Retro Respawn – Donkey Kong Country (Game Boy Color)

In the past here on Gaming Respawn, I have effusively praised Donkey Kong Country for the Super Nintendo, along with its even better sequel, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest, and even ranked both games in “My Top 20 Video Games of All-Time” list. I spent a large part of this past week on holiday in Powys, Wales. After full days of getting out and about, enjoying the Welsh countryside and coasts, I would spend the evenings playing video games in the idyllic cottage my family had decided to rent out for the week.

Seeing as I had a bit of free time, I decided to try out a game that I had only briefly played in my youth in the form of the Game Boy Color/Colour port of the first Donkey Kong Country game. Yes, my American chums, we spell “colour” with a “u” over here in merry old England, so that’s how I’m going to spell it in the article going forward, mainly to avoid my English version of Microsoft Word having some kind of an aneurysm. I may even call a sidewalk a pavement as well, because I’m bloody British, I am!

Anyway, I had only stolen a few minutes with this port of the game in my younger days when someone brought a Game Boy into school one day (I didn’t own one myself, although I would eventually get a Super Game Boy at some point), and I remember at the time being quite impressed with it, and I was still suitably impressed coming back to it all these years later. Released in 2000, the port came out nearly 6 years after the original game had hit the Super Nintendo, but it does an excellent job of squeezing so much of the original game into such a small handheld console.

There are, of course, graphical limitations that have an effect on the game, such as the fact that both Donkey and Diddy Kong can no longer both appear on-screen at the same time. Instead, one character will appear on-screen, and pressing select will see them switch out. Just like in the SNES game, if either Diddy or Donkey dies, they will become trapped in a barrel, and you will need to break them out to bring them back into play.

The barrels can also be used as projectiles to fling at enemies, and this is again recreated fairly faithfully to how it is in the SNES version. Your animal buddies, Rambi the Rhino, Enguarde the Swordfish and Slippy the Frog, also make appearances. Again, the graphical limitations mean that only your current animal buddy can appear on-screen and, unlike in the SNES version of the game, once you get hit when in animal form, you lose use of the animal buddy in question, whereas on the SNES version, you can still potentially catch up to them and keep them in play.

Graphically, the game is, of course, not as sharp as its 16-bit elder sibling, but for a handheld console, this is a darn fine attempt at trying to recreate the graphical look of the SNES version of the game. Colours are used well to create a game that is eye-catching and certainly looks the part. Considering when the game came out, the fact it looks as good as it does is a definite feather in its cap, especially considering the uphill struggle the game already had to match the original game’s graphics, which had been so good that people at first thought they were from a fifth generation game when they were originally leaked.

There’s also a decent stab at recreating the musical score from the SNES game as well. Once again, the limitations of the hardware mean that this isn’t perfect, but the music doesn’t sound too bad overall, and it’s an excellent effort once again at moving something to a portable format when it was only ever intended to be on a home console. The music in general is actually pretty decent, and I ended up quite liking it. Yeah, it’s not as good as the SNES music, but it was never going to be, and I strongly believe you have to grade these things on a curve sometimes.

My only real critique that I’d throw the game’s way is that the hit detection isn’t the best, which means that attacks need to be timed far more precisely than they would have to be in the SNES version of the game. On more than one occasion, a jump that would see me successfully kill an enemy in the SNES version saw me take damage, and it eventually go to the point where I had to weigh everything up, which sometimes in platform sections you just don’t have time to do.

One of the big reasons I enjoyed the SNES version of the game was that you could shoot through the air in barrels and tackle enemies in a fluid and enjoyable manner, but some of the fluidity is sacrificed here, and it makes the game somewhat less fun to play. Eventually, I was able to work around it and still have fun, but it’s my only real criticism for what is genuinely one of the better Game Boy Colour games out there.

Donkey Kong Country would eventually see a port to the Game Boy Advance as well, and both handheld versions of the game scored well with critics. It’s easy to see why as a lot of work was done to squeeze these games onto the handheld systems, and it’s a testament to just how hard everyone involved with the game worked that the Game Boy Colour version in particular does such a faithful job of recreating the original SNES experience. I can happily recommend Donkey Kong Country on the Game Boy Colour, and get yourself the SNES version too whilst you’re at it! I bought it all over again for my Nintendo Wii U a while back, and it’s still as good as ever!

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