After fifteen years, Donkey Kong Country remains a Super NES classic, and even the Game Boy Advance version, while somewhat inferior, has plenty of merit due to a nice mixture of old and new features. Then there is the Game Boy Color version, released in 2000 while Nintendo and Rareware were still pretty close together. I found a used copy at Gamestop last year, and thought that it would be a decent port of the 16-bit classic. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a game that I feel is one of the worse Rareware games that I have ever played due to some terrible additions to the game play. While not completely awful, the Game Boy Color version of the game is the one that I feel is the worst of the three versions. Let me tell you why I think this way.
The story is the same as the other versions: Donkey Kong is out to retrieve his stolen bananas from the reptilian Kremlings by exploring six worlds and over thirty stages. Along for the ride is Diddy Kong, initially sealed in a barrel, but once freed, decides to help Donkey on his quest. This plot was nothing special to begin with, but it does serve its purpose of telling us why this adventure takes place. The game’s ending is also little to write home about, especially since the character parade is gone. In Rare’s games, the plot tends to take a back seat to the game play and other features at any rate.
The basic game play has not changed very much from the original version. You will need to explore stages set in such environments as jungles, temples, mines, factories, and more. There are enemies to defeat, bananas to collect (you get an extra life for every 100 bananas accumulated), and secret areas to find. These special rooms contain prizes and mini games to help you earn extra lives, and are essential in helping you achieve a score of 101%. Additionally, you can grab golden letters and balloons to increase your lives, and ride on several animal friends with their own special abilities. Rambi the rhinoceros can break weak walls, Expresso the ostrich can glide through the air, Winky the frog can leap extra high, Enguarde the swordfish can poke the aquatic enemies, and Squawks the parrot carries a flashlight to help you see in dark areas. I have to commend Rare for at least keeping the main game play intact, but many of the changes that they made would bring this port down.
To begin with, the hit detection is worse than before. In the Super NES version, it was a bit off, but manageable. Here, it is even more off: you will often find yourself about to land a hit on an enemy, but it is you who ends up getting hit. You can expect to lose a lot of lives this way, which makes things quite frustrating. Adding to the madness is that the game has been made tougher in some areas. For example, enemies have been added to places that they were not in before, and the terrible hit detection may all but guarantee that you will fail against these foes. Worst still, in Elevator Antics, it is now tougher to predict when the elevators ascend or descend perhaps due to the limited amount of memory in the Game Boy Color. The result is the emergence of the bad type of challenging, which becomes even worse in the harder modes (on which more later).
The animal system has also changed so that you now transform into the animal on the crate, similar to Donkey Kong Country 2 and 3. The problem is that if you get hit once, you change back into Donkey or Diddy (who cannot be on the screen simultaneously) without any way to transform again without restarting the stage. At times when you need a particular animal to enter a bonus stage, this is especially aggravating. Speaking of bonus stages, you will now need to find every one of them in a stage, and complete the stage itself, before the game registers that stage as being 100% complete. While in the other versions you could go back to the stages to locate any missed bonus room, pause to exit the stages, and still get the elusive exclamation point next to the stages’ names without beating them again, here you must finish the stage after finding the bonus stages, as the game does not save otherwise. For people who have not played the other versions, this can be a pain to accomplish.
Even if you do find all of the bonus rooms, it will not be enough to help you get 101% this time around. Hidden in every world are green banana bunches that are near spots where Donkey’s hand slap can reveal a sticker. These stickers could be printed out with a Game Boy Color printer. However, getting Donkey to these locations is sometimes frustrating, especially in the harder modes. These modes are unlocked after beating the game once, and challenge you to beat the game without DK barrels (which contain either Donkey or Diddy if you have only one Kong, though in this mode you will always start with both Kongs) or without midpoint barrels. The aforementioned harder portions will make these modes aggravating, and the fact that you need to beat all three of these modes to help you get 101% makes me feel that this is artificial lengthening at its worst.
Not all of the changes to the game are terrible. For example, you can now play some rather fun bonus games at Candy’s booths in order to win coins that add to your percentage. Sadly, you can only win each of these challenges once. A new stage called Necky Nutmare is another nice addition, as are two new mini games accessible from the main menu. In Funky Fishing, you must try and catch as many fish as possible before the time runs out. Catching fish adds to your time, while collecting trash subtracts it. In Crosshair Cranky, Donkey uses his coconut shooter in a series of shooting games, ranging from attacking all the reptiles of a certain color to plugging holes to prevent animals from falling into them. These modes seem to be more fun than the rest of the game…perhaps Rare should have just given us a cartridge full of Donkey Kong-themed mini games to take with us on those long trips.
Obviously, the graphics and sound are going to be nowhere near as good as the Super NES version. The graphics are pretty nice to look at, though they are not as impressive as they were in Donkey Kong Land. The music consists of 8-bit remixes of many of the classic tunes, with some Donkey Kong Land music and even a new forest tune added to the mix. Many of these remixes are pretty solid for what they are, but the sound effects are of typical Game Boy style and thus are not too special. Overall, the graphics and sound serve their purpose and are fairly good in spite of the translation from 16-bit to 8-bit.
I do not hate the Game Boy Color version of Donkey Kong Country for its downgraded visual and audio presentations, as they are to be expected and are still pretty good for an 8-bit system. Instead, I despise this version for its terrible hit detection, frustrating challenge level, and its artificial lengthening. It did have a few new things going for it, but otherwise it was a letdown. Even the Game Boy Advance version was better than this incarnation of the 16-bit classic. If you absolutely must have every Donkey Kong game ever made by Rare, you might as well give this game a try, but otherwise, approach with caution or keep well enough away. What could and should have been a solid port is a disappointment, with more than just the amazing graphics and sound of the original being lost in the translation.