I was thrilled when I heard that Donkey Kong Country Returns would be released for the Wii during the 2010 holiday season, and pleased to learn that many features from the original trilogy would be left intact. One feature that I hope they bring back is the act of using animal sidekicks to get you through portions of various levels. I loved using the animal buddies in the original Donkey Kong Country trilogy, and to celebrate the long overdue return of this magnificent series, I shall take all twelve (including both variations of Squawks the Parrot) animal sidekicks and rank them from worst to best. These are the creatures that you can ride on, change into, or gain their assistance in some other way. The list is as follows…
12. Parry the Parallel Bird: I have no idea why Rare called Parry a “parallel bird,” but what I do know is that he is my least favorite animal sidekick. He flies above you, grabbing items that are out of your reach, and bringing him to a No Animal sign rewards you with extra lives or even a Bonus Barrel. However, he can get hit easily, and losing him means losing out of those nifty rewards. At times when you need to have Parry survive in order to make a Bonus Barrel appear, this can be especially frustrating. Granted, Parry shows up in only a few levels, but his tendency to get hit a lot easily makes him the weakest animal companion of them all.
11. Glimmer the Angler Fish: In the Glimmer’s Galleon stage of Donkey Kong Country 2, Glimmer uses his light to help you find your way through the murky waters. However, the screen is not so dark that it is difficult to find your way even without any help. Also, Glimmer only appears once in the entire trilogy, whereas the other companions appear in at least two levels in all three games combined. As such, he never gets another shot at helping you out. Glimmer is not so much a bad sidekick…he is just underutilized and not the useful partner he could have been.
10. Squawks the Parrot (purple): Compared to the green-colored version of Squawks, Purple Squawks is not all that useful. In his first appearance in Donkey Kong Country 2, he could carry you towards the bottom of a hive, but Dixie’s helicopter spin could have been used to accomplish the same task. He became more useful in Donkey Kong Country 3, but instead of spitting eggs at his foes, he had to drop barrels on them. At times, backtracking to grab a barrel was needed, and it ended up being a bit of a pain. Luckily, he only appeared in a couple of stages, but I wish that Rare would have made him just as good as, if not better than, his green counterpart.
9. Expresso the Ostrich: When it comes to being a fast sprinter, no one can top Expresso. His fast feet can serve him well, especially in the races featured in the Game Boy Advance version of Donkey Kong Country 2. He can also flap his wings and fly over gaps, which is useful for finding some bonus areas. His only flaw is that he cannot attack any enemies, as his feet are not strong enough to stomp on anyone, nor can he peck them. Even so, he is a good companion to have around, and he should have made more appearances than he did.
8. Clapper the Seal: Though he only shows up in two stages, Clapper proves to be as helpful as he is cute. Pat him on the back in Lava Lagoon, and he will cool down the scorching hot water long enough for you to swim to safety. In Clapper’s Cavern, he can freeze the water solid, protecting you from the hungry Snapjaw as you run to the other side, avoiding enemies as you go. Clapper would rank higher if he made more appearances, but the ways in which he aids you are useful and pretty neat.
7. Ellie the Elephant: Some fans feel that it was a mistake to replace Rambi with a young elephant, but I have grown fond of Ellie on account of how useful she can be. Her trunk can be used to carry and throw barrels, as well as to squirt water at her adversaries. If she has one weakness, it is that she tends to run away upon seeing a rat in the light. Indeed, one of the early levels of Donkey Kong Country 3 has you trying to attack rats from a distance so as to prevent Ellie from fleeing for her life. Still, Ellie is a pretty good sidekick who has been underrated and underutilized for too long. It is high time she makes a huge comeback.
6. Winky the Frog: This frog is handy to have around on account of all the things he can do. Winky can jump extra high, which is useful for reaching items and bonus barrels that would otherwise be out of the Kongs’ reach. He can also attack Zingers by jumping on their backs, whereas the Kongs would be injured if they tried to do the same thing. In short, Winky is a keeper in all of the levels in which he shows up, which is why I would have wanted to see him appear in more games.
5. Squitter the Spider: Spiders can be a terrifying sight for some people, but Squitter is one arachnid who is worth befriending. He can shoot webs to attack any enemy who gets in his way, and he can also create platform webs to help him cross gaps and reach high places. He can even angle his shots to get to higher or lower ground, but the platform webs vanish after a short time. Only enemies should fear this spider, as he is one of the most valuable sidekicks for the Kongs to have, and his webs can cause plenty of trouble for those pesky Kremlings.
4. Rattly the Rattlesnake: In some ways, Rattly could be considered the spiritual successor of Winky, as he can also jump high and take out Zingers with ease. However, the snake also possesses a super jump which, when powered up, enables him to leap even higher into the air. Naturally, he can reach high places with this move, and it is valuable for reaching some bonus barrels. It is unfortunate that Rattly only appeared in the second game of the series, as his impressive jumping abilities make him a wonderful companion.
3. Squawks the Parrot (green): In his debut appearance, all Squawks could do was carry a flashlight to help you see while you were exploring a dark cave. However, he became a lot more useful in subsequent games, as he could carry the Kongs through dangerous enemy terrain. The parrot could also spit eggs at anyone who would dare threaten the Kongs’ missions, and he never ran out of them. Honestly, every time I play as the purple version of Squawks, I find myself wishing it was his green counterpart instead, as the latter variation is far better than the former one will ever be.
2. Rambi the Rhinoceros: The first animal sidekick that the Kongs could become acquainted with is also one of the very best ones in existence. With his super strength, Rambi can knock down even the toughest enemies, and can break down doors that lead to bonus stages. He would later gain a super dash which would help him take out foes at breakneck speeds. Of all of the land-based sidekicks, no one can top Rambi, who is just plain awesome. When it comes to animal companions as a whole, however, Rambi is second only to…
1. Enguarde the Swordfish: In many underwater stages, the Kongs can count on Enguarde to help them deal with numerous aquatic enemies. With his sword-like bill, Enguarde can poke enemies, and his fast swimming also proves useful. In every game except the first, he also has a super dash which, much like Rambi’s, could help him take out a lot of enemies in no time. It is little wonder that Rare had him show up in all three games, since he is not only the best companion to have underwater, but he is the best of the animal companions, bar none.
As you can see, some animal buddies are more useful than others. A lot of them are fun to use, but some of them are a burden to have around. Even so, the inclusion of these sidekicks are a part of what made the Donkey Kong Country trilogy such a superb series. I truly hope that some of them show up in Donkey Kong Country Returns. They could gain some new abilities in that game, though I would be just as pleased if they did not change at all, as many of them were good enough to begin with. These animals are mostly great partners, and wonderful additions to the excellent cast of characters in the Donkey Kong series.