DONKEY KONG COUNTRY / Nintendo / SNES
Nintendo actually turned over the Donkey Kong franchise to Rare to go their own way with, so this one wasn't entirely their fault. Shigeru Miyamoto once commented of this game, "Donkey Kong Country proves that players will put up with mediocre gameplay as long as the art is good." That's more or less a nice one-sentence summary.
The graphics are indeed alright, though you really need a computer monitor of other high-res display to appreciate them, and the 3D rendering of the characters isn't quite as impressive just as a technical achievement as it was when the game was released. Overall, there's sort of a plasticy dead look to a lot of the characters and backgrounds which is really emphasized when played on a standard low-res TV.
The game is actually fairly fun all the way through the first world, even if it doesn't have the level design and replayability of a Mario game, and the music is pretty fantastic (Coral Caves anybody?). The game really starts to fall apart in the second world, where it introduces gameplay conventions it's going to be using for most of the rest of the game. There's a lot of sloppy pit-jumping contests, hit detection on enemies is pretty iffy sometimes (particularly when they're jumping and it's almost impossible to tell who has priority over whom until you've collided). The way the game is laid out, you don't have much of a space buffer between your character sprite and where the screen starts scrolling, which leads to a lot of cheap moments running face-first into a suddenly introduced enemy or dropping off a pit that you couldn't see while jumping down off a ledge.
The game also does a lot of mean shit too, like dropping you out of a bonus room over a pit and giving you only about a second to register what's going on and steer yourself to the left. The frequently used parts where you shoot yourself between floating barrels is annoying, the mine cart levels are a nightmare that require dying over and over and rote memorization to survive through. The whole thing is more often frustrating than fun, and has a sloppy shallow feel to it.
Overall reccommendation? Pick up the soundtrack, but leave the game behind. It's a false classic, a product of hype and visual gimmickery.
* Gameplay Video