Donkey Kong Country Game Boy Color Review

 

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.

How to Get into the Game Industry

Working in the video game industry had always been a dream of mine. I grew up with video games. It was probably my favorite past time as a kid. I have some pretty fond memories of winter breaks from school playing video games with my younger brother. That was what we did all day. It kept us entertained for hours on end.
Christmas was always an exciting time because we would get new games. Then, we would then have winter break to play them to death. The weather would be cold outside. We had no money to go anywhere. Life was simple and the only thing we cared about was beating the next level. Eventually, I got older and had a social life. My brother also got much better than me at playing games so, time to retire!

Being a person who likes to make things, playing all these video games only made me want to make them. I also made comic books, websites, and cartoons–well, I tried to make them. If I find it interesting, I’m going to want to make my own.

When it came time think about college and–if you believe your high school adviser–your future, I was convinced that I wanted to make video games. I love the industry so, why not? To make a long story short, I did end up in the video game industry. I had written about that story before–feel free to read it.

Before I went to college, I spent a great deal of time looking into how I could break into the industry. I bought books on the subject and looked in every online crevice for information. Now that I’ve spent over a year and a half making games professionally, I think I can offer some advice.

What College?

The usual suspects looking for advice on breaking into the game industry are high school students. I was one of them. I think a college education is nice to have. However, I don’t think college teaches you much of what you need to perform any job in the real world.

I still think one should go to college for the experience. At the very least, you’ll meet useful people. I don’t believe one needs to go to a college that specializes in producing students with video game degrees. I went to the University of Advancing Technology in Tempe, Arizona for one year. I was pursuing a degree in Game Design.

UAT is a pretty small school. They have great contacts and all the students are after similar things. Like-minded people were there in abundance. I place more importance in being able to understand a wide range of subjects. While one would be able to develop a really focused skill set for making video games, they would be lacking in everything else.

I didn’t really want to become a monkey or a small cog in a big machine.

It is also important to remember that the college experience is a one-time deal. I wouldn’t look so far ahead into the future and forget about that. It doesn’t even matter what degree you are pursuing–although a degree in sociology is likely going to be difficult to apply to games.

I have a BA in Marketing from Pace University. If you want to make games, you are likely going to also be interested in graphic design, programming, or some technology field. A business degree will also work since all game companies are still a business. Communication degrees tend to have a lot of overlap with marketing–especially in the PR department.

Your best bet is to study what you really want to study. Chances are, you won’t know what it is and you’ll change your mind during your college career. Getting into the game industry has very little to do with what college you went to. It has a lot to do with how knowledgeable you are of the industry and how much you participate in the community.

How do I get Experience?

Getting experience is the problem for everyone trying to get a job. There is no way to get real experience without doing it for real. Finding internships at game companies would be the surest way to get a feel for how things work.

Internships

I’m not a big fan of interning but, it is a proven method. I interned for a game company once before I went to college. All I did was test a game.

In my experience, if there is work to be done, we are usually too busy to figure out what to give to an intern who might not know anything. That is why I don’t find much real value from interning. It is still a good experience and you get something to put on your resume. The most important benefit are the contacts you’ll make.

I found my internship by using Gamasutra’s list of game companies. You can sort the list by City or State so I looked for all the game companies in New York and sent them internship requests. Most companies didn’t respond to me but, one of them did. And one was all I needed.

Learning on Your Own

My preferred way of getting experience is to actually make a game. There is an abundance of resources online for making games. Learn how to use the tools and create your own game. That is a learning experience unlike any other. You’ll never know how it feels to make a game from beginning to end without doing it.

Doing is the best simulation for the real thing. It will be more complicated on the job because there are other people in charge of quality and creative. Where you might let some defect slide, the client will not. There is also money on the line–that always changes things.

If you are someone who is just incapable of understanding all this technology mumbo jumbo, you can still get experience by doing. You just need to do something different. I made websites about the video game industry. I tried to compete with GameSpot or IGN–it didn’t work. It was still a good experience. I got to understand the industry very well by reading and reporting the news on a daily basis.

I also got to understand some of the business workings of the industry as I made contacts with the PR departments of companies like Eidos, Ubi Soft, and Midway for review copies of games. It was a fun time and I figured out that being a game journalist was not for me.

All you need to figure out is what you want to do in the game industry and do something that relates. If you can’t do the technical, work on the non-technical.

Useful Resources

Since I never got any formal schooling in making games, I had to find a lot of resources to learn on my own. Most of it had to do with passion. If you really want to do it, there are few things that can stop you. Since I spent time learning how to make games and being a part–a very small part–of the industry media, I can share resources on both.

The Technical

On the technical side, GameDev.net is a great site. I spent most of my time looking through their resources for programming. They also have information about art, sound, design, etc. It is a huge treasure trove of information.

Many tutorial sites that I used have since disappeared. However, Flash was not a big player for games back then. The explosion of Flash games have really changed the landscape. Making games and allowing other people to instantly play them is now easier than ever. All you need is a web browser.

I recommend Kongregate’s set of tutorials for making Flash games. I am working on a series of tutorials myself but, they aren’t ready yet. You can also put your game on Kongregate and have people play and rate it. If you don’t know about Kongregate, look at them as the YouTube of games.

There is also Microsoft’s XNA platform. They have a huge amount of information about making games for XNA that will play on both the XBOX 360 and Windows. I never had that opportunity to put games on an actual console. I think XNA is great way to learn.

Games built in XNA for the XBOX 360 can also be put on the XBOX Live Marketplace if the community deems it worthy.

The Not So Technical

I consider the not so technical side to be the business side. So that could be a journalist, a writer, an analyst, a PR person, etc. Everything that doesn’t need advanced technical know-how. There are very few to zero resources for telling you how to be a game journalist.

You would go through the same steps as any journalist, except you need to be knowledgeable in games. That is the same for all other non-technical positions. There aren’t any real resources for becoming a game analyst, journalist, or PR person. Those are all disciplines that are not unique to games.

I would keep abreast of the industry news and be active in the community. Reading Gamasutra and being a member of the IGDA would be a good start. The IGDA has chapters all over the country that meet regularly; join one of them and get to know the professionals in your area.

You will want to make a name for yourself as someone who understands your field as it relates to video games. A great way to do that is to blog. Blog about game journalism. Write editorial pieces and publish them yourself. Write about marketing in the game industry.

The prerequisite to writing is that you need to know about your topic. So a marketer is going to have to understand marketing and a journalist about journalism.

Resources for Everyone

The IGDA has a special Breaking In section. It looks about the same as when I was looking for information so I don’t know how updated it is. Their Web Links in the Resources section has information for everything you can imagine.

Ernest Adams is a well known industry veteran who speaks about breaking into the industry. He has a book titled Break Into The Game Industry–I bought and read that book. He would be the de facto expert on the subject as he has probably written the most about it.

Industry Expos

I always wanted to go to E3–Electronic Entertainment Exposition. It was my dream as self-proclaimed game journalist. I never did get to go and it is now a shell of its former self. E3 is no longer the extravagant spectacle that it used to be.

E3 isn’t open to the public and only people who are affiliated to the industry are allowed to get in. I don’t know exactly what qualifies and what doesn’t. Working in the industry would certainly qualify–I would hope.

The other big industry gathering is GDC–Game Developers Conference. GDC is really where business gets done. A lot of industry players attend. Where E3 is more of a show for big game companies to demonstrate their new titles to the press, GDC is where the attention is on the game developers.

It is always good to experience an industry event for yourself. Those who love games will always find it incredibly pleasant to be in such an environment. There are other small conventions and shows that take place as well.

One in New York annually–didn’t happen last year due to some economic issue–is Digital Life. I was there every year since I found about it. You almost always end up leaving the show with some free stuff–shirts and other promotional materials. Who doesn’t like free stuff?

On the west coast there is the E for All Expo. Like Digital Life, E for All is really for the fans. You mainly go there to try out the new things that companies are offering. Doesn’t hurt to stay up to date on the new happenings in the industry!

Last Words of Inspiration

There is no road map for getting into the industry. Unlike other professions like lawyers and doctors where you know you need to go to law school or medical school, no such sure-fire route exists in the games industry. I think that it is one of the great advantages to the industry.

At heart, we are still a bunch of kids playing with toys. We make things that are fun. We entertain. We are open. We don’t have massive barriers to entry. It is the diversity of the people that has led to our growth and innovations.

No one can come up with a set of steps that you need to take to end up at an EA or Activision. All you really need is a love of games and persistence.