Yesterday was my birthday. That means a lot of the games I loved as a kid that were released in November are celebrating 20 to 30 year anniversaries. It’s hard to think about, but I’ll wax nostalgic regardless. I spoke pretty highly of 1994’s Donkey Kong Country. Its sequel, released only a year later, is immeasurably better.
I don’t need to tell you a thoughtful, charming story about my childhood to preface this game. Now that I’m thinking about it, I probably didn’t have to tell thoughtful, charming stories to preface any of the games I’ve reviewed so far. Thus far, I’ve reviewed some of the greatest retro staples that belong in everyone’s library. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest should be on top of that stack.
I’m not suggesting that, on its own, it’s a bigger deal than Super Mario Bros. 3, or deserves higher praise than Super Mario 64. Don’t ever think that my reviews have any kind of curve, or that a game with an 8.7 score simply has more value than a game with an 8.6 score. None of this is relative, and at the very best, we’ll get a vague idea of the kinds of games that I think are worthy of playing.
I’ll review bad games too, someday, I promise.
That said, Diddy’s Kong Quest (as opposed to Diddy Kong’s Quest, which is incorrect) is a great game. It takes everything Rare learned about the shortcomings of Donkey Kong Country and cooks it into one of the most polished Super Nintendo games.
Like Donkey Kong Country, Diddy’s Kong Quest is a 2D sidescrolling platformer where you control some monkeys. You traverse through each stage seeking out hidden secrets, collecting bananas, and jumping on crocodile people. This time though, you don’t play as the titular Donkey Kong – you take on the role of his sidekick from the first game, Diddy Kong. Joining you his Diddy’s overpowered ladyfriend, Dixie Kong (no relation).
Another difference is that Diddy and Dixie Kong have new items to collect. In Donkey Kong Country, you had bananas where every 100 gave you a free life, balloons that granted you a free life, and letters that spell out KONG. Spelling out KONG would, say it with me, give you a free life. There were also animal tokens which would grant you a bonus level when you collect three of the same animals, in which you would, dare I say, get extra lives. Donkey Kong Country expected you to die a lot.
In Diddy’s Kong Quest, we eschew the animal tokens, but there are coins to hunt down. There are the reasonably plentiful banana coins which you use to pay for hints, save your game, and play bonus games. Every stage has a hidden DK Video Game Hero coin (more on this later). Each secret bonus stage rewards you with a Kremkoin, which can be used to unlock the last few final stages.
The movement and controls are pretty similar to Donkey Kong Country, but the controls are tighter and a little less slippery. Most notable, Dixie Kong is able to helicopter her ponytail, allowing her to glide around while descending. It nearly makes her overpowered.
There are handfuls of other mechanics, both new and old, as you traverse the game, but nothing complicated enough that a player can’t figure things out while in the moment.
The level design is greatly improved over the original Donkey Kong Country – stages tend to be larger and more varied. While many stages are still linear, there are also sprawling mazes, vertically scrolling levels, and neat little gimmicks that keep the gameplay fresh and memorable.
For example, there is a stage where you ride a roller coaster while racing lizard pirates through a theme park at night, a stage where you need to out-climb the rising tide to prevent being bit by a lurking piranha, and a stage where you navigate through a bee-hive while being chased by a giant bee. Not every stage has a standout gimmick (which is not a problem) but there is definitely a lot of fun variety that keeps you on your prehensile toes.
Donkey Kong has been kidnapped by King. K. Rool, the big bad from the first Donkey Kong Country, and it’s up to Diddy and his new bae to rescue the prime ape. Instead of adventuring across Donkey Kong Island, Diddy and Dixie are trekking over Crocodile Isle – the overall motif is that you are in dangerous territory compared to the first game. You’re just the sidekick and his ladyfriend, and you don’t know what sorts of traps and terrors will try to get in your way.
A nice touch is that the very first stage is on the Gangplank Galleon, the ship where you fought King K. Rool in the first game. It just immediately makes you feel like this new adventure is a whole new leap for our heroic monkeys.
This is actually a pretty big theme of the game and something that makes it stand out. Donkey Kong Country was known for breaking the fourth wall, mostly thanks to Cranky Kong. If you remember, Cranky was the original Donkey Kong from the arcade games in the early 80s, and our modern-day Donkey Kong is his grandson. Cranky would constantly shit on modern-day gameplay and graphics while reminiscing of better times where games were simple and less convoluted. In Diddy’s Kong Quest, Cranky negs Diddy and Dixie about how they are barely heroes, and how they have a long way to go to become remarkable video game heroes.
Once you beat the game, Cranky will even rate you on a pedestal with other video game heroes based on the number of DK Video Game Hero coins you’ve found in the game. Get them all, and you’ll even stand higher than Super Mario himself.
It’s fucking great.
Just… play this game. You don’t need me to tell you.
Donkey Kong Country had pretty, pre-rendered visuals. They were developed on expensive supercomputers normally used for rendering movie visuals and then converted to 16-bit sprites. The Super Nintendo has hardware limitations, preventing it from displaying a lot of colors, and we’re still talking about old-school television resolutions. Donkey Kong Country’s visuals stood out, and at times, worked really well, and you could definitely appreciate the work that went into it. That said, it wasn’t perfect, and it was a little gimmicky.
Diddy’s Kong Quest uses the same approach but fine-tunes everything. The end result looks much less like a tech demo and more like a polished work of art. It’s not perfect, but you can tell they weren’t trying too hard. Because of this, the game actually looks better and presents itself better than the first.
There’s a lot of little details that immediately hit you on the very first stage. The ship is rocking gently in the ocean. You hear wooden ship-bits creak. The sea stretches out behind you and clouds drift by above. Defeating bad guys cause them to topple off the ship into the foreground, causing a little splash a few moments later. These early ship stages definitely show off the game’s visuals – most level set pieces aren’t as complex later on. It’s as if the game were saying “Look what we can do – but after you ogle my pixels we want you to focus on how good the game is.” I honestly don’t mind this approach – it’s not like later levels are a copout. The entire game looks good, and generally, everything is more aesthetic than the first in the series.
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest has some of the best music from the Super Nintendo’s generation. The soundtrack was composed by David Wise, who also contributed to Donkey Kong Country. Each piece fits the level perfectly, and there is so much variety. You’ll hear genres ranging from hip hop to disco to big band. Drake sampled one of the tracks in If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.
It’s rare that we know the names of video game music composers. We know Koji Kondo (famous for Mario, Zelda, and other Nintendo staples), we know Grant Kirkhope (famous for Banjo-Kazooie and GoldenEye 007), Yoko Shimomura (Final Fantasy), and Jun Senoue (Sonic Adventure). David Wise is among these hall of fame legends.
Sidenote: look up the video games you love, and figure out who composed the music. They deserve credit and likely have more great stuff for you to discover.
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest has some great tunes. I would normally post a few videos to showcase some of the music, but I think it would be more interesting to share a great remix album that David Wise actually had a role in. OverClocked ReMix is a community of talented musicians who remix video game music. They produced an entire album for Diddy’s Kong Quest, and David Wise AND Grant Kirkhope contributed to it.
In fact, check out everything on OverClocked ReMix, it’s one of the finest communities on the Internet.
Okay, and also listen to some of the tracks directly from the game:
Fuck, that last one is my jam. It’s so fun to rock out on the accordion.
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest is more complex than most platformers. There are lots of things to collect, lots of different enemies, and some unique moves that might change when you are, say, sitting on top of a rhino.
The game doesn’t force you to dig through the beautiful and funny instruction booklet to learn how to play the game. It doesn’t stop the action to give you on-screen dialogue to tell you how to do something.
Instead, it uses bananas to direct you and give you hints.
These are pretty common in the first few levels, or whenever a new animal friend or mechanic is presented to you. Bananas are used to point you in the direction of secrets or to help you get to the next area of a stage. You can always trust the bananas.
This is a brilliant way to teach the player how to do some of the more complex moves (you know, in case you didn’t look down at your controller and realize there were more than two buttons). This is huge. When you aren’t riding on the back of a rhino, the A button summons the other monkey to jump on your back, which allows you to throw them to dispatch enemies or reach higher ground. If you didn’t have your partner with you, the A button does nothing. It’s a graceful way to show you what your capabilities are if you weren’t willing to experiment.
Anyone can pick up Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest and figure it out. In fact, you don’t even need to know the A button even exists on the controller for most of the game. It’s usually only used for collecting bonus coins and finding secret bonus areas. That A button is only for advanced players, and if you aren’t ready to wrap your head around it, you don’t need to press it.
But let’s really take a look at how this plays out because it deserves so much more credit. Here is the very first stage, no, the very first few moments of the very first stage.
And that, my friends, is flawless level design. Nothing stops your momentum or interrupts your good time. The game assumes very little of you, and yet lets you discover things as you go. And guess what? If you just cartwheel your dumb ass all the way through the stage and don’t attempt to get any bananas that aren’t in your bee-line path, and you miss the banana coins and special stage and token, you can still finish the level. You can still beat the game, mostly. You’ll be made fun of at the end of the game for barely putting in any effort, but you can still rescue Donkey Kong by doing the bare minimum.
Fuck, this game is good. Top shelf good. You are a god damn knuckle-dragging imbecile if you don’t play Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest. It’s like being in your thirties and saying “Yeah I just never listened to Queen. I heard they are good, but, eh, I just don’t know.” It was the 6th best-selling game on the SNES, and it’s on the Nintendo Switch for anyone with a Nintendo Switch Online subscription. Unless you’ve done a terrible job choosing your friends and acquaintances, you know somebody who has this game and will gladly let you play it with them. Suck it up and do it, diaper baby.
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest has a good challenge curve. Early stages are pretty simple and straightforward and give you the opportunity to learn and make mistakes. It’s also pretty easy to grind for lives. In fact, you can visit that first stage and strut yourself through in a minute or so with a handful of extra monkey balloons that will help you with the more difficult stages later.
The boss fights are fun, and definitely feel like you have to work to get through them, but most of the time the bosses follow a very readable pattern. There are a few gotcha moments, especially in later stages. The game does want you to break your comfort zone to find all of the secret stages and hidden DK Hero coins.
Speaking of, let’s talk about those DK Hero coins. This is one of my favorite elements in Diddy’s Kong Quest.
Each level has a single hidden DK Video Game Hero coin in it.
These coins are bigger than you are. They are shiny. They are sometimes just barely off the beaten path, and other times they are tucked away and require you to really look for them. It’s almost as if the entire game was made and ready to ship, and then someone snuck into the office the night before launch and put a giant coin in each level. They are beautiful, alluring things, and you don’t even know what their purpose is until you beat the game.
After rescuing Donkey Kong and defeating King K. Rool, the credits roll and Cranky assesses how you did. The only metric he uses is the number of DK Hero coins you collected throughout the game. Apparently, Link found 19, Yoshi found 29, and Mario himself was able to amass 39 DK Hero coins. I didn’t even think these guys were in the game.
It’s also fun to see Sonic the Hedgehog’s infamous sneakers and the less obvious blaster that belongs to Earthworm Jim by the trash can. We were still dealing with the first console war in 1995, and the developers at Rare weren’t afraid to take a stance.
I also feel like this screen is a little playful knock against Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto (creator of Super Mario, Zelda, Yoshi, and Donkey Kong), who famously poo-pooed the original Donkey Kong Country’s visuals, and buckled down with a more stylized cartoon look for his next project, Yoshi’s Island which also came out in 1995. The Yoshi render used in Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest is marching in place, similar to how Yoshi’s idle animation is in Yoshi’s Island. Was Rare trying to show Miyamoto up?
Spoiler alert, Yoshi’s Island is also one of the greatest games of all time. I’ll do a review sometime in the future.
Back to Diddy Kong.
So you have to seek out all of these giant hidden coins to prove that Diddy Kong is more than just a second banana sidekick and that he deserves to be in the Video Game Hall of Fame as a great hero. Not only that, but you need to hunt down all of the bonus stages to find all of the Kremkoins so you can pay your way over to the Lost World, which has several hidden levels and one final confrontation with King K. Rool.
Did I mention I fucking love this game?
I sort of covered this above. Those DK coins really feel like one sneaky developer went in and hid each coin by hand. It feels consistent because you get the sense that they are really trying to bamboozle the player and make them work for it with everything they learn throughout the course of the game.
The same can be said for the difficulty curve. Sure, there are some really tough spots that might take a few attempts to get through, but the pacing is so buttery smooth all the way until the end. Even the final few stages, the Lost World, throw some new, digestible mechanics at you instead of just making hard stages for the sake of being hard.
I covered this above too. Diddy’s Kong Quest is so gratifying. As a young kid, just defeating King K. Rool for the first time after staying up all night at a friend’s house felt so rewarding. We rescued Donkey Kong! Only then do we find out there’s so much more work to be done.
Hunting down the DK Hero coins and finding all of the secret bonus stages is a joy, and even though there aren’t a ton of stages, going back and finding everything gives you the opportunity to revisit some truly great level design.
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest isn’t a massively long game. My childhood save has about sixteen hours clocked in, but my last playthrough took just under 6 hours to collect everything.
I was going to keep this review short. Instead, I went bananas. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest is a great game that deserves your time and love. It is one of the finest 2D platformers out there and stands out even among the greats like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. Rare takes its own approach, and it works so well.
Please Nintendo, put Dixie Kong (and Diddy) in more games.
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest was developed by Rare.
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest is also available on the WiiU Virtual Console, the Nintendo 3DS, and Nintendo Switch Online.
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest (SNES - 1995)
Game title: Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest
Game description: Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest was developed by Rare and produced by Nintendo. It was released for the Super Nintendo in the United States in 1995. just one year after Donkey Kong Country. The game is the 6th best selling game on the Super Nintendo.
Gameplay - 10/10
Story - 10/10
Visuals - 9.5/10
Audio - 10/10
Accessibility - 10/10
Challenge - 9.5/10
Consistency - 9/10
Gratification - 10/10
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest is Lynk Approved!
More fun than a barrel of monkeys. This is a game I come back to and play through to completion every year or two. It’s so well done and enjoyable. If you liked the original Donkey Kong Country, this is a huge step forward. Great music, great visuals, and extremely polished gameplay, with a really nice challenge curve. This is a game that will forever define the Super Nintendo generation and is one of the must-have titles for the system.
- Great level design, and all-around an amazing presentation.
- Plenty of replay value and gratification for the hard work you put into it.
- Simple but challenging mechanics keep the game fresh.
- Dixie Kong.
- A few gotcha moments here and there.
- A couple of DK coins/special stages are REALLY tough to find.