Rare managed to do something incredible with Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong-Quest; it took the well refined gameplay and style of the first Donkey Kong Country game and made it even better.

This second entry in the series features gameplay almost identical to its predecessor’s, but this time everything’s been streamlined even further to make the experience as enjoyable as possible. This time there’s no Donkey Kong to play as, rather you take on the role of the titular hero’s nephew Diddy Kong and Diddy’s girlfriend Dixie Kong. As soon as you load up the title screen you know that you’re in for a refined gaming session. You’re immediately presented with a gorgeous image of Diddy and Dixie poring over a huge mound of treasure and a piece of music so exciting it should come with a warning label.

The controls are even tighter than in the original, which is a minor upgrade given just how good the originals were, but they feel almost as if they’ve come straight from a modern game, which is an enormous achievement given the limitations at the time this was created. There are a few new moves to take advantage of these Kongs in particular, the most notable of which is Dixie’s ability to spin her hair around like a helicopter blade and slow her descent, much in the same way Expresso – one of the animal friends – could in the original, which is probably why he has been sadly omitted from this entry. Speaking of animal friends, this time around they are even more unique and useful. Many of the animals from the original make it through to this game, but all of them come with a new ability to help you find the many secrets (which will be discussed later).

Pressing or holding down the A button makes the animal friend you are riding perform a special move; sometimes it needs to be charged and other times is happens immediately, but these all open up the areas they reside in and allow you to explore much more than you could without their help. A particularly notable friend is new to this series and is called Squitter the Spider. Squitter can not only shoot webs out to tackle any foes that cross your path, but by pressing the A button once a special, much slower web is fired, and once you press the A button a second time you’ll have created a platform to stand upon and reach greater heights. This can theoretically be done indefinitely, but the game designers were clever enough not to make it too easy to pull off, and unless you’re careful you may find yourself plummeting into the hazards below.

Another important new function is the Team Up move that allows the Kong you’re not controlling to get on the shoulders of the one you are, and then at the press of the Y button be flung much further and higher than a solitary Kong could. It’s not used that often though, and can quite quickly be forgotten about, but if you want to get to all the secrets you’ll need to remind yourself about it. Whilst we’re on the subject of secrets, this time around they’ve been done spectacularly well. On the whole they’re not quite as well hidden as in the first instalment, but their purpose ismore significant — every time you find a Bonus Barrel, you’ll be jettisoned off to a short challenge that gives you an objective to fulfil. If you succeed in doing so, you’ll be presented with another new addition to the series – a Kremkoin. These are a limited number of special currency that is required to unlock the biggest secret of the game, which we’re not going to disclose in this review for spoilers’ sake. Aside from that there are also lots of hidden nooks and crannies that — even if they don’t lead you to a bonus area — will contain bonus items such as extra bananas, lives, or one of the KONG letter tiles used to gain an additional life.

The challenge in this game is much less about brutal level design as it is about replaying the levels to find the hidden Kremkoins. That’s not to say that this game is easier by any means; whilst the levels are notably easier to begin with, they gradually make their way towards being just as hard as the first entry’s. The steadier difficulty curve is an enormous improvement for less experienced gamers who may have been perturbed by Donkey Kong Country’s less friendly accommodation.

The level design in this game feels a lot more open and vast than the previous title. As excellent as the first game’s levels were, these have managed to improve upon them, giving an arguably more interesting set of themes than before and less focus on a simple left-to-right affair. Lots of the levels take advantage of vertical space and some are even structured so that you start at the bottom of the level and have to work your way up in one way or another, be it standard climbing or using barrels to blast your way to victory, all the while avoiding the plethora of enemies thrown at you.

The biggest improvement in the gameplay, however, is the boss battles. The bosses in the first game were not very engaging or especially interesting, but this time things have been suitably developed so that these encounters are not only more exciting, but also considerably more challenging on the most part.

The best part of the game, meanwhile, is the soundtrack. The soundtrack in Donkey Kong Country was good, and it featured some of the most memorable tracks we associate with the gaming’s greatest ape, but Diddy’s Kong-Quest arguably improves on those attempts. The only word to describe the quality of the sound in this game is masterful; everything from the background music in the levels to the level theme-specific game over motif just makes it an absolute joy to play. It makes you really take your time in the levels so that you can just hear a few more bars of these glorious tracks before heading off to your next musical machination.

Conclusion

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong-Quest managed to do what many would have at the time thought impossible; it took the formula for Donkey Kong Country, ripped out the main character and somehow managed to make it better. Diddy’s Kong Quest is about as close to a perfect game as the SNES got, and every single aspect of it feels like it belongs, there’s no superfluous content in the slightest, and nothing feels like it’s missing, even though Donkey Kong is all but absent throughout the entire game. If you’ve ever enjoyed a single platforming game, this is an absolute must-buy and should frankly already be on your Wii U console.