1996 was the year that modern video games as we know them began to truly emerge. The Nintendo 64 was released in America and Japan, finally giving its parent company a 3D competitor to Sony’s PlayStation and the Sega Saturn. Games like Super Mario 64 gave a new look to familiar faces, Pokémon Red and Blue were pulling millions away from their consoles to their mobile GameBoys, and Quake was redefining online play on the PC.
It was in this climate that one of the most underrated Donkey Kong games of all time was released.
Amidst all of these industry changes, gamers can be forgiven for not remembering Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble! It is a game built for a console growing more obsolete by the day, Dixie Kong marked the beginning of the end for the SNES. But being a legacy doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. Dixie Kong builds on most of the successes of the franchise for an entertaining and challenging game.
Donkey Kong Country had given Nintendo a bulwark against the competition as it readied the N64. Its sequel, Diddy’s Kong Quest, developed new characters and built a cult following around its soundtrack. Dixie Kong continues on this building process, adding another new character and some intriguing gameplay. If you’re a paid Nintendo Switch online subscriber, it can be played right now by downloading the Super Nintendo Entertainment System app.
Its forerunner had introduced Dixie Kong, whose ponytail could help with grappling hooks. In turn, DKC3 introduced Kiddy Kong, a large toddler who was super-strong. For the first time, the series truly embraced having differing abilities. Dixie is faster than Kiddy and capable of some nifty gliding. Kiddy is stronger than his older cousin, capable of picking her up and throwing her to places they couldn’t reach otherwise.
It’s an effective combination, and even that changes during gameplay.
There’s one level where the two are transformed into animal friend Ellie the Elephant, who throws barrels with her trunk and runs away from mice when they face her. It’s a character weakness that is both cute and a struggle to figure out until you remember the old trope from Saturday morning cartoons. The player regularly turns into animals throughout the game, including the familiar Enguarde the Swordfish.
In terms of setting, the game moves from the friendly confines of Donkey Kong Island to the Northern Kremisphere, the home to the enemy Kremlings. Gone are the tropical settings, with tree and ice-based levels taking their place. Full and partial water levels also make regular appearances in Dixie Kong, sometimes used to escape hordes of killer bees in timed levels.
The levels are also generally larger, easy to get lost in if you’re not careful. In one level, Squeals on Wheels, Dixie, and Kiddie are made to eliminate rodents that are running in guarded wheels. Progress is measured by a pseudo-thermometer that shifts from red to green with each rodent eliminated.
After failing to break through a barricade of two unkillable wasps, I ignored one in hopes that the level would let me move on despite missing one. No dice, as I had to retrace my steps once I reached the end, climbing back down the ropes and jumping on the panels all over again. Dixie Kong can demand an at-times breakneck precision, although the game can be forgiving when it comes to picking up new lives.
There was interest in Dixie Kong at the time of the game’s release, as befitting an ambitiously large entry in a best-selling franchise. But that interest was undoubtedly dulled by the fact that it was competing with Crash Bandicoot and Mario 64. While it has been brought along with its siblings to Switch Online, it lacks the fanbase of either.
Brendan Gunn, a programmer on all three DKC games, told Nintendo Life in 2014 that while he had been offered a position on what would eventually become Banjo Kazooie, he “decided to play it safe, so I said I'd do the sequel. It was more of the same, but doing things better. I carried on with Donkey Kong Country 3.”
Perhaps this is why DK3 lacks the reputation of the first two games. While it builds on the previous entries, there are no major innovations within. It’s more of the same but adding in odd meters and gyrocopters.
But if Dixie Kong began the Super Nintendo’s two-year-long goodbye, it showed what the console could do when pushed to its limits. Continued improvements in Advanced Computer Modeling, the technique Rare used for creating the pre-rendered models in the series, means that the game looks terrific.
With bright colors, clever puzzles, and a good soundtrack in its own right, Dixie Kong is worthy of the Donkey Kong Country name.