Donkey Kong Country was a fun and popular platformer for the SNES, but not everyone thought it was great. Some people (possibly Mega Drive / Genesis owners) said the game was in fact quite poor and any fans were deluded fools drawn to it for reasons other than gameplay – or, as Cranky Kong says, “put a few fancy graphics and some modern music in a game, and kids'll buy anything nowadays...”. His comments came in the original instruction booklet to Donkey Kong Land, setting up the story as he challenges Donkey Kong and Diddy to try a similar adventure on an 8-bit system. They agree, and after Cranky has contacted King K. Rool to steal the banana horde again, the duo set out for a new adventure.
As per Cranky's challenge, the aim of the game is to work your way through over 30 levels, collecting bananas and defeating Kremlings; they're split across four worlds, with you having to face a boss at the end of each area. There's a variety of different locations in the game, some of which will seem familiar — such as the jungle or underwater stages — but there are also new places to visit. Sometimes you'll be running along a pirate ship or jumping across platforms in the clouds, whilst the final world sees you travel out of an ape's comfort zone for your platforming thrills.
Despite being on less capable hardware, Rare still managed to create a good looking title. Donkey and Diddy resemble their DKC selves – not simply in appearance but animation too. There may not be as many frames or actions as its SNES predecessor, but the two apes walk, jump, swim and look around in the same manner – they'll even sit scratching their head if defeated by K. Rool's minions. The stages match the look and a varied bunch of enemies have made it across, finding different ways to hinder your progress. There are also some new enemies for you to contend with including Hogwash the Flying Pig and Swirlwinds, miniature twisters that whilst fatal from the side can be bounced on top of to clear gaps or reach bananas and other items.
There are a few negatives: there's plenty of detail but the lack of colour means that enemies can blend in with the background, adding challenge where there shouldn't be. There are also moments of graphics flicker, but overall there's not much to fault with the visuals. Originally released as a “Super Game Boy Game Pak”, Donkey Kong Land treated SGB players to a fancy rendered tree-top border and “a more varied colour selection” when played on their SNES — like all such games on the Virtual Console, however, the SGB enhancements are absent from this release. It should be noted, however, that the more colourful palette of the original cartridge basically amounted to a few different colour washes throughout the game, sometimes based on the location of each level (such as green for the jungle or icy blue for snow levels). 3DS owners hoping for a bit of colour variety can — as always — choose between black and white or green and black.
Controls are responsive and straightforward: A to jump, B to roll and pick up barrels, with a tap of Select to switch between the simian heroes. The unused Kong does not follow you onscreen, instead warping in as the other disappears. It feels very natural jumping across gaps or swinging from vines, whilst figuring out a way to dispatch an upcoming enemy — it's not just careful jumping or a well-aimed barrel that will get you through the levels though, as help is sometimes provided by animal companions Expresso the ostrich and Rambi the rhino.
Aside from Donkey and Diddy there are no other Kongs in the game, a pity as Cranky could have injected some humour. Perhaps he'd feel more at home in an 8-bit title, or maybe he'd survey his monochrome surroundings and laugh at how his titles trump it in some respects, “in my day we had colour...” et cetera.
Some levels require precise jumping and will see enemies suddenly appear, providing you with a challenge. Generally the difficulty curve is well judged but occasionally you'll find a tricky level popping up unexpectedly – indeed the second level of the game sees you jumping between slippery slopes and bouncing off the enemies; this often sees you falling towards a chasm. To make your quest a bit less stressful, extra life balloons can be found scattered throughout the game and additional lives can be acquired by collecting 100 bananas.
Audio-wise, the game features a few sound effects to accompany things like the breaking of barrels or collecting of bananas – the best one however is the springy sound when you bounce off the head of a foe. Special mention must must be made of the catchy music by David Wise and Graeme Norgate, which captures the fun and adventure of the game whilst matching the theme of the stages. Though it lacked the capabilities of the SNES sound chip, there are still quite a variety of sounds used here in what was some of the best music produced for the original Game Boy hardware.
The game can be saved after any level assuming you've collected the four letters that spell out KONG. As you work through the game these letters get harder to find, but you can replay an earlier level to save if you are having trouble locating them on your current one. Alternatively you could use that standard Virtual Console feature: the nifty restore point. Your save file gives a percentage score, indicating how much of the game you've cleared. Getting to the end of the game and defeating King K. Rool will keep you entertained for a while, but the real challenge is trying to locate all the bonus areas within the levels to push up that score to 100%. Even when you have found everything it's still fun to replay levels – although you'll have to make your way there on foot as neither Funky Kong or his Funky Flights service feature in the game.
Going by that instruction book story, the idea that this game would prove Donkey Kong Country was more than just a pretty face is demonstrated rather nicely. Whilst visually it can't come close to the SNES title, by Game Boy standards these are definitely “fancy graphics”, and that doesn't really matter as fans can rejoice in what is basically an extra 34 levels of DKC. Tight controls and a variety of locations and enemies make for an enjoyable platformer. Add in the challenge of finding everything and Donkey Kong Land is a fun game that will keep players occupied for some time.