Donkey Kong Country 2 Is Better Than Your Favorite Game*
Sequels are always a tricky thing, none more so than in the world of video games. Ideally, the developers will want to provide a new experience from the first without alienating fans of the original. Sometimes the latter problem is an inevitability. Super Mario Bros. 2 is perhaps the most contested entry in that series due to it starting life as a completely different game with the Mario brand stamped across it. While this author adores it, he was never that devoted a fan of the original's mechanics (nor the third's). However, Super Mario Bros. 2 isn't alone. Many direct Nintendo sequels have suffered from differing too much from the first. The second Zelda, Link's Adventure, inserted side-scrolling elements and is considered by many to be the worst first-party effort in the series. Mario Kart 64 is despised by many diehards of the original, while Mario Kart Double Dash!! is usually hated by fans of the 64 game.
Donkey Kong Country fans don't have that problem. In fact, we were probably blessed with the best all-around sequel any game has ever gotten. Sure, cases could be made on the second improving on the first elsewhere (Mortal Kombat II, for instance), but only a diehard DKC devotee would immediately understand what makes DKC2 so special.
"Pirates! Rambi riding a Balloon! Big Knife! Spiky Bramble Things! Illogical Starting Boost! Run in Terror! Haunted Roller-Coaster Library! Tendency to Float Upwards! Gameplay Sequence Reused in Kameo! Level That Other People Find Difficult!
"Awesome Flying Kroc Music!
"Terrifying Wind Parrot Brambles!
Don't understand? Don't worry. In six paragraphs or less, I'm going to attempt to explain why DKC fans always passionately defend DKC2 and revere is so highly, be it in any incarnation (SNES, GBA, or GB follow-up Donkey Kong Land 2). Hopefully by the end of it, you'll understand too.
What many critics don't get about the first Donkey Kong Country is how big a part the fictional world itself played into the game's feel and the enthusiasm it created among gamers. Donkey Kong Island seemed like a real, natural wonderland illogically populated by intelligent apes and monkeys. Visiting it via DKC was like playing part in an interactive Indiana Jones adventure. Lush jungles, ancient temples, minecarts, and even a pirate ship. If that didn't excite you, you didn't have a pulse. What's more, you slowly bought into the Kongs themselves. The dynamics between Donkey and Cranky Kong, Donkey and Diddy, and so forth made them more endearing than most video game characters. After DKC (and the original Donkey Kong Land), we fans were eager to return to that world.
Unlike so many of the sequels of the time, DKC2 felt like we were rejoining that world in real time. A year had passed since DKC, and so it was in the game as well. The fact that the game wasn't given a complete graphical makeover from the original helped this immensely. While some models were tweaked and the overall visual presentation was amped up dramatically, the world still looked the same. These touches helped sell the plot all the more: The kidnapping of Donkey Kong, the main character, and the hero quest of sidekick Diddy Kong.
Making Diddy Kong the star of the second DKC was indeed a bold move. Removing Donkey Kong from Donkey Kong Country seemed shocking at first, but it undoubtedly worked. Continuing the theme of the first game of generational video game stars, DKC2 concluded the subplot of Diddy wishing to be a hero just like Donkey Kong by forcing him to rescue his mentor. While a controversial move for Nintendo fans who don't follow the series (the ones who think this Donkey Kong is the original), it struck a chord with those that payed attention to DKC. Donkey Kong may have his name in the title, but this world wouldn't revolve around just him. Others would rise up and be the center of attention, making the possibilities utterly limitless. Plus, it was a nifty homage to the arcade Donkey Kong Jr., putting the title character of that game through the same ordeal he had to rescue his father from when he first became a video game hero.
Diddy wouldn't be alone on his adventure, and one of the things DKC2 is most well-known for is introducing the character of Dixie Kong. In the mid-'90s, there wasn't much in the way of female video game heroes. There was Samus, but this was years before she would parade around in a skimpy catsuit. Hardly anyone realized she was female. Lara Croft was on the horizon, but I'm not sure masturbatory characters count as being proactive in gender equality. Dixie, probably by benefit of being a child monkey, wasn't given giant breasts or any of the usual trappings video game designers (yeah, especially Rare) put on their female characters. She was just a girl, one who could kick even more ass than Diddy Kong thanks to her helicopter wafting ability. As much as I love Diddy, even I'll admit I vastly preferred playing as Dixie. The few and proud girl gamers of that era immediately took to the character, to the point where the DKC2 formula of promoting the sidekick would be repeated a year later for DKC3.
So DKC2 was DKC with even more kickass stars, but surely it provided more to grant it such revered status? Indeed. The action moved from Donkey Kong Island to the, until then, unseen island of the Kremlings: Crocodile Isle. The shift in locale also brought a shift in tone. The aesthetics were darker this time around. While the series didn't lose the feeling of a grand tropical adventure, you were now exploring something straight out of the darkest Kipling novels (minus the racist undertones). The Kremlings were also rebranded as pirates, giving the entire game a nautical flair that meshed so well with the games that many fans pine for it to return (it left the series in DKC3, in favor of the notion that K. Rool constantly reinvents himself and his army). Monkeys on a sinister tropical island overrun by crocodile pirates? If that's not your idea of a good time, kindly choke on your own inhumanity.
But what of the gameplay? Well, in '70s radio disc jockey terminology, it rocked. If the accusations of shallowness hold any weight for the original DKC, Diddy's Kong Quest lifted them with ease. Stages were much more complex this time around. Massive labyrinths made from ship holds, beehives, and bramble tangles ruled the day. The enemies and obstacles were downright fierce compared to most platformers. Hell, one of the reasons those who dislike the game give is that it's so challenging. But it wasn't just enemies and obstacles that made it a tough play. Hero Coins were hidden in every stage, tied into the plot of proving yourself to Cranky. There was also now an incentive to find all of the bonus areas in the game: You would be rewarded with Kremcoins, which in turn could be cashed in for access to the Lost World, a collection of underground stages that would eventually lead to the absolute final ending of the game. And what an ending it was. Watching Crocodile Isle go up in brillaint blue laser light was one of the most satisfying conclusions to a game ever. You felt like the whole experience had been worth it for that one jaw-droppingly beautiful cutscene.
Hey, don't take my word for it!
"Unlike most regular, "sane" gamers who had their most pirate DK experience with 2 on the SNES, my first experience was actually unintended at first. Summer 2004 was the time frame where a particular friendly neighborhood superhero was ruling the big screen and game systems. I went into a Gamestop fully intent on getting said friendly neighborhood game until 3 banana yellow Game Boy cartridges changed my mind, DKL2 being one of them. DKL2 was in essence my first DK game in the DKC/DKL era. It was at the time 8 years old, and yet in 2004 it felt so new to me. I was amazed at not only how good it was back then, but how it was entertaining, challenging, and long (that's what she said), especially for a Game Boy title. It was a breath of fresh air when good GBA games during that time were beginning to become scarce, which is poetic when you realize that a GB game was enthralling me at the time.
"DKC2 for the GBA came out months later and continued to amaze me despite never owning the original game. A few months ago we were graced with the SNES version on the Virtual Console. While I was enticed by the odd effect of seeing the graphics in order of ascending quality, DKC2 GBA earns recognition for being portable in a time where portable games appeal to me much more than console games.
"Above all else, DKL2 was the first DKL/DKC game to make me affirm that while Diddy and Dixie weren't pirates, they had good swashbuckling adventures from beginning to end. In my opinion, Rare should've remade the Land games on the GBA to not only take advantage of the portable DK craze, but to give the forgotten DKL trilogy a new audience. Despite this, DKL2 still holds up very well after eleven years of existence."
"Donkey Kong Country 2 'tis truly a tribute t' th' seadogs o' these seven seas. Aye, I remember when I first laid me eye on it...oh, musta been nearly a dozen years ago. Back in me darker days, when th' coveted bounty that be a video game came naught but twice a year (Me, arr, financial situation in those times were as taut as a sail in th' stormiest sea).
"Th' powers that be had blessed me with th' promise o' a game t' celebrate th' anniversaray o' me birth. Given th' choice betwixt the plethora o' "monkeys fighting reptiles on an island" titles in th' yarr 1995 (both of 'em), I like t' think that I made th' righ' choice. Years later, I still pick up th' gem and play through it all, takin' in all th' beauty that were ASM graphics. I remember cowerin' in fear o' that damned flyin' sword and those pirates what haunted th' rollercoaster in a giant library for no real reason. And the music, oh, th' music. I swear I'll keep those tunes with me t' me grave.
"Young swabbies these days, with thar "HD" and thar "Wi-Fi" and thar "Japan Magic Creative" don't know what thar missin'. Oh, it jus' breaks an ol' pirates heart, yarr."
See? DKC2 is so good it makes people certifiably crazy.
Is it hot in here or is it just Slush?
*Unless your favorite game is Donkey Kong Country 2.