15 Oct GREATEST.GAMES.EVER – Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest
The mid 1990s were owned by Donkey Kong Country. In a previous piece I had written, 1994 represented the return of Donkey Kong to the limelight with DKC and the oft-overlooked Donkey Kong ‘94. DKC was a massive success and ultimately gift wrapped the 16-bit console war victory to Nintendo and the SNES. Many of we 30-something gamers have fond memories of Donkey Kong Country, it’s visual style, and David’s Wise’s beautiful soundtrack. Legend has it that Nintendo wasn’t as big a fan of DKC, as the infamous quote from DK’s creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, saying in a 1994 interview with EGM “Donkey Kong Country proves that players will put up with mediocre gameplay as long as the art is good”. Harsh words from the godfather of Japanese gaming! To Miyamoto’s credit when I go back and play Donkey Kong Country I do notice that there’s a lot of mindless collection with very significant benefits. You collect banana after banana with the only reward being an extra life. There are animal trophies that grand you…extra lives. There are bonus stages that give you the gift of, you called it, extra lives. The secrets don’t do anything and ultimately feel meaningless. While I enjoy Donkey Kong Country from a nostalgic point of view (and I LOVE Donkey Kong as a character), DKC is lacking in the gameplay department. Rare gave us a beautiful game to look at, but it lacked a great deal of substance. I will never call DKC a bad game, but I can see why Nintendo was a bit unhappy with the gameplay. Luckily for us, 364 days after the release of Donkey Kong Country, Rare and Nintendo got together to deliver one of the greatest 2D platformers of all time, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest (conquest, get it!!)
I remember getting DKC2 for Christmas in 1995 and I couldn’t have been happier. I loved DKC and still have a great deal of appreciation for 2D platformers. As a kid, I always got amped for the next game in the series I loved. I remember spending the entire Christmas break switching between Mortal Kombat 3, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, and Donkey Kong Country 2. The SNES got a lot of playtime that holiday and rightfully so! I wasn’t in on the PlayStation yet, so it was still Super Nintendo all-the-time at the Staub Haus. As a 9 year old it never dawned on me that DKC2 could have been a response to Nintendo’s criticism of its predecessor. Looking back as an adult who’s spent the past 20 years studying this industry, I can see how Rare took the criticism from Miyamoto and created a beautiful and more robust DKC game with the second installment.
In a bold move, Donkey Kong Country 2 removes the title character, Donkey Kong as a playable avatar completely. The goal is to save DK from the clutches of Kaptain K. Rool, the pirate alter-ego of King K. Rool the leader of the reptilian Kremlings. Diddy teams up with his girlfriend, Dixie, to find their buddy DK and save Kong Island from their arch-nemeses. DKC2 starts where the first game ended on King K. Rool’s pirate ship, The Gang-Plank Galleon. Rare leans into the pirate theme in DKC2 giving a nice difference to the original game. There are sea shanties, pirate ships, and a lot of cannons. Diddy and Dixie venture beyond Kong Island into the belly of their sworn enemies on Crocodile Isle.
Diddy’s Kong Quest does much more than the original DKC and expands upon the collect-a-thon mechanics, but actually gives each item some value. Bonus stages give you Kremkoins that help grant you access to secret stages as part of the Lost World. Rare also added DK Coins as a collectable, and while these have no actual in-game value, they give you some end-game laughs with Cranky Kong, as you can compare your results against other popular Nintendo characters. Rare’s brilliant sense of humor is shown here as you can see Sonic’s Shoes and Earthworm Jim’s Raygun.
Aside from giving collectibles some meaning, DKC2 mixes up the gameplay with Diddy and Dixie. In the first game, DK and Diddy do not feel all that different. Donkey is stronger and can defeat heavy enemies while Diddy can cartwheel past certain enemies. Aside from that key difference both characters are fairly similar. Dixie introduces an entirely new element to the series, with the ability to use her ponytail like a helicopter blade, giving you more control over your descent after a fall or jump. This mechanic makes for some great exploration and with stages that have no time limit, it’s very important to have all sorts of goodies to find, Dixie makes traversal more varied and even more fun. In addition to the new characters and gameplay styles, DKC2 also introduces a piggy-back system to the mix. Diddie and Dixie can piggyback on each others’ backs allowing them to be thrown to cover more ground. It’s a great and fun mechanic that helps expand upon your verbs and also aid in traversal.
Donkey Kong Country 2 builds upon the first game’s style and pushes it a bit further. The environments are still amazing to look at as Diddy and Dixie traverse pirate ships, swamps, mines, and my personal favorite Bramble Patches. DKC2 also introduces us to Krazy Kremland, an evil theme park run by crocodile pirates complete with rollercoasters! It’s a great alternative to the minecart stages in DKC only this time you’re on a coaster cart. The level variability is my favorite aspect of DKC2, it feels like you’re adventuring through uncharted territory. David Wise returned to craft the soundtrack and his style shines from Pirate Ship to subterranean cave. Most importantly, he wrote the song Stickerbrush Symphony and it’s an all-time great.
Why is DKC2 one of the Greatest.Games.Ever? To me it was always about being a solid, fun, and atmospheric platformer. DKC games have mood to them; from their visuals to their audio design. I remember being atop a mast in DKC2 and hearing the music dim a bit and listening to the wind blowing through the sails of the ship. Combined with the brilliant artwork from Rare, DKC2 feels different from everything else around it. I love Yoshi’s Island 2 and the unique approach it takes to 2D Platforming, but DKC2 is of a different vein. Both games are amazing, but in 1995 DKC2 didn’t feel as though it fell in line with the other 2D platformers at the time. There were new characters and different environments, as well as great secrets and an entire bonus world, which also gave the game more of a challenge. I remember this being the first game guide I ever purchased, because I had to get all the Kremkoins and DK Coins. I became obsessed with getting 100% completion.
The need to scour every last corner of Donkey Kong Country 2 definitely fed into what I would only call my RPG spirit. I was still fairly new to the RPG at this time, so I didn’t realize how the collectibles in DKC2 would scratch that RPG gamer itch. I spent what felt like months on DKC2 finding as many of the bonus stages and DK coins as I could. I still remember where many of their locations are, it’s etched into my memories. DKC2 is important to the brand message of the SNES as a console that wanted to supply its users with something they couldn’t find in an arcade; games that felt large and expansive, capturing the spirit of exploration. Where Donkey Kong Country falls short, its sequel excels. It’s a bloody shame that DKC2 is not available on the SNES classic, but I gather they went with the original due to its cultural significance.
I like games that are fun and quirky, but also games that give me a little bit more than “run to the right and win”. DKC2 could absolutely be played that way, but the player has the option to see what the world has in store. Its greatness is shown by its ability to learn from its predecessor’s mistakes and craft a sequel that feels bigger and better. The world is expansive and ultimately feels lived-in. The expertly designed visuals and audio stand up with the best of the era. While I don’t think that DKC2 is the culmination of the generation, I think that it represents one of the finest 2D platforming experiences ever created. It’s fun, fluid gameplay combined with masterful design on all accounts make it a game to remember.
The spirit of Donkey Kong Country 2 lives on in DKC Returns: Tropical Freeze. It carries the torch for this wonderful series and pays a brilliant homage do Diddy’s adventure to Crocodile Isle. Retro Studios even got David Wise to compose the game’s soundtrack and recompose some hits from the original games. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest is one of the GREATEST. GAMES. EVER!