You could have made it easy for yourself. With Donkey Kong Country, the British studio Rareware delivered a hit for the SNES at the end of 1994, which cemented the team's status as a Nintendo-exclusive hit guarantee for the coming years. While a sequel was set due to the great success, it was now also a matter of providing the Game Boy with a monkey adventure. Yes, and the easy way would have been, just like so many other manufacturers of the time, to create a slimmed-down, bad version of the 16-bit main game and only hope for the big deal with the help of the big name and possibly despite the poor quality.

However, that wasn't the rareware way. Instead, they sat down at the drawing board again for the first mobile monkey trip, although elements were already borrowed Donkey Kong Country, but ultimately delivered a completely independent adventure full of ideas that ended up in the module slot less than a year after the SNES game.







They are the stuff video gamer nightmares are made of: The wasps cannot be defeated without aids and are often placed really nasty.



They are the stuff video gamer nightmares are made of: The wasps cannot be defeated without aids and are often placed really nasty.

Source: PC Games




The result was Donkey Kong Land and the differences to the big brother already start at the story level: After defeating the nasty King K. Rool, monkey grandpa Cranky Kong complains that the adventure on the SNES was only so well received , because the graphics calculated in 3D would have dazzled the players. That would not have happened in his time! To prove otherwise, Donkey and Diddy Kong embark on an 8-bit black-and-white adventure that aims to show that the gameplay was the main factor behind the success of their adventure, not the technology. Quite meta – but the approach works surprisingly well! It's just a shame that this creative narrative is only mentioned in the manual of the game, we don't hear about it during the monkey trip itself.

If you are wondering why the pictures on these pages shine in subtle colors: Donkey Kong Land was one of the first Game Boy titles to support the Super Game Boy tool of the Super Nintendo, thanks to which the handheld games somewhat prettier and could be shown on the TV, and we used this version for the recordings. Whether this SNES trick supports Cranky's argument or not, everyone has to decide for themselves! Either way, country definitely doesn't look as good as country, the old primacy is right there. Nevertheless, the style comes across surprisingly well in the slimmed-down Game Boy version.

Have fun with few buttons







Donkey Kong Land is less extensive than its country counterpart, but you are still busy and entertained for a few hours.



Donkey Kong Land is less extensive than its country counterpart, but you are still busy and entertained for a few hours.

Source: PC Games




In terms of play, the adventure is simple, but really well implemented. Many worlds are based on those in Country and overall fewer and shorter levels await us, but there are also completely independent sections and even adversaries. No matter where, our goal is to just get to the end of the stage. So we hop in jungle areas, icy tundras, rundown factories, gloomy mines and more from left to right, take a seat in lorries and zoom through narrow corridors, swing around on lianas, try to climb tightly tied ropes to the top of a ship get there, take a deep breath and go into the cool water and, and, and. It's really impressive how much variety the developers were able to tease out of so little hardware power. And you have to remember that everything we do can only be controlled with the control pad plus two buttons!







For an 8-bit title that is played with just one directional pad and two action buttons, Donkey Kong Land offers quite a few different movement maneuvers.



For an 8-bit title that is played with just one directional pad and two action buttons, Donkey Kong Land offers quite a few different movement maneuvers.

Source: PC Games




You never get the feeling that the controls are overloaded (or underloaded), and the extreme precision of the SNES counterpart when moving is also evident on the handheld. With A we jump, with B we run and kill enemies, all other actions are context-sensitive, for example when we hold on to a rope or pick up an object. Of course there are also animal helpers on board, on whose back Donkey or Diddy can take a seat and then jet through the area. There are only two of the five fauna friends from Country, but they are probably the most popular: Rhino Rambi knocks even the toughest villain out of their socks and likes to thunder through massive stone walls to transport us to hidden bonus rooms. Vogelstrauß Expresso can jump extremely high and sail long distances through the air. Again and again we have to prove ourselves in battles against nasty bosses, all of whom require a good deal of skill and responsiveness. Unlike on the SNES, there are only four instead of seven, but they have also been completely redeveloped. In short: A nice thing, and in this respect alone a lot more than just a cheaply made country copy!

Candy has to stay home

We get to the 30 stages, plus four boss worlds, via a world map on which the individual levels are shown as points. There is not much to do here, the map is primarily used to get from one section to the next. Nonetheless, the rudiments of what would also be used in the later country games and would find their perfection in the freely explorable hubs of the N64 adventures Rarewars are already beginning to appear: Small, interactive elements ensure that you don't just go through stupidly a list scrolls. Rocks can be blasted away for alternative routes. Unfortunately the various shops and huts of the extended Kong family are no longer available, where we save the game in Country or pick up level tips from Cranky. But that's bearable, because in the end these areas in Country are nothing more than pretty menus.







On the upper world map, small alternative routes show a very early approach to what Rareware would implement in the studio's 3D games.



On the upper world map, small alternative routes show a very early approach to what Rareware would implement in the studio's 3D games.

Source: PC Games




So you spend most of your time in the levels themselves, and there is still a lot to collect on the way to the goal. The standard collectibles are bananas, which await us both individually and in packs of five. We also find balloons that have to be packed quickly before they sail away and that give us an extra life, as well as so-called Kong tokens, which we can also exchange for extra lives. And collecting lives is definitely very relevant, because Donkey Kong Land is a lot, but not easy! Badly placed enemies, challenging bouncing passages and other nasty things – if the controls weren't so successful, you would regularly throw the Game Boy into the corner in frustration and blame the game for its failure.







There is no co-op mode, even if that were logical in the face of two heroes. Instead, the other monkey serves as a kind of second life.



There is no co-op mode, even if that were logical in the face of two heroes. Instead, the other monkey serves as a kind of second life.

Source: PC Games




Ultimately, however, you are responsible for your own happiness, even when it comes to saving. Unlike in Country, where you can save on the map at Candy Kong at any time, in Land you need the last collectibles, the iconic K.O.N.G.-letters. On the SNES we only get an extra life if we collect the four letters in a level, so here they are much more relevant! To what extent this was a good design decision is an open question, because if you have managed a particularly difficult world with great effort, only to be confronted with the game over screen in the next level because of too many lost lives after being careless, that can be frustrating. But hey, at least you can save at all – that was by no means a matter of course in Game Boy times.

Last but not least, we want to praise the sound, for which compositions by the legendary video game composer David Wise from Country have been rearranged for the weaker hardware. On the other hand, there are also completely new pieces in the portfolio, which also shows at this point how much extra effort has been invested in making Donkey Kong Land an experience in its own right; Trouble that was no longer present to this extent in the two country sequels. They were both great hopping adventures, but overall much closer to their country counterparts and therefore less impressive in a way. If you want to catch up on the Game Boy classic, you can do so relatively easily: It is available for download in the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console. Definitely a worthwhile look into the Nintendo past for a handful of euros!

My opinion

Not as classic as Country, but much more than just an accessory

In fact, after my early childhood as a Sega child, Donkey Kong Land 2 was my first intensive contact with the monkey clan, but I also have fond memories of Part 1, which I made up for later. Sure, the title does not come close to the class of its country counterpart, but it is still impressive how much of the charm comes across even in the small format. Rareware just had it!

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