38. Ripcurl Reef ( GBA only )

Gusty-Glade-style wind & water: as a wise critic once said, “It’s like puking on a pile of shit”. But e’en “Gusty Glade” a’least made some effort to arrange its level based on its abruptly changing wind; “Ripcurl Reef” demands you to precisely maneuver your large hitboxes ’mong colonies o’ Lurchins with a weird gold & green palette that looks glitchy, which would be harsh but fair; but add in having to adjust gainst wind, & it loses that latter attribute. It doesn’t help that they choose the most dickish wind they could, 1 that’s so strong that you sometimes can’t fight gainst it no matter how hard you slam on the right arrow, & unlike the notorious “Animal Antics”, where the wind changed on a consistent interval, here it changes whene’er it pleases, with no way to prepare other than to memorize the level. & the level is arranged to take advantage o’ this to screw you o’er as much as possible: in addition to 1 part where if you don’t anticipate a hard wind going left you’ll be pushed into a Lurchin to the left no matter how hard you hold right, there is legit 1 section where you need to hold right to fight gainst leftward wind & avoid a Lurchin to the left, only for the wind to suddenly swing rightward just as you reach a Lurchin to your right, throwing you right into it. All this adds up to the most frustratingly unfair level in the entire trilogy.

E’en when the wind isn’t being cheap, it’s being annoying, such as @ the very end, where the wind pushes you back full blast, forcing you to hold the right arrow for what feels like several minutes till your character finally inches to the hole.

This level doesn’t feel too much mo’ repetitive & obsessed with its gimmick as the other levels, but it does feel so compared to the other GBA levels, with the only other element being some Bazza sections where you do what you did in “Buzza’s Blockade”, but with wind, & the e’er-present Kocos. Not helping is that this level is preceded by “Sunken Spruce”, which already features these elements, but mixed with many others in a much mo’ interesting package.

It’s too bad, ’cause there are some clever ideas, like the 2nd bonus location: there’s a branch where the wind makes you unable to take the 2nd branch; howe’er, @ the end o’ the path you do take is ’nother branch going backward, where you can find the bonus barrel.

The 1st bonus barrel is less clever, just down an earlier detour on a branching path that you can take, which just has e’en mo’ Lurchins to squeeze thru, made worse by the fact they make you go back thru the area after the bonus for no good reason @ all.

For as sick o’ dodging Lurchins as I am in this level, I do like the 1st bonus challenging you to collect stars ( for reasons I can’t understand some Grinch replaced the ornaments & presents with boring green bananas & stars & offered no “MERRY” code in the GBA version ) near the Lurchins, which includes stars on all 4 lateral sides o’ Lurchins & in tight passageways o’ alternating Lurchins, needing to get close ’nough to grab them without getting stabbed while going fast ’nough to not run out o’ time but not so fast that you slam right into the Lurchins.

The 2nd bonus is much less interesting, having you stroll thru an underwater section while avoiding Bounty Basses, who don’t e’en factor much in this level. Why they chose this enemy whose main use is to give you goodies for hitting them in a situation where it’s impossible to hit them, I have no idea.

In an astounding display o’ inspiration, they placed Koin in a cave section @ the end o’ the level, after the flagpole — yes, literally the exact same “puzzle” as “Buzza’s Blockade”.

37. Barrel Shield Bust-Up

This level is the generic gimmick o’ dodging horizontal projectiles repeated a ridiculous 14 times, with only 4 similar variations: dodging nuts by sneaking ’hind stationary & moving shields & maneuvering round alternating & iterating nut-thowing monkeys. It doesn’t help that the gimmicks constrain you to just moving up & down on ropes & feel very slow: unlike the average DKC2 level, which would align its elements to allow you to go thru most obstacles without stopping, this level forces you to stop & wait for the right timing. This is broken up mainly by placing basic Sneeks in tight cooridors.

There are a few setpieces notable only in how out-o’-place they feel in this level: there’s a banana bunch in a precarious place in the center o’ the path o’ a spinning Zinger. You’d think they’d hide something better, like a 1-up balloon, ’hind this bunch, but, no, they just give you 10 bananas for risking your health. Farther in the level they introduce Nid, who plays a mo’ prominent role in a later level, but here only shows up once to help you reach the G. Foreshadowing later levels is cool, but there just being 1 Nid in such an inconsequential setpiece just feels jarring. Placing maybe 1 mo’ Nid section that’s actually important for traversing the level would’ve helped add some much needed variety to this level, as would just cutting in shorter.

Tho the level switches from the left & right trees, the level is mostly linear — in fact, the level feels mo’ linear than “Fire-Ball Frenzy”.

Howe’er, unlike that level, this level’s bonuses are actually hidden well. Well, the 1st 1, which is just ’hind a breakable wall telegraphed by a single banana ’hind it isn’t; but I do like the Koin hidden in a high alcove that you have to throw a Kong up to reach, whose branch looks like it’s in the background, which is much harder to see than the equivalent bonus in “Fire-Ball Frenzy” ( which was, coincidentally, also telegraphed by a single banana ).

The best bonus is the last 1, which requires taking a secret side path right @ the end & gliding thru holes to reach the barrel. Granted, I’m not so keen on how finicky the timing is, wherein your spin can just be blocked by lighty touching the top edge o’ the holes, which doesn’t add much challenge, it just wastes your time making you try ’gain.

The bonus challenges themselves, unfortunately, are just the main level gimmick ’gain, with the 1st bonus requiring you just to get thru e’en mo’ nut-throwing monkeys to get to the coin before time runs out and the 2nd bonus requiring you to collect appearing & disappearing green banans while dodging nut-throwing monkeys — probably the most predictable bonuses they could have.

This level does get points for having the best visuals & music in the entire game, if not the entire trilogy. Forest levels already looked gorgeous in the previous 2 games, so you’d think they would have nothing left to do with this theme, but having you move inside pairs o’ trees filled with junk like homes & li’l wooden platforms & ropes going thru cut-open holes like doorways with lush layers o’ firs in the background, a contrast o’ bright orange foreground trees & pale green firs in the background, goes the next level. The SNES version o’ the song “Treetop Tumble”, with its very deep dour notes, lush wind sounds, & woodenlike drums, is not only the best forest song in this trilogy full o’ great forest songs, but I would say the best forest song o’ any video game. It really saddens me that this gorgeous theme wasn’t used for better levels. In contrast, the GBA version o’ the song “Treetop Tumble” is 1 o’ the worst GBA songs, flipping 180° the gloomy, atmospheric SNES song into a hokey, happy ditty with what sound like steel drums & some truly sour MIDI horns that do not show off the GBA hardware’s strengths. Not to say you can’t have good happy songs, — the SNES game does in the form o’ “Crazy Calypso” played during the save-selection screen — but visually these levels still keep their gloomy atmosphere, e’en with the somewhat brightened colors ( thankfully strongly reduced by this point, now that backlights had become the standard for GBAs ), so it is supremely jarring & completely ruins the atmosphere o’ levels like “Ripsaw Rage” where being chased by a giant realistic saw is treated like a lolling summer birthday party with all your woodland friends.

36. Sunken Spruce ( GBA only )

What stands out most ’bout this level is the aesthetics o’ having a tree level that’s underwater & nothing else. In terms o’ gameplay, this level doesn’t deviate much from the other water levels, having you just maneuver round the same Lurchins & Kocos in all the other water levels & the same Bazzas e’erywhere in “Pacifica”, as well as Booty Bass, who, ’gain, make no sense here as there’s no Enguarde with which to hit them so their main mechanic can’t be used, making them just Kocos but slower & with slightly bigger hitboxes.

I can appreciate the clever way they reused the holes that the Swoopies go thru in “Swoopy Salvo” for the Bazzas to go thru & some o’ the arrangements o’ Lurchins & Kocos are tricky… but after “Dingy Drain-Pipe” & “Stormy Seas” I was sick o’ swimming round Lurchins & Kocos — & as “Ripcurl Reef” earlier shows, this wasn’t e’en the last level o’ “Pacifica” where I had to deal with them. Like with many o’ the other levels in “Pacifica”, this level falls into the opposite problem as most DKC3 levels & is just a bunch o’ various things thrown in without any focal gimmick, which I have come to consider worse than the other problem, as a’least the regular bland DKC3 levels tended to have a gimmick for me to talk ’bout. Here we just have underwater trees & mo’ Lurchins.

They do add 1 rare elements to this level: the nut-throwing Minkeys, otherwise found only in “Barrel Shield Bust-Up”. There are, like, 2 o’ them, 1 o’ which is only a danger if you’re going for the G, which makes their inclusion mo’ jarring than clever or fresh.

Like “Poisonous Pipeline” the bonuses are mainly just on detours past short impediments like a few mo’ moving Kocos to swim past or just by going down a rope back into the water that looks as valid a path as the intended path inside a tree hole. The bonuses themselves are decent: the 1st has you collect stars underwater, which has somewhat tight time, specially due to the difficulty in being optimal with the suboptimal swimming controls; the 2nd bonus has you dodging rows o’ Bazzas going up the side o’ a tree & then down the inside o’ the tree, which is a’least a clever use o’ terrain.

They might’ve cottoned on to the fact that they’ve been putting Koin @ the end o’ water levels too much as this time they put Koin @ the beginning, but still in plain sight with no puzzle whatsoe’er. You know, the fact that Koin works so poorly in water levels makes the decision to make the new world almost all water levels particularly nonsensical. ¿They couldn’t pick any other theme?

Legit the only reason this level is as high as it is is the aesthetics are really cool. Otherwise it, too, would be lower than “Poisonous Pipeline”.

35. Fire-Ball Frenzy

This level is just a constant onslaught o’ dodging vertically-moving projectiles, — probably the most cliché platformer mechanic — without much o’ anything else to provide variety. Halfway thru this level you’ll have gotten the gist o’ this level & feel like you’re ready to move on to a new gimmick. This is exacerbated by 2 elevator sections, 1 where you have to wait for a bunch o’ elevators to get to the other end, horizontally, — which you can thankfully skip by just falling thru the center — & the 2nd where you just wait on an elevator going up, moving back & forth to dodge fireballs, which is made worse in the GBA version with its terrible camera, as you can’t e’en see the 1st fireball before it falls.

That said, part o’ me likes the ridiculous visual aspect o’ having goofy owls holding turrets as big as them, tho it does also feel arbitrary. I mean, you could have any animal holding them & it’d make as much or li’l sense.

Also, o’ all the vertically-moving projectile mechanics, this level has the best 1, as it gives you the option o’ running under the fireballs as they’re falling or jumping o’er them when they’re on the ground, saving you from having to stop to wait for their timing to be correct & making this level feel much mo’ fast-paced than a lot of other levels.

While it could’ve done a better job o’ trying to hide Koin, they did use this gimmick to create a unique challenge for defeating Koin: challenging the player to grab the steel barrel & get out without getting hit by a fireball being dropped from ’bove, & challenging the player to time throwing the steel barrel so that the fireball doesn’t hit it & destroy it before it can bounce back from the wall & hit Koin.

The bonuses, howe’er, just seem to challenge you to have both Kongs — or have Dixie & know ’head o’ time to hover leftward for the 1st bonus — & make awkward, poorly telegraphed jumps — or just glide straight into the bonus barrel. The 1st bonus has nothing to do with this level, just giving you Squitter & having you defeat Zingers, only to take Squitter ’way from you as soon as you return to the level proper. That this is the 1st time you play as Squitter in this game makes this a very perplexing addition to this level & a very weak introduction to this animal buddy, e’en if he was technically introduced in DKC2. My only guess is that they literally had no other ideas for what to do with this level. I would recommend focusing more o’ the level on Squitter, but “Krack-Shot Krok” already does that to a much better effect.

The 2nd bonus does use the fireball-dodging mechanic, combined with the appearing-&-disappearing green bananas gimmick to force players to dodge while moving urgently. This bonus works well, but is hurt by the fact that the player will likely be sick o’ the gimmick by this point. Shortening the level itself & laying off on the gimmick in the main level would make this bonus feel better without changing the bonus itself.

I like DKC3’s twist on its factory theme, making its lava pits smelter pots ’stead o’ just generic lava pits & giving its background Victorian-era windows, giving it a Dickensian feel. It works specially well in this level with the goofy owls. The SNES version’s son, “Nuts & Bolts”, isn’t the most inspired & not as good as DKC1’s “Fear Factory”, but I do like its mechanical instruments. The GBA song’s good, too, & I kind o’ like the trashy tin-can GBA instruments. Granted, like most GBA songs, it doesn’t fit as well with this level’s gloomy visual tone.

34. Krevice Kreepers

Despite needing to copy-paste setpieces several times in “Kreeping Klasps” to fill out that level, for some reasons the developers felt the need to revisit Klasps in this level, which beats its gimmick into the ground e’en harder. This legit feels like half a level with the other half being a clone: there’s 2 sections where you’re blasted up to a rope & have to react to a Klasp chasing after you from offscreen to the left, there’s 2 sections where you have to jump down ropes with Klasps on them, & there are 3 sections where you have to jump up ropes with Klasps on them where the walls are in the same mirrored C shapes, in addition to all the other places where you jump up ropes while the Klasp is on the other side.

To be fair, there are 2 somewhat interesting uses o’ Klasps here, like a part where a Klasp is waiting & you have to jump in front o’ it to continue &, e’en better, the 1st bonus location, which requires you to lead a Klasp to 1 end & then jump round it to its other side so you can get past it. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d ne’er figured this out without just tanking a hit till looking it up just now for this article, e’en tho it now looks obvious in hindsight, so props for clever design there. The bonus challenge itself is yet ’nother collect-the-ornaments bonus mixed with the level gimmick, but a’least this level gimmick works well with this bonus type.

The 2nd bonus, howe’er, just challenges you to get there with both Kongs — tho I s’pose the real “challenge” is realizing that you can reach something by throwing a Kong upward in this otherwise seemingly empty sideroom. There is this level’s only Knocka there to bump you out o’ there, which isn’t much o’ a challenge, but does kind o’ integrate with the level theme, while still adding some variety. What doesn’t add variety is the bonus itself, which is just jumping up ropes with Klasps, like the rest o’ the level — & this level is the last to need its gimmick pummeled into the player a few mo’ times. & like many bonuses o’ this kind, it’s much less interesting than e’en a level as basic as this: just go right on the 1st rope & keep hopping up till you reach the top.

This level has minimum reprieve from its gimmick, which doesn’t help it feel any less monotonous: you have some short platforms you have to hop up with a rat on 1 o’ them & 1 side area with Koin, whose challenge, tho trickier than most, doesn’t fit this level’s theme & just feels thrown in. Plus, it seems like the expected solution, bouncing the barrel off the wall & running left so that Koin turns round before it hits him, only works with Kiddy, which is lame. Luckily, you can just stand right under Koin & throw a barrel up to hit him. I’m almost certain this isn’t an intended solution — it’s an e’en lamer solution, after all. A better Koin challenge would be to create a steel Klasp sprite & have it follow you & challenge you to lead it toward the Koin with its back turned to it. That would feel both fresher & mo’ relevant to the level. Granted, that probably would’ve taken a lot mo’ programming time, & as I said, this game was probably rushed, so that probably would’ve been an impractical ideal.

It’s too bad, ’cause I like this level’s frosty white palette, which fits well with the theme o’ its world, “K3”. It’s just too bad the level’s gameplay didn’t fit the wintry theme @ all.

33. Barrel Drop Bounce

It’s very unfortunate that the cascade-themed levels, which have excellent visuals & music, have very weak level layouts that are, quite frankly, hard to e’en distinguish from each other. They all revolve round using barrels in very cliché ways to go upward. Unlike the other mechanics, which could be called novel, in this level we have falling platforms in the form o’ the e’er-present barrels on waterfalls, which was already a trite mechanic back then — something I’d expect mo’ from Returns, not the game with as exotic o’ level gimmicks as this game had in other levels. I should add that the implementation o’ these falling platforms is spotty to the point o’ major annoyance, with a potent mix o’ finicky hitboxes & very li’l let, making it common to just miss reaching the top o’ a barrel & falling thru it or for a barrel to burst gainst the ground just as you land on it, as well as the cliff edges, that oft cause you to slide down them when you try to jump on them. It’s much worse than, say, the falling logs in the US Super Mario Bros. 2 — & it’s not usual that I would give greater points in terms o’ tightness & polish to a platformer as spotty as the US Super Mario Bros. 2 vs. a DKC game.

You would think that these levels with their background layer ’hind the waterfalls & foreground layer would have interesting gameplay challenges connected to these 2 layers, but these levels ne’er do anything with it beyond being a cool effect. Rarely do they provide the most superfluous o’ branching paths. For instance, here the only branching path is @ the very beginning, where you can just go straight ’hind, with no obstacles, or make a simple jump o’er a bottomless pit for a bear coin. Not to say that this is in itself a bad setpiece: it introduces the gimmick well while offering a risk/reward; but this is probably the best use o’ this mechanic.

Add to that striking similarities to “Rocket Barrel Ride” ( which already feels similar to “Tracker Barrel Trek” ), with both holding a section near the middle where you’re expected to keep Parallel Parry ’live to its sign for frivolous lives & both full o’ the same single Krimps just munching onto screen, easy to jump o’er. ’Cept in the former case, “Rocket Barrel Ride” had much mo’ intricate Zinger formations in which to imperil Parry, despite this level being 2 worlds after that level. In fact, this whole level is much sparser & easier than the other cascade levels, despite this level coming after those levels. You only do a few basic jumps on falling barrels & defeat a few Krimps & Bristles, & then you already reach the midway point. The only hard part ’bout this level is the part where you have to jump up barrels just ’bove the ground, where it’s easy to land on them too late before they break under you or jump too early & fall thru them, which just wastes your time & frustrates you when you fail — not much o’ an interesting challenge. & this coming after the exhilarating “Tearaway Toboggan”…

& like “Tracker Barrel Trek”, we have terrain round the Koin challenge that leads you to expect it will require mo’ elaborate puzzle solving exploiting the background & foreground layers, but, in fact, just requires you to throw the steel keg up so it rolls slowly gainst the right wall so you can stay ’head o’ it as you both go left toward Koin. A’least this level bothered to hide Koin… by having you take a jump o’ faith ( there’s a trail o’ bananas… that you can’t see till you make a jump ).

The 1st bonus location is the most logical secret location you could do in this kind o’ level: after a staircase o’ falling barrels going leftward, the player needs to turn back & go up the falling barrels rightward to reach the secret bonus barrel. Standard, but fitting. As a bonus, they hint that the bonus barrel is there by showing the very bottom as you’re blasting up to the platform just below it. But the 2nd bonus is just ’nother blind leap o’ faith off a cliff to a falling barrel to reach a bonus barrel, but the twist is that the falling barrel sometimes doesn’t spawn. ¡Oops!

The bonuses themselves aren’t too bad. Yeah, the 2nd bonus is just jumping up falling barrels, but surprisingly that isn’t done that much in this level — if anything, it’s the generic Krimps coming @ you that’s o’erdone — & not to the extent & way this bonus does it. It could, ’course, be mo’ elaborate, but it’s a’least somewhat challenging. The 1st bonus is the same, but you collect presents, but it’s actually surprisingly tricky to schedule your jumps so that you’re in the right place @ the right time when a present arrives so you can reach it before it disappears, & sometimes you need to go low ’nough that you need to jump quickly afterward to avoid falling in the pit. The only problem is that, well, this is the 1st bonus, e’en tho it’s much harder than just climbing falling barrels.

While I praised this level’s visuals, this level’s grayish-green & pale pink-red palette looks garish. As for music, the SNES’s “Cascade Capers” is 1 o’ the best songs in this excellent soundtrack, with its lush notes & strings that blend so well with the real-life waterfall sounds that I forgot till I relistened to it right now that it has them. It’s criminal that this song is slept on. But the GBA song’s no slouch, also managing to simulate the sound o’ waterfalls well, but with a harder, noisier sound. Unlike some o’ the other GBA songs that go too far with sounding chipper or digital, butchering the tone o’ their levels, this song keeps the solemn tone o’ these levels with its mo’ pared down notes.

32. Buzzer Barrage

“Buzzer Barrage” combines the exhilirating mechanic o’ picking up barrels with Quawks, Squawks’s idiotic cousin, & slowly rolling them into Zingers from “Low-G Labyrinth” & the cheap Kopters with their questionable hit boxes from “Kong-Fused Cliffs” to create a better result than either o’ those levels, but not by much; & one could argue that while those levels traded quality, this level traded its ability to be memorable.

While I like the way the map zigzags into itself from far ’way, it’s not the most interesting pattern in this game, & its few branches are only for a bonus & Koin, with many extra li’l alcoves & crevices existing only as places for Kopters to hide & pop out to smack you without warning. Moreo’er, the level goes on too long for the kind o’ slow movement this level expects from most players & repeats the same general setpieces: 2 places where you deliver a barrel past Kopters so you can break thru a wall o’ Zingers, many places where you have to slowly follow ’long a column o’ Kopters like penguins, & many places where you drop a barrel ’tween invincible red Zingers so that it rolls into a green Zinger in your way, only the latter o’ which requires much thought. You could say this level has variety, but that just makes it weirder that they felt the need to repeat setpieces. Unlike other levels, this level’s main problem is just that it’s too long & padded out.

Worse, there’s a good chance 1st-time players will have to do these puzzles ’gain ’cause they’re sandwiched ’mong sections where you have to dodge & weave round Kopters who fly in with li’l warning. It’s amazing how many times you’ll run into a thin passage where if you rush right in you’re guranteed to smack into a Kopter with no way to avoid it & the solution is to wait before the passage & see if a Kopter flies up & then wait for it to start flying down so you can safely go in ’hind. ¿How did the sequel to a game where almost e’ery obstacle was finely timed so that you could rush thru the 1st time without getting hit have a level that expects you to wait before e’ery passage just in case the level decides to just throw a Kopter @ you that you can’t dodge?

There is 1 notable break from this level’s constant barrage o’ Kopters & barrel puzzles with a swarm o’ Zingers moving in various patterns you have to squeeze thru, similar to a setpiece in “Bramble Scramble” from DKC2 — a good level to crib from.

¿Are the bonuses any good? Well, the 1st bonus is hidden ’hind the same kind o’ barrel & Zinger puzzle you have to do for main progress & is just past the 1st fork, easier to find than the intended route, making it likely that the player goes that way ’stead o’ the bonus way — 1 o’ the few times the classic trilogy does something like this. The bonus challenge itself is just trying to be tedious, tho: you have to hit 7 Zingers, 3 ’long the ground, 3 spinning in the top left, & 1 in the top right, none o’ which require any thought to figure out or much finesse. E’en the spinning Zingers can easily be dispatched, as there’s just ’nough room ’tween them & the ceiling so that you can fly ’long the top & avoid them, but your barrel will hit them. The groups o’ Zingers are basically the same action, but 2 mo’ times. ¿They couldn’t just lower the # o’ enemies & time limit? ¿Was it necessary to spread this bonus into nearly a minute?

The 2nd bonus, right @ the end, requires the player, now no longer Quawks, to jump onto a Kopter as it’s going up & bounce up to the top. While I guess requiring the regular player to jump on a Kopter’s head after 2 levels where you ne’er interact with them using your Kong’s normal moves is intriguing in concept, the only challenge is the cheap path o’ the Kopter making it go back down from the top after it has gone up when the player would expect them to go round to the conspicuous hole past them & the questionable hit box on its head vs. its wings, making it feel like a crapshoot whether you’ll bounce safely or get smacked & fall thru him. The bonus challenge itself is much cleverer, challenging the player to collect all the ornaments, which can only be reached by bouncing on the head o’ the Kopter going up & down ( &, mo’ importantly, always on-screen, so it doesn’t just fly into the player with no warning ).

Koin is a mix o’ dodging Kopters & throwing barrels @ Zingers, but none o’ the elements are done in an interesting way. You weave ’tween the Kopters the same way you do the 2 other times you have to, only this feels like the least unfair use o’ it, since the way it’s arranged you’ll likely see them going up. After that you hit 2 Zingers in a narrow hole where there’s no way to mess it up with the infinite-spawning steel barrel, which is just busy work — tho a better alternative than weaving back thru the Kopters. Finally, you bring a steel barrel down thru the chute where the Zingers used to be & aim the steel barrel to hit the Koin while it’s looking up. While this could be interesting if the game made you bounce it off a wall with no floor below it, the way this puzzle is set up gives an easy alcove to the left o’ Koin with a wall on the other side, giving an easy way to hit Koin just like all the others. I can a’least appreciate that they were able to tie Koin to this level’s gimmick, tho I’m less impressed that they didn’t bother hiding Koin: he’s right on the main path, impossible to miss accidentally.

Finally, this is the ugliest level in the entire trilogy. This level’s cave tileset — also used in “Pot-Hole Panic”, “Creepy Caverns”, & “Tyrant Twin Tussle” — & thus, wisely, mainly kept to levels near the end o’ the game, in general is certainly the blandest in this game, 2nd only to maybe the cave tileset from the original DKC. This tileset looks both distactingly o’erdetailed — with all its sickly, bloated bubbles & li’ bumps — while also looking indistict @ the same time. The background & the foreground look so similar — it’s all just blobby shapes o’ the same general hue — that they blend in a bit. This particular level’s palette with its sun-tan-pink splattered o’er sewer green like a lizard wearing human skin is particularly questionable ’mong… well, e’ery palette in e’ery DKC game e’er. For once I’d rather have basic brown.

The SNES song is 1 o’ the weaker songs in this game, but still enjoyable, a testament to how great the SNES soundtrack is o’erall. I like the way this song mixes a low, foreboding beats & strings with frenetic notes that go up & down — not what you hear in most cave themes. The GBA version’s song is 1 o’ the bizarre songs Wise made where it starts with several minutes o’ noise — in this case stock dripping sounds that sound mo’ like they’re coming from a running shower than a cave — before finally getting to the song; & just as the song gets going, it fades out back to the sounds o’ someone taking a shower. That said, it’s not a bad song: I think it makes better use o’ the GBA’s weird instruments to create a scrappy sound to its beats, & I like the way it mixes a hip hop sound with the light water noises.

31. Pot Hole Panic

I call this level “lame Animal Antics”, which is saying something, as those who have read my ranking article for DKC2 will remember I ranked “Animal Antics” low. For as disjointed as its sublevels felt when glued together & as generic as its use o’ most animal buddies were, a’least all o’ its layouts felt fitting for their animal buddies & a’least some sublevels, like the infamous wind-based Squawks section or the intricate layout o’ spikes & Zingers Ratly had to maneuver thru, felt fresh & interesting. “Pot Hole Panic”, while having an Enguarde & Squitter section e’en mo’ forgettable than “Animal Antics”’s, has the most pointless Squawks section in any DKC game, which could literally be done just fine with just the Kongs if not for the pit @ the beginning where you need Squawks to ’scape, & an Ellie section where Ellie contributes nothing mo’ than an extra hit, with only 1 clever use o’ Ellie near the end.

While this level does use a consistent gimmick o’ dodging bomb-throwing Kuchukas rather than being a loose combination o’ level snippets that belonged on the cutting-room floor, as “Animal Antics” was, this gimmick has li’l to do with any o’ the animal buddies nor is it particularly remarkable to deserve the special honor & probably would’ve worked better by itself with just the Kongs themselves. They couldn’t e’en implement Kuchakas to work with the aquatic Enguarde, making the 2 gimmicks e’en mo’ mismatched. I think there were far mo’ interesting gimmicks that would’ve integrated with different animal buddies in mo’ varied & mo’ interesting ways, such as “Squeals on Wheels”’s gimmick o’ defeating enemies to open doors or e’en a gimmick as basic as “Ripsaw Rage”’s — which, now that I think ’bout it, wouldn’t be too far off from the way DKC2’s “Castle Crush” integrated multiple enemies into its rising-floor gimmick. This level is a clear example o’ 2 wildly different gimmicks chainganged together to the detriment o’ both.

While it’s nice that “Pot Hole Panic” doesn’t obsess o’er its gimmick as many other levels do, it goes too far in the other direction & barely features them. There are mo’ Kopters ( who are already o’erused in too many other levels ) than Kuchakas. & it’s hardly an improvement to replace all the places where the gimmick might be used with e’en mo’ basic layouts o’ plowing thru e’en mo’ Lurchins as Enguarde, as you do a’least 4 times thruout the game already.

In fairness, there are some somewhat novel setpieces, like using Booty Birds as actual “threats” near the end o’ the Squawks section as a desperate attempt to add variety. I put that in quotes, tho, ’cause, I mean, you can just spit nuts @ them, & they move super slow. Keep in mind, this level is near the end o’ the penultimate world, in contrast to “Bramble Scramble” from DKC2, which was in world 4 & was far mo’ intricate & challenging.

Despite criticizing the use o’ Ellie in this level, I will say that the place where they expect you to Yoshi-hop off Ellie to reach a higher-up bonus barrel is a’least unique to the the whole trilogy & the only thing I was surprised that DKC3 had done that DKC2 hadn’t done yet. I also like the devious bonus location just before the sign that destroys your Squitter: it’s way up ’bove & requires, you guessed it, Squitter to reach, so you better make sure you stop & explore up there before just ramming right into the sign & throwing ’way your Squitter. The path up to this 2nd bonus barrel also requires dodging a Kuchaka’s bombs, which is the best use o’ this underutilized enemy.

The bonuses are better than average for both this game & DKC2: the 1st repeats the Yoshi-jump Ellie trick in this level & this level only while the 2nd bonus challenges you to collect presents while dodging Kuchakas’ bombs, which looks tricky, but is actually very easy if you only go right & left ’tween bomb throws, which guarantees you’ll collect 1 or 2 presents each time.

Koin’s placement is maybe a bit less clever: it’s right after the 2nd bonus, also going upward, but low ’nough that you can reach him with just a Kong throw upward ( which is good, as this is after the “No Squitter” sign ). I’m not sure whether adding ’nother secret just after the previous secret, found in a similar way, is an extra clever twist or uncreative repetition. Such a twist has obviously been done better in DKC2, such as the bonus opening found by jumping o’er a different bonus opening found in “Rickety Race”. This Koin also has a slight extra twist in that you have to throw a Kong up ’nother cliff e’en higher up to reach the steel barrel & then throw the barrel with tight spacing. It’s not the most head-scratching puzzle or the most intricate challenge, — as none o’ the Koin “puzzles” are — but in a game full o’ just Koin standing there right next to a steel barrel, e’en the slightest variance, no matter how superficial, should be noted.

I prefer “Animal Antics”’s visual & thematic medley o’er “Pot Hole Panic” keeping it all within the cave tileset with the most boring & ugly visuals o’ perhaps any DKC game. I do appreciate the mo’ exotic pink & green palette, giving a mo’ tropical flavor to this level, which fits with its water section.