The RetroBeat: I’m finally ready to appreciate Donkey Kong Country 2

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When you ask someone to name their favorite SNES games, you hear a lot of the same names brought up: Super Metroid, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Chrono Trigger, and so on. And I agree.

A lot of people also put Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong’s Quest in that top tier. For a long time, I wouldn’t. As a kid growing up with SNES, I just wasn’t all that into the Donkey Kong Country games. I’m not even sure why. Maybe they were too difficult for me. Maybe I was too much of an obnoxious Sega fanboy when they were new.

Point is, I didn’t give the series a fair shake as a kid. I did play a bit of the first one, but I barely touched the two SNES sequels. And according to most retro gaming fans, DKC2 is the best of the bunch.

Well, since the game is available on the Switch via its library of SNES titles available through the Nintendo Switch Online service, I thought that I would finally make an effort to play through all of DKC2. And, yeah, I get the hype.

Sequel conquest

The jump from Donkey Kong Country to Donkey Kong Country 2 reminds me a lot of the leap from the first Mega Man to Mega Man 2. When you just look at them, the sequels look like incremental steps forward. When you play them, however, you realize how a ton of small improvements can make for a significant boost in quality.

Some of the more obnoxious and tedious elements from the first DKC, like those rotating barrels and the reflex-demanding mine cart sequences, are toned down to be a bit more easy to handle. Bosses are also more interesting. You don’t have as many repeating fights, and they require you to do more than just jump on some big enemy’s head a few times.

Trixie Kong is also just more fun to play as than Donkey Kong. Yeah, it is a little weird that the latter isn’t playable in a game that bears his name. Trixie’s hovering propeller pigtails help make some of the game’s more tricky platforming sections more manageable.

All of those improvements aside, sometimes a game’s soundtrack is so good that you have just to love the whole package. Composer David Wise did great work on the first DKC, but this score is even better. “Stickerbrush Symphony” might be the best track from the entire SNES library.

I’m not sure I’m quite ready to put DKC2 into my SNES top 5. It’s not going to dethrone the likes of Mega Man X or Super Mario RPG. But I am ready to admit that this is a fantastic game, one of the best 2D platformers of the 16-bit era.

Now I’m giving Donkey Kong Country 3 a shot, a game that never gets as much love its predecessors. I’m curious to find out why, and I’ll be sure to report back to you all when I do.

The RetroBeat is a weekly column that looks at gaming’s past, diving into classics, new retro titles, or looking at how old favorites — and their design techniques — inspire today’s market and experiences. If you have any retro-themed projects or scoops you’d like to send my way, please contact me.

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