Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Dunkey Kung Cuntry 2: Yyyyyo boy

at 7:46 PM
Man, this game. THIS GAME. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest. That's a terrible pun. I wish anyone would learn that a play on words doesn't work if the second meaning doesn't have any meaning. "Diddy's Kong Quest" makes sense; Diddy is on a quest to find (Donkey) Kong. On the flip-side, "Diddy's Conquest" is nonsense. That isn't what the game is. He doesn't conquest anything, he's a monkey on a rescue mission, not Francisco Pizarro Jr. So, C- for titling. Actually make that a straight-up D, because Rareware is a British company - they have zero excuse to screw up the English language. I don't know why I'm suggesting that developers (rather than publishers) title games.
These are the actual 3D models used for the sprite renders. Personally I prefer the sprites - I mean, Christ, look at Al E. Gator's face
So let's look at the most talked about aspect of the game, the monkeys. Or apes, as it were. Diddy Kong himself is a carryover from the original Donkey Kong Country, released a year prior (1994). Diddy is typically identified as a chimp (short for chim-pansy), a variety of pretty intelligent ape. They're no dolphins, but they're pretttyy, prettttttay smart (I'm almost positive they're smarter than dolphins, but no one ever tried to teach them English by giving them LSD). So people are all, "Diddy Kong's a smart bloke, so he must be a chimp, right?" He demonstrates his intelligence through such tasks as doing a cartwheel, jumping on alligators' heads, smashing barrels, etc. I won't debate that this is clearly the work of a sophisticated mind; nevertheless, evidence to the contrary exists in the form of Diddy's prehensile tail. Apes, you'll recall from science, don't have tails. Chimps, you'll recall from a few sentences ago, are apes. We have thence rigorously proven that Diddy Kong is not an ape, and thus not a chimp. This is pretty much what mathematics was like in college, by the way. Mainly this type of thing. Thank you, college!

Dixie, Diddy Kong's brother (spoiler) and the second playable character, is notable for her long ponytail and beret. While many a simian sports a fashionable lid, what baffles me here is the flowing blonde mane. Is it a wig? That would be hard to believe, considering that Dixie can suspend her entire body weight upon the tensile strength of her hair. Perhaps then a weave? I don't think sub-human lifeforms can comprehend the functionality of such a complex device. Pretty sure I ain't never seen a chicken flaunting a toupee. So, to quote a famous American, what's the deal here? How can Dixie be a longhair? It's simply unheard of in nature. 
Dixie Kong in her natural habitat
So both Diddy and Dixie Kong are some mystery creatures who look like apes but defy logic by means of a (pony)tail. Perhaps they belong to yet-to-be-discovered species? Was Rare trying to tell us something? Maybe that's why Nintendo delisted the games from their Wii Virtual Console service last November. Some type of conspiracy cover-up spearheaded by Carolus Linnaeus and Jane Goodall. Don't be surprised if this blog post 'mysteriously' disappears too. I've probably just been FBI watch-listed. 

DKC2 is littered with other anatomically incorrect wildlife, but you'd probably be pretty pissed if I spent another paragraph on the subject. Let me just summarize by saying that one of them is called Sneakers the Spider (because he wears sneakers, get it? I don't) and another is Snakey the Snake, because he is shaped like a spring and can jump high. I guess if I wanted a game to feature an animal that could jump, it probably wouldn't be a fucking snake. When was the last time you were strolling "in the flat fieEeEeelds" and a snake jumped up in your face? Plus the snake was bigger than a rhino. Come on guys. Can we make a little less sense?

The platforming is nice though. It's not particularly finessexcellent, but when it gets rolling it can be a blast. The game has a rollickinger sense of speed than any 16-bit platformer barring perhaps Super Mario World. The problem is that stages are so long and obstacles so unforgiving that you'll only get to experience that speed on occasion. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one that feels this way (so ronery), but DKC2 is one of the hardest platformers I've ever played. After ten tries on a level, I can usually do it flawlessly, but it takes those ten practices. I guess the nostalgia hounds already have years of experience to taint their sense of challenge. The repetition depletes a large portion of the thrill; by the time you've figured out the 'right' way to play, you've already seen the whole level a dozen times. By comparison, one of the more exhilarating platformers I've played recently is Bit.Trip Runner 2, which uses difficulty scaling and gradual feature introduction to ensure that I can complete stages on a first run while still feeling like I've accomplished something. That has its own flip-side that I might discuss another time, but the takeaway is that it makes DKC2's stages feel like an utter slog and defeats any sensation of achievement they should convey, despite the ostensible speed of traversal.

That said, I love that Country 2 is a thinking man's platformer without resorting to puzzles. I referred to the notion of "figuring out" the platforming; what I mean is that the difficulty lies in determining the right course of action, not in executing it. How should I time and sequence my moves? Where should I change paths, which risks have suitable payoffs? This isn't mere memorization - that would imply that the correct route is obvious on completion. DKC provides that feeling most familiar from physics platformers (Trine etc.), the "whoa - was I supposed to be able to win that way?" triumph. It certainly has it's linear segments, but most often it provides the player numerous means to progress and to challenge themselves. While I'm an avid hater of collection (next paragraph), much reward lies simply in manipulating the challenge. There are good and bad solutions to every level, and the payoff of devising a better strategy is an easier replay. This allows me to feel like I'm truly getting better at the game with each attempt.

Collectathonism. Rare basically invented this idea, and it's been both a curse and a curse through the history of platforming. In some sense, modern Achievements/Trophies are derived from the concept, the notion that players will strain themselves for any reward, however worthless, as long as it's acknowledged. The Donkey Kong Country games challenged the player to reach 100% completion (you could even go beyond 100%!) by finding and snatching every last hidden trinket in the game world. This is totally optional, so many people say "you can't complain". Well reading my complaint is totally optional too, so fuck you. The collection in DKC2 has its highs and lows - sometimes it provides secret minigames and shortcuts, while more often it triggers aimless wandering and pixel-sweeping. See, I might - just might - be able to forgive this if not for one thing: invisible items. What makes collection fun (or at least gives it the potential to be) is that the player spots some treasure off the beaten path and asks themselves "how the hell do I get over there?". This inspires experimentation. See Warioland: Shake It! for a game that does this perfectly. If items are invisible, the player is expected to ask "how do I get EVERYWHERE", including places they aren't intended to go. To discover everything, they must throw themselves down EVERY pit, scramble into EVERY corner, and jump in EVERY open space. The suspicion it inspires is boundless, which renders the visible collectibles pointless. Why show me some of the coins when I have to scour every inch of every level anyway?
The reward for getting everything... you can tell Diddy is overjoyed
That's my thoughts after finishing the game once (I first played it 15+ years ago, but this was my first serious run). A lot of Mankey-fanatics out there have surely played the game dozens of times and most of them just like to talk about the secrets. But everyone has said everything there is to say about that, so I just wanted to point out that, y'know, it also has good platforming. Because the secret shit really isn't enough to drive the entire game, plus it's way worse than people say, plus other games do the same thing better (again, Warioland).

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