Donkey Kong Country Week: the Animal Friends

Platformer heroes needn’t always be traveling solo. Sometimes, it’s good if they could meet up with friends who would help them in their quests, if not to dispel the feelings of loneliness then at least provide some welcome variety to the game. Just because Donkey and Diddy are reclaiming their stolen bananas (or being rescued by other Kongs) doesn’t mean that they have to spend their adventures in solitude (duotude?). Joining them often are a great assortment of animal friends.

Rather that go through the list chronologically (doing that gets rather tiring), I’m ordering the animal buddies from worst to best. I’ll only rank the 5 bests, and I only have one entry for worst because only one is ineffectual.

Worst:

Expresso the Ostrich (DKC1)

If the popularity of Final Fantasy’s Chocobo is any indication, gamers love being able to ride on overgrown birds. So why did Rare screw Expresso up so bad? As an ostrich, he runs fast, but that endangers him more than anything. He has no weapon against any enemies; he merely walks above them if they’re small, and only if they’re on a flat surface. Running to them at an incline or decline hurts him. His only other skill, gliding, was rendered obsolete by the time Dixie came into the sequel. The developers have long forgotten him and I’ve never heard of anyone demanding him back.

Unranked:

Winky the Frog (DKC1) and Rattly the Rattlesnake (DKC2)

Put both together for being samey. Even their colors are alike. Winky functions as you would expect from frogs (uh, they jump high. Why, you expected that they’d turn debonair princes upon kissing?). As in zoology, this frog is strong against insects, even the sharp ones (like the bees) that the Kongs can’t step on by themselves. Unlike in zoology, Winky doesn’t prey on insects, but he can step on them for “massive damage”. Like when you stab historically accurate giant crabs on a spot. Sorry, derailing.

Although Rattly the Rattlesnake works the same way as Winky, I give Rare plus points for him being a clever use of snakes. He coils his body like a spring. He has higher leap than Winky, but the drawback is that he needs to recoil to move forward, making it a slow process.

Clapper the Seal (DKC2)

You never get to play this seal. Instead, he cools hot water and freezes cold water. His seal-noises are super cute.

Glimmer the Anglerfish (DKC2)

Anglerfishes are freaky terrifying to look at. Glimmer, however, lost the sharp teeth, making him look less threatening. Instead of using his light to lure unsuspecting fishes in, he uses it to light Diddy and Dixie’s path. Good gimmick, but loses points because when you switch directions he looks at the screen and it flashes, bad for seizures-prone gamers.

Parry the Parallel Bird (DKC3)

Stupid name, and stupid use. He moves parallel to you. If that doesn’t make sense, imagine a halo on top of your head. If you jump up, so does the halo. That’s Parry, and he does nothing but grabs items you can’t reach. Much better suited for conceptual puzzle platformers like The Lost Vikings or Trine, but maybe not, seeing that neither has anything of his kind.

Top 5:

5. Ellie the Elephant (DKC3)

I have to remind you that should you ever see an elephant and feel the urge to touch it, go right ahead. But they’re very rough-skinned and stubbly, and you’ll be very disappointed if you expected them to be soft and cuddly as a horse is. I speak from experience.

I partly blame Ellie for this, because she’s the most adorable animal in DKC. She had huge shoes to fill as a replacement for Rambi the Rhino (who didn’t appear in part 3), and if you measure her against Rhino’s raw strength, she’s inferior. At first, she doesn’t seem to have many abilities, and even has an obvious weakness. As fictions commonly portray elephants, she recoils upon seeing rats.

But then DKC3 cleverly designed many levels to play on her skills (and some on her fear of rats). She can suck barrels from far away, and sometimes you don’t even need to get them to her trunks. Just by drawing barrels closer would remove obstacles and reveal bonus room locations. Later on she gains the ability to store water that she can shoot out of her trunk as deadly projectiles.

So yeah, she often goes unrecognized, so give her some love, guys! She’s still underground enough to be cool!

4. Rambi the Rhinoceros (DKC and DKC2)

I am willing to bet that DKC’s animal friend most number of gamers remember by name is Rambi. He appeared in both of the popular DKCs as early as the first level, and he returns in DKCR, to everyone’s delight.

Ride on Rambi and you’re mowing everyone who gets in your way, so long as you don’t let them hit you from above. Anyone he can destroy with his horn he can also destroy with his feet, so that includes those pesky bees (except the red ones, which are annoyingly immune to everything). So while I like a few animal friends more than him, I acknowledge him as the one who makes you feel the most powerful.

3. Squitter the Spider (DKC2 and DKC3)

Can someone tell me how Rare managed to take one of the most fearsome creatures on earth, that even men would squirm from, into something semi-cute? Sure, they didn’t make Squitter huggable (thank God, I don’t want young gamers to start getting the wrong idea), but he still earns cool points for his cool and useful abilities. And look at those sneakers, man! All four pairs of them! Perhaps spiders have to be high-maintenance to look remotely approachable. (On top of my head, the only other non-threatening, cute spider in fiction is Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web.)

My first geek-out moment in DKC2 is when I first got on Squitter and saw his abilities. I never saw coming that spiders, of all the animals they could think of, would be an animal friend, and so I was immediately filled with wonder upon first sight of him. And he does not disappoint. He shoots out deadly webs and can create his own platforms. Those are super cool, in my book. The only thing missing is a thread that you can swing on, but I guess not every games can be Bionic Commando.

2. Enguarde the Swordfish (DKC, DKC2 and DKC3)

Once they dive underwater, the Kongs are defenseless against all menacing sea creatures. Swimming, then, becomes an “avoid everyone” obstacle course, and if TMNT NES taught us anything it’s that avoiding obstacles in underwater levels are always annoying.

Thankfully, where water surfaces in DKC you can almost always guarantee that Enguarde is somewhere nearby, waiting to be freed from his box. Mounting this swordfish turns you a fencer wielding its nose as a sword, and while not every sea foes can be pierced to oblivion, Enguarde makes your journey under the sea less cumbersome. Instead of tapping buttons to swim, you can travel by merely pressing the directional button. Think Frog Suit from Super Mario Bros 3, but as a more destructive force.

(For those of you complaining about DKC’s controls being shabbier than Super Mario Bros, I invite you to play the water-based levels and see which of the two forces you to tap your controller more. Yeah, I win.)

(Oh, but I’m not finished. Why not load up your Super Mario Bros again? Now run, and then stop. Who skids? I win again.)

1. Squawks the Parrot (DKC, DKC2 and DKC3)

In DKC1, Squawks plays the same role as Glimmer, claws wrapped around a flashlight, illuminating your path. But in DKC2 and DKC3 he grows 3 times his size and can carry two primates for flights. I didn’t know that parrots could become this gigantic. Did he get irradiated from a nuclear explosion somewhere? And what could explain his ability to shoot nuts out at will?

In any case, Squawks will be the role model for my future children. I will let them play through every DKCs for reflex-training, and I will tell them inspiring stories about how one can grow up to become a useful member of society – whilst their dad hardly being one. Look at Squawks for inspiration. As a diminutive kid, he braved dark and dank caves to guide vulnerable primates out of trouble. Then he, hardcore, balloons in size and become a force to be reckoned with, whether in mines, vines or treetops. And no, I will not teach children to eat fast foods until they’re obese. Instead it’s the concept I will inculcate, with will and courage one can achieve big things as they come of age. Teach them well and let them fly the way! And I freaking suck at platitudes!

To sum up, Squawks rocks, flying makes platformers better, and brambles have the best music. Mmm, music. Sounds like another topic.

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