and long falls through the air as you think about what you let happen to your Kong.
9. Poison Pond (Donkey Kong Country)
One of the real brick walls of the first game, and oh joy, it’s a water level. Have there been any water levels in a platforming game that you could look at and say “Yes. This is it. This is platforming greatness! The pinnacle! Look at this wonderful insight into the developers’ creativity!” and so forth? Here we have Poison Pond, which in addition to being a level set entirely under snot-green water (if your snots were slightly luminous), commits that cardinal sin of being far too long. Fortunately your Kongs can swim through this supposed poison rather easily – in fact, they can last just as long under this toxic waste as in any other level. Maybe these guys are actually supermonkeys who don’t need to breathe?
Also present are those evil mincer obstacles, which as usual combine massive size with crazily offset hit detection, a nightmare for underwater controls. Some of the mincers move with insane speed as well, most unbecoming of underwater machinery. At least Enguarde is up for the slog, and is available right at the beginning, so enlist his help as soon as possible – if you can find him. And good luck keeping the slippery fucker after that.
8. Toxic Tower (Donkey Kong Country 2)
Often cited as the game’s hardest level, the Toxic Tower doesn’t tear my brain apart like some of DKC2’s other levels but don’t even think about taking this motherfucker lightly. It all depends on how you can control the Animal Buddies, for these are the ones who navigate through almost the entire level (Rattly the Rattlesnake, Squawks then Squitter the Spider). Rattly is who you’ll go through much of the level with. He is an unwieldy fellow at the best of times, which might drive gamers crazy, but I can tend to get some good work out of him. Just be conscious that you generally have a bit more time than you think (barring a string of cock ups), and that it takes a little longer than it looks to charge up his super jump, and you’ll be fine. One bad fall and you’ll have bought it though, so be wary.
Then there’s Squawks. You’ll have to get some practice in with this asshole for Animal Antics and Screech’s Sprint anyway, as the Squawks sections of those levels are harder than this one. Just manoeuvre him somewhat quickly while turbofiring the Y button to shoot any muthafacko Zingers that get in your way. Squitter barely gets a look in at the end, but don’t you dare mess up with that googly-eyed piece of shit having come all that way. It’s not such a bad level, with a bit of focus and a cool head to use the time that you actually do have. Prepare to swear, though.
7. Stampede Sprint (Donkey Kong Country 3)
The first level of Krematoa, the hidden “Lost World” of the game, is actually an interesting enough idea: right at the beginning of the level, you turn into Ellie the Elephant (basically Rambi with no horn, but who can thrillingly sometimes shoot water) who gets frightened into running nonstop at full speed for the duration of the level. The actual stampede lasts less than sixty seconds, even if it always seems longer, but all you’ll be doing is making very precisely timed jumps as you battle through. If your reflexes aren’t exceptional then it becomes a bit of a test of memory, which is never ideal for a platforming game. With the level being so short, there are no Checkpoint Barrels. That means that you’ll have to start from the beginning each time you send your lunatic elephant headfirst into a pit. It’s not just pits though; there’re plenty of enemies, many of them large and/or moving, that you’ll need to avoid. Two hits and you’re done, as per usual.
The real kicker of this level is getting all 3 Coins from the Bonus Barrels, an important aim in DKC3. At the beginning of the level the game gifts you two of the Bonus Barrels, which is nice. The third one however is what makes me grind my teeth into dust: sometimes in the game you’ll find another “Animal Buddy” (really an Animal Liability) named Parry the Parallel Bird, who does nothing but fly directly overhead, always parallel to your character and always staying a certain distance above your head. You tend to get token rewards for keeping this worthless bastard alive for a time, like a rare blue Extra Life Balloon. This time, you get Parry right at the beginning – and you’ve got to escort him to the very end, while keeping an eye on your elephant as it breaks quite free from your control and hurtles towards death wantonly. Even with the little fuck staying parallel to you, you’ve got to keep an eye on both, with requires a sniper’s hand-eye co-ordination and the patience of a saint.
Once you’ve gotten Parry to near the end of the level and past his Animal Buddy signpost, a Bonus Barrel appears. This happens sometimes in the game, and you know it means only one thing: fuck up this Bonus Level once and your chance is gone. And who do you need to complete this Bonus Level? Parry again! Once more, if he gets hit even once, you fucking lose. And you’ll need to retry the whole caper again. And you will die, and moan and shriek and bite your controller and maybe cry. At least the DK coin is easy enough to get. Alas, it lies at the end of the level, and can also be cocked up although having just gotten through this nasty level you’d need to be nearly asleep to do this. But it’s just another potential ingredient towards thunderous frustration.
6. Castle Crush (Donkey Kong Country 2)
Imagine trying to tame lions while sat on a unicycle, and strapped to it is a Speed-esque bomb rigged up to explode if you fall below a certain speed or if the basketball you’re spinning on one finger in your other hand stops or falls. The lions have been starved for days, of course, and you have spare rib sauce all over your hands and face. In addition, you’re badly in need of a both a piss and a shit, as in right on the brink of self-destruction, and the unicycle’s tire is just waiting to spring a puncture. And the saddle is very loose and about to fall off from underneath you. Even the wheel is squeaky.
These are the sort of high-risk dangers and stressful multitasking requirements that typify Castle Crush, a level where the platform beneath you is constantly rising. You’ve got to move quickly to avoid being crushed against the low ceilings but also be careful enough not to cartwheel or hairspin into the wrong enemy, like the Klampon (crocodile enemies, basically a fatter Klaptrap). As if the level wasn’t already out to get you, in the SNES version (excluding the one released on the Wii’s Virtual Console) it is possible to invoke a fiendish glitch which is guaranteed to freeze the game, has a high probability of destroying all three save files and can even allegedly render your cartridge absolutely unusable. Spiteful stuff. And yes, the level is long as shit too.
5. Blast & Bounce (Donkey Kong Country Returns)
Really, I could have picked any of the game’s eight secret temple levels, but this one is probably the toughest of an extremely vicious bunch. This is the temple level of the fifth world (the Forest), unlocked upon getting all KONG letters from the fifth world’s levels, which doesn’t tend to be an easy task in itself.
This game surpasses itself with this particular temple level: already accustomed to heavily stacking the odds against you, the game decides to even deprive you of a floor this time round, meaning Donkey (and perhaps Diddy, who can provide limited help and probably won’t last long) must get around by blasting from barrels and bouncing off tires, hence the level’s name. One mistake in this level often leads to death, and if the bottomless pits don’t kill you then the spiky Tiki Zings will. One part of the level that deserves special mention is the part where you must shoot upwards from a barrel to drop down past Tiki Zings into the next barrel. You repeat this several times, and the timing required is just incredible. Keep your Wii Remote wrist strap on when playing this fucker. And what about a checkpoint, you ask? Not in the temple levels, love!
4. Koindozer Klamber (Donkey Kong Country 3)
Oh my good God. This level, this is the roughest that DKC3 has to offer. This level is constipation, or perhaps more accurately that boulder in your bowels that just won’t budge and stirs up pain and suffering all the time. Allow me to explain: there are enemies called Koins all over DKC3 that possess collectable DK Coins. They are known for being invulnerable from the front and above, and will move their shield to cover themselves from all directions that the Kongs may attack from, meaning they must be hit from behind. You can even stand on the Koin’s shield if you jump right above them, which prompts him to point his shield directly upwards. The Koins themselves are absolutely harmless though – on contact, all they will do is bump you backwards.
In Koindozer Klamber we have their cousins, named (appropriately enough) Koindozers. These dickheads will actually saunter over to the Kongs and try to bump them back with their shields. Of course, the level is full of pits for the Kongs to fall into, meaning that even though they cannot directly harm you, the Koindozers will send you to your doom quite easily if you let them. If one or more gets on your case, you can forget it; sometimes they will catch you in a near-infinite loop. What’s worse is that you’ll need to jump directly above some of them in order to use their shields as makeshift platforms. The collision detection on this is iffy, to say the least, and often times what should have been a fair jump is actually interpreted by the game as an invitation to bump you down a pit to your grisly fucking death. Dixie has an easier time as she can float a bit. But if you’re left with Kiddy you might as well just pack up and go home. Mistakes aren’t forgiven easily in this gauntlet, so watch out.
3. Crowded Cavern (Donkey Kong Country Returns)
Again, I might have picked any or even all of the levels from DKCR’s World 4 (The Cave). It really is the nadir of the game, with every level there featuring either the passable mine carts or the torturous rocket barrels. Mercifully, no levels contain both (and if there was one, you can bet it’d be present and correct here) and the mine cart levels actually tend to present less opportunities for both Kongs to cop an instant and violent death. Hence we turn to the worst of the rocket barrel levels, where you receive near constant pestering from ugly bats, including the really badly drawn big daddy of the cavern, who quickly joins the fun. Even two checkpoints won’t do much for you here – not for the last third of the level, when the fat bastard chief bat follows your sluggish rocket all the way home, constantly shooting shockwaves right up your ass, as if predicting where DK is gonna be at all times.
Have you ever played a game so difficult that you’ve got to establish a sort of Zen-like spiritual connection with the game in order to overcome the adversity? Of course you have. By the time I got through Perfect Dark on Perfect Agent difficulty I was eating, sleeping and breathing the game. I could even see a faint green crosshairs in my vision. And once I completed all 9 chapters in F-Zero GX’s Story Mode on Very Hard I felt like I could have written the course designer’s biography, explaining where it all went wrong for the malicious bastard, and maybe even have dated his sister as well. DKCR wants you to establish a similar connection just to get the upper hand on this Nazi bat. If the horribly grating sound of his shockwaves doesn’t give you sleepless nights, then DK’s echoing death moan will. Having that obnoxious little tutorial piggy implore you to try out the wimpy Super Guide only adds to the fury.
2. Red Red Rising (Donkey Kong Country Returns)
The difficulty curve in DKCR is actually very good, bar the blunders made with World 4. Once you get to World 6, the Cliff, things become very tricky. By World 7, the Factory, they’re fiendish. By World 8, the Volcano, they are downright ghastly. And by the time you get to World 8’s final level… Well…
You will be sick to death of lava by the time you get to this level. Lava and fireballs and sinking platforms and many fire-doused enemies who need to be blown on (with waggle) before becoming vulnerable. Red Red Rising incorporates all of these elements into two halves of excruciating pain. The first part of the level features tiny platforms shooting up from out of the lava, floating for a few seconds, and then rapidly sinking. You’ll have to get DK through sequences of several of these platforms before getting to safer ground. The speed of these platforms ascending and descending is not far removed from the reappearing blocks of the Mega Man games. It takes surgically precise timing and concentrated jumps. That’s just the first half.
The next half features Donkey trying to escape the lava rising below him, via platforms and collapsing structures (which always seem to collapse for DK to use at the very last minute). One false step and you’re dead, naturally. It’s such a dangerous level, one that really screams volumes about DKCR’s challenge, and you’ll be almost glad that that’s the last level once you’ve gotten through it (of course, in true Donkey Kong Country fashion, it is not the last level or task of the game by any stretch of the imagination). Shiny Gold Medal speedruns of Red Red Rising have to be seen to be believed, you’d almost think they were tool-assisted. Ha! Shiny Gold Medals… who needs ‘em? Collecting these is a fool’s errand, to do so almost seems like an appropriate punishment for war crimes. Especially on this level.
1. Animal Antics (Donkey Kong Country 2)
This is it – the zenith of sadism. This level, the very last of this impiously difficult game, is on par with terrorism, maybe even genocide, in terms of the destructive power it wields. This level is hard enough to guffaw at rocket science and scoff at brain surgery. This level is so dangerous, it pities Mr. T. This level is such a spirit crushing few minutes of severity that Diddy and Dixie don’t have the minerals to do the level themselves: they instead get all five of their animal buddies to do it.
It doesn’t start out so bad. Rambi’s trip through the forest and Enguarde’s swim through the icy water is not so bad for the battle-hardened player, though certainly not easy (particularly the latter, with pufferfish remains flying everywhere). Things ramp up a bit for Squitter’s return to the forest, with Zingers everywhere and many spikes requiring strategic platform webs to avoid. The game shows a little mercy and throws you a Checkpoint Barrel here, but it’s not of much use with the toughest parts still to come.
After you’ve made it through with Squitter, the fun begins: Squawks’s section, almost inevitably, is up in the brambles, which damage on contact. You’re never really sure how close you can get to the brambles, sometimes the collision is almost random. And not only that, but there’s a very strong wind blowing and the direction, like in Gusty Glade, changes on a dime, meaning you’ve got to keep up with it. The result, of course, is Squawks launching headfirst into brambles on multiple occasions, often due to one simple mispress of the B button or a D-Pad direction. As always, Zingers are there to make life as painful for you as possible. And if you’re not slamming into the brambles, you’re copping it off them. This is by far the hardest part of a game that already eats nails for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Be proud of yourself when you’ve gotten through this agony. Just don’t fuck up Rattly’s part at the end – it’s not easy, and those two Zingers at the end especially have surely chiefed many a careless player and destroyed their morale. If you can get to the end of Animal Antics with two hits left instead of one, then consider yourself a hero.
*Let’s be honest, these 18 levels could easily have all been from Donkey Kong Country Returns: the 8 temple levels and the rest from World 4 and 8. Game’s like chewing a brick, and that’s before Mirror Mode and getting Shiny Gold Medals, which is an incredibly tall order. Better to have more diversity here, although DKC3 is noticeably more plentiful while DKC1 in particular is the opposite, probably due to DKC3’s varied levels and DKC1 being more straightforward. I could have mentioned Screech’s Sprint from DKC2 which is a bit of a teste-buster alright but it’s more of a tense race, and races are cool, plus Squawks was everywhere in this piece anyway. Little turd.
Special mention does go to the Donkey Kong arcade machine in Donkey Kong 64, similar to the DKC games but otherwise left off this list because it has 8 huge levels and they each have their own bastard parts (like racing the beetle or trying to get Diddy’s rocketbarrel jetpack to go in any compass direction). But that arcade machine, by God. You must beat it not once but twice to complete the game. All four levels, and with only one life. Even Level 3, with its fucking jackhammers, was bad enough – and that’s with a shortcut. That level broke me and made me cry as a child. Fucker made me cry.