There's no question that Donkey Kong Country 2 improves upon its predecessor in numerous ways. Diddy and his new partner, Dixie, have a few new abilities, including a team-up attack, which give players so much more to do. There are minigames all over the place that provide frequent breaks from the regular run-and-jump levels, and the graphics and music are richer and livelier than they were in the first Donkey Kong Country. One so-called improvement, however, may turn just as many people off of this latest DKC game as are turned on by it, and that's the game's tough-as-nails degree of difficulty.
This is the sort of game for people who enjoy clawing their way to the end of a level. Each of the game's 52 levels is packed with ambushes, surprise pitfalls and traps, and lengthy sections where you have to exercise pinpoint skill when jumping between tiny ledges or vines while suspended above bottomless chasms. Midway through one mine cart level, for instance, after you've jumped over a dozen gaps and activated switches to open a handful of doors, you discover in a split second that some switches actually shut doorways instead of open them. Surprises like this are par for the course in Donkey Kong Country 2. You discover a surprise (likely losing a life in the process), add it to your mental map of the level, restart from the checkpoint, and try to make it farther next time. The same holds true for the bosses as well, as they change their behavior once or twice before succumbing to Diddy and Dixie's attempts to bonk them on the head.
Aside from the steep difficulty, Donkey Kong Country 2 has everything in it that a platform game ought to have. Diddy and Dixie can run and jump, of course, and knock out enemies by pouncing on their heads or by barreling through them with a cartwheel attack. Whichever character you aren't controlling is the one that tags along behind the one in front. You can swap between the two by tapping the select button, and there are actually a few reasons to do so. Diddy can run faster and jump farther, while Dixie has a higher vertical leap and can float for short periods. The duo can also join forces and perform a team attack in this game, something that DK and Diddy couldn't do in the first Donkey Kong Country. Tap the R button and the lead character will pick up and carry the straggler. You can move around freely with the other character in tow and throw it at things by pressing the A button. This team move lets you grab items, activate switches, and pounce on enemies that would normally be too far away.
Diddy and Dixie also act as a health indicator of sorts. When the lead character runs into an enemy or gets hit by a projectile, you'll automatically switch to the one bringing up the rear. You can usually recover the character you lost by grabbing a monkey barrel up ahead in the level, which, in addition to collecting extra lives (by gathering bananas, balloons, or K-O-N-G coins), is one of the many ways you can rack up multiple chances to get through some of the game's tougher challenges.
Many levels fall into the "run to the right, jump over gaps, and avoid enemies" school of level design, but there are quite a few that have you going back and forth and climbing higher. The process of just getting to the exit is wildly different in every level, thanks to the mixture of different enemies and environmental hazards. Similar to the first Donkey Kong Country, the levels in DKC2 incorporate tasks like swimming, riding in mine carts, flying on top of a parrot, or swinging from vines. In DKC2, however, some levels are entirely devoted to these tasks. Riding on top of and controlling friendly animals also comes into play with new animals, such as a spitting spider and a high-jumping snake, which join the rhino, swordfish, and parrot from the first game. Also, some levels are just plain unique--like one where you're constantly getting stuck in honey, so the only way to move is by jumping.
Diddy and Dixie don't carry weapons, but they can use a variety of different barrels to their advantage. There are barrels that you can pick up and toss, some of which reveal bananas and coins when you break them. There are a variety of cannon-type barrels that can launch you up ahead. Some have timers attached, some rotate on their own, and some you can aim by pressing the directional pad. If you see a barrel floating in a swamp, you can land on it or ride it without falling into the murky water below. There are barrels that mark checkpoints, barrels that give Diddy and Dixie temporary invincibility, and barrels that unleash one of their animal friends. Every level usually has a bonus barrel or two in it that will take you to a timed stage where you have to defeat all of the enemies in order to earn a valuable coin.
The menagerie of enemies in this latest game is quite vast as well. There are evil lizardlike kremlings that aimlessly walk on land, take after our heroes when they notice them, or toss barrels and shoot cannonballs at them from afar. Some forest animals, such as giant rats and sharp-quilled porcupines, also seem to have developed a dislike for the primate pair. There are airborne enemies, such as spiky bees and vultures, which fly in set patterns or swoop toward Dixie and Diddy when you get too close. Underwater, you'll find yet another set of enemies, generally piranhas, eels, and puffer fish. In all, there are probably three-dozen regular enemies. At the end of each of the game's eight main worlds, you'll fight a boss character for one of DK's coins and the right to move on to the next world. The bosses aren't necessarily large or awe-inspiring, but their attack patterns are complex enough to require good memorization skills, and they're usually fairly lethal until you figure out just how to toss barrels at them safely without winding up on the receiving end of a projectile or a swoop-style attack.
Donkey Kong Country 2 looks and sounds superb. The jungle-themed backgrounds are rich with dark greens and earthy brown colors. Parallax-scrolling layers add a sense of depth to the side-scrolling environments and extraneous rain and snow, and the blowing leaf effects really bring the backgrounds to life. Younger players will probably like the lighthearted art style of the computer-generated character graphics while jaded sticklers will likely appreciate how much animation has been put into every character's movements. Diddy, Dixie, and the various kremlings all have a fluid range of motion and a good variety of miscellaneous actions. Step in front of an enemy or pounce on one and it'll growl at you or grimace in pain. Stand idle for a few seconds and Diddy and Dixie will juggle bananas or wave at the screen. Most of these actions have corresponding sound effects, which are clear and lifelike. The music is the real highlight of the audio, however. The jungle-inspired music is packed with different instruments, and it creates a large, symphonic atmosphere to the arrangements.
You may recall that Donkey Kong Country 2 was originally published for the Super NES in 1995. This GBA version of Donkey Kong Country 2, like Donkey Kong Country a year ago, is a conversion (or port) of the original Super NES game. Since the screen resolution of a GBA is less than that of a Super NES, some graphical adjustments were made to fit the original Super NES graphics into the GBA's screen dimensions. Mainly, the character and background graphics have been scaled down, resulting in a minor loss of detail, and the viewable screen area has been cropped slightly. Rare didn't remove nearly as many translucency or scrolling effects from this game as the company did with the previous one, and it only cranked the brightness up in certain backgrounds as opposed to the whole game. So Donkey Kong Country 2 actually more closely resembles its Super NES counterpart than the previous game did.
Another improvement to the GBA version of Donkey Kong Country 2 is the amount of new bonus content that has been added. Apart from the game's 52 main levels, there are dozens upon dozens of bonus games. Most are simple minigame tasks, accessed from within each level, which typically involve grabbing coins or pouncing on enemies. Others, such as Swanky Kong's trivia game, Expresso's racing, or Funky Kong's helicopter game, are more in-depth and can be played right from the world map. Expresso's racing and Funky Kong's helicopter game are both new to the GBA version. Each has seven individual stages. In Expresso's racing, you control an ostrich during a three-lap race against three other ostriches. You can earn trophies for top finishes and DK coins for taking first place. Funky's helicopter game, by contrast, is an action game set from the same mold as the classic Choplifter. In it, players control a helicopter and attempt to navigate tunnels, shoot enemies, and grapple items before a timer runs out.
Also new to the GBA game is a picture-gathering quest that's enabled by visiting Cranky Kong's wife, Mrs. Wrinkly Kong, at one of the Kong Kolleges scattered throughout each world. Once enabled, you'll be able to pounce on enemies and add their pictures to a photo album, which you can look at from the pause menu. For every page of the album you complete, you'll earn extra lives or hero coins.
Throughout the game, there are hundreds of different hero coins, krem coins, DK coins, and golden feathers to collect, which let you access bonus games, unlock the game's final world, and reveal a few alternate ending sequences, among other things. The three bonus games described above are also accessible from the main menu, along with a time attack mode that lets you play through each of the game's 52 levels individually.
Donkey Kong Country 2 is a diverse platform game with excellent graphics and sound and an impressive list of bonus features. The game's most defining feature, though, is its sharp degree of difficulty, which may prove frustrating for some younger or less dedicated players. But if you don't mind an honest-to-goodness challenge, you'll want to pick this one up.