30. Murky Mill

While I can’t fault this game’s developers for getting creative with their gimmicks, this gimmick just doesn’t work well. 1 o’ the problems is that this animal buddy’s use is the most contrived in the whole trilogy. Almost e’ery other time an animal buddy is forced on you, one could argue that the animal buddy is an improvement o’er the Kongs’ own movement. E’en if one doesn’t like controlling Squawks, its ability to fly makes it necessary for getting thru parts that require flight. But here not only is Ellie redundant for throwing barrels, when the Kongs can do that themselves, she is a liability in that she gets scared ’way from rats that the Kongs could just bash thru. The only reason you have to play as Ellie is ’cause there’s a magical barrel in a narrow opening that forces you to transform into her.

& this, too, would be fine if the gimmick forced onto you were fun, but it isn’t. Going back & forth grabbing barrels to throw @ Sneeks is not only not fresh ( since, ’gain, Kongs have been throwing barrels @ enemies since the 1st game ), it’s slower than just bopping thru Sneeks. If this mechanic were used a bit less — like only a few times — & balanced it out with faster elements, this level would’ve been great. While in concept I do like that most o’ the other elements, like the hopping Re-coils, also swarming this level, combine with this level’s main gimmick, I don’t like the way they do so: the Re-coils aren’t just dangers to your health, but can also cause you to lose your barrel, forcing you to go back & get it. E’en if you jump on them, Ellie’s dumb ass decides to drop her barrel for no reason. Thus, you have to run under them, which is a fine challenge, but 1 that isn’t expressed well. They should’ve made a spiky-headed Re-coil that you had to run under to show this. In any case, worrying ’bout your barrel being broken isn’t much o’ a challenge, as it just makes you go backward to get it ’gain.

Part o’ the problem is that the level layout is 1-dimensional, despite the attempts to hide the fact by making the level zigzag downward rather than go straight out. E’en Koin is just right in the middle o’ the level just past an elevator. It would require the player to have absolutely no curiosity for finding bonuses to not pass that elevator & search the path obviously round it.

& then you have the beginning section, where you just ride a long elevator up & maybe collect a long trail o’ bananas, if you care. I’m not sure why a game where lives are questionably needed, since you can save whene’er you want & the game just throws lives @ you, anyway, would force players to wait thru what should be a bonus area @ the beginning o’ a normal level, but it’s just annoying for novice players unfortunate ’nough to die & have to wait on the elevator e’ery time they retry.

& then you have the elevators strewn thru the level, that I keep just missing ’cause Ellie takes just a bit too much time to pick up the barrel & have to stand there like an idiot waiting for the elevator to come back down so I can jump on it & wait on it to go back up.

Finally, the gimmick is not implemented well. In the developers’ strange insistence on excluding any way to cheat thru their gimmick @ all costs ( ’cause nothing kills a game worse than players cheesing thru early-game challenges so they can hurry past them & get to the actually challenging parts, specially when that level has a secret warp barrel that lets players skip the level, anyway ), if Ellie gets scared while o’er a rat & lands on the rat in frightened mode, she’ll get hurt while the rat ends up fine, despite being crushed under the weight o’ an elephant 4-times its size. Apparently, frightened elephants weight far less than calm elephants. This is amplified by the fact that when the awkward-shaped lights affect Ellie’s eyesight are hard to pinpoint, meaning you can ne’er be sure that jumping o’er a rat whose just outside the light will work or not. This is mainly a problem @ the last stretch where there are 4 rats under lights after an invincible red Zinger going up & down ’tween them & the only barrel spawner, meaning if you want to be safe, you have to go back & forth 4 times.

It’s too bad, ’cause there are some clever setpieces hidden in this level. They give you a way to bypass 1 o’ the rats by sneaking thru a 2nd path under them ( tho you lose out on a 2-up balloon if you do this ); there’s a puzzle where you have to suck a barrel toward you from ’hind a Sneek to get it ( tho this is repeated for 1 o’ the bonuses ); there’s a cool section with up-&-down elevator platforms where you have to weave thru invincible red Zingers, which is mostly free, but looks cool, which is a good thing to have for an early level; & I like the concept o’ being able to snipe Sneeks when they go outside their light, I just don’t like their odd hitboxes. This is a level whose main problem is that it is too long & should have had some fat cut out, like removing the Sneeks right after the O & right before the N.

The bonuses are pretty good, too, with the 1st bonus’s location being foreshadowing to the trap-door mechanic that would become mo’ prominent in a later level & the 2nd bonus location involving a small puzzle wherein Ellie sucks in a barrel from ’hind a Zinger to hit a different Zinger.

The bonuses themselves are decent for this early in the game: the 1st challenges Ellie to defeat 4 spinning Zingers with barrels, the 2nd requires the player to get to the end while dodging spinning Zingers. On 1 hand, I’m glad that for once the developers didn’t try to force this level’s gimmick into these bonuses, which would just feel like a repetition o’ the main level’s gameplay; on the other, the fact that this level’s gimmick couldn’t inspire any twist to be used for these bonuses without feeling too much like the regular level reveals how 1-dimensional this whole level’s gimmick was.

Finally, this level feels much harder than the 2nd-world mill level, “Squeals on Wheels”, & feels a bit too hard for the 1st world in general. There are a few reasons why they might’ve wanted to keep this order, tho: “Squeals on Wheels” has a similar palette & gameplay as an earlier world-1 mill level, “Doorstop Dash”, so keeping them farther ’way would create better variety. Also, as mentioned, this level’s bonus foreshadows a major mechanic o’ “Doorstop Dash”, which would be lost by putting this after that level. Ne’ertheless, these minor art decisions sacrificed the larger difficulty balance.

1 thing I will praise this level for is its mill theme, specially this level, with its dark attic cast, — tho this is butchered in the GBA version, which brightens the palette in a way that feels artificial — a theme that’s fresh for platformers, specially compared to the original DKC, whose most exotic themes were factories & temples. While the visuals do seem monochromatic compared to DKC2’s mo’ colorful levels, the mill scenery is packed with li’l details, & you could argue that it’s less distracting, creating a balance wherein players who just want to see @ a glance what’s solid & what isn’t can, while players who want to see all the details can stop & look mo’ closely, while DKC2 arguably forces players to see all the details, e’en in the midst o’ gameplay. The song, “Mill Fever”, cleverly takes inspiration the Peggy Lee song “Fever”, giving it a jazzy feel that would fit in with a Looney Tunes mill cartoon & like many great DKC songs manages to be catchy while still fitting the dim, realistic aesthetic. The GBA version, which takes a mo’ industrial sound, is catchy & cool, but like many GBA songs doesn’t fit as well in a mill, which is more ol’-timey than industrial.

29. Skidda’s Row

A solid but unimpressive level. That’s what happens when your main gimmick is Kremlings that slide back & forth. While they can be tricky to time jumps or rolls on, specially on the 2 areas where they’re uphill & specially for such an early-game level, this level could’ve benefitted from a lot mo’ variety. Basic gimmicks like these, which are barely gimmicks, are not the type you dedicate an entire level to, but that’s precisely what this level does: incessant Skidda after Skidda, with only holes & a few Krimps as the weakest form o’ palate-cleansers offered. Contrast this with the average DKC2 level, which did a better job o’ mixing basic gimmicks to create better variety & depth. The Skiddas themselves don’t have many variations, either: they’re basically either high or low. Sure, some are on rooftops; but those are basically just higher-up Skiddas with extra paint.

Still, this could make for a fun, fastpaced romp, but some o’ the Skiddas are placed in annoying places where it feels like you have to wait or just make tight jumps round the enemies. For example, you have a set o’ steps with Skiddas on them you’d think you should use by jumping from Skidda to Skidda, like you do many times in the 1st DKC. But they’re positioned & timed in such a way that if you try this, you won’t jump far ’nough & will just run right into a Skidda’s face. The fact that e’en speedrunners roll thru these enemies & jump afterward tells me it is legit impossible. I guess you could say it adds challenge; but for a 1st-world level that seems like a questionable decision, feels a bit like deceptive, unintuitive challenge, & moreo’er, is just less fun than bouncing from enemy to enemy. Thankfully, the GBA version seems to fix this by shortening the size o’ the steps, as it shortened many elements in this game to fit better within its smaller screen — tho it traded this improvement with the massive flaw o’ having the camera constantly pointing upward, making it impossible to see what’s below you in a level that oft has you go downward.

Such a simplistic, linear level clearly didn’t feed much inspiration for bonus locations, as they’re abysmal. The 1st bonus is right in plain sight. While I gave the 1st DKC’s “Reptile Rumble”, which also had a bonus barrel right in the open, the ’scuse that maybe they were trying to make it clear to players who missed the bonuses in the previous 2 levels, that works far less for this level. E’en if we accept that this might be the 1st game a player plays o’ the trilogy, the 1st bonus o’ the 1st level, “Lake Limbo”, is in plain sight, too ( tho much better implemented, requiring the player to actually do something — break a breakable floor — to get it ).

Koin is just as impossible to miss. I guess he is in a slightly mo’ cramped area than normal.

The 2nd bonus has the best hiding place, up on a roof with 2 Skiddas, which you can just run under, easily missing the bonus barrel if you have no curiosity for finding bonuses. I’ll give them this, specially for an early level: presenting players with a challenge bump that they can suspiciously skip without any effort is a pretty good hiding place, & this optional challenge does work well for an early level, where you have to balance avoiding being boring with avoiding being too hard for novice players.

The bonus challenges themselves feel too similar: the 1st challenges you to bop all the Skiddas, which fits well. You ne’er have to specifically bop any Skiddas in the level itself, & in a few cases it’s clearly easier to avoid them, so this does provide an extra challenge. But the 2nd bonus is just getting to the end o’ a straight path, which is e’en mo’ basic than the level itself. I guess this bonus has Knik-Knaks, which are nowhere else in the level. Why beetles are in a snowy area ( & this is far from the only snow level to have them ), I couldn’t say. Presumably the same reason bees are: they just needed a flying enemy, but this time 1 that could be bopped.

To be fair, I think they might’ve made this level so simple as a way to make up for the difficulty spike in having slippery ice physics so early in the game. & while snow levels are far from fresh in platformers, — specially surrounded by lakeside piers & mills, which are — having a snow level so early is. The downside is that it contributes to this 1st world lacking any kind o’ cohesive theme.

This game’s snow levels add e’en mo’ detail to the already gorgeous snow levels from DKC1, adding log cabins, fences, & snowmen with scarves. I also like the snow effect this level has: it starts out lightly snowing, then builds up snow later in the level, but then clears up & becomes sunnier near the end. The SNES song, “Frosty Frolics”, was 1 I’ve always slept on, but have come to appreaciate mo’, with its contrast o’ light twinkles & driving low beats ’neath, specially the way it builds up from a yawning opening. The GBA version, as a sharp contrast, is the worst song in the entire series, starting with honest-to-god yodeling, only to play less than a minute o’ lame, o’erly compressed polka music, followed by wind noises, & then mo’ yodelling, & then repeat. I can only assume David Wise was trolling when making this song, since there’s no way he made this with the intent that it would be enjoyable to listen to.

28. Kreeping Klasps

While the chasing Klasps on ropes do make for fun setpieces, they’re not so great that they merit being the focal gimmick o’ a level, much less 2, evident by how repetitive this level is — tho thankfully not nearly as repetitive as “Krevice Keepers”. They came up with ’bout 3 ideas & just keep using them ’gain & ’gain. They have 4 o’ the same setpiece with a Klasp on a rope & a Zinger on the top right where you have to jump o’er the Klasp but not go too far right so as to hit the Zinger. A great extra challenge added to the regular Klasp jumping, but not interesting ’nough to do 4 times. Also, these sections sometimes make you wait for the Klasp to get out from under the Zingers, specially when these sections are repeated right after each other, but it’s a barely-noticeable delay.

Also, due to the small camera, sometimes Klasp is offscreen & it can be easy to jump onto a rope, only to have a Klaps run right into you as you land. It’s rare & can be mitigated by taking your time & being careful. ¿But who wants to do that in a Donkey Kong Country game?

Like many levels, they break up the main gimmick by just having a regular boppable enemy slowly walk toward you e’ery once & a while, with the 1 exception being the cool section where you bop ’cross a series o’ Re-Coils on platforms just thin ’nough to fit only them & dangerous water all round.

The bonuses are remarkably lame: you find the 1st bonus by jumping up ropes timed ’tween Zingers circling round them; the 2nd bonus is found by jumping down ropes with Klasps. To be fair, the latter does make you jump down 2 ropes with 3 Klasps in an arrangement that can feel complex when e’erything’s moving & you need to keep moving, & it’s actually the most interesting setpiece in this level.

The 1st bonus challenge is the most laughably easy bonus in the game — way too easy for world 3. You just jump on ropes grabbing the presents as they appear, with no other dangers to worry ’bout. If you’re particularly clumsy, you might accidentally drop into the water & get bit by the fish down there, but if that’s something you have trouble not doing, I have no idea how you could’ve made it to world 3; & ’less you’re screwing round taking screenshots for a dumb listicle article, then there’s no way any halfway competent player would run out o’ time. The 2nd bonus is just… e’en mo’ o’ dodging Klasps on ropes just to get to the end, just like the rest o’ the level. I guess there’s a time limit, but since you have to move quickly, anyway, it’s meaningless.

As for Koin, you just have to go past the ending flagpole to find the steel barrel. The rest is just as free.

The only positive things I can say ’bout this level is that despite being so basic & repetitive, it’s a’least fast-paced & short, in contrast to the o’erlong slog that “Krevice Keepers” is, so it’s still a pretty fun romp. This level also uses the gorgeous pier graphics with a better palette than “Lakeside Limbo”, tho a worse palette than “Tidal Trouble”. @ this point o’ the game, it’s nice to see this type o’ level ’gain; it’s just too bad the level construction itself wasn’t better.

27. Demolition Drain-Pipe

I praised the 1st DKC’s infamous mine cart level for being 100% fair. Unfortunately, that doesn’t apply to this far less memorable version, which drills into your head to jump o’er the awkward-looking pipes with a different perspective from the rest o’ the level ( the ground is perfectly flat, like most 2D games, but the pipes are 3D, making it look like they’re sticking partway out o’ the wall & are @ an angle ), only to give you a pipe you’re suddenly s’posed to jump on, for right after it is a hole that will inevitably run you into a wall if you fall in. To be fair, looking @ the map, I can see bananas there — yellow bananas that blend in quite a bit with the yellow background. The controls & mechanics also feel far flakier than in the original DKC: the top bar’s hit box seems o’erly generous, causing you to clasp to it e’en when you’re still quite below it, & trying to jump down can feel unresponsive, which is a problem for a fast-paced level where you’re expected to weave out o’ the way o’ Zingers just before you hit them.

Still, despite these nitpicks, this is a fast-paced level where being 1-dimensional arguably helps it — certainly better than the slower levels. It’s definitely not as good as the rollercoaster & haunted library cart levels in DKC2, in both aesthetics & gameplay, but I would say it’s funner than the 1st DKC’s. While it lacks the gimmicks o’ DKC2’s cart levels that helped them stand out, 1 advantage this level has o’er the mine cart levels in both its predecessors is that the elements are mo’ packed together, making it feel mo’ exciting. While e’en the best DKC2 rollercoaster level had some lulls where you’re waiting, this level feels like I have to constantly be acting.

The bonus barrel placements are both abuses o’ DKC3’s cliché tactic o’ expecting the player to aim for a suspicious single banana, with 1 up on a rafter with Zingers you have to weave round, which is a fine placement, — tho I’d argue making it just an out-in-the-open bonus barrel wouldn’t have been any harder a “puzzle” & would’ve felt less cheap — & then later in a hole, which, in all other cases hurt you if you fall in. Hiding bonuses in pits with suspicious bananas in them is the tritest DKC trick. This is the downside to “Demolition Drain-Pipe” having such a linear design: there’s nowhere good to hide bonuses. The developers must’ve come half to their senses come the GBA remake, as the 2nd bonus shows up as a regular bonus barrel in that version, tho the 1st is still just hidden ’hind a banana.

As for the bonus challenges themselves, they’re pretty decent, given the few bonus types this game limits itself to. Both involve mo’ precise aiming, — you don’t just dodge dangers, but have to specifically hit all enemies & hit all ornaments — elevating the challenge in a fair way when all too many other levels’ bonuses just settled for more o’ the level’s main gimmick. I e’en have to give this level credit for using the rather underutilized “Bash the Baddies” bonus, which you’d especially not expect in this level. If I were blind to this level & only this level & had to bet, I’d bet all my money on it being just a “reach the bonus coin” bonus, which would be, like I said, just playing a short level with the same gimmick as the main level.

The Koin challenge isn’t e’en worth talking ’bout. He’s just @ the end & there’s no puzzle to defeating him. The 1st level’s Koin was mo’ challenging. This level is a perfect example o’ how clinging stubbornly to having Koin keep the hero coin in e’ery single level was a bad idea & that allowing some o’ the hero coins be collected just out in the open as DKC2 ( as well as Donkey Kong Land 3, which was based heavily on this game ), as creating a challenge where the player has to maneuver to a particularly inconvenient place to collect the hero coin while charging forward would’ve been far mo’ compelling than this empty busywork.

While this level uses the graphics from the pipe levels, its music is the much, much mo’ exciting “Hot Pursuit”, mo’ fitting for a level where you race down a track on a go-kart, building up speed & urgency as it goes, but feeling fresher than most urgent video game songs by adding some dance beats to it. The GBA version is catchy & has some nice beats that turn the GBA’s muffled sound sound like a deliberate low-fi style rather than a limitation, but lacks the urgency & feels too laid back for the kind o’ levels in which you encounter it. This is probably why “Riverside Race” uses the same song as most the other riverside levels, while “Stampede Sprint” has its own unique song in the GBA version.

26. Surf’s Up ( GBA only )

Unlike most other “Pacifica” levels, “Surf’s Up” does have a focal gimmick: it steals the focal gimmick from “Demolition Drain-Pipe”, without e’en changing the palette o’ the level, despite there being plenty of other palettes for this theme used in other levels. It also still manages to be less focused than that level — which is no surprise, as it’s in the SNES version, where most levels are monotonously focused on their gimmicks — with the ending ¼ just throwing various enemy types @ you down a long hallway, many o’ which don’t fit @ all, like the Knik-Knaks @ the very end.

¿So why is this level higher than “Demolition Drain-Pipe”? Well, for 1, a li’l variation is a good thing, e’en if it’s all saved for the later ¼. Unlike other “Pacifica” levels, this level doesn’t feel any less focused ’cause o’ it. 2nd, the arrangement o’ dangers during the cart section is both trickier & yet also fairer, not relying on scams like the pipe trick, but ’stead relying on just much mo’ complex & tighter arrangements o’ Zingers.

As for the gauntlet o’ enemies @ the end, while some o’ them are just Krumples & Krimps followed 1 after the other, the Zinger sections are in clever arrangements, such as the long line you can barely run under or the Zingers that go back & forth in parabolas or those that spin in o’erlapping circles with few safe places.

The bonuses outright suck, howe’er. Undoing the good work they did in “Demolition Drain-Pipe” by making the single banana in the hole just show its bonus barrel, this level repeats the trick that the SNES version does, but with just that single banana. The 2nd bonus barrel is just to the left o’ a section near the end just after an arrow barrel, guarded by a single yellow Knik-Knak.

The 2 bonuses fall into opposite problems: the 1st bonus has nothing to do with this level, having you collect stars in a blue underwater pipe area as if this were “Dingy Drain-Pipe”. The 2nd bonus is just mo’ dodging Zingers on a cart, but less intricate than the level itself, & thus less interesting.

Koin is in a weird place, near the end as always. You just go down a barrel cannon, also guarded by a yellow Knik-Knak. There is the slight challenge o’ getting the steel barrel to dispatch Koin with without it or yourself being hit by the red Zinger spinning round it.

25. Rocket Barrel Ride

A mix o’ repetitive setpieces ( ne’er get tired o’ seeing a single Krimp slowly walk toward me from the edge o’ the screen or having to blast o’er Zingers ) & a generic mechanic o’ barrels that move a li’l bit automatically before shooting you, which are less advanced than some o’ the barrel shenanigans in DKC1, makes this level lose many points. Worse, this level doesn’t e’en lay out its setpieces well: in a stark contrast to DKC1 & specially DKC2, Zingers are not laid out so that you can go thru the barrel blast sections seamlessly without waiting, but, in fact, force you to tediously wait a few blasts before then shooting past them. There’s no extra challenge here, since you had to aim your movement just as deftly in those past games, it’s just slower here.

’Nother problem is that this level feels very similar to a level that comes just 2 levels after this, but this 1 is far worse, not only in terms o’ its mo’ generic mechanics & less interesting layouts, but e’en in its color palette, which is somehow both bland in how commonplace green grass & brown dirt & also garish in how red the dirt is, giving us an eyesore with red & green right next to each other.

This level’s layout is also very weird, with plenty o’ pieces that don’t fit well. Near the beginning you have a pointless rocket barrel ’hind a waterfall that just leads to a bunch o’ bananas ( ¿why not put the DK barrel there ’stead o’ just on flat ground before this? ) & later if you go past the rocket barrel just after the 1st on the main path, you just reach a dead end with a banana arrow telling you to go back. ¿Why not just have the ground below the 2nd rocket barrel not continue rightward? ¿Why have this extra section with just a dead end @ all? Later in the level there’s a sidepath with 2 Krumples that has nothing to do with the level, but a’least that has a 1-up hidden @ the end o’ its path.

This level’s not all, bad, tho. The section with Parry where you have to weave ’tween Zingers to keep both you & it ’live is kind o’ fun, albeit it gets a bit repetitive, too. It’s too bad all you get for keeping Parry ’live are frivolous 1-ups in a game that should’ve stopped having lives already. Also, it doesn’t fit in with the rest o’ the level’s obsession with barrel blasting all that much. In fact, it could probably be put in any level, truly. Also, the janky hit detection on the cliffs can make these sections annoying, as it’s easy to just slip off onto a Zinger.

The bonuses are pretty good, tho: both bonus barrels are hidden in places that are not obvious, but are still reasonable to find by anyone with sufficient curiosity & paying attention. The 1st is in some side area accessed by hopping o’er a series o’ Knik-Knaks in the air after shooting in the other direction in a rocket barrel clearing pointing in the other direction. The 2nd is just past a main rocket barrel, down on a foreground cliff that’s easy to pass off as just scenery.

The 1st bonus challenge has a cool arrangement of ornaments, challenging you to pay attention to where they are & both do regular platforming in addition to barrel blasting — tho the GBA version removes the extra green bananas, as they have them, on the side, presumably ’cause they were concerned that players wouldn’t be able to see them gainst the bright terrain. The 2nd bonus has interesting ornament arrangements where you have to aim your blasts in the rocket barrels to get them all without running out o’ time. Both do a good job o’ integrating this level’s main mechanics without feeling redundant to the level itself. They are both the same “collect the ornaments” type bonus, but they’re different ’nough.

Koin is right next to the end goal, with its steel barrel impossible to miss. Considering all the extra space this level had not used for much, you’d think they could’ve found a mo’ inspired location. The aforementioned banana arrow section would’ve been better, since it wasn’t @ the end, which is an o’erused placement for Koin. Its puzzle is basically just, “¿Do you know how to make a barrel roll slowly by throwing it upward?”, before jumping into the conveniently-placed blast barrel right next to the steel barrel. Ne’ertheless, this is ’bove average for Koin challenges.

This level does have 1 unique element going for it: it is the only level in the game to have the elusive gold-&-red Zinger, found near the end o’ the level by reaching the very top, spawning Koin, & then coming back down ’gain. I’m baffled as to why only 1 o’ the Zingers gets its palette glitched. ¿Does it share its sprite slot with Koin?

24. Tidal Trouble

This level finds a better balance ’tween not being too hard or complicated for an early level without being as 1-dimensional or boring as “Lakeside Limbo”, providing layouts o’ moving Kocos & Zingers, which are still simple for novice players to move thru compared to mo’ complicated later levels, but not free or pointless. & if it’s not free ’nough, near the beginning o’ a water section there’s an Enguarde you find by swimming backward under the pier where you 1st drop down, who allows you to plow thru a few enemies, which is mo’ in line with the Rambi handicap that the 1st levels o’ DKC 1 & 2 offers than the useless Ellie o’ “Lakeside Limbo” — albeit, this use o’ Enguarde is still much mo’ limited than Rambi’s power in those other levels. Ironically, you’ll be able to use Enguarde for longer stretches o’ time in much later levels, including the last level o’ the game.

If anything, this level is maybe a bit too difficult for so early. For example, there’s a slight tide ( much stronger on the GBA version, for some reason ) that doesn’t add much to this level, other than making its controls a li’l wonky. There’s also 1 part where a Zinger can snipe you from offscreen if you’re not expecting it. Then ’gain, it’s probably still easier than the 2nd level in the original Donkey Kong Country.

I do like how they introduce Knocka: near the beginning o’ the level, they just knock you into the water; but @ the end, the water they can knock you into is swarming with a red Koco ( green in the GBA version ), making it an actual threat.

The 1st bonus barrel location works well for an early-game level: half o’ it is just finding the aforementioned secret Enguarde, while the other half is plowing past the 1st pier where the game leads you to think you should go back up ( but can’t, since this Enguarde you can’t dismount, & Enguarde can’t jump ), past a wall o’ fish, to find a bonus barrel hidden under that pier.

The 2nd bonus barrel is infamous for expecting you to use Kiddy’s obscure ( if you didn’t read the instruction manual ) water bounce mechanic that is only used in 1 other level. I want to emphasize “expected”, as you actually can reach the 2nd bonus barrel by doing a roll jump off the platform & hovering o’er to it as Dixie, with tight timing — which is precisely how I used to do it when I was young, ’cause I didn’t read the instruction manual & didn’t know how to water bounce. This water bounce mechanic feels thrown in & is useful so few times that it’s jarring when you actually do use it, which is worsened by how strict the timing is & the fact that it’s still easy to not make it to the platforms if you don’t have a long ’nough running start before rolling off the platform. The least they could’ve done was allow you to get back up if you miss the jump — which they did ’ventually do for the GBA remake.

The 1st bonus game is simple, but ’gain, fitting for this early in the game, challenging you to grab all the stars round a single Lurchin in the middle. It e’en offers different strategy options: ¿do you keep keeping ’way from the Lurchin to avoid hitting it & possibly failing, or do you time your attack so you kill it, leaving the area safe for the rest o’ the bonus? The 2nd bonus challenges you to bop on Knik-Knaks & defeat them all, which also fits. That said, I find it weird that they allow no 2nd chances when missing the bonus barrel itself, but within the bonus game, it gives you a rope for you to safely land on after bopping a Knik-Knak, rather than challenging you to bop from enemy to enemy without missing.

Koin is right @ the start, but they hide the steel barrel needed to defeat him on top o’ the roof @ the start, which is fine for so early in the game. I don’t feel like they needed to smack the player in the head with the answer & have a giant “A” formation o’ bananas @ the start, tho. Yes, this is an early-game level, but the hero coin isn’t mandatory for advancing forward, so having a li’l mo’ challenge for a bonus would’ve been fair.

O’erall, this is just a better “Lakeside Limbo” in e’ery way, specially with its sunset purple-&-creamy-white palette. I can understand the designers finding it a bit too hard to be a 1st level, but it certainly would’ve made a stronger start.

23. Springin’ Spiders

This level’s main gimmick is a good balance ’tween offering something different from other levels while not going so far as to jerk the player into what feels like a different genre. Bouncing platforms that you have to time your jumps off aren’t the most brilliant gimmick, but they do offer something beyond basic solid platforms. Having these hopping platforms be represented as planks o’ wood with spiders under them is a unique visual gag, far mo’ creative than just having your Kongs ride a rocket or dodge flying birds.

The easygoing nature o’ using them works well for early in the game, while still smoothly & lightly increasing the challenge later on in the level by adding Zingers in trickier places. Granted, I would have put this level @ the beginning o’ the world, specially since it’s much easier ( & better o’erall ) than “Barrel Shield Bust-Up”. The developers seemed to agree with me, as they did later do this very same thing in the GBA version.

While there aren’t that many variations, & like many DKC3 levels, this does rely a bit too much on the gimmick, making it feel a bit repetitive, this gimmick feels simple & loose ’nough & there are subtle differences ’tween each instance that make it not as bad as “Barrel Shield Bust-Up”. Plus, the Squawks section, as minimal as it is, does break up the monotony a bit mo’, as well as this 1 use o’ Swoopy to reach the G, foreshadowing its use to a greater extent far off @ the end o’ the game in “Swoopy Salvo”.

The shape o’ this level is a comfy balance ’tween being too linear & being too labyrinthine. For the most part it’s a single path, just 1 that zigzags ’long the 2 trees, but in a way that feels unpredictable, with the 1 exception being a hidden alternate path high up, accessible only if you find the hidden Squawks. This alternate path allows the player to avoid a few challenges & collect a long line o’ bananas ’stead & meets back up with the main path @ a square o’ 4 rooms, which includes the bonus, allowing you to find it no matter what path you take.

There is also a weird alternate route found by using a Nid below a platform from where you drop off; howe’er, the alternate path doesn’t offer anything different from the main path, but to skip 1 harmless Nid later, which is balanced out by having to take an extra Nid — which is mo’ dangerous, since it’s near a red Zinger — to reach the alternate path in the 1st place. The alternate path does have an N… but so does the main path.

While the aforementioned 1st bonus’s position is fine ’nough — not the most interesting, but certainly mo’ interesting that the norm — the 2nd bonus is just down a certain section with a single banana hinting that it’s down there. Since these levels have no bottomless pits, they didn’t need the banana there, & I would say it would’ve been less obvious if it wasn’t there. Without the risk o’ bottomless pits, players should have the curiosity to try off-the-main-path detours without needing bananas to lead them.

The 1st bonus challenge requires grabbing appearing & disappearing presents as Squawks, which feels a bit too challenging for this early in the game. Considering “Swoopy Salvo” already has this same bonus with Squawks, it also feels repetitve. I think it would’ve been better to have this gimmick use the springin’s spiders, with maybe a Zinger in the middle, if the extra challenge is needed.

The 2nd challenge involves using a springin’ spider to bounce up to a high place & then fall down & try to grab all the ornaments. If you miss any, you have to go all the way round, wasting time. While I like this somewhat unique challenge, it’s a frivolous 1, since you have plenty o’ time to take multiple tries, & Dixie makes it mindlessly easy to grab them all going down with her helicopter hair. They could’ve created a far mo’ intricate path of ornaments & made a much mo’ interesting bonus.

But Koin’s position is surprisingly well-hidden way up ’bove a long passageway that one would not believe you could reach & uses the level’s gimmick in a unique way to require it, by making you use the springing spiders to get yourself just ’nough height to throw a Dixie up to the very-high ledge. The only downside is that not being able to double-team while on a springin’ spider is needlessly annoying.

Sadly, the GBA version ruins this by shortening the height you can throw Dixie with Kiddy — presumably due to the shrunken screen — without lowering the platform with the steel barrel, making it too high to reach. You might think that that would make this hero coin impossible to get on the GBA version, but later on there’s a new way to go round the other way with a breakable wall & a TNT barrel right next to it. Not only does this effectively make Koin no longer hidden, as this alternate route is blaringly obvious, it’s frustrating for players familiar with the original SNES version: I wasted several minutes trying in vain to throw Dixie up that platform, refusing to believe the developers would make a previously-possible puzzle straight-up impossible & ne’er close to assuming they would just replace it with ’nother a backdoor route later on. ¿Why e’en have that platform there if you can’t reach it anymo’?

O’erall: a solid but uneventful level.

I also like this level’s chilly pale pink & mint green palette, which looks different from the kind o’ colors you’d expect to see in a forest while still being believable. Howe’er, I think I actually prefer the warmer GBA palette with the bright yellow skies.