Retro Respawn – Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

I mentioned in my review for Super Mario Bros. 35 last week that one of the things keeping me from using my Nintendo Switch as a highly expensive paperweight most of the time is the fact you can play a selection of NES and SNES games through the emulators that come with a membership to the Nintendo Switch Online subscription service. Granted, Nintendo could do a MUCH better job at updating these more often, with just a paltry couple of new games getting added for each system every month at best. However, it’s still nice to have the option to go back in time to (legally) play some classic games of yore without having to dig out your old SNES from whichever cupboard you’ve buried it in. Hence this week’s article, as I recently got to take a trip down memory lane and play Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest on the SNES emulator.

I’ve effused about Donkey Kong Country 2 on many occasions and have mentioned more than once that it still remains my personal favourite video game of all-time. This is for a combination of reasons, including the graphics, gameplay, soundtrack and a hearty dose of nostalgia. Despite that last reason, however, I am still willing to say that Donkey Kong Country 2 does indeed hold up, even whilst admitting that I might be wearing banana-tinted specs to a certain degree. There’s no doubt that other games have since come forward and evolved the platform genre, especially in the fifth and sixth generations when the genre moved into the 3D realm. In some ways Donkey Kong Country 2 might look a little bread and butter compared to a Crash, Spyro, Sly, Mario or Jak and Daxter, but in this humble scribe’s opinion, that bread and butter is still a more than substantial meal.

How Donkey Kong Country 2 differs from its elder sibling is that the titular Donkey isn’t a playable character this time. Instead, the game exists as a chance for his dedicated sidekick, Diddy Kong, to finally get his chance in the spotlight as the big lummox finds himself chimp-napped by the nefarious Captain K. Rool, leaving Diddy to team up with his girlfriend, Dixie, in order rescue him and bring him home to Donkey Kong Island. What follows is an enjoyable romp across 52 levels through floating pirate ships, dicey lava pits, mushy swamps, sinister theme parks, lethal beehives, creepy fog-covered forests, giant bramble nests and pretty much everything in between as you endeavour to take K. Rool and his dopey pirate army apart.

Graphically, the game looks fantastic for a late fourth gen release, with pre-rendered graphics making their return in order to give the game a pseudo 3-D look with a smoothness you wouldn’t think possible from a console like the Super Nintendo. On top of that, David Wise returns to handle the music duties and knocks it out of the park once more with some of the best music in any video game ever, including fantastic tracks such as “Stickerbrush Symphony” and “Bayou Boogie” that are so good that people have been making remixes and HD restorations of them for years now, and they show no signs of stopping either. The pure unadulterated nostalgia some of these tracks instil in me never fails to make me feel good. No matter how old I get, hearing one of those pieces of music will take me back to 1995 when I first got my hands on this classic release.

Going from the Donkey/Diddy combo to the Diddy/Dixie one changes the gameplay in pretty notable ways in Donkey Kong Country 2. In the previous game, Donkey had a defined strength advantage, which would let him kill certain baddies that Diddy could not. With Diddy and Dixie both being similar sized, that is now taken away, meaning some baddies can’t be taken out by jumping, which causes you to have to get creative occasionally. One thing you can do now is get your significant other to piggyback on your shoulders, which allows you to either fling them at an enemy like a weapon or throw them up into a previously inaccessible area of the level. The latter trick is necessary if you wish to find all of the secret areas and collect enough “Krem Koins” in order to reach the special “Lost World” levels.

Diddy and Dixie do have specific differences from one another, with Dixie having possibly the most useful ability in the game of being able to swing her long hair around in order to descend more slowly down certain gaps and drops. This ability is essential in certain levels if you want to reach particular areas, such as in one of the beehives where gliding down a dangerous gap of angry bees as Dixie will allow you make it to a special bonus barrel that you would otherwise not be able to reach. As far as 2-D platforming goes, Donkey Kong Country 2 isn’t going to blow your mind when it comes to gaming mechanics, but what it does do is refine what was good in the first DKC game whilst adding additional little tweaks and flourishes that make the gameplay experience all the more enjoyable as a whole.

One aspect I love about the game is that the levels don’t have any time limits, which means you have as much time as you want in normal levels to explore and try to find the secret areas. Considering you will sometimes need to do some serious backtracking or go off the beaten path to find certain things, not having a constant clock counting down looming above you at the top of the screen not only makes it less stressful but also encourages you to be adventurous. In my the most recent playthrough, I decided I wanted to get as close to 100% as I could, which meant sometimes I spent a large amount of time on certain levels to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. In your standard 2D Mario or Sonic game, I would have probably given up on some levels because the threat of the timer running out was looming in the distance, but with Donkey Kong Country 2, that wasn’t the case, and I probably found more secrets because of it. It’s nice for a game to be a bit more chilled about that sort of thing sometimes.

One area you could probably critique the game on is the quality of boss battles, with none of them being especially exciting. In an interesting twist from DKC, none of the boss battles in Donkey Kong Country 2 actually involve you jumping on heads, which is unusual in a platformer. Kreepy Krow does have some lackeys you have to punch, but even then you actually throw a barrel at him to take him out when all is said and done. What this means sometimes is that there is a lot of waiting and hanging around whilst the boss goes through the motions of trying to attack you. Ultimately, this makes most of the boss battles drag a bit, even K. Rool himself, which I actually managed to defeat on my first attempt this time after struggling so much with him as a youngster. Once you realise what each boss’s gimmick is, then it becomes pretty easy to work out how you’re supposed to beat them, so most of the time you just sit around until the window opens to do it.

Despite that aspect though, I still think Donkey Kong Country 2 holds up as a fun slice of platforming action. You can still very much have some fun with it, and it just ultimately has a really strong atmosphere and ambience. Going back to it felt like putting on my favourite pair of jeans that I hadn’t worn in years. I do confess that playing it without the warm nostalgia that comes from experiencing it back in “the day” might take the edge off the package slightly, which is why I’ve always said it’s my personal favourite game rather than claiming it to be objectively the best, but overall I still think the game has a lot to offer even today, and it gets an easy recommendation as a result!

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