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FGC #548 Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

So shinyRecently(ish) on the ol’ World of Final Fantasy live stream, my compatriots, BEAT and fanboymaster, discussed the idea of a collectathon, and settled on the decision that the term “collectathon” is one that was designed by game reviewers who did not actually care for the genre in any conceivable way. The word itself speaks to the exhaustion that is caused by participating in a collectathon, and, more than likely, the term was coined after so many random games that required all kinds of esoteric methods to finally achieve some level of “game completion”. In short, according to my contemporaries, “collectathon” became a term to insult the genre it was describing.

However, I disagree (and I would have elaborated more on my position during the stream, but we had to get back to discussing episodes of Aqua Teen Hunger Force). For one thing, I used to date a woman who ran recreationally, and, to her, the idea of a marathon was actually a fun time. I, personally, am completely incapable of understanding such a feeling, but there are apparently people out there that that both enjoy what others see as a grueling gauntlet and have sex with me (wait… maybe there’s a connection there). But the idea of –thon being a watch word (suffix?) aside, there’s also the whole “collecta-“ part of the equation. And noting that a whole lot of collecting is going to be involved seems valid! Your biggest collectathons require amassing all kinds of crazy nonsense, and, in the same way that a shoot ‘em up contains a lot of shooting or a role playing game involves eating a whole lot of rolls, the noble collectathon is all about collecting. And, as collectathons progressed through the end of the 90s and into the current millennium, they certainly put more and more of an effort-based emphasis on collecting at the cost of boss fights, minigames, or other distractions from the primary goal of collecting. In short, according to this humble writer, the collectathon is well-served by its popular moniker.

And, besides, if you want to insult a collectathon, call it by the name that Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest so desperately deserves: a goddamn mindreading simulator.

This is funBefore I start actively swearing, let me state one thing plainly: Donkey Kong Country 2 is a good videogame. Hell, it’s one of the best on the Super Nintendo, and, considering its competition, that is very much saying something. It’s an action platformer that lives up to the pedigree of Mario or Sonic, but it is also its own animal with extremely unique, consistent physics. As would eventually be refined by the WiiU era, Donkey Kong Country has always had a very distinctive “feeling”; and, after its maiden voyage in Donkey Kong Country 1, DKC2 seemed to perfect that feeling for the Super Nintendo. And we got Dixie! A significant issue with DKC1 is that it never had a “raccoon tail” or similar option of having access to a character with a less precise, more forgiving jump (not like you can drag that flapping ostrich into every stage). DKC2 gave us Dixie Kong and her ponytail-copter that allowed for slower, but more easily-controlled jumps. And you’re going to need it, too, because absolutely every DKC2 level has its own discrete challenge, so not a single pixel is wasted on repeating or recycling level concepts over and over. In an age where every third platformer contained stages that were indistinguishable from each other (looking at you, Bubsy), you could never mistake one DKC2 stage for another. Yes, those briars might be familiar, but this time you’re using mobile barrels as opposed to flying a parrot. Or is this the stage with the spider? Maybe! Better play the level to find out.

But variety isn’t always a good thing, and that issue rears its ugly head when you get back to that collectathon aspect. The sad truth of Donkey Kong Country 2? It apparently expects you to be psychic.

SPLURTPreviously on this blog, I recognized Banjo & Kazooie as the perfect collectathon. Long article short, it is all about carefully explaining its challenges to the player, and then granting the player all the options available to say “so have at it”. There are ten jiggys in this world, you know there are only ten jiggys, so get to work, and when you’ve collected nine, know that that one place on the map with a weird squirrel is probably your final destination. Donkey Kong Country 2, also created by Banjo & Kazooie’s Rare, is obviously the ancestor of many of B&K’s indulgences (and we’re not just talking about the inexplicable, self-contained quiz show). Does every weird-ass animal in this universe have giant googly eyes? Yes. Speaking of animals, the buddies have now mostly been transformed from “power-ups” (ala Yoshi in Super Mario World) to required “transformations” that mean this stage is absolutely going to require the abilities of a springy snake. And, yes, so much more so than in Donkey Kong Country 1, collecting bits and baubles is a requirement if you want to see the whole of the game. Not only do you need to find Krem Coins in bonus areas if you want to complete all the levels, you also need banana coins to pay Kongs for the privilege of saving, and DK Coins so Cranky Kong can shut his fat gob for once in this damned franchise. Whereas bonus areas were simply bonuses in DKC1, now every last challenge must be conquered if you want to play the entirety of Donkey Kong Country 2.

And if you are looking for a little consistency in the “bonuses” of DKC2, you are cartwheeling up the wrong vine.

Take thatThere is one DK coin in every level. You can always find it in the level proper… except that one time a DK coin is hidden in a bonus stage. And the final “jump challenge” of every level is always a simple bonus for consumables… except when it is required for the DK coin in about three stages. You can count on bonus rooms to appear in pairs across the various levels, but don’t let your guard down after you’ve found one, because there are a handful of stages that contain three. And speaking of finding bonus areas, don’t worry, because there’s always a banana arrow or even just a single banana indicating that something might be up with this particular wall or area. Or there isn’t. Better nudge a carried barrel against every single vertical surface any time you see one available. Maybe you should backtrack with the barrel, too, because that works, too. Not often, of course, but every once in a while it’s mandatory. Oh! And you know how those thorny vines are always going to obliterate your kongs? Well there are a few false thorn walls, so you might want to smoosh up against deadly spikes just on the off chance it’s that one part where that’s the only way to find the DK coin. Don’t ask me which level they appear in, but they’re there, so you better give it a shot more often than not. Sorry if you lose a life!

And if this sounds completely absurd, congratulations, you’re paying attention. Donkey Kong Country 2 does not effectively (or at least consistently) convey to the player the parameters of its compulsory secrets. The best way to play Donkey Kong Country 2 is to apparently fall into every pit and eat every spike, Kong health be damned. Or use an emulator, and rewind every mistake. Or read a FAQ. Or the only viable option available in 1995: be a goddamned mind reader, and know exactly what Rare was thinking at all times.

Go DiddyA collectathon can be fun. Donkey Kong Country 2 is a fun game. But literally banging your head against every wall is not fun. Trying to figure out what the hell Rare happened to be thinking from level to level is not fun. Sometimes it is fun to find a particularly well-hidden secret, but, more often than not, the path to finding that secret is fraught with trial, error, and a whole lot of dead monkeys. And nobody wants to see that! We have so many laws against that!

Disparage not the noble collectathon, but please acknowledge the woes of the olden mindreading simulator. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest set Rare on the path of defining the collectathon, but, in its pupal form, the collectathon was responsible for more frustration than fun.

… Or at least it sold a lot of copies of Nintendo Power…

FGC #548 Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

  • System: Super Nintendo, Gameboy Advance, and now any Nintendo system that will support an emulator. Didn’t get loaned out to Xbox One’s Rare Replay, though.
  • Number of players: There are two Kongs on this adventure, so you may as well have two players.
  • Favorite Animal Buddy: Ignoring the snake that is the clear precursor to Spring Mario, I’m going to go with Squitter the Spider, because the ability to make your own platforms in a 16-bit platformer was a revelation back in the 90’s. Much like Kirby’s flight abilities or the P-Wing, this felt like breaking the whole game back in the day… even if the poor spider only appeared in a handful of levels. And the power-webs are a nice bonus, too.
  • Diddy on Top: Do you suppose Nintendo would allow this to happen in a modern release?

    WINNER!

    I kind of have to believe that Nintendo would let Diddy tie with Mario, not win, if something like this were tried today. Then again, maybe it only happened the first time because there is clearly an insult to Sonic and Earthworm Jim thrown in there.

  • Setting a tone: I have to say, it is downright impressive how the Kremling’s home island, the setting for DKC2, absolutely sucks. Give or take one vaguely malevolent amusement park, you can see why these lizards are constantly trying to conquer other realms, because sitting at home with the poisonous bogs, giant beehives, and castle overflowing with acid does not seem like a good time. Donkey Kong Country seems like a place I would like to stay, Crocodile Isle is… not going to get five stars on the ol’ vacation rankings.
  • An End: Find every last Krem Coin, and Donkey, Diddy, and Dixie will watch Crocodile Isle sink into the ocean, with K. Rool escaping on his pirate ship. Does this seem like a good idea, guys? To leave your mortal enemy homeless? That’s only going to lead to issues down the line, and you know it.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: This article is being published on my wedding day. This has nothing to do with anything, but I figure I’ll make a note of it.
  • It is hot in hereDid you know? Dixie Kong took some significant time off after Donkey Kong Country 3. She didn’t appear in Donkey Kong 64 (that was her sister, Tiny), but she did make it back in time for Donkey Konga and Jungle Climber. Now she seems to appear nearly every time we see Donkey, though, so it looks like her retirement was short lived.
  • Would I play again: I realize that this article makes it sound like Donkey Kong Country 2 is a bad game. But it’s not! I swear! It just has some horrible tendencies towards making my OCD flip out on every flat surface in every level. That hampers my ability to enjoy the game! But would I ever play it again? Yes, because this is some of the best platforming on the SNES. Like for another game, I just need to turn my brain off, and then we’ll be fine.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Garfield: Caught in the Act for Sega Genesis. Oh no! I hate Mondays, too! Please look forward to it!

Weeeeee
This counts as a minecart, right?

FGC #009 Donkey Kong Country

Mine or rollercoaster?History is written by the winners, be they ape or dinosaur.

Donkey Kong Country was the big crazy holiday release for the Super Nintendo. It was a revolution in graphics available on the SNES, or so we were told, and a pretty alright game to play to boot. The console wars were over, Nintendo was the victor, and Donkey Kong carried the victory barrel over the kremling finish line. Somewhere, a Genesis kid wept bitter tears as everyone abandoned the diminutive blue hedgehog for a pair of primates. They had to go fast.

The following year, the war won, Sega floundering and assembling green balls into strange vectors, the Playstation still waiting with baited breath for the cloud of prosperity that would still be two years away, (Super) Nintendo games only had each other to battle. In one holiday season, we saw eternal triumphs like Chrono Trigger clashing for a child’s wallet with the likes of beloved mascot games, like Earthworm Jim 2. And, direct from Nintendo, we had two amazing games: Yoshi’s Island and Donkey Kong Country 2. The rivalry between the two games would echo through the annals of the then fairly fresh internet (popularly known as AOL in those days), and now, decades later, much is still made of the competitors, story book graphics vs. prerendered, indepth gameplay vs. run ‘n jump, “Trojan horse” marketing vs. charming, and I think I’ve even heard some good ol’ East vs. West enmity in there.

But here we stand, two decades later, and are forced to ask ourselves: who won?

First, we look at Donkey Kong Country. Poor, sweet, forgotten Donkey Kong Country. Oh? What’s that you say? Yes, I can hear you, gentle reader, out there in internet land, as your monocle flies from your face and your top hat reaches disagreeable heights, propelled by the steam rising from your ears. Yes, I stand by my statement, your incredulity aside, Donkey Kong Country has been forgotten by gaming at large, and I realized this only while playing the ol’ girl.

The bee is also spikeyDonkey Kong Country is, and I apologize for the heresy you’re about experience, Super Mario Bros. 3. I realize this may be antithetical to every belief you have, but attempt a run of Super Mario Bros. 3 without ever acquiring a super leaf, without ever taking to the skies, and then play Donkey Kong Country. Things will seem oddly familiar, I guarantee. Make no mistake, Super Mario Bros. 3 is one of the greatest platformers ever for a reason (that reason is The Wizard), and DKC cannot be held to its exacting standard, but if the folks at Rare were going to… ape any game in the Nintendo anthology for their creation, they may as well grab one of the best. Much though I’m sure the impulse was there, I’m glad they didn’t choose to introduce the new Donkey Kong in a game emulating, say, Clu-Clu Land. Who would want to play that?

I shouldn’t have to elaborate on this point, and I might be high on pesticides right now, but Donkey Kong Country is, like the finer, old Mario games, a game where you run from left to right, jump on an eclectic mix of antagonistic animals, and then clear the goal before wandering into the next obstacle course. The main theme of Super Mario Bros. 3 is titled “Still Running Around”, and that may as well be the central theme-theme of the game. Donkey (and Diddy, can’t forget the smart one of the stupid apes) are “still running around” through their entire adventure, with occasional breaks for swimming labyrinths (not unlike the more maze-y stages of SMB3) and maybe a minecart or two. Donkey Kong’s animal friends (is that redundant? That always seems to be the phrase used, but they’re all animals, apes, fish, frogs, etc., so aren’t they all just “friends”?) recall Super Mario World’s Yoshi mechanics; so much so that I still expect DK to punch Engarde in the face every time he wants the swordfish to propel forward. Dinosaur abuse is deeply rooted in my psyche. And then every world concludes with a boss battle that is primarily a skirmish of well timed jumps, save a few gimmicks that may include Bowser-baiting or Bee-barreling.

One day we'll find it...There’s a gameplay mechanic here that exists, but is no more important in Donkey Kong Country than it is in Super Mario Bros. 3, and that’s “collecting”. Yes, there are hidden stages in DKC, and, yes, there are KONG letters in every stage, but neither “collectible” is any more gameplay important than Mario’s Warp Whistles or Flying Coin Ships. Yes, you can score “100%” in DKC the same way you can collect every last coin in SMB3, but neither game ends with a message reminding you that you missed something, or a final boss that is locked away behind some outlandish condition. There are collectibles and “secrets” on Donkey Kong’s island, but they’re fairly insignificant compared to the fun of rolling toward the finale over as many lizards as possible. That banana horde is going to fill up no matter how many exclamation points you weld onto stage names.

And then came Donkey Kong Country 2, and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. As mentioned previously, they were released at nearly the same time, and much has been made of their differences through the decades. No one ever seems to take a moment to compare DKC2 to DKC, though, as DKC2 is seemingly universally lauded as the victor in that ape fight.

But we lost something between DKC and DKC2, and it was the same thing that was “lost” when Mario landed on Yoshi’s Island. As I mentioned in my Yoshi Touch & Go article, Yoshi’s Island introduced the “collection” elements to the Mario platformer universe, and that acquisition has never gone away. Whether it be stars or shines or giant coins, every Mario game is now expected to have some collection element, lest gamers just get bored with running from left to right, in 2D space or three, and additional game content is locked behind these collectibles. Some games are more intensive than others, but it’s there in every Mario game since 1995. Similarly, either thanks to some collaboration in the halls of Nintendo, or just a coincidence of parallel development, Donkey Kong Country 2 acquired a significant collectible element, adding DK “hero coins” and making the hidden stages of the previous game a requirement to see the complete ending and battle the true final boss.

Mine or rollercoaster?This is why I see Donkey Kong Country as forgotten, as the first thing most gamers mention when the DKC series rears its furry head is the “collectathon” elements that have been a staple of the series ever since 1995, DKC2 and DKC3 made the franchise lock significant content behind collecting, and Donkey Kong 64 made the collectathon elements its central focus, to the point that it basically retired the franchise and made the idea of collectibles in a game more of a threat than a feature. This is all absent in Donkey Kong Country, where running and jumping is all that’s required. Go go gorilla!

All of this is just circling back to my original question: Who won, Donkey Kong or Yoshi? As I write this in 2015, both franchises have enjoyed a new renaissance despite a decade or so of inactivity. DK has returned to his roots in Donkey Kong Country Returns and its sequel, and both games have been well received and fun. Yarn Yoshi is on the horizon, and Yoshi’s New Island didn’t cause any noticeable lesions on my body, which is more than I can say for most of the Yoshi franchise since its debut. Assuming Yarn Yoshi is everything it appears to be, both franchises seem to be at about the same plane of “alright”, so we can’t really judge them on that level.

If you see this coming in the ocean, you swim the other wayLet’s look at Mario. Mario has had a record number of 2D platforming games released recently, compared to the N64/GBA/NGC era when we never saw Mario just enjoying the simple pleasures of turtle stomping in limited dimensions. There’s even a pretty easy argument to be made that the recent Super Mario Land 3D branch of the franchise, despite being, obviously, 3D, is much more rooted in the 2D Mario games than the likes of Mario 64. And what happens in those games? Mario runs from left to right, often as quickly as possible, and collects along the way, three special star coins.

Huh, that sounds kind of familiar.

Replace those star coins with KONG letters, and you’ve got Donkey Kong Country to a T. Yes, Mario has power-ups and bob-ombs and whatever crazy platform mechanics that are based on how many people in the room you can get to sneeze or whatever Nintendo came up for the latest game, but in the end, it is nearly the exact same gameplay as the original Donkey Kong Country. It might be a plumber hopping on a dinosaur as opposed to an ape utilizing a rhino, but, in the end, it comes out very similar. And that’s what Nintendo is hanging their number one mascot/cash cow on in a series that doesn’t show any signs of stopping.

Your revolution is over, Yoshi. Condolences. The dinosaurs lost.

Cranky is my spirit animalFGC #9: Donkey Kong Country

  • System: Super Nintendo
  • Number of Players: 2, though it’s a much more frustrating experience with two players than one. Have you ever tried it? Whatever you do, don’t try it with a potential mate. I speak from experience. Just play Double Dash with DK and Diddy and claim it’s the same thing.
  • Donkey Kong or Diddy Kong? Despite Donkey having the clear advantage with his unparalleled ground pound and ability to tackle enemies that laugh off Diddy’s pounces, Diddy is my boy, and his cartwheels are just the bee’s knees. Worst part of Donkey Kong Country Returns is that they saddle you with Donkey and his stupid tie while Diddy is right there!
  • Been kinda hard on Yoshi lately, ya know? Blame ROB! I swear I like Yoshi’s Island just fine. It’s an excellent game! Its sequels and lasting impact on gaming seems to wither as I pay more attention to it, though.
  • Did You Know? Rare told me they studied actual real live apes to perfectly animate the Kong’s movements. I learned this from a VHS tape that arrived, unsolicited, at my home. I presume that Nintendo is waiting for the day it is profitable enough to fund time travel expeditions for Miyamoto to study real live Yoshi in their natural habitat.
  • Would I Play Again? I only re-played through the first three worlds for this article, and I am just fascinated that all this time I have been ignoring this game for its “superior” sequel, DKC2. I am seriously considering heading back to Donkey Kong Country in my nonexistent spare time.

What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Ice Climber!? ROB, you %^*$ son of a $$%@. Please look forward to it! I’m not!