Another remake has been ported to the GBA, but how does it stand against the original?
The Donkey Kong Country (DKC) games were some of the best platform titles on the SNES. The original DKC blew gamers away with its 3D rendered characters and environments. Rare’s sequel to its original smash hit maintains the same level of high-quality visuals while adding more flavor to the gameplay.
Instead of a stolen banana horde, this time the Kremlins have kidnapped Donkey Kong himself. Diddy Kong, the secondary hero from the first DKC, and his girlfriend Dixie embark on a quest to save the big ape. Many other familiar faces will also appear throughout the game. Members of the Kong family are scattered throughout each world, offering their assistance for the price of banana coins. Old and new animal buddies will also aid the Kongs from level to level.
The gameplay is standard run and jump fare (similar to any 2D Mario title), but many puzzles, challenges, and bonuses are present in each stage. Just like the first DKC, the two playable characters balance out the side-scrolling gameplay. Diddy runs a little faster and can cartwheel to kill baddies, whereas Dixie’s helicopter hair twirl will allow for a safe and steady landing after a jump or fall. Each of the game’s stages can be beaten with either Kong, but using one or both will make the journey a little easier. One Kong will always take the lead, but the other will follow and can be switched to at any time. However, if one Kong takes damage, then the other will venture alone until another DK barrel is broken. This system replaces a health bar by basically adding two hits until the player must start over. Also, if both Kongs are in the party, they can tag team enemies and reach new heights by throwing one another after the ?R’ button is tapped.
The game even offers a swap-the-system two-player mode. Player One will control Diddy until he takes a hit or the player presses ?L’ to swap between Kongs. The game will then flash a ?Press Start to Continue’ phrase. During this screen, Player One would then hand over the system to Player Two. This alternating co-op quest isn’t a bad way to get two players in on one game without offering simultaneously gameplay.
The game contains over 50 levels, but the replay value is not best displayed in its quantity. Scattered and hidden through every level are bonus barrels and a single DK Koin. Finding bonus barrels often require skill and strategy as some can only be triggered with one specific Kong, with the help of an animal buddy, or with the teamwork of both Kongs. The bonus game must then be completed in order for the game’s completion percentage to rise. Each bonus game will contain a similar theme (collect the stars, defeat the baddies, etc.) but every one is different. A single DK Koin can also be found within each stage. While this special Koin does not produce a bonus game, it is necessary to collect if the player wishes to obtain everything in the game. And just like in the original DKC2 on SNES, a special secret opens up when everything has been collected.
Rare even added new gameplay options. Diddy’s Dash is a time-trial mode. Any level that has been played in the main quest will be unlocked in Diddy’s Dash. The object is to finish each level in the shortest amount of time. This may not be a great addition to the game, but it is nice to see Rare try and add something new by giving players a new way to play each level. Multiplayer mini games have also been created just for this GBA game. Espresso’s Race is a side-scrolling race, which can be played with 1-4 players. Computer AI will fill the spots of the missing human players. Funky’s Flights puts Diddy in a helicopter. This Chopper Attack style game can also be played with 1-4 players. Bag a Bug is the worst mini game out of the three, with its inaccurate controls, but it is still worth a curious play through; Diddy will attempt to grab bugs from an overhead view while trying to avoid a club-wielding bad guy.
The biggest upset about this remake on GBA is the graphical capabilities. Although the GBA has more processing power than the SNES, the screen resolution and scaling are completely different. Because of the GBA’s wide screen, and front-lit SP model, the graphics are not as smooth as they were on SNES. Colors and textures can seem a little washed out and muddy. This is a shame because the 3D rendered characters and environment were one the biggest selling points of the DKC series. Some environments have even been changed to accommodate the GBA’s smaller screen. Some levels that had a nighttime theme in the SNES version now emit a sunset setting. Also, some levels that were built around the absence of light, the coloring has been adjusted to make the screen clearer to display better transparency effects. However, this is not entirely Rare’s fault, as other remakes have suffered from the same problem, such as BlackThorne and Disney’s Aladdin. It is not that the graphics look bad; it is just that they looked better on the SNES when played through a decent TV.
The audio is in the same boat at the graphics. The tunes are awfully captivating and memorable but they suffer through the GBA’s mono speaker. Some sound effects have even been altered or removed completely to maintain a level of clarity coming from the GBA’s single speaker. Although they many not be as clear, each tune will be engraved into players’ minds with their entrancing melodies. This makes the gameplay all the more enjoyable.
If you have not played DKC2 on SNES, then GBA owners owe it to themselves to pick up a copy of this game. The platform experience is wonderfully balanced and the game’s pace is spot on. The bonus games and DK Koins will keep perfectionists busy for quite some time while amateurs will appreciate the not-so-hard but not terribly easy difficulty level. But due to the screen limitations of the GBA SP, the graphics are not as clear as they once were. But instead of offering a straight port, Rare further displays an extra surge of effort by adding new multiplayer mini games. The DKC series displays some of the best gaming that the platform genre has to offer, and this GBA remake has been ported well. It’ll be interesting to note what’s in store for DKC3.