Donkey Kong Country 2 and Progression | PostMesmeric

, , 20 Comments


Around this time last year, I released a video
critiquing Donkey Kong Country, one of the most popular and revered games to hit the
Super Nintendo. As someone who approached the series long
after its heyday, I came away impressed. Donkey Kong Country is a great game, one packed
with solid level design, captivating environments, and a bottomless reserve of personality. But with all of this in mind, I still didn’t
have the reverence many others had for the game. Donkey Kong Country may have been Rare’s
major foray into the gaming spotlight, but I can’t in confidence say that it’s a
total masterpiece. Collision detection issues, unclear hitboxes,
and some occasionally middling level structure were the growing pains of giving new life
to Donkey Kong’s character and cultural presence. I won’t deny the game’s ambition, and
I simply can’t condemn its apparent successes, but it’s clear that Rare needed a bit more
time to get their ideas together, at least into something truly worthy of the phrase
“masterpiece.” The sequel, on the other hand, Donkey Kong
Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest, is a pure example of a gaming sequel. This is a game that manages to surpass its
predecessor in almost every discernable way, while still keeping the inherent basics intact. It’s a resounding success, the result of
developers conscientiously observing their previous game’s best moments and building
upon them, while at the same time, trimming whatever intrusive distractions were leftover. It’s a series progression of purely natural
origin. As late to the party as I am, trying out a
game from 1995 for the first time, more than 20 years later, I can’t help but be impressed
by Donkey Kong Country 2. Donkey Kong Country was a game that really
nailed first impressions, but struggled a bit as the game progressed forward. The pre-rendered models that Rare constructed
for Donkey Kong Country were a technical marvel at the time, but they brought about the issues
with collision detection and poor interaction with the environments’ visual style. But Diddy and Dixie’s consistent models
significantly remedy the issues of the first game, where Donkey Kong’s model would increase
in vertical proportions when jumping and horizontal proportions when running. As I said in the video on that game, I’m
happy that Rare gave Diddy the spotlight over DK for the sequel. Hitboxes still have their share of issues,
but I think DKC2 is an overall better experience with Diddy and Dixie as the star duo, if not
for the technical advantages, then for the narrative ones. A young couple trying to save their more experienced
hero from the clutches of his nemesis, all taking place on the villain’s home turf? It’s kind of anxiety-inducing, but it raises
the stakes in very good ways. There are oppressive environments all over
K. Rool’s island, but with determination and teamwork, Diddy and Dixie are more than
equipped to save DK, and live up to the same hero status that they gave him. Because of the proportion issues being near-nonexistent,
and the level locales so much more unsettling, Rare gave themselves the freedom to create
more intricate level structure, the kind that DKC 1 simply couldn’t handle. Levels in DKC 2 dimensionalize the gameplay
in spades. They shy away from the established structure
of simply running to the right. Donkey Kong Country 1 had its moments of more
tiered and layered level design, but Donkey Kong Country 2 totally embraces it. Climbing up, down, left, right, in almost
winding paths, all within a single stage, is astounding, and it shows the versatility
that the first Donkey Kong Country simply wasn’t equipped for. Complementing a more diverse level structure
was a more robust reward system. Donkey Kong Country 1 had plenty of secrets,
propelled by both a completion percentage and the patronizing banter of Cranky Kong. These secrets were integrated into the gameplay
very well, like using items to break open secret passageways or taking a leap of faith
only to be barrel blasted into a bonus stage. These were all inherent to DKC1’s design. Donkey Kong Country 2 still has those secrets,
but gives them more concrete rewards. Completing bonus stages to earn Kremcoins
and access the Lost World was a great incentive to go the extra mile and explore, but it’s
the DK Coins that really showed Rare’s ambition. The giant spinning coins demanded some top-tier
skill to attain, along with ingenuity in how to collect them. Compared to the bonus stages, the DK Coins
were the real treasure. They asked a LOT out of the player, saying to
them that the journey ahead wasn’t going to be an easy one, but if you’re good enough,
you WILL be rewarded. With more collectibles and plenty of varied
level construction, Donkey Kong Country 2 has density. It broadens its scope so assuredly, demanding
more from the player, but tantalizing them with more rewards. If the game wasn’t polished like it is,
I’d easily label this development mentality as cunning, but lo and behold, Rare confidently
expanded upon DKC 1’s established elements and it’s hard to argue against that when
the game is so packed with content. But just because there’s a lot of stuff
to do, that doesn’t instantly mean it’s a success. It’s so easy to fall back on the erroneous
claim that “more is better.” We’ve seen what happens when quantity overtakes
quality. In fact, it’s a symptom that’s unfortunately
ingrained itself in gaming culture nowadays. Donkey Kong Country 2 does provide more stuff
to collect, levels with more layers of challenge and incentive, and even in its moments of
downtime, it feels like a more propulsive game. But DKC2’s amount of content isn’t its
only strength. Rare delivered the quality to its quantity,
and that direction is why Donkey Kong Country 2 stands head and shoulders above its predecessor. Donkey Kong Country 2 doesn’t overhaul the
formula established in the first game, but it’s clear as day that the team at Rare
was trying their hardest to push the limits of the framework they developed in the previous
installment. DKC1 had its moments of eccentricity, in levels
like Stop and Go Station, where entirely new enemies were created for a singular stage,
but the game still let its gameplay structure stay grounded. The changes in DKC1’s stages were subtle,
and in a way, underdeveloped. Instead of adding level-specific elements
in the form of environmental gimmicks, it was more about how obstacles were arranged. It’s a nice gesture, and I honestly think
DKC1 pulls this off very well, but if you’re looking for a real earth shaker when it comes
to platformer level design, DKC1 probably isn’t the ideal specimen. The worlds of Donkey Kong Country 2, in contrast,
are a far cry from that direction. In addition to some really intricate and sometimes
downright trollish enemy and hazard placement, the additions to DKC2 come in a more apparent
form. You’re on an enemy’s homeland, a region
packed with hazards and areas that can easily destroy an up-and-comer. And Rare knew this. What better way to excuse a higher difficulty
standard than to have a game take place without a home field advantage? DKC2 is significantly more difficult than
DKC1; Rare wanted to make this game a worthy sequel to its already successful first installment,
and in doing so, established DKC2 as looming and oppressive. It’s a game that expects a LOT from the
player, and while that sounds intimidating, Rare weren’t hesitant to deliver some of
the most demanding challenges for the Super Nintendo. But while many levels have relatively simple
platforming ethos, Rare made it an imperative to always keep the player guessing, and they
did this via a constant stream of level gimmicks. DKC 1 certainly had moments of experimentalism,
levels with original assets like treadmills, falling platforms, or mine carts, but
the amount of custom, one-shot level gimmicks in DKC 2 is damn near endless. I’m constantly brought back to levels with
totally original ideas like Haunted Hall with its Kremling ghost chasing you or Gusty Glade
with its shifting winds. Animal buddies get entire levels devoted to
them, stages become races where simply surviving isn’t enough to complete them, everything
in DKC 2 feels purposely abstract. Levels rarely reuse ideas, at least not without
adding totally new variables to create player challenge. It’s unsettling in all the right ways. But I think what’s truly impressive about
Donkey Kong Country 2’s design is that the platforming is never neglected. As bizarre and almost otherworldly as the
level design can get, there’s still a very grounded core built from the platforming. Even when you’re navigating a treacherous
roller coaster or climbing the ropes to avoid a rising piranha trap, there’s a constant
centralized focus on movement, momentum, and platforming. Donkey Kong Country 2 simply takes that core
and diversifies it, adding secrets that encourage exploration, new traps that require different
player pacing, and a reward system that incentivizes having fast and precise demonstrations of
player skill. But these diversions don’t complicate gameplay
in intrusive ways. You’re still platforming. That hasn’t changed, and by cycling all
of these ideas back into DKC 2’s innermost essence, the entire game feels cohesive, deliberate
and honed. As off-kilter as so many levels appear to
be, they still are platforming levels and the fact that Rare made this all work is a
testament to their endless reserve of ingenuity. Rare contorted what constitutes a platformer
challenge, through and through, and Donkey Kong Country 2 is simply better for it. Donkey Kong Country 2 is a textbook case of
progression. It’s Rare building upon an established framework
instead of creating an entirely new one. As with some of the greatest sequels in gaming
history, there’s no revolution at work. Nothing in DKC2’s basic structure strays
that far from the humble beginnings of the first game in the trilogy. But Rare’s total commitment to expansion
and evolution is astonishing; surrounding the main chamber that is Donkey Kong Country’s
core platforming are additions and alterations that make established concepts feel new. Any great platformer needs to have its basics
mastered from the get-go and Donkey Kong Country 1, despite its issues, still had its basics
refined. But that simply gave Rare the opportunity
to run wild on Donkey Kong Country 2, adding even more surreal aesthetics, more abstract
win conditions, and content that complements a steadily rising skill ceiling. It almost seems purposeless praising Donkey
Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest at this point. As someone whose experience with the game
was near non-existent prior to this video, I think the record is set straight. In missing out on this game, I hold a degree
of shame, but I feel like I should join the club and say that Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s
Kong Quest, is a fantastic achievement, one that progresses its series and its genre in
ways that other titles could only imagine.

 

20 Responses

  1. Stone Coggins

    April 18, 2018 4:53 pm

    I'm a very long time fan of the series and this is really some spot on analysis in my opinion. I really believe that the reason why many people view the DKC series as overrated and not on the same level as other legendary platforming series like Castlevania, Mega Man, and that one with the little red guy is because the first DKC is the most famous game in the series and the one most people were exposed to first.

    Now, I don't dislike DKC, not at all, I think it's quite a good game, but I would agree that it's a bit underdeveloped and is, at its core, a fairly generic platformer with really, really great presentation elements like graphics, music, environments, etc. DKC2 truly drove the series to absurd new heights by combining everything that was good about DKC and ratcheting up the level design to like ten times what was on display in the first game. It achieved DKC1's full potential, and then some. I believe that if more people were introduced to the series through DKC2, they would view it with the reverence it truly deserves.

    Reply
  2. El Rocky Raccoon

    April 18, 2018 6:30 pm

    I completely agree with you. Of the all the Donkey Kong games, Diddy's Kong Quest is by far my favorite. It is the perfect example of a successful sequel: refining what was already good in the first game, and fixing the issues.

    Reply
  3. Richard Hembree

    April 18, 2018 10:29 pm

    DKC 2 was my favorite until Tropical Freeze came out in 2014. Please tell me you will continue the series and review the later titles?

    Reply
  4. VIMaggotVIBrainzVI

    April 19, 2018 2:28 am

    0:38 & 1:58 – Dude, don't blame your lack of skills on the collision detection. Name ONE platformer where the player kills the enemy by running into him (assuming said player doesn't have some sort of temporary invincibility), because that's exactly what you did.

    I've been playing the DKC series for a loooong time. Never had any gripes with collision detection or hit boxes, so don't act like they're objective flaws in the first DKC game.

    Reply
  5. Cargar Partida

    April 19, 2018 3:31 am

    Great video. I love your voice. It's a pitty that Im not an native English speaker, so my channel is in Spanish. I would have loved to do a collab with you.

    Reply
  6. Sarmoc

    April 19, 2018 2:57 pm

    I like your video, but I disagree with some of your thoughts about these games.
    I feel DKC2 is a game that tries hard to be like the original, but cooler, yet it fails really bad on basic things.
    There are a bunch of new ridiculous ideas implemented in this game. Some bosses don't make sense, the quality of the renders is way inferior compared to the first title and the stages don't even seem to belong to the same world we experienced before. Also, there are many stages that are just boring to play: boring looking, boring hard and boring long. In my opinion, It's just bad design!

    Reply
  7. DarkHazard

    April 20, 2018 6:40 pm

    I don't know what you're talking about with the hitboxes of the the first game, that's just simply false and bizarre. But yes, DKC2 is definitely the best in the series and one of the best platformers period.

    Reply
  8. stezo2k

    April 21, 2018 8:04 am

    Best platform game ever, may even be the best game ever. I love this game so much. I had it at launch and still to this day I'm impressed with it. Surprised you didn't mention the music, David wise is a musical genius. The music easily is as good as the game itself.

    Reply
  9. Luigi ofTime128

    April 28, 2019 9:22 pm

    Very good look at my favorite DKC game. If you've not had a really good chance to just sit back and enjoy the music I highly recommend it, seriously one of the best game soundtracks ever made.

    Reply

Leave a Reply