DK and Diddy return, this time for the Game Boy Advance! Sadly, you can't make Candy kiss their ass anymore.
Picture it. It's 1994, and the Summer CES is in full swing. Nintendo unveils a new game. 3-D rendered graphics, an awesome blasting soundtrack, and a whole host of new villains -- the Kremlings and their leader, King K.Rool. The stars of this game? The arcade Donkey Kong's son and his little buddy Diddy. The media goes, for a lack of a better word, bananas. "What system is this for? What's Nintendo's new system called?" Nintendo reveals that the only thing you'll need to play this incredible game is -- a Super Nintendo. The media are stunned, and the sales for Donkey Kong Country go through the roof, making it THE holiday title to get.
Here we are, almost ten years since the day that Donkey Kong Country single-handedly saved the Super Nintendo and encouraged gamers to overlook those 32 bit systems (for at least a little while longer). DK, Diddy, and the Kremling Krew are still as charming as ever, but do the additional modes and bonus mini-games add to the experience for those new to Donkey Kong Country?
First off, if you're expecting a perfect port of the SNES Donkey Kong Country, then you're best off to stay far, far away from this version. Erase your saves and play DKC from the start on your SNES. While some levels are pretty close audio and visual-wise (Coral Capers, Millstone Mayhem and Slipslide Ride come to mind), others aren't. Character sprites, have had some palette changes, but look just as good as their SNES counterparts. One thing that has noticeably been given an overhaul is the overworld maps. They've been completely redone, and look much better for it. Level orders have been changed about, and the overworld of Donkey Kong Country generally looks excellent.
Donkey Kong Country had a stellar soundtrack back in its original run, and the Game Boy Advance comes the closest so far to emulating the classic music. Whether it's the slow, soothing Aquatic Ambiance, the frantic pace of Mine Cart Madness, or the techno-rock of Fear Factory, DKC has it all. The music for the Funky's Fishing mini-game is criminally catchy, and the music for Candy's Dance Studio isn't too bad either. My only complaint for the music would be that Tree Top Rock has been slowed down. Ah well.
Sounds are also well done in DKC. While a fair few of the SNES sound effects have gone, most have remained, or been replaced with voice. Nothing overused (for example, DK won't be saying, "OH BANANA!" every time he jumps), but nice touches, such as grunts and screams from the Kremlings and the Kongs. It's kind of satisfying listening to Diddy's fading wail as he plummets to his death.
Gameplay mainly sticks true to the original DKC. Rather than doing the Nintendo trend and making the game easier (for shame, Super Mario Advance!), Rare has left the levels as they are, with increased difficulty on most of the bosses. There are also extra bonuses to find, which will add pictures to a scrapbook. On top of this, completing the game with 101% will unlock a tougher "Hero Mode", where you only play as Diddy, and have no halfway barrels to assist you.
A new, well thought-out addition to DKC is the DK Attack, which is a combination of Time Attack and Score Attack. You start off with 59 seconds on the clock to get through a level. You can increase this time by getting time icons, which come in increments of five, ten, fifteen and twenty seconds. Naturally, you'll have to risk your neck more to get the higher times. In addition to this, enemies, bananas, tokens, and buddies all earn you points and bonuses. You'll need to work out a strategy for each level to decide whether it's better for you to take a bonus level for extra points, or skip it for extra time. At the end of the level, you're given a bonus for an Animal Buddy and having an extra Kong, and your points are tallied up. Do well enough, and you may even get the coveted S Rank.
Control is quick and precise in DKC, just as it was on the SNES. The Kongs are still as nimble as ever, and you'll be performing cartwheels, barrel rolls and mid-air jumps with ease. Funky's Fishing is a little tougher to get the hang of initially, but quickly gets addictive. Candy's Dance Studio seems to be the most awkward of the bunch, but seeing as it's all about timing, it’s probably just my lack of rhythm.
Overall, Donkey Kong Country is a pleasant surprise. While I was expecting the worst from the initial screens and media (even up to the release), I was surprised and pleased when I actually played the game. I'm still unsure about the day-glo palette used for most of the levels (make the levels darker for DKC2, Rare!), but the classic DKC gameplay and additional modes more than make up for this problem. It's great to meet up with K.Rool, Winky, Diddy, and of course, Cranky again -- and sadly, it makes me want a Donkey Kong Country 4 even more, which I know is highly unlikely. First-time platform gamers will enjoy this, but veterans expecting a perfect port may feel a little cheated at first.