Donkey Kong Country on the Game Boy Color Was Advanced for Its Time

Donkey Kong Country (Game Boy Color)

I think few gamers would disagree with the statement that Donkey Kong Country is a gaming classic. Originally released in November of 1994 for the Super NES, it both reinvented and renewed interest in one of Nintendo’s earliest video game franchises. Nintendo didn’t develop this one, though; they put it into the very capable hands of Battletoads developer Rare Studios, who would go on to be legends in their own right, developing an enormous list of games that includes Banjo-Kazooie and GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64.

I could go on all day about the legendary SNES game, but I actually only brought any of that up because I wanted to talk about the lesser-known Game Boy Color version of the game, which didn’t come out until 2000 (it was also the work of Rare).

I was born in the mid 90’s, so my age wouldn’t have hit double digits yet by the time this port came out. When I first encountered a Game Boy Color, it was the coolest thing I had ever seen, and of all the games my tiny little hands could grab, Donkey Kong Country was the absolute king.

Donkey Kong Country (Game Boy Color)

There are plenty of naysayers out there who simply can’t appreciate what DKC for the Game Boy Color game manages to do. For example, in his official review, Chris Harris of IGN said:

There are some issues with the conversion — most importantly the scale of the characters versus the viewing area — the developers wanted to keep as much detail to the characters as possible, so the area of the screen is much less than what was on the Super NES game. This causes problems with some levels since, in the GBC game, you can’t see what’s above or below you, where in the SNES game you could see a little further down the road. Another issue is in the collision detection — I’ve had problems where bouncing on a tire actually killed me because there was a snake too close to the bounce…even though he wasn’t in “touching” distance.

Despite statements like the above (which, in all fairness, is completely valid), I think this game is still worth praising. I mean, this is a 16-bit game downscaled to an 8-bit system, and the entire thing still manages to fit on the cartridge and play eerily similar to the SNES original. (There are some minor changes. For instance, the player can transform into jungle beasts like rhinoceroses instead of riding them, and there is now support for the Game Boy Printer.) It took some kind of witchcraft to pull this off.

Donkey Kong Country (Game Boy Color)

Even in 2016, the Game Boy Color version of Donkey Kong Country is still pretty nice to look at. The coloring is flawless. The contrast between the deep colors works so well here, the dark greens with bright yellows, the blues with the browns, and so on.

Plus, not only does the game run smoothly, the controls feel smooth too. There’s a sense of precision here that not every platformer can nail down.

Donkey Kong Country‘s soundtrack is phenomenal, and a lot of these songs are instantly recognizable to anyone who was playing video games in the 1990s (or retrospectively played 90s games in the 2000s). They scale down remarkably well to the Game Boy Sound System, yet sometimes they don’t even sound like the chiptunes they actually are. (For the record, a lot of these songs were actually brought over from Donkey Kong Land.)

Donkey Kong Country (Game Boy Color)

Of course, Donkey Kong Country is legitimately challenging, whether you play the SNES version or the Game Boy Color port. As a kid, I was never able to play it to completion. As an adult, I still struggle with some of levels and especially the bosses.

Even so, there’s so much about this game to marvel at. Donkey Kong Country for Game Boy Color is one of the very few games I’ve been able to play as a child, as a teenager, and as an adult, and still derive just as much joy out of as I did when I played it for the first time. Donkey Kong Country is a enough of a masterpiece that even a scaled-down, handheld version released more than half a decade later still contains the true essence of this game’s magic.

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