Oh how I love the Donkey Kong country games! Ever since I played the first game around Christmas 1994, I’ve been hooked. All of the games feature a fun Nintendo protagonist and have excellent platforming controls. Not to mention the atmosphere, charm, whimsy, and creativity is astounding in each entry. It’s my third favorite series of all time (behind Zelda and Metroid). So let’s try ranking the Donkey Kong Country series!
5. Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie’s Double Trouble
This game had the misfortune of releasing right around the time the N64 did. And that wasn’t a “soft leap” like today’s console transitions-it was a mind-blowing revolution to the world of Mario 64, the likes of which had never (and possibly will never again) been seen! I completely missed out on the release back in 1996, and didn’t play it until more than a decade later when I was on a SNES nostalgia kick. And you know what? DKC 3 is a fun and charming game.
The “wooded North” motif of the game doesn’t quite stick the landing as much as the pirate theme of DKC 2 does. The soundtrack is serviceable, but David Wise’ genius is dearly missed. And level design leans a little too heavily into “gimmicky” rather than “platforming nirvana”. But I enjoy it! The fully navigable world map was a lot of fun, and several levels are just a delight. It’s at the bottom of this list, but don’t let that deter you from checking it out! (it’s difficult ranking the Donkey Kong Country series since all the entries are quality)
4. Donkey Kong Country Returns (Wii/3DS)
I remember watching E3 back in 2006 and seeing Reggie introduce the trailer for this game. I was ludicrously excited! A brand new Donkey Kong Country? Made by the phenomenal Retro Studios? Forget about it! I didn’t pick the game up until years later (I took a bit of break from gaming until the 3DS brought me back to it) but it was a joy to play! On first picking up the controller (or remote!) it definitely feels different than the classics series, but “just right” quick enough. I loved the throwback of so many classic courses from the original games, and remixed soundtrack. And dang was this thing tough! And in case you didn’t know, the 3DS version of the game fixes a lot of annoying control quirks from the Wii game. It’s now my preferred way to play.
3. Donkey Kong Country (SNES)
It is difficult to overstate how big a revelation this game was back in 1994. With the Nintendo 64 delayed and the Super Nintendo already several years old, Donkey Kong Country was the shot in the arm Nintendo needed to stay relevant. The graphics engine (developed with similar technology to Jurassic Park dinosaurs!) was just insane at the time, and utterly captivating, to say nothing of the delightful gameplay! The game was clever, easy to control, challenging but not too much so, and bursting at the seems with color and colorful ideas. My young daughters love watching me play this game, and always ask for “the water level” so they can listen to Aquatic Ambience! It was a cultural phenomena that’s still so nostalgic today. And I can’t believe Rare got it to run decently on Game Boy Color!
2. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Honestly, this game and the ever elusive “Zelda Wii U” were the reasons I wanted to buy a Wii U console. As you already well know, I enjoyed Donkey Kong Country Returns, but felt a few elements were lacking. The trailers for this game looked like an improvement across the board, and lo and behold, it was! Once I popped the disc in I was enamored and couldn’t stop playing.
Tropical Freeze is absolutely delightful from start to finish. It bests its predecessor in every possible way, in my opinion. David Wise returns for amazing soundtrack that is only topped by DKC 2. The levels are ludicrously clever, each introducing a fun concept or mechanic, the ending before they outstay their welcome. I mean, just try to play through levels like “Grassland Groove” and not be utterly delighted! Dixie and Cranky as playable character is a fun choice than brings more diversity to the gameplay too. And the graphics are beautiful. My preferred way to play the game is now on my Switch, but I’ll always have a soft spot for the Wii U!
1. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest
DKC 2 is platforming perfection, and one of my top 10 games of all time. I still play through it every fall, in October, and wrote a full retrospective for the 25th anniversary in 2020! The original Donkey Kong Country was already outstanding, but Rare really took what they learned and cranked things up to 11 with the sequel. Everything in Donkey Kong Country 2 is polished to a sheen.
Every world, and every single level, is drenched in atmosphere. Diddy and Dixie Kong are extremely responsive to control, making movement a constant source of joy. The soundtrack is phenomenal-I mean every single track. Each theme perfectly suits the levels it was written for, making them all the more atmospheric. It’s got just the right amount of collectibles and meaningful rewards for finding them. The bonus rooms are fun, varied, and the perfect degree of challenge. All of the animal buddies have a plethora of entertaining abilities, and are peak adorable. Sound design? Impeccable. The level titles are catchy and memorable. Heck, even the FONT in the game even perfectly suits it. This is Rare at their most glorious.
Want more rankings?
If you enjoyed this list and are a fan of platformers, check out my top 10 best Mario games, rankings of the classic Sonic games and Shantae series! The DKC inspired Kaze and the Wild Masks is also lovely if you haven’t played it.
How would you go about ranking the Donkey Kong Country series? Or are you not a big fan? Do you think we’ll see a third game from Retro Studios to cap off a trilogy, or are they too busy with Metroid Prime 4? Let me know in the comments below!