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Sonic vs Donkey Kong

In this article I’ll compare my opinions about two very well-known 2D platform games for 16-bit consoles: “Sonic the hedgehog” and “Donkey Kong country”. Those games were released on different consoles (“Sonic” on Sega Genesis, “Donkey Kong” on SNES), but I don’t think that’s important, because both consoles have more-or-less comparable characteristics, so each game could be ported on another console. The reason why that has not happened is simple: Sega and Nintendo, producers of consoles, were making more money from consoles than from games, so they wanted those games to be exclusive to add more value to their consoles then to make profit from selling game ported to rival console. So, rivalry between consoles become rivalry between games. “Sonic” was developed by Sega itself, “Donkey Kong country” was developed by Rare, long-time partner of Nintendo. Both “Sonic” and “Donkey Kong” become “killer games”: games what made console worth buying. Producers of those games tried to make their best to produce true hit. The effect, in my opinion, was not an advantage of one console over another, but advantage of 16-bit consoles in general compared with 8-bit consoles.

Just to show that both consoles are quite equal in their technical capabilities, consider third-party games such as “Mortal Kombat”, “Flashback” or “Lost vikings” which were released on both consoles, and look almost the same.

Rivalry between consoles had one important reason: kids were allowed money to get only one console, so they should choose carefully. Fortunatelly, now we have emulators, and we can enjoy all good games which existed on both consoles. At 90ths I didn’t own neither Sega Genesis nor SNES, so I’m writing my impressions of playing those games in modern times.

So, let’s compare “Sonic” and “Donkey Kong country”. I’ll start with similarities. Both games are typical 2D platformers: main part of gameplay is walking and jumping in attempt to reach end of level and collect as much bonuses as possible. Typical obstacles are touch-to-die enemies (usually patrolling some area), walls and pits. Both games are similar in that they are “peaceful” games: playing characters don’t carry guns, they defeat enemies by jumping or rolling on them, or just avoid them. Sonic is even more peacefull because all enemies are robots, and defeating them is an act of good because it saves small animal imprisoned inside.

“Sonic” has cartoonish colourfull, bright and sharp graphics with animated backdrops. Graphics of “Donkey Kong country” is smoother and more volumetric, without animation in backdrops. Both games start in bright forest area to impress players from beginning, later stages are more ambient. In my opinion, “Sonic” tries to impress player with amount of colour and animation on screen, while “Donkey Kong country” – with pre-rendered graphics itself, which is more beautiful and stylish in my opinion.

Main difference is the essence of gameplay. Sonic has big levels and emphasizes speed. Levels are non-linear, so players can spend their time exploring them to get more bonuses. If player doesn’t want to collect all bonuses, he can, in most cases, quickly run through level, crashing through enemies and flying over dangerous areas. Sometimes speed is a key to reach some difficult-to-access areas, which hold more bonuses. Really challenging task is to hold overall layout of level in the head, because levels are big and complex. Trampolines can send you jumping really high. But actions of player are very limited: there are only direction buttons and single button for jumping. Levels are grouped by thee sharing the same gamepay and appearance.

Gameplay in “Donkey Kong countrly” is more carefull and “strategic”, and less-dependant on reflexes: levels are more enemy-packed, sometimes player needs to bounce of enemy to reach bonus or safe passage. There are two characters with slightly different abilities, and player can choose one which is more suitable for task. Many helpfull things are hidden, but there are lot of clues, so exploration is very rewarding. There are heplfull things like barrels which work slightly similar to weapons. Variations also include: swinging on ropes, jumping of fixed or rollable tires, swimming, shooting from barrels, moving inside mine-cart, climbing on ropes, riding on animal helpers, and more.

Both games try to increase replayability by usage of bonuses, secret rooms, secret shortcuts, mini-games. Approach taken by “Donkey Kong contry” is best: they have complex and connected world, and player can return to areas he already completed to get additional “lives” by collecting bonuses, so bonus-hunting, not important at the beginning then player just wants to advance further, becomes important later. Number of secrets in “Donkey Kong country” is much bigger than in “Sonic”.

So, my conclusion is: while Sonic looks impressive with brite and sharp graphics, amount of animation, level size and gamestyle consisting of quick running and far jumping, after some time it is felt as more repetitive, more stupid, more dull, more empty and more childish for me. “Donkey Kong country” tries to add essence by making gameplay more strategic, environment more stylish, smooth, volumetric and breathing, story more humorous. However, both games are great, and represent state-of-art in 2D “hop-and-bop” style platformers, and stull fun to play nowdays. Highly recommended!

PS: if you like really in-depth analisys of platform games, read this article

Categories: Old games
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