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CONSOLE: Game Boy Advance DEVELOPER: Rare PUBLISHER: Nintendo
RELEASE DATE (NA): June 9, 2003 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

Save the Banana Hoard for a third time!

Alright, so let's pull a quick recap before I get into the meat and potatoes of this review. First off, there was the original Donkey Kong Country game for SNES back in 1994, which received rave reviews and sold extremely well for a video game. Two sequels followed, and both of them were also successful. Then, in 2000, Nintendo teamed up with developer Rare a second time to bring Donkey Kong Country to their 8-bit Game Boy Color system with questionable results. And now we can fast forward a bit to 2003, only three years later, when Nintendo figured that they should relinquish the dust once more and develop a Game Boy Advance version. Well, this may be an improvement over the Game Boy Color version, but it's almost like beating a dead horse... with another dead horse! Considering how I've already reviewed the original Donkey Kong Country for SNES and its snarky little 8-bit counterpart, I will again not go into too many details about what the game is about, aside from the fact that Donkey Kong has lost his Banana Hoard and must retrieve it from K. Rool and his band of Kremlings. What else do you need to know?

The first thing you might notice is the quality of the graphics. Considering that it was the Advanced Computer Modeling techniques that pretty much sold the original game, they should be just as impressive on the small screen. Furthermore, the Game Boy Advance actually has superior capabilities to the Super Nintendo, so that little prism should be able to output great or even better quality graphics. Unfortunately, something has been lost in the translation. The graphics are less crisp and muddier than the SNES, which is a shame because they could have fit all the goodness of the SNES version on the GBA cartridge and still had room for a turkey and banana sandwich. They also made everything brighter than the original so the game suffers from a bit of an ugly higher contrast than I probably would desire. This was probably made so due to the lack of backlight in the original Game Boy Advance design. Darker areas such as caves are now quite well-lit, which provides a less believable atmosphere, which the SNES was able to provide. The character models themselves, though, are decent, and haven't changed too much from the original. The new models that they developed are a tad repulsive, which is generally shaming. But regardless of all that I've said, it's a grand step forward over the Game Boy Color. That sucked.

On the other hand, at least all of the music survived the move intact. The soundtrack from the SNES version is all present and accounted for, plus a few extra tunes to boot. That's great. Admittedly, the Game Boy Advance sound processor is a tad inferior, but that doesn't mean that you're not getting a solid aural experience. The sound effects have also made a smooth transition, and Rare has even gone the distance by adding a few more, particularly with the characters themselves. Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong have never been quite so talkative, and at times, you'll wish they didn't wail as much as they do every time they frolic around.

You'll also notice just how much the structure of the game has been affected by the move. The levels are still structured the same, although you may want to be a bit more careful traversing the jungles on the small screen because less of the area can be shown in a miniature viewing field. At least the game will tell you how many of the bonus barrels you have found on a separate menu on the world map, plus whether or not you have collected the four hidden K-O-N-G letters in that level. Each world map screen has been revamped; they don't quite look the same, although the directions of paths are generally similar. When you visit Cranky's Cabin, our old codger buddy Cranky Kong is actually INSIDE the cabin for a change, which is convenient if there is ever a persistent rainfall. Candy Kong's save station has been removed completely, and you can save anytime via a separate off-screen menu. Another new addition is that there is more conversation between characters than ever before, by way of speech bubbles. There is also an introductory sequence that tells us exactly how the Banana Hoard was stolen. It's a nice touch and softens the blow a bit for Donkey Kong enthusiasts like myself that are finicky with game ports. Finally, you can also collect little puffy cameras that, when attained, will increase your total photo count in your in-game scrapbook. I don't know why this game needed a photo album, but there it is.

But as with the Game Boy Color edition, there are also a series of extra features that may either enhance your experience or leave you feeling indifferent. First of all, there are a couple of mini-games to keep players busy. "Funky's Fishing" makes a repeat appearance from the GBC, which allows you to fish. I guess SOMEONE out there must have bought DKC so that they could go fishing... okay, probably not. There's also a new mini-game called "Candy's Dance Studio", a rip-off of the Dance Dance Revolution craze where you have to press specific buttons to the rhythm of an electro-dance-fusion track of some sort. All the songs sound similar, and you'll get bored of this easily, although seeing Candy Kong dance is pretty hypnotic... oooh... Another feature that some may enjoy is "DK Attack" mode, where you are given a limited amount of time to rush through any given stage. This is designed for the more manic of players, and those who are not afraid to whip themselves into a frenzy so frantic that they will soil their undergarments before reaching the end of a level. Yikes!

So what have I learned from my experience with Donkey Kong Country for the Game Boy Advance? Well, I have learned that it is almost impossible to recapture the magic and mirth of a classic game as a remake on a portable system. It really should not have been ported to the Game Boy Color, that's for certain. The GBA version is more visually true to the original, and it plays like the solid platformer we all know and love, but by the third trip around the block, DKC just doesn't give me that same sense of glee that it did on the SNES. Still, for those who either want DKC on the go (and don't want pitiful 8-bit graphics on the Game Boy Color), or have not yet experienced the series, this may be a solid source of entertainment for you.


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