Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

Donkey Kong Country was a tremendous success for the British developer Rare upon its 1994 release, capturing much media attention due to its advanced graphics and solid gameplay. While many developers would use the commercial success of a game for the grounds of making a sequel, Rare co-founder Tim Stamper sought to do so shortly after the release of their breakout hit. The employees behind the creation of Donkey Kong Country were satisfied with the final product, but had plenty of ideas remaining for another installment. Mr. Stamper found himself in the director’s chair once again with colleague Brendan Gunn returning as the lead designer. Though well-received, veteran gamers considered Donkey Kong Country too easy, so this sequel was to be significantly more challenging.

Utilizing the Silicon Graphics and Advanced Computer Modelling technology they used to take prerendered images, model them as three-dimensional objects, and transform them into two-dimensional sprites, they began their work. In a move that shocked fans, Diddy Kong, the original game’s deuteragonist, was to be the sequel’s protagonist. Artist and producer Steve Mayles stated that the team’s youth gave him the courage to disregard the risk they would have doubtlessly taken by pushing the title character out of the spotlight.

Development of this game, entitled Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest, proceeded smoothly, and saw its release roughly one year after the debut of the original. Like its predecessor, Donkey Kong Country 2 was highly acclaimed, with critics praising both the gameplay and the graphics. It cannot be denied that Rare supplanting the title character with one of their own creation was quite the daring gambit. To everyone’s surprise, it paid off, for Donkey Kong Country eventually became the sixth-best selling game on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). Was it truly able to deliver an experience worthy of being a follow-up to the acclaimed original?

Analyzing the Experience

Donkey Kong (DK) and Diddy have recovered their banana hoard from the forces of King K. Rool. However, the tyrannical king and his Kremlings are not easily deterred, and launch a counterattack. Now going by Kaptain K. Rool, he kidnaps DK, demanding the banana hoard from Diddy as a ransom payment. Unmoved by the king-turned-pirate captain’s demands, Diddy sets out to Crocodile Isle, determined to rescue his uncle.

Diddy’s adventure is sure to be more perilous and arduous than his last, and this is a fact the game conveys masterfully before you even enter a stage. The warm, inviting Donkey Kong Island effectively made the adventure a delightful romp. There was one exception, however. The penultimate world, Kremcroc Industries Inc., saw DK and Diddy navigate a Kremling base that was polluting the environment, injecting a minor streak of darkness to an otherwise lighthearted game.

To be sure, Diddy’s previous quest with DK was arduous, but it came across as the protagonists exploring their large, exotic backyard. Plus, people subconsciously associate jungles with danger, making the natural hazards found in the tropical paradise a package deal. What the aesthetical design of Crocodile Isle therefore accomplishes turns that one exception Kremcroc Industries Inc. provided into the rule.

Crocodile Isle is a foreboding place with a muted color scheme and a foreboding overworld theme composed in a minor key. In order to reach K. Rool’s Keep atop Crocodile Isle, Diddy must go through Crocodile Cauldron, Krem Quay, Krazy Kremland, Gloomy Gulch – which are a caldera, a swamp, a poorly built amusement park, and a haunted forest respectively. While Donkey Kong Island featured superficially inviting jungles, forests, and mountains, the very environment of Crocodile Isle itself seems to want the protagonist dead.

If Mr. Stamper and his team stopped at aesthetics to convey the sense of danger Diddy faces as the less experienced adventurer between himself and DK, that would have been impressive in of itself. However, there is a subtler method they used to make this aspect come across.

The first world of the game is Gangplank Galleon – the very ship that served as the site of the final battle against K. Rool in the original Donkey Kong Country. K. Rool was by far the most difficult boss in that game, and Donkey Kong Country 2 expects you to return to his vessel right away. Admittedly, the world doesn’t quite live up to the implications that the easiest stage of Donkey Kong Country 2 is equivalent to the hardest challenge from Donkey Kong Country.

Instead, the first stage, Pirate Panic, serves the exact same purpose as Jungle Hijinx did in the original. It organically introduces all of the game’s central mechanics using nothing but visual cues and other methods that don’t involve directly explaining them. There’s even a parallel between the two stages in how you can have Diddy enter a room at the beginning to gain an extra life.

Although he is the new protagonist, Diddy controls exactly as he did in the previous game. He is supremely agile, being able to run fast and jump high – actions which are executed by holding down the “Y” button and pressing the “B” button respectively. He can jump on most enemies to defeat them, but he is also afforded the ability to cartwheel into them. The latter technique can be employed in order to defeat multiple enemies in succession.

Donkey Kong Country 2 has a greater number of enemies that can only be defeated using one of these techniques. Later in the game, you will encounter alligators that crawl along the ground, snapping their jaws the whole time. Attempting to cartwheel into them will only result in Diddy getting hurt. Likewise, K. Rool has porcupines patrolling certain areas, and attempting to jump on their backs will work out about as well as you would expect. These enemies can therefore only be defeated with a well-timed cartwheel. The former enemies existed in the previous game, but this kind of diversity forces players to learn the mechanics extensively if they wish to progress far.

Unfortunately, Diddy is also exactly as survivable as he and DK were in the original Donkey Kong Country, which is to say, one successful attack is enough to put him out of commission. As it is unrealistic to expect someone not attempting a challenge playthrough to complete the entire game with one character incapable taking a hit, it would seem only natural for Mr. Stamper and his team to bring back the original’s team-up mechanic. But, of course, there’s an obvious complication that prevents them from doing so in the form of DK’s imprisonment at the hands of K. Rool. And don’t think freeing him is a matter of finding a DK Barrel and smashing it open, either; that would defeat the entire purpose of the game’s premise. Make no mistake, DK Barrels do make a reappearance in this game, but who does it release?

The answer is Diddy’s girlfriend, Dixie Kong. Savvy players returning from Donkey Kong Country may immediately notice something a bit unusual about this particular setup. In terms of gameplay, the most significant difference between DK and Diddy was their physical size. DK was designed to defeat most enemies in one blow while Diddy boasted the greater agility. Dixie, on the other hand, is around the same size as Diddy. This is a fact the game reminds you of in the form of Krunchas, who are highly similar to Krushas from the original in how Diddy isn’t strong enough to defeat them on his own – and neither is Dixie. Indeed, attempting to do so will only enrage them.

One may now wonder what the point is in giving the player two characters with similar builds. The reality is that despite the difference in age, constitution, and even species, DK and Diddy played very similarly to each other. Every now and again, there would be a situation in which one fared slightly better than the other, but you could have theoretically completed the game only using one of the two. This may have been by design, as it would ensure one player is always capable of carrying the team to the end during cooperative sessions. This time around, however, Mr. Stamper and his team wanted to establish a character with abilities remarkably different from that of Diddy.

Dixie has many of the same basic abilities as Diddy, notably being able to perform a spin attack similar to her boyfriend’s cartwheel. What truly distinguishes her from Diddy is her ponytail. It’s not just a cute character design choice; it’s an integral part of the gameplay. Dixie’s hair is prehensile, meaning she can use it to grip items such as barrels and cannonballs. In doing so, she holds the barrel above her head in a manner not unlike DK himself. This effectively brings back the idea of barrels being used as protection from either aerial attacks or projectiles from the original game.

That’s not all she can do with her ponytail, however. By pressing and then holding down the “B” button while Dixie is airborne, she will begin spinning her hair like a helicopter. This allows her to descend very slowly. It is for this very reason that Dixie is widely considered by fans to be the game’s “Easy Mode” personified. It’s what would happen if you took Expresso’s ability to glide, gave it to a main character, and made it much easier to use.

In fact, here are so many useful applications for Dixie’s helicopter spin that it can render even the most difficult tasks trivial. Need to find purchase on a narrow platform? Want to descend into an abyss, but are worried about a potential offscreen threat? Need to get across a large expanse? Dixie has you covered on all fronts. In fact, Dixie is so useful that she arguably overshadows Diddy himself. Fortunately for Diddy, while Dixie does arguably bring more to the table, using both in tandem is important to have any kind of success in this game.

In contrast to the previous game wherein the inactive Kong solely acted as a living hit point, there is one technique you can only use when both are present. By pressing the “A” button on the ground, the inactive Kong can piggyback on the active one. From here, you can throw the inactive Kong to another platform. If you are successful, the active Kong will move to that new position. You can also use this technique to defeat enemies by tossing the inactive Kong at them, but you want to be careful doing so, for it doesn’t work on all of them. If the enemy can’t be damaged with this technique, you will lose the inactive Kong instead, forcing you to find another DK Barrel. This technique is also capable of allowing both Kongs access to normally out-of-reach barrel cannons. You’ll quickly realize why this is useful when you discover barrel cannons with the letter “B” surrounded by an explosion symbol. They tend to be strategically placed at the end of branching paths and other isolated areas that often require you to have both Kongs or an animal buddy to reach. These are Bonus Barrels, and, as their name suggests, they lead to bonus areas.

Donkey Kong Country 2 - Find the Token

Before you begin the bonus area, the objective will flash onscreen. Completing the objective will award the player with a doubloon known as a Kremcoin. The objectives range from collecting enough stars to defeating all of the enemies in the area. Sometimes, just reaching the end of the stage is enough. The stage ends when you either collect the Kremcoin or fail the event. If you fail, you are placed back in the stage. With a few exceptions, you can retry the bonus stages as many times as you like. You can even retry them if you’ve already cleared them, though you will not receive a reward for doing so. Every non-boss stage has at least one bonus barrel, so it pays to keep your eyes peeled. Once you have obtained all of the Kremcoins in a stage, an exclamation mark appears next to its name on the overworld.

Bonus Barrels aren’t your only method of ingress, as traditional cannons also exist in this game. If you find a cannon, you can safely bet that there is a cannonball nearby. If you find it, you can have Diddy or Dixie toss the cannonball into the cannon, which causes it to flash green. Alternatively, you can simply have Diddy or Dixie reach the cannon holing the cannonball to achieve the same effect. A flashing cannon is functionally identical to a Bonus Barrel, blasting the Kongs to a bonus area once it is loaded.

Donkey Kong Country 2 - DK Coin

Bonus areas aren’t the only secrets you can find. Every stage in the game has a large coin bearing the same DK pattern as the barrels. These DK Coins tend to be well-hidden and collecting them all is necessary to achieve the highest percentage score possible on your save file. Once you have collected a DK Coin, a symbol will appear next to the stage’s name on the overworld.

Donkey Kong Country 2 - Target

Finally, it’s worth noting that the developers decided to make the simple act of clearing a stage into a game in of itself. The end of a stage is represented as a target attached to a machine with various goodies flashing inside. Simply jumping on the target is enough to clear the stage, but where’s the fun in that? If Diddy or Dixie jumps onto the target from a sufficiently high altitude, the barrel attached to the machine will strike the top of the machine, winning the player whatever prize it strikes. The prize can be an extra life, a banana bunch, or a banana coin. Certain stages have the DK Coin itself as the prize, so it may be worth trying to find it there if you were unable to do so earlier.

Donkey Kong Country 2 - Mainbrace Mayhem

While there are plenty of new features to be found in Donkey Kong Country 2, it’s easy to get the impression based solely off the experience of clearing the first stage that it merely offers more of the same. If so, then the second stage, Mainbrace Mayhem, is where the game signposts to the player that things are going to be quite different. Even if the bonus stages of Donkey Kong Country encouraged players to explore the environments, an overwhelming majority of the stages relied on the classic platforming standby of “go right”.

As Mainbrace Mayhem demonstrates, Donkey Kong Country 2 expects a little bit more out of players than that. Simply going right will have the Kongs reach the edge of the stage, but with no end-of-level target to be found. This stage involves climbing ropes while avoiding the Kremlings that like to slide down them. In doing so, you will find yourself going in various directions to reach the end of the stage – albeit in an upward direction. This simple change allows for a far more elaborate level design, which, in turn, builds on the exploratory nature the original game proposed.

Indeed, it is when parsing the level design that you begin to see just how successful the team was in accomplishing multiple goals at once. They needed to give an open-ended aspect to their game in order to hide bonus areas, yet they couldn’t go overboard lest players wander aimlessly for hours. At the same time, controlling such fragile characters for an extended period of time runs the risk of guiding them into an enemy or hazard, so the designers couldn’t afford to make the levels too open-ended. And then, of course, even if they did manage to strike a good balance, there’s the very real possibility of the player getting lost.

Impressively, Mr. Stamper and his team managed to pull this off flawlessly and without falling into the same trap other developers attempting something similar had – such as Accolade when creating Bubsy II. The original Donkey Kong Country is dismissed in certain circles as a style-over-substance affair that only received the acclaim it did because of its presentation. While I feel that assessment is a little dismissive, it’s not completely unfair either, as many of the ideas it proposed were done better in Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World.

Donkey Kong Country 2, on the other hand, allows the stellar presentation to become an integral part of the experience. With such painstaking detail going into the set pieces, it is very easy to find your way around even the most labyrinthine stages in the game. On top of that, the game is very consistent with its own rules and tends to signpost notable deviations accordingly. Whereas incompetently made games such as Bubsy II would feature walls the title character could pass through with no rhyme or reason, Donkey Kong Country 2 usually has bananas form trails or arrows to let players know they can go in that direction.

Donkey Kong Country 2 - Rambi

I also greatly appreciate how Donkey Kong Country 2 revisits the animal buddies they introduced in the original game. To begin with, between the four original animal buddies, only Rambi and Enguarde make a return. I am perfectly fine with this, as trying to control Winky and Expresso proved to be more trouble than it was worth. Both returnees now have a charging move that can be executed by holding down the “Y” button and releasing it. It can be used to break walls leading to bonus areas, so, once again, it’s important to pay attention to any suspicious banana placements.

To make up for the deficit in animal buddies, Donkey Kong Country 2 sees fit to introduce three new ones.

Donkey Kong Country 2 - Topsail Trouble

Rattly the Rattlesnake coils his tail like a spring, allowing him to jump much higher than the Kongs can on their own. This is the utility Winky should have provided in the original game, and Rattly is much easier to use. Funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily accomplished through polishing the controls, but rather by giving him a vertical character model. Because Rattly has a character model that is tall rather than long, it’s much easier to know where he is going to land with each jump.

Donkey Kong Country 2 - Squitter

Next, there is Squitter the Spider. Squitter cannot jump on enemies without taking damage, but can fire webs at them when the player presses “Y” button. On paper, it sounds as though Squitter doesn’t have much purpose other than introducing run-and-gun elements to a platforming game. However, upon closer inspection, you learn Squitter, with his very presence, redefines the rules of platforming by providing players a utility that the genre never knew it needed.

Pressing the “A” button causes Squitter to shoot a different kind of web – one that creates a platform. This web travels slower than the weaponized variant, and has a distinct sound effect to give the players cues as to which one is fired. The platform is created by pressing the “A” button a second time while the web is in motion. Both webs can be guided up and down by pressing the appropriate direction on the directional pad.

Donkey Kong Country 2 - Squawks

The last animal buddy introduced in this game is Squawks the Parrot. He isn’t actually a new character, having appeared in one stage in the original game to illuminate a dark cavern with a flashlight, but this time, he is playable. By latching onto Squawks, the Kongs can hitch a ride with him. By pressing “B” button, he flaps his wings and gains altitude. It should be noted that unlike the other animal buddies, the Kongs will take damage if he is struck. Like Squitter, he cannot land on enemies to defeat them. Instead, he can cough up eggs to pick off enemies from afar. These eggs are expelled at a lower velocity than Squitter’s webs, meaning that you will have to account for gravity when aiming them.

Donkey Kong Country 2 - Kong Kollege

Once again, the animal buddies aren’t the only ones who lend a hand to Diddy and Dixie on their adventure. Cranky and Funky return, providing the same services they did in the previous game – dispensing advice and allowing the protagonists to rent his aircraft respectively. In addition, DK’s kindly grandmother Wrinkly runs an educational facility known as Kong Kollege. Like her husband, she gives advice to the players. The difference is that Cranky provides hints to the location of Bonus Barrels whereas Wrinkly teaches players about game mechanics – including some which aren’t immediately obvious. She even gives tips on how to fight the boss of whichever world you happen to be in. Finally, Swanky Kong runs a game show, asking trivia questions for the chance to win extra lives.

This time, the Kongs require payment for their services in the form of Banana Coins. Any piece of advice can be viewed repeatedly after paying for it once. Similarly, Funky will lend you his airplane after paying two coins – after which point it becomes a free service in that world. Conversely, Wrinkly will offer to save the game free of charge once before requiring a two-coin surcharge every additional time in that world.

Paying for these services, especially saving, can be annoying, as the game doesn’t save the number of banana coins or extra lives you obtain in a given session. This is especially true if you’re in the habit of saving after making even the slightest bit of progress or if you find yourself in the unenviable position of being completely broke and down to your last life.

Thankfully, Banana Coins are fairly easy to find in any given world. By the time you unlock the Kong Kollege in a given world, you will likely have found a level featuring a cache of Banana Coins near the start. You can exit cleared stages by pausing the game and pressing the “SELECT” button. Any coins you collect are saved even if you escape a stage this way, so even finding one coin will be incredibly helpful.

And to be completely fair, even if the process does have an unnecessary step affixed to it, I do give the designers credit for how they spaced out the save points. The original game forced players to clear as many as five stages in a given world before unlocking its save point. This was a shaky proposition in the first world, which featured the easiest stages in the game, and outright untenable in the fourth. Here, the player doesn’t have to clear any more than three stages to gain access to a world’s Kong Kollege. Better yet, one of these worlds is Gangplank Galleon, which are, once again, the easiest stages in the game. This means there is only one world in the entire game you realistically must worry about marathoning.

Donkey Kong Country 2 - Lockjaw's Locker

The fourth stage in the game, Lockjaw’s Locker, reveals that water stages make a return, but they’re not quite as you remember them. Water stages in Donkey Kong Country were highly similar to those found in Super Mario Bros in that they were entirely submerged. You would never find the surface, and your only goal was to reach the exit, for no water stage possessed a bonus area.

By Super Mario Bros. 3, Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka were able to program bodies of water with definable surfaces. Mr. Stamper and his team followed suit in Donkey Kong Country 2, but they ended up going a step beyond that. As you make your way through Lockjaw’s Locker, doubtlessly will you observe that the water levels will rise and fall at certain intervals. This adds a dynamic quality to the water stages they didn’t possess in the original game, which were just straightforward mazes. Now, you’re expected to occasionally platform or make use of unique mechanics to reach the end – all while watching out for actual bonus areas.

Donkey Kong Country 2 - Krow's Nest

Just like in the original, a boss awaits Diddy and Dixie at the end of a world, and I must say that Mr. Stamper and his team successfully stepped up their game this time. The interesting thing is that, like in the original, many of the bosses in Donkey Kong Country 2 are just larger versions of standard enemies. One of them is even just a palette swap of a side character. The key is that while the designs of these bosses is fairly simple, the game demands a little bit more out of you than simply jumping on their heads three times.

Indeed, the very first boss in the game takes place in the crow’s nest of K. Rool’s vessel – your opponent being a giant vulture. He grabs eggs from the nest and attempts to drop them onto the Kongs. Diddy and Dixie must then throw the eggs the vulture tosses right back at him. Once the vulture is struck twice, he will then ram into the mast, causing the eggs to fall out at a faster rate. This moment sets the tone as to what to expect from any subsequent boss. While Donkey Kong Country had its bosses speed up or attack more aggressively every time they were struck, the bosses in Donkey Kong Country 2 have definable phases. Once they are struck enough times, they will employ different tactics, prompting players to adapt accordingly. In doing so, the developers were able to translate the dynamic quality they used to craft the stages into the boss fights as well. When a boss is defeated, the player is awarded one Kremcoin.

Donkey Kong Country 2 - Bramble Blast

Ultimately, Donkey Kong Country 2 represents a significant step forward from the original on all fronts. The new unifying pirate motif in particular gives the game much more character than the original, which ran the gamut of basic environments. This narrative was so chosen due to Lead Designer Gregg Mayles’s fascination with the Golden Age of Piracy. At the same time, I like how while there is central theme, the overall design is not bound by it. You’ll be fighting against peglegged crocodiles on pirate ships, swamps, and haunted forests.

These sensibilities are conveyed in the gameplay as well. Like the original game, stages have a certain theme to them. Gangplank Galleon has two stages set on the deck of K. Rool’s ship, two set on the masts, and one set in the hold. These stages are befitting a pirate ship, but the themes turn up again for an encore performance in later worlds. For example, the second world is Crocodile Isle’s volcanic region. However, only two of the stages explicitly use the volcano theme, and one of them is set in the hold of a wrecked ship. The twist is that the water within the ship is boiling hot, acting as a natural hazard throughout the stage. This requires you to use Clapper, a seal with the ability to cool down the water using his breath. It’s a harrowing stage wherein you must jump on Clapper and quickly make your way though the hold before the water heats back up.

Donkey Kong Country 2 - Haunted Hall

This is a reoccurring aspect for the rest of the experience. All of the levels are centered around some kind of theme, but the designers find a way to reintroduce them under wildly different contexts. The fourth world, Krazy Kremland, is a dilapidated amusement park featuring two stages set on rollercoaster. You then get the pleasure of riding a third rollercoaster through a haunted house while a specter is chasing it. Appropriately, this stage is set in Gloomy Gulch – the resident spooky forest.

This leads into what I consider to be the game’s defining strength. Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World were great games, but the stages could get a little repetitive. You could show any given player two random stages in either of those games with similar backgrounds, and they likely wouldn’t tell which one is which.

Donkey Kong Country 2, on the other hand, strives to give each and every stage its own unique identity. With a few exceptions here and there, every stage in the game has its own set of obstacles to overcome. Many gimmicks only appear once, and a majority of them are detailed in the instruction manual – such as a barrel cannon that can be moved using the directional pad. A lot of people looking through it could get the impression they appear throughout the game, but that’s not always the case. While this may sound a little disappointing, I feel Mr. Stamper and his team were able to gauge how much mileage they could get out of these ideas. If they don’t show up again, it’s because they did all they could with the idea the first time around.

Indeed, if a given gimmick is used in multiple stages, you can usually count on them to be utilized differently in subsequent appearances. Clapper is used to cool down a pool of superheated water and in a later stage to freeze a body of water containing an invincible enemy so the Kongs can safely cross it. Another example involves two stages with strong winds: Gusty Glade and Windy Well. The difference is that the winds blow horizontally in the former stage and vertically in the latter.

Otherwise, what I find to be the greatest improvement of Donkey Kong Country 2 offers is how it takes all of the novel ideas present in the original game and makes them far more essential to the overall experience. What I mean by that can be best illustrated through the animal buddies. While the first two worlds in Donkey Kong Country 2 allow each animal buddy to make at least one appearance so you can familiarize yourself with how they control, the fourth stage in Krem Quay, Rattle Battle, is when the game starts asking if you’ve done your homework.

Donkey Kong Country 2 - Rattle Battle

Throughout the rest of the game in certain stages, you will find Animal Barrels. Once a Kong enters these barrels, they will emerge having transformed into the animal buddy depicted upon the surface. The implication this has on the gameplay is simple, yet it opened up several new creative avenues for Mr. Stamper and his team. Although Rambi and Enguarde were very helpful in Donkey Kong Country, using them wasn’t required to complete the game at all. This is because, while all four of them offered unique benefits to the player, you could lose them at any time if you weren’t careful. In turn, the developers needed to design their stages with the underlying assumption that the player could not have control of an animal buddy at a given time.

That’s no longer an issue thanks to the Animal Barrels. Because the Kongs themselves are transformed into an animal buddy, they obviously cannot run away when damaged. What happens instead is that the Kong who entered the barrel takes charge for the remainder of the stage. If the other Kong is present, they act as an extra hit point, which is indicated by an icon of the animal buddy on the lower-left corner of the screen. Unlike when riding the animal buddies, taking damage without the other Kong will result in a lost life. At the end of these segments, you will find signs depicting the animal buddy with the restricted sign stamped on them. Passing them will allow your Kong to return to their normal form. When an animal buddy disappears in this fashion, they will leave behind a reward such as a Banana Coin or Banana Bunch. If a frenzied animal buddy Diddy or Dixie was previously riding passes the sign, no reward appears at all.

Donkey Kong Country 2 - King Zing Sting

Because these barrels are usually unavoidable, the level design is, in turn, catered to the relevant animal buddy’s unique abilities. Stages involving Rattly will involve several high jumps whereas Squitter must frequently use his webs to traverse long bottomless pits the Kongs would have no chance of clearing otherwise. The boss guarding the end of Krazy Kremland, a giant bee named King Zing, is even fought by the Kongs assuming the form of Squawks – something that wasn’t possible in the original game. All of these touches go a long way in giving each level its own unique challenge.

Donkey Kong Country 2 - Klubba's Kiosk

After clearing the first stage in Crocodile Cauldron, you have the pleasure of unlocking Klubba’s Kiosk. Klubba is a large Kremling in charge of guarding the entrance to the Lost World. That’s right – there is an entire hidden world of levels awaiting the persistent. Although displeased with K. Rool’s leadership and more than willing to let the Kongs cross his bridge, he won’t allow passage for free. Fighting him is out of the question, and Banana Coins don’t interest him either, so this is where the Kremcoins come into play. By paying a toll of fifteen Kremcoins, the Kongs can access one stage in the Lost World. Klubba operates five different branches – each leading to a specific stage within the Lost World.

Donkey Kong Country 2 - Lost World

As is befitting a world that can only be accessed by those good enough to clear these bonus areas, the Lost World stages are significantly harder than the earliest point by which you can unlock them. Fortunately, as difficult as they are, each of them only have one bonus area to find. On top of that, they all contain the DK Coin as their reward, meaning you can primarily focus on simply clearing the stages, using hints from Cranky if necessary.

What the Animal Barrels did for the animal buddies, the Lost World does for the bonus areas. In the original game, bonus areas were entirely inconsequential to the experience. While you did receive a higher percentage score upon visiting a bonus area, the only potential rewards were extra lives. As there were plenty of other, far easier methods you could use to get extra lives, so this was largely redundant. Indeed, you didn’t even have to complete the bonus areas for it to count towards 102% completion. By giving players an actual, tangible reward for completing the bonus areas, it ensures they will want to seek them of their own volition.

However, even if you successfully keep your eyes and collect every Kremcoin available, you will come up one short to access the final kiosk.

Donkey Kong Country 2 - Final Battle

This is because the final Kremcoin is being guarded by the King Kremling himself. As Kaptain K. Rool, he is, if anything, even more difficult than he was as King K. Rool, as he can only be damaged by causing his gun to backfire. This is accomplished by plugging it up with a cannonball. It’s a very tense fight because not only does he vary up his attacks with each phase, but the cannonball is also fired out of the gun after every backfire. Failing to account for it can be fatal even if you land the coup de grâce.

Even if Donkey Kong Country 2 is hardly a tour de force of storytelling, I do enjoy how this chain of events allows Diddy to emerge from DK’s shadow and become a hero in his own right. He needed DK’s help just to stand a chance against K. Rool in the original game. While DK lands the finishing blow, Diddy still did most of the work.

On top of that, by taking the final Kremcoin and clearing all of the stages in the Lost World, Diddy and Dixie are allowed to confront Kaptain K. Rool one last time in his hidden lair. Defeating him unlocks a new ending that sees the destruction of Crocodile Isle. While this fight is markedly easier, it does provide a sense of closure you don’t get when you clear the game without getting all the Kremcoins. What better way to cap off an experience that pushes players to discover all of its secrets than by giving them one last boss encounter and a more definitive ending?

Donkey Kong Country 2 - Ending

Drawing a Conclusion

Pros:

  • Excellent presentation for its time
  • Intricate level design
  • Varied gameplay
  • Animal buddies are better integrated into the experience
  • Several new props add a lot to gameplay
  • Secret areas now award bonus content
  • Incredible soundtrack
  • Smooth controls
  • Introduces Dixie Kong
  • Worlds have much more interesting themes to them
  • Reasonably challenging
  • Better boss fights
  • Save points are spaced out better
  • Fun two-player gameplay
Cons:

  • Paying to save the game is a bit irritating

Donkey Kong Country was a game that enjoyed a lot of critical and commercial success upon its 1994 release. However, the public perception of that game soured slightly in the 2000s during the first wave of independent criticism. These critics, in an attempt to lend their medium artistic credibility, were heavily inspired by their acerbic, snarky cinematic counterparts such as Roger Ebert, Pauline Kael, and many others who emerged during the New Hollywood era. A common mantra among these independent critics was that graphics don’t make the game. As many of them were children during the medium’s formative years in the 1980s, it made sense why they would hold such a belief. There is truth in that sentiment, but they wound up taking it a little too far, and they became incredibly dismissive of contemporary efforts as a result. The 2000s was arguably the single greatest decade for AAA game production, but you would never know that when looking over the contemporary reviews.

With that context, Donkey Kong Country was a victim caught in the crossfire, held up by these critics as an example of what happens when one places style before substance. While I firmly believe that criticism is overblown, it’s not entirely without merit, as Donkey Kong Country, while a decent effort for its time, wasn’t exactly what one would call an innovative game. In fact, it was a fair bit behind what Nintendo accomplished with Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. The reason this bears mentioning is because while I do feel Donkey Kong Country isn’t worthy of being considered one of the all-time greats, I also suspect its historical reevaluation in the 2000s has misled people into believing the same is true of its sequel. If it has, then it’s a true shame because I can confidently state that Donkey Kong Country 2 is the real deal.

Donkey Kong Country is a sacred cow for those who grew up with the medium in the 1990s, but I find this second reevaluation was the result of the community collectively – and correctly – deciding the snarky negativity that defined the initial wave of independent critics in the 2000s and early 2010s aged very poorly. While I myself don’t think Donkey Kong Country has exactly aged gracefully, Donkey Kong Country 2 absolutely is one of the best games ever made. It is truly impressive how, in the span of one year, Tim Stamper and the rest of Rare had gone from merely being inspired by Super Mario Bros. 3 to surpassing both it and Super Mario World in every conceivable way. The gameplay is incredibly forward-looking, and the sheer variety offered by the level design ensures it’s every bit as fresh now as it was the day it debuted in 1995.

The original game was decent, but offered an experience that, in hindsight, feels as though the design team simply cribbed off a style guide. Donkey Kong Country 2, on the other hand, is exactly what a sequel should aspire to be, taking all of the good ideas present in the original and upgrading every single one of them – all while excising or downplaying the concepts that didn’t work. If you haven’t played Donkey Kong Country 2 or were led to believe that it’s a style-over-substance affair as a result of the original’s initial retrospective assessment, definitely seek it out. It may be worth seeing the original through beforehand to see the progression yourself, but it absolutely works as a standalone experience. Donkey Kong Country may have won Tim Stamper and Rare fans, but it was Donkey Kong Country 2 that turned them into legends.

Final Score: 9.5/10

10 thoughts on “Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

  1. Effin’ A on all of this. The more time passes since its release, the more I realise how special DKC 2 is. Just a colossal improvement on the first SNES DKC and it’s mighty refreshing even now. I remember as a kid playing the lava levels and listening to David Wise’s incredible soundtrack and just been swept along by it all. For me, this title was the moment Rare really stepped up its game and became a top-tier developer.

    Interested to know what you make of DKC 3 as well, which I played again recently. Not quite as good as the second one I feel, but still very enjoyable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • How true. I knew it was a great game as a kid, but with the power of hindsight, I realize just how much of an accomplishment Donkey Kong Country 2 managed to be. A lot of people go for the bramble stages when it comes to highlights for the soundtrack, but I actual find myself gravitating towards the lava theme myself (along with the beehive and forest themes), although really, you can’t go wrong with this soundtrack at all. Rare may not have kept it together for long, but if you’re going to be the metaphorical flame that burns out twice as quickly, this is the kind of artistic contribution you want to make.

      Well, I will say you likely won’t have to wait long to hear my thoughts on Donkey Kong Country 3; it’s the review I’m typing up right now.

      Like

  2. 10/10*

    In all seriousness, I may well call DKC2 the best 2D platformer of all time. It excels at everything it does. The level design, the steadily increasing difficulty, the enemy design, THAT SOUNDTRACK! Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, and DKC: Tropical Freeze also deserve mention, but DKC2 really is one of those perfect games. The fact that it doesn’t get more attention than it does is downright criminal.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If it’s any consolation, this game is currently in my top 10, and it’s likely going to remain there for quite a long time.

      But yeah, I agree, of any pure 2D platforming game out there, Donkey Kong Country 2 reigns supreme. It manages to give each level its own identity while not going the Mega Man route and featuring fewer stages overall. It’s an epic in the guise of a platformer, and it’s every bit good now as it was in 1995. And while I didn’t rank Yoshi’s Island as highly, it’s one of the very few 2D platformers that comes close to rivaling Donkey Kong Country 2. I give the latter the edge because it offers just a little bit more variety, but both are superb efforts. It is a bit of a shame that, due to Donkey Kong Country’s reevaluation, it doesn’t get as much credit, but I’m positive that it deserves such a high score.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Awesome! I am glad it got a 9.5 from you. It goes to show how much of a step-up it is over the prequel, and I couldn’t agree more with what you wrote.

    Now I am curious to see whether your perception of the third game is more aligned with what I think about it or if it is leaning to the overall evaluation I usually read around the internet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, it was absolutely deserving of such a score. I usually only award scores like that to games that succeed on all fronts (both story and gameplay), but Donkey Kong Country 2 is just that good. It’s kind of the game equivalent of that one fighting game character who can keep pace with the characters with supernatural powers despite having none to speak of themselves.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. When I was a kid, and first got my SNES, I wanted to get the original DKC with it, but it wasn’t in stores, and I was kind of disappointed that I could only get DKC 2. That faded when I got to actually play it, however. I’ve been through this game so many times, and it’s always great throughout. When people long for the good games of oldish-school Rare, this is really what they’re thinking of. Playing it now feels like they had so much inspiration going from their first effort, so many ideas they tried but couldn’t fit in there, but with a polish on it like they were way more experienced with the genre than they actually were. It’s a beautiful experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You definitely started off with the better game. I played the games more or less in order, so I got to witness the progression firsthand. While it took me awhile to complete the games, I knew even then that Donkey Kong Country 2 was a tour de force, which is something I only appreciate now looking back in hindsight. This right here is my pick for the best game Rare ever made, and even today, it still holds up. A little polish can go a long way, huh?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: August 2021 in Summary: It’s on Like Donkey Kong! | Extra Life

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