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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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Why are you murdering my childhood with this review?


Posted by 
 on: 03/11/15, 23:16:28
@GameDadGrant
Hey, I liked this game as a kid too, but revisiting it on the VC has been one frustrating experience. DK94 remains the Game Boy king of the jungle!


Posted by 
 on: 03/12/15, 00:03:17
Good review! Is it bad that it kind of makes me want to play the game, though? It got me curious about those weird environments. I mean, what even is that in the picture? Looks like Dr.Phil humping a marshmallow riding ostrich on its way to attack a giant cheese grater.


Posted by 
 on: 03/12/15, 00:09:49  - Edited by 
 on: 03/12/15, 00:10:09
@TriforceBun

It's funny you mention that, I'm actually playing through the game on VC, too! I'm not finding it all that difficult or frustrating. But I'm something of a seasoned veteran with it. I played this far more than I did DKC on SNES.

I think the sequel fixes a bunch of the issues you have with this game. Namely, Diddy and Dixie's sprites are smaller so there is a much wider view so you can see what's around your characters. Controls are tighter, too.


Posted by 
 on: 03/12/15, 00:11:48  - Edited by 
 on: 03/12/15, 00:12:45
@GameDadGrant

I checked out some vids of DKL2 and it does indeed look like it'd be more my style. The art style is not quite as detailed, but I think that works for a GB game. You gotta know your limitations! Also, I love DKC2 and I think revisiting that world in general would be enjoyable.

That said, 6/10 isn't like a horrible score or anything. But trial-and-error stuff in a Nintendo platformer is something I really don't expect to see. I think I enjoyed the first couple of worlds okay, but the latter half of the game is when a lot of these problems become more apparent.


Posted by 
 on: 03/12/15, 00:53:11
TriforceBun said:

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.

According to RFN, the sequels aren't ports either, although they share some level names with the SNES versions.


Posted by 
 on: 03/12/15, 01:44:39
@Jargon

Per my understanding though (and someone correct me if I'm wrong on this), they're much closer to ports than DKL1 is. DKL2 has (most of?) the same worlds, stages, bosses and music from DKC2, albeit with somewhat-altered level designs. "Port" might be the wrong word--everything's not in the exact same spot but they're supposedly much more similar than DKL1 was. Maybe the GB Mega Man games might be a better comparison.

Land 1 feels like a fully separate game though. DKL1 has four (rather large) worlds, none of which are in DKC1, including new bosses, all original stages, and several new environments not seen in the series.


Posted by 
 on: 03/12/15, 02:11:46  - Edited by 
 on: 03/12/15, 02:12:13
I always thought that they were all ports, except that has David Wise arrangements ONLY on the handheld version.

Cool to hear that this is mostly a new game. Not so cool to hear about the other stuff...


Posted by 
 on: 03/12/15, 03:52:21
Of course it stinks. Take away Rare's DKC graphics and what do you have? The gameplay. Puke.


Posted by 
 on: 03/12/15, 04:08:31
@Jargon

Yeah, James seemed to have played them, and from what he said, I gathered that DKL2 and DKL3 remixed elements of their respective games. I only knew that the first game had new environments and enemies.

But I dunno, he also seemed to think DKL starred Kiddy, so I think he might have had the various games confused.


Posted by 
 on: 03/12/15, 04:09:04
@TriforceBun

It was your words that hurt the most!





And yes, the two sequels are much closer to their SNES "originals" but they are indeed original stage designs. So...kind of all-new games. The Mega Man comparison is pretty fair.


Posted by 
 on: 03/12/15, 04:25:15
@kriswright

Man, if you didn't like DKC's gameplay, you definitely don't want to play this one. I'm curious though, did you play much of DKC2? It's pretty popular for a reason, and it ain't the graphics these days!

@Guillaume

I'm now strongly considering trying out DKL2 on the VC. On the one hand, I wasn't crazy about this one and I'm hesitant to shell out another 4 dollars, but on the other, DKL2 really does seem like it irons out a lot of the first handheld game's problems. If I get it, I'd like to review it soon as well. Sometimes I get kinda hooked on a series, like how you tackled a bunch of Adventure Island & Monster Boy games at once.

@GameDadGrant

Sorry! I was getting pretty Cranky Kong myself going for the last bonus areas today (bringing to mind my recent 100%-when-fun thread) and getting especially annoyed with the issues outlined in the review.

But hey, at least I gave the system itself some mad props in the first couple paragraphs, eh? I've always been a Game Boy fan, and my 3DS VC library of...

(hang on, counting)

...wow, 29? Really? Geez. I was going somewhere with this point, but now I think I have a problem.

...Well, time to make it 30 with extra monkey business! *hops on the eShop*


Posted by 
 on: 03/12/15, 04:26:28  - Edited by 
 on: 03/12/15, 04:29:32
@kriswright

I ought to kick you straight in the nuts for that.


Posted by 
 on: 03/12/15, 08:40:41
I remember really liking this back on my Gameboy Pocket, but I think that memory would just be tainted by playing it now.

Also is this the game that Leonardo Dicarprio is playing in The Beach?


Posted by 
 on: 03/12/15, 15:37:28
@TriforceBun

30 is a good, even number! Personally, I'm sitting at 32...but that's only because I bought all three DKL games at once last week. So if you buy the other two DKL games, you'll actually have me beat...!

@chrisbg99

Get in line, buddy.

@deathly_hallows

In some ways, it's kind of better on VC. Mostly thanks to the improved screen quality (and size!), and of course Save States.


Posted by 
 on: 03/12/15, 16:16:24
Well, so far, DKL2 has been a marked improvement. It's like they addressed almost every problem from the first GB game--the classic DKC physics are back, the sprites are smaller, everything is a lot clearer, better level design, etc. It is definitely a DKC2 pseudo-port so it doesn't quite feel as fresh, but it is significantly more fun!


Posted by 
 on: 03/12/15, 16:26:34  - Edited by 
 on: 03/12/15, 16:26:52
@TriforceBun

Yeah, the second one is ssssooooo good! I like how they kind of tailored the visuals to work better with the Gameboy screen. Darker, more detailed character sprites and fairly sparse backgrounds to help them stand out - I remember being pretty impressed with how it looked/played on my Gameboy Pocket back in the day.


Posted by 
 on: 03/12/15, 19:28:53
chrisbg99 said:
@kriswright

I ought to kick you straight in the nuts for that.

Sorry. You're right. I'll amend my review.

kriswright said:
Of course it stinks. Take away Rare's DKC graphics and the incredible soundtrack and what do you have? The gameplay. Puke.

TriforceBun said:
@kriswright

Man, if you didn't like DKC's gameplay, you definitely don't want to play this one. I'm curious though, did you play much of DKC2? It's pretty popular for a reason, and it ain't the graphics these days!

You know, I always had a hard time getting over the fact you don't play as Donkey Kong in that Donkey Kong game. I'm fairly grumpy about Rare's original character designs, though compared to the parade of freaks they eventually trotted out in later DKC games, Diddy and Dixie are up there with Mario and Peach. So maybe I'm just being picky. I sorta like them, now.

The Retro games have really turned me around on DKC as a series, so I'm willing to go back and see if I missed their greatness. I have played the original DKC to completion and I've played quite a bit of DKC2 - I can't remember if I completed it long ago or not - but I haven't reevaluated the games in recent years, post-Retro. My attitude back then was that they were style-over-substance affairs - gorgeous for their time, but with ugly-ass enemy designs and some much-hated collect-a-thon elements to boot. And I still prefer how Mario and Sonic control over DK in those games. Does anybody have a handle on how to not get hit coming out of DK's roll?

I would also add that the Wow Factor of the graphics was pretty big back then. I remember how impressed I was when I saw it for the first time. It's a funky approach to 3D style graphics, but of course it looks muddy as sin nowadays. But I assume most of us haven't forgotten how cool it looked back then. I know I haven't, and I'm fairly down on the game.

So... style over substance is my take. I think I have Miyamoto on my side on this one, though. Didn't he say something similar about it at some point (and then backtracked when Nintendo decided to relaunch the series)?


Posted by 
 on: 03/13/15, 01:57:29
@kriswright Yeah I was never crazy about Rare's DK character designs myself. Buff alligators, meh. Retro's characters don't exactly thrill me, but I still thought they were a big improvement over the Kremlings.

But I do think the DKC games control just fine. Not as good as Sonic or Mario, but those are high bars to clear. I like DKC1 all right, DKC2 gets a big bump for its great atmosphere, and I didn't care much for DKC3.

To stay slightly on topic, I tried DK Land once, many years ago. I remember thinking it looked great for a GB game, but didn't get very far.


Posted by 
 on: 03/13/15, 02:15:11
@kriswright

The first game is fairly simple (by the developer's own admission) but the sequel is one of the best 2D platformers I've ever played. I recommend checking it out.

I think I'd be surprised if you didn't like it.


Posted by 
 on: 03/13/15, 02:30:47
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