Yeah, yeah, I know, the blog title is deceiving. Lay off. For this one, I decided to fire up DKC2, which I have beaten before. I’ve run through the original DKC several times since the 90’s, but I had yet to revisit this one. I’m sure the last time I had played was back in 1995, when I was 11 and had the crappy, unofficial strategy guide (was that one Prima? or Brady Games? I can’t remember). I vaguely remembered it being considerably tougher than the original, and wanted to see how it stacked up with a fresh look. Whenever I looked for a Super NES game to fire up, I always overlooked this.
…Which was definitely a mistake. Super Mario World is usually the first place winner for platforming perfection, especially in the 16-bit era, but DKC2 is a solid contender for that title, too. The original Donkey Kong Country set the tone and the incredibly high standards for sure, and the graphics were beyond comprehension. It lived up to all the hype, but DKC2 took everything it established to the next level. (Sidenote: Does anyone remember the promotional VHS tapes that floated around when DKC was released? I think I need to write an entry solely about how crazy marketing campaigns were during the SNES era.)
Guess I’ll jump in by talking about what I always talk about first… The music. It’s outstanding, but this category is the only one that I’ll say from my personal preference, the original Donkey Kong Country did it better. King K. Rool’s theme at the final boss battle? Top tier Nintendo tune.
Nevertheless, the DKC2 soundtrack still kicks ass. I found myself replaying some of the lava stages in Crocodile Cauldron (the second world) just for the music. The tunes that play during the barrel-themed stages, such as Bramble Scramble, are like sledgehammers of nostalgia. I don’t even specifically remember them, but they are so poignant sounding that I almost feel, Nintendo bias and personal history aside, they would take me back even if I was playing for the first time.
But let’s talk about where the game truly shines. Besides having the best in-title pun imaginable, Diddy’s Kong Quest is a truly satisfying, deep, difficult but fair challenge from beginning to end. I wonder if new game developers, especially those in the platform genre, are required to study Diddy Kong’s mechanics. Again, aside from Mario in Mario World, has there ever been anything tighter? Even in the original Country, I usually only use Diddy. Cartwheeling off edges to nab prizes hanging over certain death, clearing enormous gaps and hopping from rope to rope requires the player’s fine-tuned precision. Losing lives is never anyone’s fault but your own, the game is that well-crafted.
Things start off simple enough, with the entire first world never presenting any real difficult challenges. For those who seek 102% completion of the game, every stage contains a few hidden bonus level barrels that reward Kremcoins, which are not to be confused with DK coins (or banana coins). Banana coins are used to save the game, use Funky’s Flights or purchase anecdotes of wisdom from Cranky Kong. I never realized when I was younger how valuable Cranky really is. DK coins, although very large, are usually the most challenging to find.
Cranky offers a vague sentence or two for every stage that can usually point you in the direction of the elusive coin. These aren’t for spending; at the end of the experience, Cranky Kong rates and judges your accomplishments based on how many you collected. If you don’t get at least 19, you’ll stand off to the side and observe Mario (looking like he did in Super Mario RPG), Yoshi (translating pretty well to the Donkey Kong Country graphics engine) and a very unique look at Link. A far cry from his Link to the Past pixelated version and not quite the blocky 3D version from Ocarina, he almost looks like the developers opened the manual from the original Zelda and rendered the cartoon version of him into a 3D model. You can’t help but wonder what a 3D Zelda game on the SNES would look and play like.
Lastly, Kremcoins are spent at Klubba’s Kiosk, somewhat of a gateway that can be found in most worlds. Similar to Star Road in Super Mario World, if you have enough Kremcoins accumulated, Klubba will grant you access to the secret Lost World, which are a series of (even more so) difficult stages.
But like I said, depth is plentiful in this game, and most of all of the above can be ignored. As you hop, swing, cartwheel and float (using the new Kong, Dixie, and her hair propelling skill) through a lava themed world, a swamp themed world, a carnival themed world and more, your skills are increasingly put to the test. The challenges always change and feel fresh as well; a tough platforming level may next lead to a mine cart stage next. Each world also usually contains one stage where instead of riding one of the typical DKC animals, you transform into one. A Rambi stage inside a honeycomb is pretty unique, as well as playing as the spider, creating webbed platforms in order to traverse long gaps.
(More nostalgic musings: I wonder if anyone else who was 10 when they first played these games pictured a large, cartoon crocodile shaped fortress when learning about the Kremlin in Moscow?)
The last world, as you climb up Kaptain K. Rool’s tower, is where things truly get tough. A stage where you mostly climb up a series of chains (very similar style to Donkey Kong Jr.) will require lots of attempts if your jumps aren’t timed right. You’ll come to the conclusion that the starfish enemies are the worst in the entire game when playing the water stage. The stage Toxic Tower stumped me for way too much time. You start as the snake character, hopping on platforms and bees as a deadly green slime slowly follows you to the top. Make it halfway and you’ll switch to Squawks, the parrot. At least now you can fling coconut projectiles. One last leg as the spider (I know, I should Google his and the snake’s names but I remember them being especially lazy, unlike SQUAWKS, so I’ll pass) and you’ll finally find the end.
You’re then ready to face the big fat boss Kroc once again… or so you think. He takes a page out of Bowser’s book as he dangles a tied up Donkey Kong in front of you, only to pull him away and fly off in an airship.
From here, it looks like you have another entire world to get through. But it’s worse than that. One final relentless stage stands between you and the final battle, and it really takes precision, patience and concentration to make it out alive. Mastering Diddy’s jumps or Dixie’s hovering won’t help you here; in Screech’s Sprint, you’ll play as Squawks, racing another bird through one of the bramble and thorn themed stages. Sudden turns, tight squeezes, both yellow and orange Zingers and minimal DK barrels makes this a level that forgives usually only one error. It took a good amount of attempts, I’ll admit, but I made it through and unlocked a save point.
Which reminds me of the biggest point of frustration with this game, and I’m not even sure if it was intentional. If it was, I still think it’s fair: older Nintendo games are supposed to test you and beat you to a pulp. They prepared us for all our future gaming. But it’s the save points. Once you start a new world, you usually have to beat at least one stage, sometimes even two or three, before you unlock a save area, or Funky’s Flights. If you beat the boss of a world on your last life, but didn’t save before you fought him, and lose your life on the initial stage of the next world, it’s back to the last point you saved. If it’s a world that won’t let you save until after three stages, you’d best make sure you have a good stock of lives, and/or experience in those three stages, to make it to the save point alive. There was really only one world where this setup was especially agonizing, having to beat a mine cart stage in order to save, but I couldn’t help but wonder if all of this was taken into consideration.
The final battle was similar to that of the original. King-posing-as-a-Kaptain K. Rool hurls projectiles, this time from a blunderbuss (another learning experience – I’m almost positive this game taught me that fun term) and dashing back and forth. Memorization and quick movements are the key. It took me a handful of tries, which is so refreshing. I feel like so many boss battles these days look epic, against formidable and intimidating monsters and creatures, but more often than not, they’re not very challenging. It felt good to be tested by this bloated amphibian and earn the win.
I finished the game at 73%…. Not very impressive. I looked for the secrets as I passed through each stage, but rarely replayed them to find what I missed. I looked up what happens with 102%, which I never realized led to the real final battle with K. Rool in the Lost World. How could I never know this? I’m still embarrassed, guys.
It would take some serious time and effort, but I may chip away at this and finally reach the 102%. This gem really does still hold up from 1995 to warrant going back. Going forward, I’ve learned if I’m in the mood for a great platformer but still feeling like I’ve ran through Mario World one time too many, the clear and obvious alternative is with my boy Diddy.