There are generally 2 popular opinions regarding Donkey Kong Country: those who only really know the 1st game ( which seems to have included Retro Studios when they made the 1st Donkey Kong Country Returns, as it only e’er referenced that game, but includes many other people as well ) & those who recognize Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest as the magnum opus o’ the trilogy ( there are, ’course, a minority who vouch for the other games, & I myself am a minority in preferring the contentious 3 o’er 1 ). While the 1st Donkey Kong Country had visuals so good it killed 64-bit consoles & began to build the general level design principles for the series, with its strange gimmick levels & fast-paced precisely-timed challenges, in many ways it felt like a warmup, being mostly traditional platforming in traditional video game settings like forests & caves. With Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest the developers clearly took advantage o’ the time not spent creating the whole engine from the roots this time by perfecting these elements: graphics became e’en mo’ detailed & mo’ colorful; music became mo’ varied & mo’ memorable; traditional settings were replaced with pirate ships, rollercoaster rides, &, most iconically, bramble nests; & mo’ surreal gimmicks were implemented, such as seals that can turn lava into water by hitting them or honey that makes you stick to it. Mechanics that returned were developed with further gameplay twists: mine carts were turned into rollercoaster cars & you weren’t just avoiding obstacles, but also hitting switches to open doors or winning races. Fewer levels were linear left-to-right, with mo’ vertical levels & levels that go in mo’ complex paths.

While returning ol’ animal buddies like Rambi & Enguarde & Winky-replacement Rattly still stayed 1-note, new animal buddies like Squitter & Squawks were made mo’ multifaceted, the former having webshots that can create platforms & attack enemies, the latter who can fly & shoot enemies, leading to different styles o’ levels. Notably, this game also 1st introduces barrels that turn you into animal buddies, rather than make you ride them, allowing for levels specifically made for those animal buddies, rather than treating animal buddies as disposable bonuses.

DK’s useless ground slap is replaced with an ability to throw your partner up or to the side, allowing you ’nother way to defeat enemies & a way to reach greater heights.

Bonuses were also o’erhauled: while the 1st DKC just had you find bonuses to get 101%, with the bonuses themselves just being repetitive games for gaining 1-ups, this game introduces actual bonus challenges uniquely made for their levels, which oft integrate with their levels & their mechanics. Rather than giving redundant 1-ups, these bonuses gave coins for unlocking ’nother bonus feature, secret postgame levels. This is a significant, underrated evolution in 2D platforming: early platformers like Super Mario Bros., which were still essentially arcade games, made bonuses give you coins & lives ’cause lives were genuinely precious & the fact that you couldn’t go back to ol’ levels to grind for lives or save made them much mo’ important. Later games, like Super Mario Bros. 3, would throw lives @ you e’ery step you took, but was still mostly linear. When Super Mario World put greater focus on exploration, unfortunately, it made the mistake o’ focusing its exploration on giving you coins & lives with slow, plodding, repetitive bonus games, puzzles, or the dragon coins, which in the original SNES version did nothing but give you a life for getting 5 in a single level — a ridiculously low reward for such a feat when you can also get a 1-up just by hitting a Yoshi block while already having a Yoshi. Not only were lives plentiful, you could save @ any time by going back to a ghost house & beating it & could go back to any o’ the many life farms that game provided, making any effort to go after stray 1-ups borderline insanity. This made most o’ this extra content feel like a slow waste o’ time. With Donkey Kong Country, we saw the start o’ redundant lives being replaced by the much mo’ enticing reward o’ the illustrious 100% ( or in Donkey Kong Country’s bizarre, constantly inflating #s, 101% ), but the bonus games themselves just rewarded you with 1-ups or those inane animal token bonus games, which were mo’ a curse than a reward, as they oft took you backward in levels. But in Donkey Kong Country 2, ( which also, thankfully, banished those animal token bonuses to where they belong ), other than the KONG letters, which unfortunately still fall under “dragon coin syndrome”, bonuses & their games were focused purely on 100% 102%, with lives & bananas being mostly just stuff you get ’long the way with li’l effort, as it should be.

But o’erall, the levels just became better, with better variety, better balancing, mo’ intricacy, & fewer cheap hits. While DKC1 sometimes had camera problems, specially in the water levels, that’s rarely the case here. Unlike DKC1, where ’twas sometimes hard for me to distinguish 1 o’ the many, many cave levels from ’nother, e’ery level in this game, ’cept for maybe 1 or 2, stands out as memorable. While DKC1 was half & half ’bout timing its elements so you can race thru them, DKC2 does so for almost e’erything. & while that game had some headscratching setpieces, DKC2’s layouts feel like they had far mo’ thought put into them.

DKC2’s only major flaw in terms o’ level design, which you will see me bring up a lot, is its tendency for hiding bonus content ’hind terrain that looks solid but can secretly be moved thru, a trope that is surprisingly mostly only used in this game o’ the trilogy & nowhere else. It’s still better than the few bonus barrels down in pits that the 1st game had, as these magic walls rarely risk your life making you look for them, but they can make levels — specially the few water levels, which are already tedious by nature — mo’ tedious than necessary & are a lazy form o’ puzzle.

39. Windy Well

People all o’er the internet can give you many candidates for “that one level” in this game, but it shocks me that “Windy Well” ne’er seems to make these lists, despite its windy mechanic being far jankier than the wind found in the infamous wind section in a mo’ common candidate, “Animal Antics”, or e’en “Gusty Glade”. Rather than pushing you left or right for a specific duration, this wind slowly pushes you upward, sometimes up & down — but only @ certain points, & the game doesn’t do a good job o’ being clear where exactly these places are. Thus, it’s easy to enter a wind section only to pass just the edge o’ it or to just miss the bottom hitbox o’ it & plummet straight down to your death. It also seems arbitrary in how high it makes you float, I think based on the weight o’ your jump. There’s this part with a wall o’ Zingers where you have to jump to dip below them. If you just go left without jumping, you won’t go below them & will run right into them. This is the only place where this seems to happen — other places have no problem making you fall lower e’en if you just run off the platform — & it’s not telegraphed in any way.

On the other end o’ the spectrum, there is a section near the middle wherein you’re s’posed to glide under Zingers while falling back down from wind up-pour… if you stupidly jump after reaching that platform. Otherwise, you can just run right under them. I’m actually not sure if this was intentional or not; but it’s not clever, since it relies on discovering a quirk to a counterintuitive mechanic rather than applying any logic. ¿Why would the wind only affect you @ all if you jump? It’s not e’en just being in the air: you reach the air a li’l when going up onto the platform in the 1st place & you can throw your partner up into the air all you want & they won’t be affected by the air. One may think that the 1-up balloon or N on this platform may incite players to jump to get it, forcing them to go through the challenge normally; but you can just throw your partner up @ the balloon & still skip the challenge. So there’s truly no reason to do it.

It doesn’t help that the game doesn’t indicate you can go faster or slower by holding up or down; I didn’t realize this was the case till I happened to read ’bout it while looking up secrets in the GBA version while preparing to write this very post, despite having played this game several times o’er the past decade. As it turns out, how much you can adjust how fast or slow you go is minor & didn’t seem to affect how hard or easy the level was nor, mo’ importantly, did it make the level any mo’ bearable to play.

But truly, for a game that usually knew how to pace its elements, this level is too long & repetitive. It ne’er evolves much past dodging Zingers & Krook hooks, & there’s li’l variation. Sometimes the Zingers move in circles, which is kinda neat, but you still find yourself dodging stationary Zingers e’en up to the end o’ the level — in fact, floating up through holes in a pattern o’ stationary Zingers is the last challenge o’ the level after the 2nd time you dodge Krook hooks. It falls into the Donkey Kong Country 3 gimmick syndrome o’ focusing every element o’ this level on this 1 gimmick without any break to switch it up @ all. That this isn’t e’en a particularly inspired or interesting gimmick in the 1st place makes this baffling. E’en “Gusty Glade”, which can get a bit repetitive, has mo’ variations: with Rattly & without, hopping on enemies, blasting up in barrels, & using hooks, & these are still broken up with regular platforming.

As buggy & broken as this level is, it may not be the most in the trilogy ( we haven’t gotten to DKC3 yet… ), but it is the most frustratingly boring. I would rather play “Rocket Run” 4 times than play this level once. I cannot emphasize how agonizing it is to have to keep threading under the same Zingers with such unforgiving spacing & such awkward bopping down & up ’cause some later part killed you by just having the wind not work or ’cause you missed something due to the camera suddenly deciding the part o’ the level you were just in didn’t exist anymo’. I’m not making that up: during my run thru the GBA version I made the mistake o’ going for a DK barrel just before the 1st bonus to get an extra hit, only to get swept up to the next part o’ the level without warning & have the camera refuse to let me go back down.

Speaking o’ bonuses, this level’s obsession with its gimmick leads finding “Windy Well”’s bonuses to be uninspired: the 1st bonus is just falling in a hole that seems like it might make you fall & die, but has wind that keeps you from falling & allows you to float under the platform that continues the level — as well as yet ’nother Zingers, ’cause I can ne’er get ’nough o’ that — to find a bonus barrel. Then, later, the level does something similar for a hero coin, but e’en mo’ obtuse: you have to jump, but not too high, or you’ll get hit by a Zinger, which is likely. I think you’re s’posed to roll off the edge & then jump, but e’en that will 90% o’ the time either still not give you ’nough speed & distance to clear the Zingers or make you miss the invisible wind hitbox & fall to your death. I was only e’er able to do it without getting hit with Diddy, e’en after many tries with Dixie. In truth, whene’er I did this on the many 102% runs I’ve done, I’d always just tank a hit to get this. Some may say this is me whining ’cause I suck, but I want to remind you that the hitbox is completely invisible, so it’s not strategic aiming; it’s guesswork — guesswork so anal that I’m still not e’en sure if it’s possible with 1 o’ the characters. If they were going to be so vague ’bout how the wind works, they ought to a’least give the player some leeway.

That said, I like the 2nd bonus location, e’en if it has li’l to do with the gimmick: you have a pretty obvious section below the end goal, where you can clearly see the bonus barrel below; but the challenge isn’t finding it, but not getting ambushed by the yellow Klobber masquerading as a regular barrel & ’stead lead it out so you can jump on it without making it run off the ledge, & then you have to use the barrel to get the Kutlass out o’ the way. Part o’ me e’en kinda likes the trollishness o’ positioning it precisely so that if you get knocked by the Klobber right as you’re trying to pick it up, it will bounce you up high ’nough to hit the end goal, making you beat the level without getting the bonus barrel, making you have to do the whole level ’gain to get the bonus barrel. ’Course this is infuriating in a level as crappy as this; but that could’ve been better solved by not having the level be so crappy in the 1st place.

The bonus challenges themselves run into the opposite problem, having li’l to do with the level gimmick & just being generic challenges. The 1st bonus just has you use the wind mechanic to rise up to a hook, which isn’t a challenge, just pointless padding, & then challenges you to hop on a bunch o’ Flitters, which you’ve already done many times. The 2nd bonus is e’en worse: it has nothing to do with the gimmick or the level’s theme & is just a bramble room with Squawks challenging you to grab a bunch o’ stars. Much earlier levels had much mo’ interesting twists on this, such as Bramble Scramble’s bonus challenging you to hit bees in the way o’ stars. Why an end-game level would have a much simpler & easier version o’ a bonus from midgame is a mystery.

To be fair, there are a few good setpieces. For example, I like the 1st 2 jumps, challenging you to hop ’mong 2 short platforms with Click-Clacks on them, a particularly tricky variation o’ a challenge players will have done many times before, e’en if they, ’gain, have nothing to do with the main gimmick o’ the level. There’s also the place where you have to jump up 2 platforms with Krooks on them, which can be tricky, as by the time you jump up 1 the higher Krook will probably throw its hook, & if you wait for that hook to go back, the lower Krook will probably hit you with his hook. Note, ’course, that neither o’ these setpieces have anything to do with this level’s awful gimmick, & thus are actually functional & let me feel like I’m actually in control o’ my gameplay.

Knowing this level sucks so much, they blessedly spared us the trouble o’ getting a photo in the GBA version. E’en the golden feather was mercifully placed near the beginning, to its location was not particularly inspired or relevant to the level: you just roll under a platform toward an arrow barrel that wasn’t there in the SNES version.

It’s sad that such a bad level is the swan song for this cult favorite o’ level themes, the mine levels, perfectly blending the gritty realism o’ the 1st DKC with the wooden floors, pickaxes in the background, & e’en the subtle detail o’ the yellow-&-black-striped warning strips in the background, with the fantasy elements o’ this game represented by the sparkling crystals showing thru the tattered holes in the rocky walls. The song, unofficially titled “Mining Melancholy”, probably ranks as #2 ’hind “Stickerbrush Symphony” ’mong general popularity, & I think it deserves its praise better than “Stickerbrush”, since it has greater variety while still having the same soulful catharsis that “Stickerbrush” is known for. I mean, “Stickerbrush” doesn’t have legit vocals going “Oooooo, ooooo” or those surreal notes that sound like they’re coming from a monkey-alien hybrid.

While I appreciate they were going for a mo’ menacing tone with the black & purple background with green crystals, I actually think I prefer “Kannon’s Klaim”’s brown walls & purple crystals & ’specially “Squawk’s Shaft”’s red walls & golden crystals.

38. Glimmer’s Galleon

All I need to say is that this is a water level that’s dark & hard to see, 2 o’ the most widely-reviled video game gimmicks. You don’t e’en get the respite from Donkey Kong Country swimming controls most water levels offer, Enguarde, thanks to useless Glimmer getting in the way.

This level is repetitive & is basically just a long winding path avoiding the same Lockjaws, Flotsams, Shuris you already saw quite ’nough o’ in “Lockjaws Locker” & Puftups, who you’ll see plenty o’ times in “Arctic Abyss” & the Enguarde section o’ “Animal Antics”.

For DKC2 this is a particularly weak level ’cause it’s the only level that takes place entirely underwater. 1 o’ the many decisions the developers made that made this game stand out ’mong all the others as having the best level design is that all the other “water levels” break up the water navigation with on-ground sections, & oft add twists to the water sections that many players still remember, like the water the heats up & needs to be cooled down in “Lava Lagoon” or the water that can be turned to ice in “Clapper’s Cavern”. This level not only focuses entirely on water, its gimmick is also the weakest, being just a visual trick that was hardly impressive ’mong all the tricks done on the SNES, specially since the 1st DKC already did the same thing in “Torchlight Trouble”.

Being a maze level, you can imagine that this level’s bonuses are just hidden in certain hard-to-find crevices, which are e’en harder to find thanks to your impaired vision. The 2nd bonus is in a nifty spot, just right there in the middle o’ the maze, but in a way where you’re unlikely to go down there; but the 1st bonus is right ’bove the start, which is just cliché.

The hero coin’s location is just 2 layers o’ hidden areas obscured by this game’s trademarked unmarked magical move-throughable solid material. As I mentioned in the intro, thanks to the existence o’ these, progress thru this level plummets to a crawl, as there’s crates all o’er the place, so you need to rub up gainst just ’bout everything, as anything could be fair game for moving thru, to make sure you don’t miss any secrets.

This level’s bonuses are both the same: swim through a maze till you find the bonus coin. The only difference is that the 1st bonus might be in complete darkness if you go there right @ the start before Glimmer appears & 2nd bonus has bananas that mislead you — which is particular pernicious, as the DKC series has always upheld that following banana trails is always the best idea. For this level to break this sacred vow to add the slightest bit o’ challenge to yet ’nother maze is just sad.

For reasons I can’t fathom, this is 1 o’ the few levels to merit 2 photos. The weaker o’ the 2, which fittingly represents Glimmer, who is also the weakest animal buddy, just has you move into some random walls with bananas ’hind them, with the photo itself being completely invisible till you touch it. You think the least they could’ve done was have it show ’mong the bananas.

The 2nd involves a dumb move-thru wall, but is given ’way by a single banana in the wall, &, mo’ importantly, actually is helpful e’en for non-102% by giving you invincibility, which you need to use to plow thru the Shuri with the photo on its head. The fact that you need to kill an enemy without Enguarde pretty much hints that this invincibility barrel must be somewhere, too. Still, it would’ve been better to hide the invincibility barrel somewhere better.

But, thankfully, the feather does not require moving thru solid walls & is just tucked in some corner in the middle o’ nowhere.

The 1 thing ’bout this level that almost made it good is that its ending area being similar to the beginning o’ “Rattle Battle” would make the connection ’tween this & the next level feel seamless… if “Rattle Battle” were the next level. Unfortunately, the developers for some reason put “Krockhead Klamber” ’tween these levels.

If I had to praise a single setpiece in this level, the part near the end where there’s a bunch o’ Puftups & you want to just hurry past them before they explode & send spines flying e’erywhere is a cool climax.

That said, they have this absurd part right ’bove: there’s this niche with a banana coin — ¡but you better hurry & get it, ’cause if you wait before an oddly thin Puftup goes up there & then puffs up, you’ll ne’er be able to get it! ¿Who cares? They throw banana coins @ you in this game.

& speaking o’ weird setpieces that make no sense, ¿why is there a crate that looks a lot like a breakable wall with a single banana in front o’ it hidden in a niche near the start o’ the level? You can’t do anything with it. Having forgotten this level I went round looking for Enguarde, only to remember that Enguarde isn’t in this level, since you’re using Glimmer, so there would be no possible way to break this open. ¿Is that the point? ¿To trick players?

The 1 positive thing I can say ’bout this level are the music & graphics — but it’s hardly ’lone in that quality, & there are much better levels with the same music & graphics, like “Lava Lagoon”. I like how this theme makes the walls made up o’ complex arrangements o’ crates, barrels, steel kegs, & chests o’erflowing with bananas, rather than just be the same-looking stone everywhere, as most games would use, & I e’en like this specific level’s sickly green palette. Honestly, e’en the darkness vs. the light beam would look cool if it didn’t act as a cheap impairment on the player & didn’t flash you with blinding light every time you turn. I almost think the GBA remake’s version looks better, as it still has the contrast ’tween light & dark, but the dark parts are still bright ’nough to see fine & look better, since they’re not just a few scraggly highlights popping out o’ pure blackness. This theme’s background is a bit bland, but it makes up for that by having a cool 3D effect to the windows.

This theme’s music, “Lockjaw Saga”, is 1 o’ the more underrated themes, specially with how authentic the water sloshing noises sound. It ne’er ceases to amaze me the kind o’ sound they were able to get out o’ such an ol’, weak system as the SNES. I think I also have to give this song credit for being a water level music with intensity, rather than the cliché o’ having soft, quiet music for the water levels, & still feeling like it fits.

I don’t know if I’ve e’er seen a level that has such a high ratio ’tween the enjoyment o’ looking @ a map o’ the level vs. actually playing it. Without the darkness & the way-too-zoomed-in camera it looks like a cool, complex maze.

37. Castle Crush

Here lies this game’s only autoscroller ( “Slime Climb” & “Toxic Tower” don’t count as autoscrollers, as they don’t hold you back ), & not only an autoscroller, but the worst kind: an elevator section. Unfortunately, the developers made the same mistake with this level as they did with the few autoscrollers in the original Donkey Kong Country & made the level as long — longer, actually — as other levels without considering the pacing difference o’ autoscrollers & nonautoscrollers, making this level feel 4 times longer than those other levels; & like Donkey Kong Country’s autoscrollers, the layout o’ this level is simplistic & repetitive: like all elevator sections, it’s just enemies o’ e’ery species falling onto you from ’bove or throwing projectiles from ’hind the wall. By the time you’re 1/4th o’ the way thru, you’ll have gotten the gist o’ this level & will be ready for a different level already.

This level is so badly paced that there are numerous places where you’re just standing round doing nothing, waiting for the next enemy to come. ¿Why are these sections here? The absolute worst is the part near the O: there are blast barrels that jump you ’head, which would seem cool, but you just have to wait for the rising floor to catch back up, as this floor is your only means for rising yourself. ¿So what’s the point?

They try to spice this level up with animal buddies to mixed results. Squawks is a logical choice, allowing you to race far ’head o’ the elevator, which makes the level somewhat fun; but Rambi, who’s strength is horizontal movement, is borderline useless here, where he’s forced to just stand round & take bets on whether or not his horn’s hit detection will work when attacking enemies from below. I guess maybe this is s’posed to be a challenge to use Rambi outside o’ his element, but it’s no harder than going without Rambi — it’s just barely better, making it feel frivolous whether you use him or not.

On the flipside, while Rambi’s barrel is hidden in a logical place, ’hind a Kutlass that you can get out o’ your way with a convenient nearby DK barrel, the Squawks barrel is ’hind magical movethru ground that’s telegraphed by a banana being inside it.

There are a few interesting areas where you have to weave yourself ’mong circling Zingers as you’re rising & keep jumping o’er the hooks being thrown back & forth by Krooks like a jump rope, specially the 1 near the end where there are 2 Krooks facing each other on either end o’ the elevator, alternating their throwing. It’s specially satisfying to see them get bashed to death @ the end by the elevator.

This level’s bonuses are lame: 2 walls with giant arrows made o’ bananas pointing them out, 1 o’ which forces you to use Rambi, while the other needs a barrel that appears when you bring Squawks to the sign before it, meaning you just need to find both animal buddies to get a guaranteed chance.

While Rambi’s bonus is frivolous, as you can just stand still as the floor kills the Zingers for you, the other bonus requires you to rush round, trying not to get squished by terrain while the floor quickly rises. It’s basically a simpler, much faster version o’ “Valley of Bowser 2” & what this level o’erall should’ve been.

The hero coin is kind o’ cleverly placed, tho: it’s down in an alcove that’s easy to miss as Squawks — since when you’re racing ’head o’ the floor, you’re not liable to try going downward — & requires quick moving to make it down there before the floor pushes past it.

The feather’s placement is less creative, but not terrible: it’s just in a corner that requires waiting a bit where you’re less likely to want to wait, specially hidden thanks to the GBA’s particularly crunched screen height.

As for Krook’s photo, I don’t know if you e’en can miss it, since the Krook who holds it is placed in such a way where they’re guaranteed to get crushed by the rising floor. That’s no flaw, tho, & howe’er much I don’t like the gimmick itself, I appreciate the way they integrated it into the photo.

It’s hard not to negatively compare this level to “Toxic Tower”, since both focus on rising & trying not to get caught & they’re very close to each other, being in the same world; but that level is better than this is virtually e’ery way possible. Much like Super Mario World’s “Donut Plains 2” being rendered redundant by its superior cousin, “Valley of Bowser 2”, “Castle Crush” is redundant thanks to “Toxic Tower” being superior, & e’en moreso, since they’re so close together that you don’t e’en get a chance to forget “Castle Crush” before “Toxic Tower” comes ’long.

The only notable aspect “Castle Crush” has is its cool glitch, caused by the game for some reason letting you pick up a null item just after breaking a DK barrel on a wall, which you can throw to cause all sorts o’ glitchiness, including skipping the vast majority o’ the level by triggering some failsafe victory.

The castle level theme is probably the 2nd weakest theme, after the ice theme. While it feels fresh for DKC games, it feels cliché for platformers in general, specially as the final world. As underutilized as it was, the factory theme in DKC1 was mo’ interesting. There’s a reason people remember the bramble levels mo’ than these castle levels when they think o’ DKC2. E’en the lava levels were made the 2nd world, rather than near the end; & they had much mo’ elaborate graphics, while these levels have a repetitive background I could expect in a Mario game & plain stone textures for the terrain that’s just littered with chains & torches & nothing else. These levels are 1 o’ the few places where I consider the o’erall inferior GBA version to look better with its purple palette, in contrast to the bland browns o’ the SNES version.

The music, “Krook’s March”, is far from the worst song in this game, & makes good use o’ the general leitmotif o’ this game to instill that this is the final world, but is a bit cliché & too on-the-nose, as opposed to the mo’ innovative songs, like, ’gain, the lava levels, or the rollercoaster levels.

36. Arctic Abyss

The final world, “K. Rool’s Keep”, starts not with a bang, but a hum. I think the idea was to start with a breather level, specially after the rather difficult “Web Woods”, which is a fine decision. The biggest problem with this level isn’t so much its easiness — the level does have some somewhat intricate arrangements if you’re just zooming thru without trying — but the lack o’ variety. By this point you’ve seen Puftups & Lockjaws in 3 levels & Shuri in 2 levels. This level does add some setpieces wherein Shuri move left & right or in circles, but that’s the full extent o’ their variations, & these are a minimum o’ the level. Since you can plow thru e’erything as Enguarde, most o’ these setpieces can be rendered mostly moot, e’en the Shuri circles & the Shuris that charge @ you. It’s ironically the opposite problem o’ most water levels, where you usually can’t fight enemies @ all. Still, it’s definitely better than “Glimmer’s Galleon”, where I was not only defenseless & stuck using the Kongs inferior swimming physics without Enguarde, but also could barely see.

I also have to praise this level for not only having a mo’ complex path than just left to right — as all water levels have these kind o’ complex paths — but going e’en farther & having the end not just in the top right, which most levels do, but somewhere near the middle. It’s not much, but it’s something.

The bonus locations aren’t much to talk ’bout. Tho the 2nd bonus is located ’hind magical move-thru solid wall, it’s a’least telegraphed by a sign — tho it’d be easy to mistake that sign for being from a different part accessibly from someone else. A’least trying to move thru the wall doesn’t have the risk o’ hurting you, like, say, a move-thru bramble wall in “Bramble Scramble”. The 1st bonus is in a seemingly arbitrary wall that’s breakable, telegraphed by a line o’ bananas. I guess it’s somewhat hidden in that it’s up ’bove the normal path.

While the bonus wherein you have to zip back & forth to collect stars as the water goes down fits well, I feel the bonus where you have to hit Zingers with a chest to open it has no relevance, other than that they made it slippery & gave the room the icy background. Zingers aren’t e’en in this level — which is surprising, since the DKC developers were ne’er too shy to put Zingers in places where bees don’t belong, including ice-cold caves. That said, as o’erdone as the “break chests on enemies” bonus has gotten by this point o’ the game, this 1 does add a bit o’ challenge with the slippery physics — tho I feel they could’ve made the arrangements o’ Zingers a bit mo’ precarious, as it still feels free, specially for this point o’ the game.

This level also repeats “Lockjaw Locker”’s hero-coin challenge o’ charging @ a certain point to reach the upper area before the water falls, but is just randomly in the middle, so it’s less memorably implemented, nor does it offer an alternate way to get it. This is a trial-&-error hero coin, requiring you to anticipate it & know to super charge @ a certain place to get it, so this lack o’ a backup just feels unfair, rather than a genuine challenge upgrade. It doesn’t help that this level has many areas that look like this area, with the slightly upraised bump where you enter, so that I kept wasting my time charging, thinking that this bump is the 1 that leads to the hero coin.

The extra GBA collectibles are well implemented, tho, taking advantage o’ already-existing elements. For instance, the feather challenges players to take advantage o’ a part where the water rises ’gain after falling to think to check back top o’ the area where it fell to find it. While I don’t like that the photo is ’hind magical move-thru terrain, ’twas a’least an area that was already there on the SNES version, so it rewards players who remembered this originally pointless secret cache o’ banana coins.

Yeah, in general it’s hard not to see this level as a less creative “Lockjaw’s Locker”. E’en the aesthetics aren’t as good, with the memorable, interesting ship-inside theme replaced by generic icy crystalline walls & underwhelming ice music ( whose name, “In a Snowbound Land”, doesn’t fit these totally snowless areas ). DKC1 had already employed the snow level theme to a great extent; here, the ice levels feel like the least interesting theme & are jarring in how standard & stock it feels in contrast to the other themes. I mean, just compare the tiled background to the elaborate, detailed background in just ’bout e’ery other level theme.

35. Gangplank Galley

If this level has any problem, it’s that this level is too similar to “Pirate Panic”, but o’erall much weaker. This level e’en has you become invincible round the middle & plow thru enemies like in the 1st level with Rambi, but this time making the connection to Super Mario Bros. e’en mo’ explicit. I have mixed views on the invincibility barrels in this game, as they feel a bit too derivative o’ Mario — specially since, unlike most other elements DKC borrowed from Mario, this is a case where Mario was way mo’ stylish & creative ’bout its implementation, with its flashing star being far mo’ memorable than the billionth iteration o’ barrels in this series. Still, e’en if they had to be introduced somewhere in this game, I feel there were better places. I think it would’ve been better to wait till “Lava Lagoon”, where its use was mo’ interesting & where the surprise o’ its discovery might’ve been mo’ exciting than if the player had already been introduced to it. It’s not as if the invincibility barrel changes the player’s controls in any way that might warrant tutorialization.

This level has something o’ a theme revolving round floating hooks, but doesn’t use them in any memorable way beyond the location o’ the hero coin @ the end o’ a series o’ hooks that starts @ the edge o’ the screen when you’re @ the top o’ the tower o’ barrels @ the start, forcing the player to do a roll jump to reach the 1st hook. Most o’ the level is just basic jumps on enemies like in “Pirate Panic” & this level’s only conception o’ evolving the use o’ hooks is adding bottomless pits @ the halway point o’ this level & going from 1 hook to 2 hooks to, gasp, 5 hooks @ this level’s “climax”.

I mean, e’en this level’s name is 1 o’ the least creative: it’s practically the same as the world’s name, only it’s a “galley” ’stead o” a “galleon”.

This level’s bonuses are both @ the top o’ barrel stairs, the 1st @ the very start, which is somewhat clever in how it challenges the player to remember you can hop on these & that they’re not just decoration. The 2nd staircase is covered in Krunchas, who would be rather difficult to dispatch if the player didn’t almost certainly still have their invincibility — tho I s’pose it is possible for the player to keep falling & let their invincibility run out before getting rid o’ them all. Thankfully, you can just throw your partner @ them if so.

The 1st bonus introduces a new bonus type, but 1 that isn’t particularly fun: throw chests @ the invincible red Zinger till you find the 1 that has the bonus coin. The 2nd bonus is ’nother “Find the Token!” where you jump ’cross hooks e’en mo’, but this time with a whopping 8.

Being so basic a level, it lacks a photo, while the feather wisely makes use o’ an otherwise useless cache in the original found by noticing a stray banana down a pit & jumping down to find a barrel cannon that shoots you thru the underside o’ the next ship. I ne’er liked this setpiece, since e’en if you notice the barrel, it’s still easy to not go far ’nough as you jump in & still miss the barrel cannon.

The most notable difference ’tween this level & “Pirate Panic” is that this level has a cool sunset effect as the level goes on, going from the same plain light & dark blues o’ the 1st level to purple/orange skies & green seas @ the end, similar to “Jungle Hijinx” in the 1st game, which probably would’ve worked better in the 1st level o’ this game.

Part o’ me feels like this level’s best elements could’ve been merged into “Pirate Panic” to create 1 level stronger than the sum o’ these 2 separate levels. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a lot o’ people who already mix these 2 levels up. The best I can say ’bout this level is that, e’en if arguably padding, this level is stronger padding than what you’d find in other DKC games.

34. Bramble Blast

I’m not sure how controversial it’ll be that this level is so low on the list. I think if anyone likes this level much, it’ll only be due to its iconic music, the 1, the only, “Stickerbrush Symphony”, a song that many people who have ne’er e’en touched this game know purely from cultural osmosis; but “Bramble Scramble”, “Squawk’s Sprint”, & part o’ “Animal Antics” already have ’nough o’ this music to meet your fill. Same goes with this level’s theme, which deserves credit for being so rare that to this day when people think o’ bramble levels they think o’ Donkey Kong Country 2, since so few notable games had bramble-based levels. The blending o’ such a serene, serious theme with the surreal setpiece o’ floating barrel cannons ( as if they knew these levels would be the most memorable part o’ this game, they mixed it with the most prominent use o’ the most memorable part o’ the DKC trilogy as a whole ) only adds to it, which makes this the most painful level to rank low.

“Bramble Blast” is different from most o’ DKC2’s weak levels in that it has a viable premise, but is botched in a few ways. The greatest problem, to me, is that it is just way too long. This is a problem not just the developers o’ DKC games had, but also the developers for the Super Mario Bros. games oft fell into: not understanding that slower levels feel longer, & so you should make them shorter in actual length to make them feel approximate to the average level’s length to avoid making them feel like a slog. While it’s fine to make you do repetitive actions in fast-paced levels, like making you do that same half-circle maneuver on this arrow barrels in “Barrel Bayou” 3 times ( it’s not ideal, but defensible, given deadlines ), a gimmick as slow as waiting for barrels to turn to the right direction so you can shoot to the next in a large grid o’ barrels wears thin quickly.

You will go thru this same gimmick a whole 5 times before the midpoint & 3 times afterward, with a few linear sections o’ traditional timing o’ blasts in free-rotating barrels as, I guess, a palate-cleanser. There is 1 area near the middle with 2 wooden platforms under a low bramble ceiling with a Klampon & 2 Click-Clacks & maybe the end where you bounce off Flitters — neither o’ which are fresh by this point. In a game that did a much better job o’ implementing multiple ideas in levels & balancing them out to prevent monotony, “Bramble Blast” stands out as possibly the most monotonous in the game.

If I were to revise this level, I would cut the pre-midpoint part to just 2 sections, the 2nd o’ which would have the bonus, & would cut out all the grid sections from the 2nd half ( & that’s me trying to fit DKC’s normal level length: ideally, this level would only have 1 o’ those grid sections, since they’re all the same ).

The 2nd main problem, that makes the level feel e’en slower than it needs to, is that the grid barrels are inconsistent & arbitrary ’bout which directions they can point to. I can understand barrels on the edges not pointing toward the edge ( tho it’d be no flaw to allow them to, since any player dumb ’nough to shoot themselves directly into a wall deserves that hit ), but oft limits you to certain directions e’en when there are clearly barrels in other directions simply to contrive extra limits as a fake way to add the slightest bit o’ challenge. Not only does this actually weaken the challenge by making it impossible to look @ the grid ( which is too big to see in its entirety, anyway — the main reason mazes feel mo’ frustrating in video games than on activity sheets in restaurants ) & analyze which way you can go, making it so that you have to barrel to barrel & figure out thru tedious trial & error which directions you can go, it also means you have to wait for each barrel to go all round so you don’t accidentally shoot in a direction you didn’t mean to go in, expecting it to point in a different direction ( you want to go right & plan to press right after the barrel points downward, only for it to point left ’gain ’cause this barrel arbitrarily can’t go right ). ¿Couldn’t they have made these grids o’ barrel cannons actual mazes with, like, bramble walls, to block off the paths you can’t take? You would get the same limitations, but I can actually see them upfront, rather than having to painstakingly wait for each barrel to rotate to see each pathway.

The 1st bonus is an alternate route dug deep into 1 o’ the many grids o’ barrel cannons. Thanks to the arbitrary limits on which barrels can point where, it can be a pain trying to find the right path. Moreo’er, you can’t see any hint — the banana trail is offscreen — from where you start the grid, so you would have to be going out o’ your way to be aiming for the top left area for no reason. Your reward for finding this bonus is, I kid you not, ’nother grid o’ barrel cannons — ¡but this time timed! &, yes, you have to go down some weird pattern o’ pathways ’cause these barrels only point to arbitrary directions. The 1 time I’m begging for a bonus that isn’t tied to its level’s theme…

The 2nd bonus is much better: after the last barrel blast on the main path it forces you to notice the line o’ bananas going downward after being shot past it & onto a staircase o’ Flitters going rightward — an area that makes you want to urgently go forward to avoid breaking your staircase & falling down, but which forces you to stop & go back ’stead o’ forward. This secret arrow barrel then shoots you up into ’nother & then onto Squawks, & here is why this bonus is much better: it’s evocative to a much, much better level. My only qualm is that they hide the hero coin up in the same general bramble maze as the bonus, just on opposite sides. I guess you do have to dodge some moving Zingers. Honestly, this area still just feels like table scraps from “Bramble Scramble”, but it could be useful as a warm-up for that level’s true appearance 1 world later. The bonus itself, unsurprisingly, is a race to the coin thru a bramble maze with Squawks, which could be considered a warm-up or foreshadowing to “Screech’s Sprint” @ the very end o’ the game — tho, in that warm-up fashion, the paths ’tween the brambles are so wide & the time is so lenient that it’s much, much easier to win.

This level’s feather is, unsurprisingly, hidden somewhere in a barrel maze. ¿Where else would they put it? I’m somewhat surprised — tho not disappointed — by the lack o’ a photo in such a famous level as this. I guess there was nowhere to hide it, nor any enemy with which to associate it — ’less they wanted to make a photo for brambles themselves or a barrel cannon.

33. Lockjaw’s Locker

As I mentioned, “Lockjaw’s Locker” is very similar to “Arctic Abyss”, so there’s not too much to say ’bout this level, other than to point out that @ the beginning o’ the game, this level’s elements feel fresher & its difficulty is mo’ fitting & its aesthetics are mo’ interesting. This level is still mostly just following a straight, albeit zigzagging, path while dodging enemies, or just ramming into them with Enguarde, but it is shorter, & therefore you get thru it faster.

The hero coin is the only memorable element o’ this level, requiring players to charge attack just before the water starts falling to reach an upper alcove. While this is unfair, since you need to know when the water’s going to fall & that there’s something far off ’head, this level does subtly give you a 2nd chance to reach up there if you have both Kongs by allowing you to throw a Kong up there from the right side.

Howe’er, this level makes ample use o’ that lame move-thru terrain to hide this level’s bonus, feather, & photo, which, as I mentioned before, slow this level to a slug’s pace. Thankfully, this level spells out to the player how to find the bonus with the conspicuous line o’ bananas going thru the move-thru block leading to it, — the developers’ way o’ revealing the existence o’ move-thru walls — as well as the giant A & the banana in front o’ the big box, whose meaning should be obvious to anyone who found the 2nd bonus in “Pirate Panic”, & is in a mo’ notable place than “Arctic Abyss”’s 1st bonus. Still, new players will probably spend the rest o’ the level wasting their time rubbing up gainst every wall, not realizing that this bonus was the only 1 they needed.

On the other hand, sometimes this level hints @ move-thru blocks that you can’t move thru, such as a block right before a line o’ bananas that you’d think you could swim thru, but can’t, & will likely get boxed in & hit by a Flotsam that swims this way if you try.

As for this level’s 1 bonus game, it’s very similar to 1 o’ the bonus games in “Gloomy Galleon”, but, strangely, a li’l bigger. Just like that bonus, this 1 also places bananas as a way to lead you into dead ends, rather than the right path, for no good reason.

I do like how this level fits within its world, “Gangplank Galleon”, fitting the pirate-ship theme, but still feeling distinct from the other levels in that world.

32. Gusty Glade

E’en back then, wind mechanics weren’t the most imaginative idea ( Super Mario Bros. 2 Lost Levels already did it ); & the fact that this game has 3 different wind mechanics makes it feel e’en less fresh. While this wind mechanic feels less unintutive & arbitrary than “Windy Well”’s & helpfully shows which way the wind is going with the movement o’ the leaves in the foreground, there are still sometimes cases where the wind changes in an instant right as you’re ’bout to make a jump, screwing you o’er.

But truly, the biggest problem with this level is that it just doesn’t do much with this gimmick. There are hooks & later launch barrels used in the same way where you move from 1 to the other when the wind is moving, which mostly just involves waiting a short moment after each cross, which is the kind o’ slow, mechanical gameplay that DKC2 usually succeeded @ avoiding. They add a twist @ the end where you need to cross from barrel to barrel when the wind isn’t moving, which isn’t any mo’ challenging beyond the trial-&-error beginner’s trap o’ needing to learn not to go when the wind is going.

Since the level doesn’t offer many ideas, the level feels padded out with the few ideas repeated. You have the other good idea this level has, dodging cannonshots while moving gainst the wind, used twice with hardly any difference ’tween them. & then you have this section near the beginning-middle which is just thin platform after thin platform, — literally 16 o’ them all in a row — most with boppable enemies on them, & the wind isn’t e’en moving, so there’s no challenge to it @ all.

This level also might have 1 o’ the most redundant uses o’ an animal buddy: if you throw a Kong up the cliff @ the start, you can find a hidden Rattly crate. You don’t get much for it, tho: the level is horizontal & the only place where being able to jump high is useful is 1 awkward jump just high ’nough to require throwing a Kong upward without Rattly & the bonus barrel right before the “No Rattlies” sign, which you can still reach by throwing a Kong up to it. Other than that, there are a total o’ 3 Spinies you can safely jump on ’stead o’ avoid. There’s 1 jump with a hook you can use with the Kongs but have to hold A with Rattly & use his high jump to get across, which feels mo’ awkward with Rattly than with just the Kongs.

The bonus locations are just a repeat o’ 2 common bonus locations: the 1st, as stated, is just high up in the air, requiring either Rattly or throwing a Kong up. The 2nd is a cannon, whose cannonball is, predictably, in a chest you can break on an enemy.

For comparison, there’s a much stronger hiding place for an insignificant banana coin, which you can’t reach from the left, due to the wind, but you can go round & roll jump leftward to get it. This isn’t brilliant, but a’least ties to this level’s gimmick & is unique.

To be fair, the bonuses themselves aren’t too bad. The 1st is hopping on enemies to reach the end, but with the twist o’ the wind throwing off the timing from normal. It’s different from the rest o’ the level, but is still relevant. The 2nd bonus, with the arrow barrel moving left & right & the challenge o’ trying to grab all the stars is less relevant, but a decent challenge in & o’ itself.

The hero coin’s placement is awkward. You can easily get it, if you already know it’s there, by just ponytail hovering o’er to it from the high cliff before it. I think you can technically jump off 1 o’ the barrels that the Kanon just below the cliff shoots to reach it with Diddy, but it’s really awkward with the wind, specially with how easy it is to just fall off the cliff & bonk the Kanon to death — which I guess is the point, but it doesn’t feel like an exciting challenge so much as a janky annoyance.

The GBA collectibles may be the least creative in this game: the photo, which is o’ Rattly, despite this level being nowhere near his most iconic appearance, is just right @ the start, high up ’bove his crate, while the feather is, get this, @ the very end, high up a cliff past the end goal.

Admittedly, it’s hard for the forest levels to stand out when you have such exotic level themes like bee hives, rollercoasters, pirate ships, & bramble mazes to work with & had such great-looking forest levels with excellent music in the 1st DKC, but the darker, nighttime, spectral aspect to these forest levels, in contrast to the daytime forest levels in DKC1, do a’least give an edge ’bove the latter, & do make a perfect transition from the amusement parks in world 4 & the castles in world 6. That said, I’m disappointed by how li’l “Gusty Glade”’s palette deviates from “Ghostly Grove”’s, specially compared to “Web Woods”, which does have its own palette.

Similarly, the forest levels’ music, “Forest Interlude”, tho good in its own right, can easily get lost in a sea o’ o’erall high quality music.