Donkey Kong Land is a curious title with a strange reputation It was met with critical acclaim back in ‘95 The Electric Playground gave the game a 9 out of 10 describing it as illustrious Consoles Plus magazine scored the game a 92% declaring it a Mega Hit A few years later, the All Game Guide gave it 4 out of 5 stars, naming it one of the best platformers available for the Game Boy However, as time wears on, reviewers have become less kind to the 8-bit platformer Many find the sprites blend in with the backgrounds, the level design doesn’t match the limited resolution, slippery controls make landing a dicey proposition, and the hit detection can be inconsistent Per usual, I am a firm proponent of the games can age philosophy Much like music, film or other forms of art and entertainment, some games stand the test of time, and others are clearly a product of it So, which is Donkey Kong Land? Let us dive in DKL doesn’t mess around with story bits Select a save file and the game… begins The instruction manual eludes to Cranky Kong advising Donkey Kong Country was only popular because of the presentation, with Donkey and Diddy Kong arguing it was the gameplay which made it such a hit To settle this argument, is Donkey Kong Land I suspect RARE was a bit annoyed with Country’s reputation being more about its pre-rendered visuals and soundtrack, rather than the superb gameplay, with DK Land attempting to prove it is all about the gameplay As I don’t care much for bad stories taking up an inordinate amount of game play time, what is here is just fine Donkey and Diddy on an epic quest to take down King K. Rool Perfect As this is a Game Boy game with limited buttons, the gameplay is exceptionally simple Players can roll into enemies, hold the button for additional speed, and jump That is it However, there are a few things I don’t like about jumping First, the Kongs feel sort of slippery, and it can be difficult to stop forward momentum This makes landing on small platforms tricky Second, the Kongs gain full momentum when bouncing off enemies This sudden change in speed is jarring, and sudden speed changes are the last thing I want when playing a game at such low resolution This control quirk is rarely a problem, and I don’t want to blow it out of proportion, however it also makes a few key levels far worse than they should be It creates some pace-breaking speed bumps and I’m sure many first time players will experience frustration during a few key levels Riggin’ Rumble is the first major obstacle The hiccup for me was caused by the strange momentum when bouncing off enemies It appears the player is guided to bounce from one enemy to the next, however it doesn’t work in practice The game is either trolling the player, or pixel perfect precision is necessary to complete the jump as the designers intended I can’t be certain Regardless of the designers intent, what the player will feel is trial and error difficulty In Kremlantis, the difficulty spike is Snake Charmer’s Challenge The difficulty mostly arises from baskets of snakes racing at the player from off screen, and less so because of the jumping, although having to bounce off enemies on small platforms is certainly a feature of the level The most infamous stage is Sky High Caper This bafflingly difficult level occurs in the third world, rather than the last, which I find curious Anyway, the jumping and screen crunch make this level the most difficult in the game While on a shifting platform, where the platform changes when it hits the edge of the track, or the player jumps, one has to contend with flying pig enemies The problem arises when bouncing off the enemy, the screen pans with the player, meaning the small platform is no longer visible, making for some frustrating landing First timers are likely to die many times, though using the rolling technique can ease the pain if one pulls it off Finally, Big Ape City features Balloon Barrage Really, the problem is trying to land on small platforms with the momentum heavy jumping Sliding off these tiny platforms, or missing them completely, is a frequent occurrence and represents another speed bump on the way to beating the game However, I don’t find myself bothered too much by these stages… and this makes me feel like a hypocrite In other games, these types of difficult spikes are a major turn-off and cause me to sour on a game However, I didn’t find myself annoyed with Donkey Kong Land Perhaps this is because of the lives and saving system The player is given the opportunity to save progress after each and every stage In order to accomplish this, one must find the 4 kong letters within each level If found, upon completing a stage, the save screen is rewarded While I tend to think 8-bit hard platformers should just automatically save after every stage… this is a fine solution as well It encourages players to explore the levels fully, as well as force one to come to grips with the strange momentum, rather than ignore them and hope for the best If one is actively seeking these out to earn the saves, they’ll certainly have less trouble when those difficulty spikes arrive The reward for finding Kong letters is worth the time it takes to acquire them

Second, DKL makes it easy to rack up an impressive life count Those hearts at the bottom represent how many lives the player has, and even after it is full, lives continue to stack in the game’s memory As you’ll notice in the video, after the first world, I never have fewer than 20 extra lives at any point in the adventure On my initial practice run, I actually saw the game over screen quite a bit, the game is tough However, once I figured out the Kong Coins, it was smooth sailing These Kong Coins appear useless at first Collecting them doesn’t seem to do anything obvious, and there is no HUD They seem like random collectables However, they serve an important purpose Some of the bonus areas are actually a mini game where one can redeem the coins for a chance at extra lives On this screen, one can now see the Kong Coins are actually tallied Whenever the player presses the button, the barrel at the top fires a coin If collected, a 1up is earned While this isn’t communicated clearly to the player, the ability to save after each stage, and earn hundreds of lives, eases the pain The player is in control, and not at the mercy of in-game randomness While I would prefer the stage design to always fit the unique jumping and limited screen from beginning to end, I think this is what makes the speed bumps more palatable in DKL And of course, Donkey Kong Land does a lot of things brilliantly First, most of the game does work within the limits of the controls and the screen Enemies move at a reasonable speed allowing players the appropriate time to react The stage design works within the low resolution meaning there are few leaps of faith And if a platform is off-screen, there is always a trail of bananas guiding the player to safety Levels feel well crafted, like the designers did actually play test everything, mostly, to confirm challenges were fair, rather than trollish Much like the 16-bit titles, Donkey Kong Land manages to capture and hold my attention through terrific level design Now, I’m not one to complete games 100%, and when I do, it is often out of a sense of obligation rather than because I enjoy doing it However, RARE’s Donkey Kong efforts have proven to be the exception for me Each stage contains between zero, and three bonus rooms In order to achieve a 100% on a save file, players will need to seek out all 46 bonus areas on the game’s 30 levels These are often devilishly hidden, but usually there are hints for the player to spot It could be a random banana where it isn’t supposed to be, a barrel briefly visible on the screen, or sometimes off the beaten path, rewarding exploration Even better is when the player needs to solve a simple puzzle This TNT barrel is used to defeat a basket of snakes, which is blocking a tire jump that launches Kong to a bonus room I love little touches like this It seems simple, but these brief moments of discovery increase engagement Another thing holding my attention is the variety Some might call them gimmicks, but there are many different obstacles and hazards to traverse through and DKL does a nice job keeping one on their toes The snow is slippery, changing up the physics and forcing the player to deal with enemies in different ways With slow acceleration, and stopping, the player is required to do a better job anticipating enemy movement, rather than simply reacting Some jungle stages feature vines, with precision needed in order to jump off them correctly A different vine requires the player to navigate up and down to avoid zingers Pattern recognition moments go a long way to holding a player’s attention And of course, there are barrels Many of these move and rotate, adding a timing element to the gameplay Time things wrong, and lose a life Get it all right, and one receives the sweet taste of victory These concepts of pattern recognition and timing come to a crescendo in the third world, Chimpanzee Clouds Track Attack requires players to maneuver through hazards while on a small platform Anticipation, pattern recognition, and timing are all necessary to navigate the obstacle course successfully But as the concepts were slowly built up, Track Attack doesn’t feel overwhelming The aforementioned Sky High Caper is similar This should have been an awesome level Precise timing is needed to force the platform to quickly change directions Each leap, or bounce off the environment, causes it to change directions in a counterclockwise fashion This forces precision from the player to manipulate the platform through the stage Sadly, the full potential of the gimmick is never fully realized, and instead it ends up being frustrating Being a mid-90’s platformer, there are of course a handful of water stages And like 90’s water stages, these require the player tap the jump button to ascend and press nothing to descend, or hold the down button to descend faster While I prefer modern water stages with a full range of movement, these aren’t the worst water stages I’ve ever played The enemy patterns presented work within the confines of the small screen This means simple or slow patterns, and I never had an instance of something surprising me from off-screen Even better, the inconsistent hit detection actually works to the player’s benefit, further reducing any tedium the stages might provide Better yet, the water stages contain no bonus barrels, meaning players won’t have to swim

against every wall in stages looking for a hidden entrance to a hidden cave Good stuff While infrequent, water stages evolve as well One stage features Nemo, who will chase the Kongs, forcing the player to keep moving or risk damage The stage design works well with the chase, flowing perfectly horizontally and vertically, with just enough forgiveness to allow the player to determine which way to swim to elude the beast I also dig this tornado enemy, Swirlwind The player can only touch the top of it, which also serves as a spring of sorts The Tornado follows the player too, meaning the player can manipulate its behavior Clever players will need to manipulate it to nab letters, as well as use one to reach a bonus area I love this sort of thing as it makes me feel clever when I solve the riddle the designers crafted Speaking of riddles, there are movable tires These don’t do much at first, just move them across the screen to reach a high ledge However, this does teach tires can be moved, and what their utility might be Pot Hole Panic puts this to expert use, with players needing to move tires through a barrage of hazards in order to find all of the bonus areas It is these moments that kept me glued to the screen and engaged for three full playthroughs, including two 100% runs While optional, I do find going for a 100% save file is where Donkey Kong Land truly shines Still, this doesn’t forgive the game’s problems The momentum should feel more consistent than erratic The player shouldn’t be launched off the screen and have to find a moving platform Enemy placement should be tighter, allowing the player to bounce off enemies with more confidence Perfect, DKL is not Moving on is the presentation Like many Game Boy games of this era, there are a number of ways to experience it When played on the original game boy or via download on the 3DS, players are stuck with a traditional monochromatic presentation Alternatively, when played on the Game Boy Advance or Game Boy Player, tiles and sprites each receive a unique pallette This helps sprites stand out from backgrounds, which is usually a good thing For this review though, I am choosing to play on the Super Game Boy The main reason is because of the Super Nintendo controller, with a D-Pad far superior to that of the Game Cube I’m also fascinated by the Super Game Boy and appreciate how many titles actually use custom color palettes when played in this fashion As expected, RARE put the additional hardware to good use with a wide array of color palettes greatly adding to the visual variety As is obvious, the artists decided to stick with the pre-rendered 3D style and the results are mixed First, I applaud the designers for attempting to re-create 3D art with just 4 colors However, I’m not here to reward bonus points for ambition, only execution At times, the background tiles look more like pixelated art, rather than pixel art If that makes sense The limited 4-color palette often makes environments look extremely contrasty, and the illusion of 3D depth is lost with the lack of subtlety and gradual gradients Worse yet, whenever the designers attempted to re-create a dark environment, the Kong sprites tend to blend in The Kongs both feature the darkest color predominantly, and when those shades are absent in the backgrounds, the Kongs stand out allowing the eye to quickly process what is what However, when the backgrounds utilize too much of this dark shade, sprites can be lost I cannot blame the hardware for this It is up to the artist to work within the confines of the medium… and sometimes they simply didn’t Still, these moments of unpleasantness are infrequent Additionally, when actually playing Donkey Kong Land, I never had any issues tracking the protagonists Still, it could have, and should be, better On the flip side, the sprite work is excellent I cannot recall another 8-bit title with such smooth animation The Kongs look stunning while walking, running, jumping, rolling and climbing Additionally, the high contrast color palettes work with the characters, helping their features and limbs stand out against their bodies Of course, their immense size does contribute to the screen crunch Still, viewed on their own, the sprite work is impressive Even more impressive is the lack of any slowdown Perhaps I have overlooked it, but as best as I can tell, Donkey Kong Land hums along as a solid 60 frames per second, or around 59.7, without a hiccup The only technical hiccup I could find was some screen flicker when too many sprites are on the same line Still, the designers seemed to do a great job limiting the on-screen action to prevent slowdown, while maintaining large and detailed sprites Moving on, the soundtrack is mostly great Now, I find myself generally enjoying the 8-bit music produced by both the NES and the Game Boy hardware I do not know why my ears find this specific era of music so pleasing, perhaps it is nostalgia, but I do And Donkey Kong Land sounds terrific to my ears The most famous track, DK Island Swing is of course present and accounted for and sounds as delightful as ever This is a testament to the excellent composition, which would seemingly sound great with any audio hardware The intro slowly builds to the epic chorus, which continues to stay with me long after

I put the cart down The variety of tones and pitches elevate the track, and the reverb helps the piece feel full If one is into the classic 8-bit sound, I cannot imagine DKL disappointing Of course, the composers didn’t just craft catchy tunes Northern Hemispheres is ominous and oppressive, with the slower melody and deep bass giving the constant feeling of dread and doom Gang-Plank Galleon again shows off some range with convincing drums and percussions giving an almost civil war battle music vibe I love the complexity of the track as well, starting off chipper and upbeat, before evoking a sense of alarm and danger Same as ever, this lengthy track shows off the range of the composers, and surprisingly, a real comprehension of the audio hardware Not every track is a winner tho The building site music is a bit noisy, which I assume is the intent of the track, but it ends up sounding harsh to my ears As I lack the vocabulary and knowledge when it comes to music, I don’t know how to explain it properly, but something about the notes or the pitches don’t harmonize together correctly, creating an unpleasant sound when I listen to it Much like the rest of Donkey Kong Land, the soundtrack is mostly good, with catchy melodies, atmospheric compositions, and a wide range of instrument sounds, but it occasionally stumbles This is kind of a metaphor for the entire game Donkey Kong Land is mostly good, but occasionally stumbles Like many games, one’s weight on these miscues will likely determine their overall feelings towards the adventure Myself, I don’t find myself troubled The infinite continues assures players never lose much progress, with the KONG letters allowing players to save after each and every level, further reducing the frustration of a bad stage Finally, the abundance of extra lives, from collecting 100 bananas, hidden balloons, and the extremely generous Kong Coin game, one will often be starting a level from a checkpoint, and not the beginning When I play DKL, I’m often reminded of the classic Castlevania games Challenges are presented, usually fair but brutal, with a few cheap moments thrown in as well, but overcoming the challenges often results in a feeling of gratification, like something great has been achieved after overcoming adversity Will every player experience this? Perhaps not, maybe they’ll just feel annoyed at what the developers created While I don’t find Donkey Kong Land to be a great game, I do find it to be good With practice, one can develop a muscle memory for the physics, even the aggressive momentum With a little memorization, challenges can be overcome While I don’t generally enjoy trial and error difficulty, it can work with a proper save, life, and checkpoints system, which Donkey Kong Land has Lastly, I did occasionally feel like a button press wasn’t resulting in an on-screen jump, causing death However, I experience this with most Game Boy games, so perhaps there is some limitation in the hardware which causes these presses not to register, I can’t be certain But more important than any of this, is the level design Donkey Kong Land is a well crafted adventure The designers did a magnificent job with platform placement creating a challenging adventure that rarely feels unfair The hazards and obstacles challenge a players pattern recognition skills along with their dexterity This constant onslaught held my attention for multiple playthroughs, demanding my attentiveness at all times, punishing sloppy play, and offered a sense of accomplishment when adversity was overcome Compared to some newer games I’ve recently played, this was a breath of fresh air for me, providing something I have been missing Still, if I scored games, this would not be getting a 90% or 4 stars Enjoying the game comes with a lot of caveats regarding difficult spikes, a love for a specific type of music sound, and an appreciation for 2-bit color palettes If one is making a lot of exceptions to excuse design elements, it is probably a sign the game isn’t as great as one is proclaiming Donkey Kong Land is a great example of an aging game Where there was once glowing review scores and high praise, is now divisiveness and a broader range of opinions What was once acceptable, may no longer be The appeal is more limited than it once was If you’re a fan of difficult 8-bit games, Donkey Kong Land is sure to scratch a certain itch If one would prefer games of this ilk remain in the past, then one might want to stay away