Donkey Kong Country 2 is a platforming masterpiece. Released by Rareware in 1995 on the Super Nintendo as a follow up to the groundbreaking Donkey Kong Country, the sequel is one of my favorite games of all time. I still play through it very fall, in October, and am astonished at how much I love it each time! With it recently being added to the Nintendo Switch Online SNES catalog, it was joy to play on the go (with crisper graphics!) this year. I also picked up an old copy of the Nintendo Power player’s guide for some additional nostalgia! To celebrate its 25th anniversary, I want to share my personal retrospective on why Donkey Kong Country 2 is timeless and special.
Rediscovering Donkey Kong Country 2
I never actually owned a SNES during the console’s heyday. (I was a Genesis kid!). But I did play a lot of it at a good friend’s house, and we were obsessed with the first Donkey Kong Country! However, he never bought the sequel. We rented it a few times and enjoyed it (and died a lot-the game is tough!) but it kind of dropped off my radar all through adolescence. It wasn’t actually until I was much older and already a teacher that I rediscovered the game!
October of my first year of teaching was pretty tough. I was exhausted and overwhelmed-any teacher will tell you this is when the “honeymoon period” is over with your students. So I did what I often do in stressful times in my life: turned to games for some comfort. I found the phenomenal DKC 2 soundtrack on YouTube. This led me to looking up Donkey Kong Country 2 retrospective reviews online, and buying the game off a seller on eBay on a whim. I remembered the game fondly but hadn’t really played through the entire thing, so I was excited to jump in and try it again.
A late start to DKC 2 nostalgia
The game arrived in the mail early on a Saturday afternoon. I popped it into my Super Nintendo and was instantly transported back to being a kid, renting the game with my friend, when this title screen popped up:
I figured I’d just play a few levels to try it out then go do something else. Next thing I knew it was already dark outside and I had finished more than half the game-I was at the end of Krazy Kremland! One of my roommates came in to see what the heck I had been doing all day and if I wanted to go to dinner. I was in a complete daze-the game was sublime and I couldn’t stop. It was the “comfort food” in video game form that I needed, and I’ve been playing the game every October since.
Graphical charm and unparalleled atmosphere
I see a few folks online saying that Donkey Kong Country graphics don’t hold up that well today. I couldn’t disagree more! They may be a tad “muddy” but the beautifully expressive art design and creative use of color make Crocodile Isle come alive. Every world, and every single level, is drenched in atmosphere. The fun “pirate” theme permeates the entirety of the game (much like Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse!). Just gaze upon a few of the world maps!
Each level type is just as engrossing in its atmosphere. You can almost feel the chill when Diddy and Dixie jump into the water in an ice cavern level!
Art in both the foreground and background are so expressive without ever seeming too “crowded”, even in visually busy levels like the beehives. Don’t you feel sticky just looking at a screenshot?
And then there’s the bramble levels. The detail on each of the thorns, the leaves and flowers growing from the brambles, the blue sky in the background. The beautiful and nostalgic melody of Stickerbush Symphony. Put it all together and it’s almost comically atmospheric. I take my sweet time playing through the bramble levels (except Screech’s Sprint, of course) just to take in the sights and sounds!
And last, let’s not forget the 90s nostalgia of Diddy rocking out with a boombox and Dixie jamming on her guitar when they hit the target at the end of a level!
Creative and concise stage design
What’s a Donkey Kong Country 2 retrospective without gameplay discussion?
First, stage design in the game is simply BRILLIANT. Nearly every level introduces a clever new mechanic and manages to end before overstaying its welcome. Playing through the first level, Pirate Panic, just feels right. Everything comes together so satisfyingly that it’s hard to put the controller down! And it only gets better from there. From unique vertically designed levels to rides on hot air balloons over lava to roller coaster races, the creativity never lets up. Even stages that are difficult and frustrating (looking at you, Gusty Glade) keep you coming back until you clear them!
Diddy and Dixie Kong are extremely responsive to control, making movement a constant source of joy. Both Kongs are pretty speedy, adding a sort of “kinetic, cartwheeling” feel to the entire game that is absent from DKC 1 and 3. You can absolutely tear through stages if you want. Diddy has the slight edge in speed but Dixie has her ever-so-useful helicopter spin than makes her the “safer” pick in certain levels. It’s a nice balance that keeps the gameplay fast but within your control. (the DKC-inspired Kaze and the Wild Masks similarly nails this great feeling!)
Plus, the animal buddies are all a blast to use and their frequent appearances adds a lot of joy and whimsy to the game!
One of the best game soundtracks of all time
If you’re on my website I doubt I need to convince you that composer David Wise is a genius. The soundtrack of Donkey Kong Country 2 is phenomenal-I mean every single track. Each theme perfectly suits the levels it was written for, making them all the more atmospheric. This is also one my favorite soundtracks to listen to independent of the game-it’s just lovely as background music. Aside from Stickerbush, here are a few personal highlights:
This really makes me think of Kremlings toiling away in the mines! Such an epic tune for the vertical ascents in these levels too.
Yet another reason I play through the game each October-this song transports you to autumn woods! Can’t you feel the crisp air and even smell the leaves while you listen?
In a Snow-Bound Land
Between the art design of the ice caverns and this theme, I swear I actually feel colder playing these levels. So immersive!
If you thought a fight against a menacing crocodilian pirate captain in a floating zeppelin couldn’t get any more epic, then wait until 33 seconds into this theme!
Rareware at their peak
The original Donkey Kong Country was already outstanding, but Rare really took what they learned and cranked things up to 11 with the sequel. Everything in Donkey Kong Country 2 is polished to a sheen. It’s got just the right amount of collectibles and meaningful rewards for finding them. The bonus rooms are fun, varied, and the perfect degree of challenge. All of the animal buddies have a plethora of entertaining abilities, and are peak adorable. Sound design? Impeccable. The sound effect of getting a DK Coin and hearing it getting added to your total is satisfying in ways I can’t even articulate. The level titles are catchy and memorable. Heck, even the FONT in the game even perfectly suits it. This is Rare at their most glorious.
So much love and care was put into every aspect of this game, and it shows. It’s a huge reason Donkey Kong Country 2 holds up so well today, and will forever be one of my favorite games of all time.
Do you feel the same way about any of my Donkey Kong Country 2 Retrospective thoughts? Are there other reasons you love or cherish the game, or do you more fondly remember another entry in the series? Is there a different game you play through every autumn for a specific reason? Please share in the comments below!