What do you remember most about the Donkey Kong Country games? Their graphics? Collecting bananas? The sheer fun of just playing them? All valid answers. One thing from Donkey Kong Country that has forever shaped my memory is the dreaded mine cart, along with the somewhat sinister music that accompanied said questionable modes of transportation.
If one phrase could be prescribed to Donkey Kong Country’s early levels, it’s “easy- going.” With the premise set in motion – retrieving Donkey Kong’s banana stash from King K. Rool – players take control of Donkey Kong in an amiable fashion, learning how to climb, swing, and jump through each colorfully fantastic level, while also taking down all the bad guys. The game’s not particularly easy, as one does need to practice timing and finesse, but nothing in the jungle seems all that difficult to manage. It’s enough to lull one into a sense of “yeah, I got this.”
But Rare just wasn’t going to hand you the bananas on a silver platter. To keep player on their toes, they inserted a couple dark and tricky levels involving mine carts, the first of which was Mine Cart Carnage. Placing this level early on in the game with no reference to exactly how to control the rickety cart on the level broken tracks seemed like just the meanest thing to do to a kid who just wanted to swing through the jungle and stomp on enemies. If the levels before it required some sense of timing, at least, Mine Cart Carnage seemed to require some magic knowledge of imaginary physics, along with lightning-fast reflexes. My goodness, was it ever stressful! (In her DKC Let’s Play, The Duck took it all in stride.)
On top of that, you had the level’s music, a menacing melody imbued with a sense of impending doom. It’s not quite enough to provide any outright scares, but it was more than enough to rack nerves and make one’s heart beat just a little faster. These ominous tones also filled the level with a sense of dread, as if at any moment, terrible things would befall Donkey Kong and/or Diddy Kong. For whatever reason, falling into a bottomless mine shaft feels much worse than falling into a bottomless hole in a perkier locale. The music gave no relief, as it just kept driving, beating, pushing. It absolutely made one want to steer the cart towards the light at the end of the tunnel, literally.
From YouTube User CYCHREUS GAMING
After playing a few Donkey Kong Country levels that feel grounded and safe, Mine Cart Carnage is enough to throw anyone for a loop. But as with anything, practice is key. Soon enough, I was timing my own mine cart jumps like a pro, and not spending any more time in that dank mine than I absolutely had too. I can’t say I was thrilled when another mine cart level showed up later in the game, but at least I was prepared. So much for being a scaredy-cat, ha!
Lede image © Rare, Nintendo (1994)