Re-reading the sidebars in that article about DK’s history at 1UP, I just want to say that I don’t think that Donkey Kong Country or Diddy’s Kong Quest were bad at all. “Mediocre” gameplay seems a bit harsh, really.
DKC3 was alright, though I never did finish it, after several starts. I suppose one could say that the DKC games might not lend themselves as well to “sequel-itis” as other series, but the first two games I think were quite solid, and the first felt especially fluid to me, as I think back to the Blockbuster game championships where I had to practically get movement through stages down to an art form that never really stopped.
Of course, the rotating cast might not have helped, either. I mean, by the third game, none of the original characters were playable anymore.
…DK64, on the other hand… if I ever get a player’s guide, I might try that one again, but…
I’m not trying to say that Donkey Kong Country would topple Super Mario Bros. 3 or anything like that, but I do think it was a lot better than simply “mediocre.”
In the end, though, even if the graphics were more akin to Donkey Kong ’94 on the Game Boy, I still think it would have been a run romp.