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Donkey Kong Land Review (Nintendo Game Boy)
Review by 
6.38/10 from 13 user ratings
 

A common criticism of the Game Boy era is that its library is essentially stripped-down, colorless versions of the NES and SNES's set of games. I've always found this to be an unfair complaint since there're many Game Boy games that are particularly well-designed, memorable, and occasionally even better than their big brothers on the consoles. Donkey Kong '94, Link's Awakening, Mega Man V and Oracles are notable in their own venerable series, not to mention great original IPs like Mole Mania, Pokemon, Mario's Picross, and Kirby's Dream Land.

Donkey Kong Land is not one of those games. It is a stripped-down, less-polished version of Donkey Kong Country.

Which isn't to say it's a port. Unlike its sequels, Donkey Kong Land is, in fact, a fully original adventure with all-new levels, new bosses, and a few new environments. The basic story is sort of funny in its self-awareness: Cranky is upset that Donkey Kong Country (yes, the SNES game) was popular and claims it's only because of its newfangled graphics. Diddy and DK contest that people liked the game because it was fun, and to prove it, everyone strikes a deal for K.Rool to steal the Kongs' banana horde again to test their mettle in an 8-bit adventure. This weird and amusing backstory is only in the manual, though, and has no representation in the game itself (sadly).

The core platforming gameplay is familiar enough for anyone who's played the beloved SNES trilogy, but after a few levels, it becomes apparent that whatever Land this is, it doesn't quite look or feel as good as the Country we came from. The 8-bit version of Rare's rendering technology is kind of impressive, but it comes at a big price: the camera feels very close throughout the whole adventure. All too often, the vertically-designed levels will have you drop to a platform below, only to be immediately bitten by an unseen enemy. More troubling is that when the screen moves upward, it's a crap-shoot whether dropping below will kill you or not; it often turns the blank area below the Kongs into a pit for some reason, so dropping towards a previously safe platform will--like so many Contra waterfall stage deaths--suddenly result in an insta-kill.

Not only that, but depending on where your Kong is located upon getting hit (like, say, on a vine touching a previously-unseen Zinger because the level designers are sadistic and the game is filled with blind spots), there's a bug where the game sometimes doesn't give you your second Kong at all, and just treats the first hit as a full death. The physics themselves never quite feel right, with our heroes falling just a little too quickly and having little of the rewarding momentum of the SNES titles.

There are some other concessions due to the insistence on sticking with the rendering style, like the game's strange sense of scale. K.Rool once towered over DK, here he's only slightly taller than Diddy, and the other bosses are all no bigger than your average grunt enemy. It can also be difficult to make out what certain objects are thanks to some busy backgrounds and ornate environments, further hurting the visibility. I've never agreed with the assertion that Retro's DK games had trial-and-error segments, but this one absolutely does. The new environments, incidentally, are strange-looking and often don't fit the established art style very well. A couple of the city stages are cool, but there're an equal number of bizarre environments that don't come together well.

Weird.

The music is okay. The chiptune remakes of songs like Jungle Hijinx, Gangplank Galleon and Aquatic Ambiance work decently, but the new stuff is pretty unmemorable and not terribly characteristic of the series.

If you can get past those issues, there's a reasonably large game here, with the usual bonus barrels and a fairly good variety of environments. Some stages are interesting and there's a decent amount of variety for a pre-DKC2 era game. But ultimately, the gameplay flaws and frustrating elements really hold it back for me. As a kid, I didn't really notice the game design issues, but it made for a very frustrating experience being blindsided by sudden enemies and pits-that-didn't-exist-before over and over.

And the ending is terrible too. 100% completion and what do you get? "CONGRATULATIONS." Yes, with the period. Almost like the game is mocking you for sticking with it to the end. Maybe Cranky was right after all.

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Posted: 03/11/15, 22:20:54  - Edited by 
 on: 03/12/15, 04:22:55    
 
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@kriswright

So I'm guessing you hate Sonic the Hedgehog then? The ultimate example of the style over substance platformer of the 16-bit era?


Posted by 
 on: 03/13/15, 11:22:30
Your attempt to hurt me emotionally has failed. I am only stronger.


Posted by 
 on: 03/13/15, 13:03:28
@kriswright He has a point, though. For all the substance Sonic has (arguably more than any platformer of the 16-bit era), he's got even more style!


Posted by 
 on: 03/13/15, 14:16:20
@nate38

Neither of you have managed to tell me what substance of value Sonic games have? I like Sonic games but for a game that is about "gotta go fast" it bogs it down in some poor handling platforming that isn't fun at all.


Posted by 
 on: 03/13/15, 14:25:34
chrisbg99 said:
Neither of you have managed to tell me what substance of value Sonic games have?
Maybe because neither of us tried to? I've probably typed dozens of long-winded posts on the subject over the years, so it makes me feel a little queasy to even start again (and in the comments of a DK Land review, no less), but the short of it is that the character's range of motion can combine with even the subtlest features in the environment for uncommonly nuanced (but intuitive and replicable) results. It's the same reason I love Super Mario 64 and Sunshine so much: the core feel of movement is precise with a little practice but also loose enough to scale into big impressive maneuvers, with the right touch.


Posted by 
 on: 03/13/15, 16:13:25
Can't we all just agree that my opinion is the right one and everyone else's comes directly from the Devil whispering in their ears?

It's not hard, America.


Posted by 
 on: 03/14/15, 23:44:13
The first DKC might be so-so but the sequel is excellent. The first world is the worst, though, IMO.


Posted by 
 on: 03/15/15, 04:37:08
@kriswright

You must have been really mad when you didn't play as Donkey Kong in the original Donkey Kong game too.

@Guillaume

DKC2 is also so so. Only Retro made the series great.


Posted by 
 on: 03/15/15, 05:05:00
@Jargon

Wait. That little guy with the hammer isn't Donkey Kong?


Posted by 
 on: 03/15/15, 06:26:41
@kriswright

No.

"OoT forever. Kristopher never!"

Etc.


Posted by 
 on: 03/15/15, 06:31:39
@kriswright
Pfft, next they'll be telling us you don't play as Zelda and Metroid!


Posted by 
 on: 03/15/15, 06:44:24
@TriforceBun


"Dear Die Hard. You rock..."


Posted by 
 on: 03/15/15, 06:49:03
@Shadowlink

I know we're joking around here, but I don't want to get pegged with a reputation for bashing classic Nintendo games or anything. I love almost everything Nintendo's ever put out. Heck, I'd buy a Gyromite remake day one.

I do think OoT is a great game, I just don't agree it's eternally perfect or even the greatest Zelda. That's all, really.

Rare I genuinely find overrated, but I still think they had a lot of talent. I just don't feel like they always fired on all cylinders, even in some of their more ballyhooed games. DKC would be an example of that. On a 5 star scale, I'd give it 3 stars. To me, that's still a good rating - a game with flaws that's still worth playing - but nowhere near the 5 I'd give Tropical Freeze. Retro made me love the series, not Rare.

I do think I should go back and play the DKC 2 with an open mind and a new sense of purpose, though. I'm not married to my previous opinion on the game and will happily reevaluate it if I find more to love.

@TriforceBun

That robot dude Metroid is the coolest. I hear they later replaced him with a girl. Freakin' political correctness, man.


Posted by 
 on: 03/15/15, 06:57:47  - Edited by 
 on: 03/15/15, 06:59:58
@kriswright

Alright. Kristopher sometimes.

But only sometimes. Mostly when playing Kid Icarus. Oh, and classic Sierra games.


Posted by 
 on: 03/15/15, 06:59:26  - Edited by 
 on: 03/15/15, 07:06:50
@kriswright

I'd be very interested in a thread that involved you playing DKC2 and putting in your thoughts as you went along, maybe with a post every world or something. I think the game holds up well from a modern perspective and it'd be quite entertaining hearing a longtime Nintendo fan play through it for the first time. Even if you ended up not liking it.

Most people nowadays feel that DKC2 is significantly better than the original. Like, a Mega Man 1 to Mega Man 2 kind of jump. The stage designs feel less helter-skelter and are generally tighter and thematically stronger, the character balance of Diddy and Dixie is way better than DKC1's balance (or 3's), and the music is still super inviting. Do you own it in some form already?


Posted by 
 on: 03/16/15, 03:38:24  - Edited by 
 on: 03/16/15, 03:41:54
@TriforceBun

Yeah, I have the SNES cart. Maybe I could put together a feature on it sometime in the near future. It actually does sound like an interesting idea for an article. And though I do have experience with the game, I don't have strong memories of it, apart from not loving it much.


Posted by 
 on: 03/16/15, 04:19:39  - Edited by 
 on: 03/16/15, 04:20:23
@TriforceBun

I would like to see that as well.

I think DKC 2 is slightly inferior to Tropical Freeze, but it's still among my top 2D platformers without a doubt. I the Mega Man 1 vs 2 comparison is fairly accurate, but DKC2 is not as much of a leap forward as MM2 is. It feels like for every lasting innovation DKC2 makes, it does one more thing that establishes as unique and distinct within the series. Compare that to Mega Man 2, which in many ways set the standard for the series. And as with the original Mega Man, I think the first DKC too often gets second banana ( ) to its sequel.


Posted by 
 on: 03/16/15, 05:02:08  - Edited by 
 on: 03/16/15, 05:04:54
I have the cartridge for this game and I remember I stopped partway through, so the release on the VC inspired me to go back and play it. Then I soon discovered why I stopped: this game is completely brutal. It's like, almost Battletoads hard, one of the most difficult games I've ever played, or at least in recent memory. I'm not sure why I stuck with it, maybe wanting to see the new environments and music as mentioned in the review pushed me, but I managed to beat it. I'm impressed you had the patience for 100%, that's nuts. I wasn't even sure how to keep track of the coins I collected since they seemed to respawn when replaying a level, so I'd just have to collect them all in one run and see if the ! appeared.

I actually liked the music in this game, including the new themes, though maybe it's just because one of the more interesting tidbits is that this game's boss theme was remixed in Blast Corps. What a weird reference!

The VC releases also inspired me to go back and buy the other two Land games (in cartridge form, these are Super Game Boy games after all), which I had done before I tried out Land 1 again. I hope they really are better as people say.


Posted by 
 on: 04/27/15, 22:24:06
@Mop it up

The other two are much better than the first one, no worries.


Posted by 
 on: 04/29/15, 14:54:25
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