How Donkey Kong Country 2’s Movement Feels Amazing (Part 3)

This is Part 3 of a 3-part series. Check out all the parts here!

Part 1: Here!
Part 2: Here!
Part 3: This post.

As a child, I loved to play Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest; as an adult in my early thirties, I still love playing it. One of the reasons, among many, why is the game’s character movement feels almost perfect. Never do I feel as though I can’t adequately control Diddy or Dixie Kong as I navigate them through many levels of perilous adventure. As a game designer, I found myself wondering: what is it, exactly, that makes me love DKC2’s movement so much?

To answer that question, I’ll take a close look at the action verbs DKC2 employs related to the player characters. It’s not just a matter of analyzing the actions and movements in and of themselves, however; the level and enemy design of DKC2 are intentionally crafted to augment those basic and special actions. As is undoubtedly true for many games, it is the whole package together which creates that feel I love so much.

In the first part of this blog series, we looked at the many abilities and forms of movement the Kongs can do; in the second part, we examined the design of the levels those actions are performed in, and how it compliments them. Now, we’ll look at the final segment of the movement equation: the foes the Kongs must fight throughout the levels. We’ll review the types of enemies that get included in the game, relative to how you are expected to deal with them; next, we’ll examine a few foes that implement some special mechanics on top of their base type; finally, we’ll look at a few levels to see how enemies are placed to take advantage of the Kongs’ movement, their movement, and the level’s design to create compelling, challenging gameplay experiences.

Kantankerous Kharacteristics

When asked about what kinds of enemies are present in Donkey Kong Country 2, one might say “there’s some ground enemies, flying enemies, swimming enemies, some bosses”. That isn’t wrong at all, but I want to approach this from a different perspective; I want to examine enemies by how they are designed to be defeated. This approaches helps us focus on what moves you need to employ to defeat a baddie, which makes it well-suited for this design dive.

Basic Baddies

Many of the baddies are designed to be beaten with one or more of the regular moves in the Kongs’ arsenal. Some specifically protect themselves against particular kinds of moves, forcing you to be more strategic about how you approach them. Let’s break those types down.

Stomp Enemies

As is true in many platforming games, there are many baddies which can be defeated by jumping on their heads and knocking them off the stage; I’ll call this “stomping”. It’s usually pretty obvious which foes can be stomped; they lack any sort of visible protection to their heads which might discourage you from jumping upon them. That doesn’t mean all stompable enemies are the same; there’s plenty of variety to enemy widths, which affects how easy it is to land within their hurtbox. For example, Sneeks and Flitters have quite wide hurtboxes (and they are visually long-looking characters to communicate this), making them relatively easy to land on; other foes, like the Klomp, stand upright and present a smaller hurtbox, and thus are more of a challenge to land on precisely.

I use the term “hurtbox” to mean the collision area where contact results in hurting the entity possessing it.

Stompable enemies are sometimes placed in such a way that you can chain jumping on multiple of them in a row. As discussed before, this is used in some places as the required means of progressing through the level, but it’s also included in less critical areas as a fun thing to do. Jumping as you land on top of an enemy provides a boost to your jump height, which adds to the thrill of the action. Since jumping on enemies is a core part of the game, adding elements like this to increase the fun factor goes a long way to making the game feel good to play.

Spin Enemies

The spin move is also usable as an attack, careening into enemies to knock them away. Unlike falling on a baddie from above, using a spin requires knowing how much time you spend in the spin animation before breaking out into a run, as otherwise you’ll instead run into the enemy (and thus take damage and lose the Kong you control). This makes the spin attack more challenging to pull off, but subsequently it feels a little more satisfying to use than a simple jump attack.

When you successfully spin into a baddie, it actually resets the spin to the initial frame of the spin move; since the camera stops moving forward as part of this, it adds some weight to how the spin attack feels, contributing to the fun of using it. To compliment this, some parts of the game place multiple enemies close enough to each other that you can easily spin through the entire group, which is tremendously entertaining!

This is actually something I don’t think is done as well in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. There’s been a lot of times in that game where I’ve tried to pull off a spin attack through a group of enemies that seem close enough to spin fully through, only for my spin to come up short in the middle of the combo through no perceived fault of my own. It makes it such that I trust the use of that attack less than the jump. That’s a shame, since I think DKC games are at their best when the player is able to use both forms of attack equally well.

Many of the ground baddies which can be stomped on can also be spun into; some, however, specifically prescribe whether or not the spin attack should be used. The Spiny is designed to resemble a porcupine, bristling with sharp quills all over its body except for the exposed head area; spinning into this foe from the front is thus strongly encouraged. The Klampon, an alligator-esque foe with big, nasty teeth, communicates the opposite; spinning into those jaws means your death, so you must instead stomp them. This adds a level of depth beyond simply defeating these baddies; you need to understand what they are vulnerable to and specifically use the move which targets that vulnerability.

Protected Enemies

There are a few foes which are explicitly immune to the spin and stomp attacks the Kongs possess, meaning you can only defeat them with a projectile or an animal buddy’s attack. As mentioned in previous parts, that means when you are given access to a projectile or a buddy, you’ll need to keep them around long enough to deal with any protected enemies in your path.

What if you don’t have a projectile or an animal buddy? Then these protected baddies become obstacles which you must avoid. There are plenty of places in the game where this is what you are expected to do. For example, many climbing sections are littered with Zingers, forcing you to climb quickly or make well-timed jumps to avoid their patrols. On the ground, protected foes are often placed in ways that force you to perform a clever move (like a spin jump) to get through (or, alternatively, to access some form of reward that you’d otherwise have to pass on).

Enemies which are protected from spins and stomps are given a visual design that communicates this. The hornet-like Zinger is covered in sharp, triangular stingers, making it quite clear that death awaits those who try to spin or jump into it. Klubba is big and muscular, and the Kongs simply don’t have enough mass to do any damage to him; instead, when you try to jump on or spin into him, you bounce off him, and he turns red, making the next time you touch him cause damage. Kutlass sports a pair of oversized cutlass swords, and carries them in such a way that it makes it clear that he can cut you down from any angle you choose to try and attack. Identifying which enemies are protected from spins and stomps is an important part of gameplay, and forces clever use of your moves to either avoid them or keep projectiles and animal buddies alive long enough to get to those baddies and defeat them.

Komplex Kharacters

We’ve examined the basic archetypes of enemies by how they are intended to be defeated. There are a few special cases which differ enough from the basic types, which we’ll look into now.

Ranged Enemies

Most of the baddies in DKC2 use their brawn to try and hurt you, but a few fellows got the clever idea of shooting projectiles at you, instead. That forces you to keep your eyes peeled for when such baddies appear in the level, and react quickly to the projectiles they shoot at you to avoid them. Sometimes, these ranged foes are positioned such that they shoot projectiles through an area of the level you must pass through to make progress, requiring you to time your moves to the pattern of the projectiles so you pass while the baddie is reloading. Thanks to how responsive your basic movement is, dodging the projectiles, while a challenge, is rarely a frustration.

Even within the ranged archetype, there is variety to be found in what projectiles they shoot. The Kannon baddie (not to be confused with the samely-named Kannon that shoots you into bonus areas) sometimes shoots simple wooden barrels, which you can bounce on top of if you aim your jumps correctly; this is used in some levels as a required means of progression, bouncing across from barrel to barrel over a gap until you get to the other side. Other times, they fire iron cannonballs which hurt you irregardless of how they touch you, and you must simply avoid them. The Krook, meanwhile, fires its metal hook hands when you pass within line of sight; the twist is that those hooks function like boomerangs, returning to the Krook after reaching maximum distance, forcing you to not only keep an eye for the initial shot, but be prepared to avoid the projectile as it traverses its return trajectory. Finally, the Kloak hovers around and is capable of throwing many kinds of projectiles, from barrels and chests to Spinies and Zingers; sometimes, if you wait long enough and dodge the projectiles, a Kloak will throw out some form of goodie, like a banana coin or a chest with a 1-up balloon, so it’s not always in your best interests to kill them right away.

Swimming Enemies

While swimming, the Kongs cannot jump, spin, or throw; this makes all the foes underwater a protected enemy, because touching them means death. Thus, underwater sections tend to evoke avoidance gameplay, where you swim carefully through rooms of patrolling baddies. Not every foe is content with simply patrolling, however; the Lockjaw, an orange piranha, will charge towards you if it catches you within its line of sight, while the Shuri, a spinning starfish, will wait for you to enter an area, then attempt to launch themselves in your general direction. The Puftup, a bloated pufferfish, will sometimes explode when you get within range, launching its sharp spikes in predetermined directions and forcing you to dodge to avoid them.

Both the Shuri and the Puftup also have variants which simply petrol an area, so you have to identify which variant you’re facing when they appear on-screen!

A lot of times, in swimming levels, Enguarde the swordfish is hidden somewhere, and using him makes the underwater sections far easier. Instead of having to avoid every enemy you see, you can instead line up Enguarde’s sword bill to stab them and take them out. As mentioned before, it’s a reward for players who explore levels carefully and check the nooks and crannies for hidden passages.

Bosses

Boss fights are the apex stage of every world, the final challenge that you must overcome to progress to the next world area. All bosses are immune to stomps and spins, being vulnerable only to projectile attacks. Often, the projectiles you need aren’t immediately available to you, requiring you to wait for them to appear. These big baddies aren’t content with sitting around and letting you get those projectiles freely, however; they have many forms of attack in their arsenal to use on you. These attacks are patterned, so you can learn how a boss is going to attack you and develop strategies for dodging them. Even when you acquire the projectile, however, you still have to aim correctly to get the projectile to hit the baddie, or you’ll have wasted your shot and made the boss fight take longer, increasing the odds that you’ll make a mistake and take a hit.

The stages you fight each boss on ask for the use of different abilities as part of the pattern avoidance. Krow, the foe of the first world, flies around the stage and tries to drop eggs on you, some of which can later be picked up and thrown back at him. Kudgel, the gatekeeper of World 3, jumps around the stage and tries to land on top of you; when he hits the ground, anything standing on it is paralyzed, so you not only have to run around to avoid getting landed on, you also have to jump in the air to get off the ground to avoid being unable to respond to his next jump. To fight King Zing, the defender of the fourth world, you transform into Squawks and must not only dodge the king’s flight path, you must hit a specific part of his body (the tail stinger) with your egg projectiles in order to cause damage. Even though the underlying pattern of dodge-the-boss-until-you-can-use-your-projectile is the same for all boss stages, the different takes on that pattern keep the gameplay fresh and interesting, while requiring you to make good use of your movement to win.

This was a notable issue with bosses in the original Donkey Kong Country, where nearly every boss had to be fought in the exact same way, by simply jumping on them.

Special Shenanigans

There’s more to a good foe than simply meandering around a level. A few simple stooges like that are useful for establishing a baseline to gameplay, but often, as game designers, we want to make enemies that take expected archetypes and add a unique twist for the player to deal with.

Donkey Kong Country 2 does this with many of its foes; even though the baddies can be classified into a small set types of how they can be beaten, most still get one or more unique traits that make it more interesting to deal with them beyond a simple spin or stomp. We’ll examine a small subset of DKC2’s roster of baddies, observing the mechanics which make them function and how they engage with the moves given to the player.

Neek

We’ll start with the humble Neek. A small, bandana-bearing vulture, Neek hovers at a predetermined area in the level and waits for you to get near. Once you enter his threat radius, he lets out a screeching cry and dives down a planned flightpath, starting with an arced curve and flattening out into a straight line. You need to quickly predict where that flight path is going, and whether you’re in it. If you are, you’ll need to duck or jump to get out of the way. If you want to remove the Neek, you can jump up and stomp on its head as it flies by.

As far as special mechanics go, this one is relatively simple. Even so, it adds an element of intrigue to how you plan to deal with him. Until you enter the threat radius, he doesn’t move, so you can’t wait him out; on the other hand, since it won’t attack right away, you have time to prepare for your reaction. While all Neeks perform some form of dive and flatten out maneuver, the angles involved can vary with each Neek, so you have to figure out quickly what kind of pattern it’s going to adopt. Thus, even though the dive isn’t that complex a behavior, the Neek’s simple mechanic is still enough to provide interesting, fun gameplay.

Click-Clack

A small, yet oversized, dung beetle, the Click-Clack has a small hitbox to accompany its tiny frame. This makes it so that you have to be more precise with your jumps in order to land on them. Additionally, when you jump on one, it flips onto its back instead of becoming defeated; you’ll also get knocked back a little bit. If you ignore that Click-Clack, it’ll revive and move around faster than before; only a second jump will dispatch it for good. On the other hand, while it’s flipped over, you can pick it up and throw it as though it were a projectile (although throwing it down to the ground will cause it to revive). Finally, if you spin into it, you defeat it instantly.

There’s all sorts of interesting gameplay that arises from the Click-Clack’s mechanics. The knockback force you experience when you jump on a Click-Clack can make the stomp a little risky; that force could push you into another enemy, or into a pit. Spinning into it, where you have room to do so, is certainly the safest way to dispatch them. On the other hand, it can be used as a projectiles; if you’re about to face a horde of enemies, particularly ones that are protected from your other attacks, it’s well worth your while to stomp on a Click-Clack for the purpose of carrying it around as ammunition (or a shield, since holding projectiles protect you from damaging attacks to your front). You can’t sit around and wait while it’s on its back, however; you have to decide whether you’re going to kill it or carry it, or it’s just going to get up again, and since it now moves faster it’ll will be more deadly to deal with.

If you look at the Click-Clack in terms of how it is beaten, it’s a spinnable, stompable foe. The small hitbox and unique mechanics around what happens when you stomp on it make it a much more interesting, versatile foe to fight than it might otherwise be.

Klobber

The Klobber is a Kremling that hides in normal-looking barrels. When you get close enough to it, the Klobber will pop up and try to run into you, knocking you around if it succeeds in doing so. The fact that baddies in barrels exist means you have to be cautious whenever you see a barrel; is it only a barrel, or is a Klobber hiding within? Oftentimes, Klobbers are placed around other enemies or hazards, making it easy for you to get shoved into a source of damage.

How do you stop the Klobber? You have to leap into the air and stomp on its head; spin attacks do nothing against it. Once it’s been stomped, it hides inside its barrel for awhile before popping back out to charge after you anew. The only way to prevent it from returning is to pick it up and throw it into something and break, or offscreen into the bottomless void. You don’t need to throw it right away, though; you can carry the Klobber’s barrel around, and it functions exactly like a regular barrel. Like the Click-Clack, that makes the Klobber a source of projectiles, making it worthwhile to deal with one.

There’s more than one kind of Klobber, too. Different-colored Klobbers have different effects when they hit you. The green Klobber just knocks you around; the yellow Klobber steals bananas from you, which disappear if you wait too long to recollect them; the black Klobber takes away life balloons, which float away if you leave them alone. The red Klobber hides in TNT barrels—with the special name Kaboom—and blows up if it runs into you. These increasingly deadly side effects heighten the stakes of engaging with them; be careless, and you could lose valuable life-giving resources (or, in the case of Kaboom, your life).

Kutlass

Finally, we’ll bring up Kutlass. We’ve briefly mentioned it already; it’s the double-cutlass-wielding Kremling. Those oversized swords, as mentioned before, make it clear that jumping on the Kutlass is a suicidal maneuver. What about spinning into it from behind? It’s too smart; as soon as you get close, it’ll turn to face you and charge at you. If you don’t move out of the way, those massive cleavers will come down on your Kong’s head and take them out of the picture. The only option you have, if you don’t have a projectile, is to dodge out of the way. When you do this, the force of Kutlass’ swing gets its cutlasses stuck into the ground for a few moments, exposing an opportunity to strike and defeat it, either by stomp or spin.

This enemy is a unique blend of the protected and basic types, and this makes it interesting to engage with. You need some amount of space where you can get near the Kutlass without getting immediately into its threat radius; otherwise, you have nowhere to dodge when it swings the swords at you. Even if you do have enough room to dodge, you have to react quickly, making the Kutlass a test of how well you’ve mastered using your movement over the course of playing the game.

Level Design Kase Studies

Having baddies, no matter how interesting they may be, is nothing without creating level designs that take advantage of how they behave, just like having good movement is nothing without a level design that makes those moves fun and entertaining. As with many other aspects, Donkey Kong Country 2 does a great job with enemy placements in its levels, starting with simple schemes to ease new players in and ramping up to complex challenges that truly test a player’s mastery of their moves.

There are a total of 40 levels in the game, each with enough depth to go many thousands of words into. For the sake of brevity, however, we’ll restrict our gaze to portions of a few levels. Even these microcosmic glimpses should prove illuminating as to how well DKC2 uses enemies in its level design.

Pirate Panic

We’ll begin at the beginning: the first level of the game, Pirate Panic. As is typical of the first level of many games, Pirate Panic is designed to introduce you to the many mechanics you’ll be using for the rest of the game. Fittingly, the first enemy you come across is a Sneek, who is easy to jump on and moves slowly; he’s just begging for you to jump on him or spin into him.

Having the first enemy you encounter be simple, easy, and uncomplicated gives the player less to worry about. The Sneek isn’t going to suddenly rev up speed and charge into you, or jump super high out of nowhere; he’ll just keep moving your way until you either deal with him with your moves or let him run into you. It’s a great way to introduce the basic moves to you.

You encounter a pair of Sneeks as your next foes; you’ve already learned how to deal with one, so now the game asks you to deal with two of them. Hopefully, knowing what to do, this proves to be an easy task for you.

Afterwards, the next foe you see is the plodding Klomp. This is a new baddie, with a differently-shaped profile (and hurtbox), but the way you deal with him is the same as how you dealt with the Sneek; the jump just needs to be a little bit higher. Alternatively, if you’ve happened to learn how to hold down the Y button to run, you’ll pick up a crate projectile right before you see the Klomp. It’s not far-fetched to think from there that you might be able to throw this at the Klomp, or even hold it to run into him.

This Klomp is also on top of a row of platforming barrels, so you could even choose to run underneath him if you don’t feel like engaging him. It’s also an introduction to enemies on different height levels, something you’ll encounter often throughout the rest of the game.

Once you pass the Klomp, the next baddies you have to contend with are a row of Sneeks, but this time there’s a twist: the foes are advancing beneath a bunch of stacked platform barrels (so named to distinguish them from projectile barrels). If you try to jump on them, you’ll most likely land on top of a barrel instead of the Sneeks, avoiding them entirely. If you just want to progress, that might be good enough; for many players, though, it’s irking to leave any foe undefeated, if it was within their power to handle. That row of barrels serves as a discouragement against jumping, in that case. The way to defeat these Sneeks is spinning into them; hitting the first one will result in demonstrating the fun art of spinning through all the nearby enemies, exposing a new strategy for you to use and cementing it in your brain with a rush of fun gameplay.

By now, you’ve had multiple chances to practice your basic moves. The rest of Pirate Panic continues in much the same way, introducing slightly more challenging scenarios and foes, giving you a great taste of the gameplay to come.

Lava Lagoon

Next, we visit Level 3 of World 2, Lava Lagoon. This is the first time a level gimmick gets introduced: the water is, literally, lava, and you must jump on the back of an all-powerful, almighty seal named Clapper to convince him to turn this lava into water, making it safe for you to traverse. You can’t stay in the water too long, however; after a brief period of time the water will start heating up, until it once again becomes lava.

If Clapper is powerful enough to turn lava into water, why doesn’t he help the Kongs out in more substantial ways? Good question.

The way this level gimmick is introduced is clever. You are presented with a small branching path. At the start of this fork sits Clapper, waiting for you. The path above is patrolled by a Klampon; the path below is lava-logged and, at the moment, impassible. Earlier in the level, you had to contend with a Sneek approaching you from a higher platform, so that jump to the upper platform feels dangerous. Meanwhile, Clapper the seal is barking at you, and, given how often jumping on things solves problems in this game, you’ll probably feel inclined to do the same here, just to see what happens. Thus, you discover Clapper’s magical powers of liquid and temperature transmutation, making the lower path accessible to you. It is far easier to swim through this area, so you’ll likely take it over the upper path.

This fork in the road thusly introduces the level’s gimmick to you in an intuitive way, inviting you to figure it out on your own. Even if you ignore Clapper entirely and brave the upper platform, it’s not a big deal; you’ll soon reach a point where you cannot progress further without using Clapper. Seeing him multiple times increases the odds that you’ll engage with him and figure out his shtick.

One other thing that underwater path teaches you: that you’ll have swimming enemies to contend with underwater, as a lowly Flotsam patrols the floor of the lower path. It’s easy enough to swim above him, but it prepares your expectations for what kind of gameplay is to come.

The rest of Lava Lagoon is an increasing progression of a simple pattern: introduce lava-water sections that you need to cool down with Clapper, then travel through before the water heats back up to the point of damaging temperatures. In each water section, you have a cadre of underwater foes to swim past and dodge; the combinations become trickier and trickier to navigate the deeper you get into the level, ending with a mad dash through a maze of puffing Puftups (the non-exploding kind) to make it to the end of the level before you run out of time. For good measure, you also get tossed a Klobber at the level’s end that you have to avoid or defeat, lest it push you back into the lava. Overall, the level is a good example of taking a level gimmick, teaching you how it works, and ramping up the challenge of that gimmick through good enemy placements.

Bramble Scramble

As you progress further into the worlds and levels of Donkey Kong Country 2, the challenges the game puts before you becoming increasingly more difficult. I think Level 3 of World 4, Bramble Scramble, is a quintessential example of the game giving you a great challenge to put all your skills to the test. This level is oriented both around climbing on ropes and flying with Squawks.

In the other two levels we’ve discussed, the opening enemy was something simple and easy to deal with. Not here; your first foe is a Krook, and you encounter him the moment you move forward in the level, needing to deal with his hook shot right away. Even if you beat him, though, he’s right on the edge of a thicket of brambles, so you have to be careful that your jump doesn’t lead you to fall into them. After a long jump to the next safe wooden platform, you’re faced with a tall, thorny vine, with a Zinger hovering on the other side waiting to sting you upside the face, assuming you manage to fly over the thorns without getting your Kongs’ butt pricked along the way. You get one DK barrel to try and take out the Zinger, and if you succeed your passage over the thorns is a little safer. The shot isn’t easy to make, however, and you only get one chance; the game is testing you to see how skilled you’ve gotten with your aim.

Skip past a climbing section patrolled by Zingers and a Krook, and another jumping section where you need to use running jumps to have any hope of making it between platforms, and you’ll encounter your first Squawks section. First, you ascend upwards, with a few Zingers floating off to the side which you can use as target practice for your egg shot. You’ll need it, too, because the next section is flooded with flying Flitters. Normally, these blue dragonflies are relatively harmless, but in such large swarms, you’ll quickly get overwhelmed if you don’t fire away your egg bullets to take them out. The eggs aren’t fired in a straight line, either, so you have to remember how the egg trajectory is arced and use that to guide your aim. While doing all that, you must also avoid flying into the brambles above and beside you as you move through the area.

Thankfully, while flying with Squawks you can rest on flat stretches of bramble without taking damage. Given how difficult it is to shoot down the Flitter swarm and keep yourself up in the air, this section might be where you learn this ability!

Eventually, you get to the no-Squawks sign and the halfway barrel, where the next climbing section starts. First, you climb upwards into the face of a squadron of waiting Neeks. Almost immediately after you see them, they dive bomb across your path. If you jump, you fall back down to the ground, so you have to shimmy up and down the rope to keep out of their way. At the top of the rope is a junction with a horizontal rope, allowing you to continue onward. Here, however, you encounter a Kannon firing a rapid burst of cannonballs; you cannot pass yet, as the rate of fire is too fast. Instead, you must wait until there is a short pause in fire, then dash across as quickly as you can before the Kannon begins firing anew.

You continue across the path of ropes, and soon you end up on another horizontal rope, square in the path of another Kannon. You don’t see the Kannon on screen, but you can hear him open fire, and soon you’ll see a cannonball flying across the length of rope, straight at you! Luckily, there’s some gaps in the brambles above that give you just enough room to jump up into in order to avoid the shot. You must advance down the rope to the next safe jumping zone, before another cannonball comes screaming across the screen to take you down. Do this a few more times and you’ll finally get close enough to the Kannon to take him out and end the threat for good.

There’s plenty more challenge left in this level, but there’s one more pattern I want to look at. At several junctions throughout this level, you’ll encounter a group of Zingers. Some of them will be red, meaning they are immune to your egg shot, while one or two will be normal yellow Zingers. With all the Zingers alive, the passage through will be near impossible; you need to shoot down the yellow Zingers to clear your path enough to make it through with relative ease. It’s a great way of presenting players with a simple, yet meaningful strategic choice that yields a tangible reward.

Castle Crush

Our final foray will be into the realm of World 6, Level 3, named Castle Crush. This is another gimmick level. This time, the floor is rising up beneath your feet, and you’ll quickly find yourself running out of head room! To stay alive, you need to keep your eye atop the screen to see where in the ceiling the continuation paths are, and position yourself to be under them before the floor smashes you into the ceiling.

I wasn’t intending for most of these examples to be Level 3s, but that’s how it shook out. 😛

As if that weren’t time pressure enough, the foes populating this level will do their best to come at you from nearly out of nowhere and force you to make quick decisions on how you’re going to handle them. The first enemy you encounter is, once again, a Sneek, dropping down on you from above; a quick and easy enemy to defeat that you’ve, by now, beaten dozens and dozens of times. It also introduces you to a pattern that will be very common in this level: small alcoves containing enemies that drop on you from above.

The next baddie you encounter is a Spiny, also falling down from above. You must defeat him with a spin attack, but you have to time it right; spin too early and you’ll finish the attack animation before the Spiny gets close enough to take damage, resulting in the Spiny landing right on top of you. Some time later in the level, you’ll encounter Klampons dropping in on you from above as well. These you cannot deal with by spin attack, so you must allow them to fall and land, then quickly jump in the air to stomp on them before they close in on you in the tight quarters you keep.

Eventually, shortly before the halfway point, you get introduced to a long hallway that contains both a Spiny and a Klampon. The Spiny is first; if you spin into him, you’ll wind up near where the Klampon patrols, so you’ll have to be careful to ensure you stop your spin in time to get airborne and stomp the Klampon. This section is specifically designed to introduce you to this particular pairing: Spiny and Klampon. It keeps it spaced wide enough that you have a good chance of surviving the encounter while teaching you how difficult it is to deal with both these foes in the same area.

Sure enough, later on in the level, you encounter your first section where a Spiny and a Klampon patrol right next to each other. The Spiny leads, with the Klampon right behind. You now have a difficult choice to make: do you try and leap over the Spiny to jump on the Klampon and defeat him first, or do you instead spin into the Spiny and try to jump right before your spin carries you into the Klampon’s gnashing teeth? Both maneuvers are equally challenging, and with the rising floor you are forced to decide quickly, lest you get squished. It’s one of the most challenging parts of the game, and it feels awesome to correctly execute whichever decision you made.

There are plenty more sections in Castle Crush where the Spiny and Klampon patrol is used. There is even one section where you have alternating Spinies and Klampons dropping on you from above, forcing you to time your attacks so you spin into the dropping Spiny, then quickly jump to stomp on the Klampon before the next Spiny falls onto your lap. All this challenge, and this is only one single part of the many myriad challenges Castle Crush throws your way. By the time you finally ascend to the top of the level and stomp that exit target, you’ll feel exhausted, yet exhilarated at having gotten through.

Kong-clusion

Whew! At last, we’ve made it to the end, not just of Part 3, but this entire series!

In this part, we dove headlong into examining the enemy design and how it was created with the aim of players using their fine-tuned moves on them. The ways each enemy can be defeated provides a framework for understanding what an enemy means in the context of the moves the player can do, from the basic stompable, spinnable baddies to the foes which embody special protections and attacks. Even enemies sharing the same defeat type can have differences in gameplay by exhibiting one or two special behaviors on top of that. Finally, each level in the game, of which we examined several, is tailored to take these enemies and place them in locations that make optimal use of what they do, all in the aim of providing a fun, challenging experience for the player.

Over this entire blog series, I’ve shown why Donkey Kong Country 2’s movement is special. The moves themselves are finely tuned and feel great to perform, and there’s a great many ways to modify the basic movement to provide fun gameplay variety. Every level is designed to take full advantage of these great movement mechanics, rewarding both skillful play and observant exploration. In each level lives enemies that are designed to make using your moves to conquer them, whether by defeating them or avoiding them, fun and exciting.

In short, I think Donkey Kong Country 2’s movement feels amazing. It’s why I loved playing the game as a kid, and it’s why I keep coming back to playing it, nearly thirty years after it was released. Nothing else I’ve played comes close to how this game feels.

As a game designer, it is my hope that I’ll one day get to make a game that pays homage to the movement mechanics of this game. After writing all these blog posts, I’ve certainly squirreled up enough techniques and ideas to take inspiration from!

How Donkey Kong Country 2’s Movement Feels Amazing (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of a 3-part series. Check out all the parts here!

Part 1: Here!
Part 2: This post.
Part 3: Here!

As a child, I loved to play Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest; as an adult in my early thirties, I still love playing it. One of the reasons, among many, why is the game’s character movement feels almost perfect. Never do I feel as though I can’t adequately control Diddy or Dixie Kong as I navigate them through many levels of perilous adventure. As a game designer, I found myself wondering: what is it, exactly, that makes me love DKC2’s movement so much?

To answer that question, I’ll take a close look at the action verbs DKC2 employs related to the player characters. It’s not just a matter of analyzing the actions and movements in and of themselves, however; the level and enemy design of DKC2 are intentionally crafted to augment those basic and special actions. As is undoubtedly true for many games, it is the whole package together which creates that feel I love so much.

In the previous part, we took a look at the specific actions the Kongs can make, from walking and running to jumping and throwing, as well as the various special forms of movement, like climbing and swimming, and the animal buddies which modify how basic movements work. The actual abilities are only part of the overall story, though; just as critical as how you can move is where you can move. Without level design that compliments the possible actions you can take, a game won’t be as fun as it could be.

Exploration Evaluation

There are 40 regular levels, excluding boss stages. Many challenging sections are included in those levels, often increasing in difficulty as you progress from the early stages to the later ones. While some stages involve special gimmicks, a lot of times the challenge is derived simply from taking the actions you are familiar with and asking you to execute them well to progress. Let’s break down some of the ways this is accomplished.

Basic Navigation

First of all, because the Kongs’ movement is so well-tuned, it’s fun on its own to just move your Kong throughout the level. The short accelerations make the movement feel more smooth while not taking away from your control, like sometimes happens when using long acceleration times. The minimal jump scaling gives you just the right amount of height, and the timing on how much you scale seems perfectly balanced so that you can get the exact jump height you want. The spin move feels fluid and lasts just the right length of time so that you don’t feel like you lose control when you use it. All in all, simply moving through the level is fun.

Beyond moving around, the level structure itself is used to make it easy to figure out where you need to go. In many cases, you are asked to move right (for horizontal levels) or up (for vertical levels). By employing a consistent pattern for where you are expected to move, it makes it hard to get yourself lost in any given level. Some levels are “square”, and in these you start traversing from right to left (or, sometimes, right to left); you eventually reach a vertical section of the level, either up or down, and you then traverse the horizontal plane in the opposite direction from which you came, until you reach the next horizontal section. There are a few cases where this formula is played with, for the sake of variety, but it is never done in a confusing way; you still always know where you should be going.

This is an underrated part of feeling good about your movement; even if it’s fun to move your character around, it’s a lot less fun to not know where you need to go to make progress, and getting lost repeatedly is quite the powerful buzzkill. By making it hard to get lost in any given level, Donkey Kong Country 2 removes a potential source of frustration, and thereby makes everything feel more fun.

Collectibles

Each level also contains sections that have goodies in them, places you are meant to discover and be rewarded for the effort of doing so. Some of these are sprinkled through the course of the main path. Oftentimes, though, these goodie sections are placed in locations that go against the grain of expectations, such as to the left of the level start. A lot of times, these places aren’t particularly hard to reach, and they are intended to reward you for exploring outside of the conventional expectations.

Sometimes, though, collectibles are placed in ways that challenge you to show mastery of your moves. Kong letters are often used in this way, being positioned in such a way that picking them up involves doing some difficult maneuver, like spinning off a platform and jumping at just the right time to both collect the letter and avoid falling to your death.

The ultimate collectible is the DK Coin (also known as a Hero Coin). These big, shiny coins, with the letters “DK” embossed on them, are used as an ultimate test of movement, observation, and/or timing. There isn’t a gameplay advantage to collecting them; your reward is the thrill of finding the coin and procuring it through perilous platforming and top-notch timing.

Checkpoint Barrels

Each level in Donkey Kong Country 2 has a single checkpoint barrel, roughly halfway through the level. When a checkpoint barrel is broken, if you die later on in the level you will start the level from this checkpoint barrel’s location instead of the beginning of the level.

How does this tie into movement, precisely? It adds a reprieve from having to play perfectly without dying; if you had to play an entire level without any checkpoints, it would make the game more difficult and tense to play, and thus it would be harder to justify using difficult action sequences later on in the stage. By only having one checkpoint, levels have a clear first-half/second-half dynamic that often allows for introducing level gimmicks and gameplay in the first half, and following them up with more challenging versions of those mechanics in the second half; having more checkpoints would either make individual sections feel too short, and thus not interesting enough, or too difficult, making the whole level feel more like a slog. One checkpoint barrel per level feels like just the right amount, to me.

That analysis on checkpoint segments applies to the 3D Donkey Kong Country games, which use multiple checkpoints per level. It’s one of the reasons I prefer the older games to the modern ones.

Finding Bonus Areas

Each level contains at least one bonus area to find. These bonus areas have entrances that are hidden or obscured in a few different ways. The most obvious ones are bonus barrels, which function like blast barrels that shoot you into the bonus area; while a few are placed in obvious locations, most of these bonus barrels are placed such that they either aren’t visible or are placed in difficult to reach locations, requiring skill to reach. Some bonus areas have entrances which are hidden inside of the level walls, and you need to use a barrel or Rambi’s charge move to break open the entrance.

The final way to enter bonus areas is through Kannons, which require being loaded with cannonballs in order to shoot the Kongs into the bonus area. Whenever you find a cannonball, it always means there’s a Kannon to find in the level, and vice versa, which adds an element of expectation to the gameplay; finding the cannonball first means you need to ensure you keep hauling the cannonball with you until you can reach the Kannon, often requiring agile platforming to avoid dropping it into a chasm; finding the Kannon first means you need to search the level for the corresponding cannonball, and then bring it back to the Kannon.

The ways required to get to bonus areas often involve challenging bits of action use. For instance, a bonus barrel that is too high to jump to means you need to either have both Kongs, so you can team throw into it, or you need to have an animal buddy that can be used to maneuver the required vertical distance (such as Rattly’s jump or Squitter’s platform webs), and consequently that means you need to play well enough to keep your partner or animal buddy around long enough to reach the bonus barrel’s location. Same is true for bonus entrances hidden behind walls; you need to lug a projectile around, or find Rambi and ride him to the bonus area entrance, so that you have something to open the wall with. With projectiles, in particular, that will mean not using them on other baddies along the way, lest you sacrifice your only means of breaking open the wall. Such gameplay subtly adds difficulty in executing moves you are already familiar with, rewarding partaking in these optional challenges with the right to enter a bonus area.

Bonus areas themselves often have gameplay that challenges your mastery of the game’s movement mechanics, but since these are the same as what you encounter in normal level gameplay, just harder, I won’t go into detail on them.

End Level Targets

To wrap up our look into Donkey Kong Country 2’s level navigation, let’s investigate the end-of-level mechanic that is used. It consists of a target and pole, akin to hammer games you might see at a fair or carnival. The mechanics of how it works matches those counterparts as well: if you hit the target with enough force, you cause the barrel on the pole to shoot up and knock down the reward on the top; otherwise, it simply gives a lackluster bump as the Kongs scamper off stage. What reward you get is randomized between 3-4 options of differing value, from single bananas to banana coins to extra life balloons (and, in a few cases, Kong letters or Hero Coins).

Simply jumping from ground level onto the target isn’t enough to claim the reward; you need to find a height tall enough to jump from, or you need to find a blast barrel that will shoot you into the target. While it’s usually pretty obvious where you’ll need to go to get the necessary force to break the target, it’s still a small test of observational skills nonetheless.

Most of the challenge of these end-level targets, however, comes from timing your jump or blast to coincide with when the reward you want to claim appears. The cycle time is relatively short, so usually waiting to launch at the target until your desired reward is displayed results in not hitting the target until the next reward has been cycled in. Thus, you need to pay attention to the pattern to figure out when the reward you want appears in the cycle of items, and then launch shortly after the prior reward appears, ensuring that you’ll arrive on target at the correct moment.

There’s usually no threat of death during these sections, so it’s merely a matter of finding the right place to launch from, and then timing it right to get the reward you intend. It’s a simple little challenge, adding a less tense form of skillful challenge to wrap up the more difficult sections of level preceding it.

Platforming Perils

There’s more to Donkey Kong 2’s level design than just navigating the levels. Often, you the player are given challenging sequences to get past as part of level progression, using both the regular movements given to you and special movement mechanics. The degree of challenge expected from each varies, generally starting with simple asks in the first worlds, to downright difficult sequences in the final worlds. Let’s examine the various ways the game presents these challenges to you.

Level Architecture

Oftentimes, the challenges are introduced through the level’s architecture. A frequent case is the use of gaps between platforms, where you must often use running jumps or spin jumps to get enough speed to clear the gaps. The ground heights themselves are varied throughout an individual level, and those too can be used to introduce challenge, such as having to time your jump onto a higher or lower platform while avoiding a baddie shooting projectiles across that plane.

Speaking of enemy placements, those too are used to introduce platforming challenges. For instance, you’ll be asked sometimes to navigate a huge platform gap by jumping on the backs of flying enemies; failure to do this successfully results in falling downward, often to your death. Even when it isn’t required as part of level progression, jumping off of enemies is also used as a means to access goodie areas or bonus entrances.

The responsiveness and control make it feel as though you can easily pull off whatever moves you need to; there are rarely any sections that are so maddeningly precise that you have to spend an hour or more just to execute the moves needed. That doesn’t mean the challenging sections of the game are easy to pull off; you still need to be precise with your button presses. Rarely, however, will you find yourself stuck on a level section because the actions needed to get past it are borderline impossible.

There are a few exceptions. Looking at you, Animal Antics!

Climbing Sections

Ropes restrict your movement to specific planes, and enemies are placed along the ropes to force you to jump across with good timing to get past them. Taking away some of your freedom of movement makes it clear what you need to do to move on. Sometimes, you encounter “rope net” sections which give you climbing ability across both vertical and horizontal planes, at the expense of reduced horizontal climbing speed; these are a great mechanic to take the rope climbing experience and introduce a different flavor of it.

Another climbing mechanic is the use of hooks. These objects hold your Kong in place when you jump into them, until you jump away from them. Unlike ropes, hooks are all about asking you to move aerially, and oftentimes multiple hooks are placed in succession, requiring you to jump from hook to hook to continue onward. It’s a bit of a combination between jump movement and rope movement.

Blast Barrel Sections

Blast barrels, unlike their projectile counterparts, are not thrown. Instead, you jump into one of these barrels, and while in the barrel your normal movement is taken away. By “firing” the blast barrel (by tapping the jump button), you are launched out of the barrel’s open top, regaining air movement shortly afterwards. With your normal movement taken away, you instead need to rely on aiming the barrels in the correct direction before blasting out.

There are many kinds of blast barrel to play with throughout the game. Some let you rotate the barrel by pressing the directional buttons. Some spin automatically, requiring you to time your blast right when the barrel is facing the direction you want to go. Some don’t rotate at all; these are often aimed straight up, and are meant for you to use your aerial control after being fired to get where you need to go. Alternatively, they can be aimed in a fixed direction, with baddies between you and the next section, again making it a matter of timing to blast yourself out when the enemy is not in the line of fire. Occasionally, you’ll encounter automatic blast barrels, that shoot almost as soon as you jump into them; these are most often used to take you through a predetermined sequence of barrels, or to get you out of one level area to the next one.

There are a few levels which introduce special blast barrel mechanics. Timed barrels are regular blast barrels that automatically fire after an on-barrel timer expires, giving you a short amount of time to align the barrel correctly before getting shot into an enemy or abyss. Tracker barrels, instead of rotating the barrel, instead let you move the barrel itself across the level, and you’ll need to use them to get across dangerous sections of the level before blasting out. Kong Blast Barrels, marked with Diddy or Dixie heads, will only operate if the Kong you currently control matches the head shown on the barrel, requiring you to keep that Kong alive in order to use them.

Why use blast barrels at all, when you have normal movements that feel great to use? An obvious answer is to provide another change of pace to level mechanics, which in general helps with preventing things from getting too stale. Also, since barrels fire the Kongs at high velocities, it adds a speed thrill to the game while controlling it enough to not make it maddening; if this fast speed was your default movement speed, it would be very hard to control what you were doing. Finally, it provides a new way to take skills you’ve needed to use through normal movement (such as timing moves to defeat or avoid enemies) and gives you a new context to use them in. These things combine to make blast barrels interesting and fun, good qualities to add to any game!

Animal Buddy Sections

Some levels give you access to an animal buddy, and while you have the animal buddy you have to use its different movement to get through the level. Oftentimes, the level is designed with this in mind. For example, when having Rattly, the levels subsequently are designed with vertical traversal and jumping as central components for sections of that level. You usually don’t need to use the animal buddy for the entire level, however, and signposts with “no animal” signs tell you at what point the animal buddy will be taken away from you; crossing this signpost causes the animal buddy to disappear in a poof of clouds, along with some reward for keeping the animal buddy up to that point in the level.

Not all levels with animal buddies require you to use them to get through the level. Sometimes, the animal buddies are hidden somewhere in the level, and usually not in obvious places. In cases like these, you can beat the level without them, although doing so is usually more difficult; having the buddy makes the level easier to beat, but places a challenge on locating the animal buddy in the first place. This encourages you to search around to see if there are hidden or obscured level sections that would lead you to finding an animal buddy. This reveals another function of the no-animal signposts: if you see one for a particular animal buddy that you don’t currently have, that’s a sign that one was hidden somewhere in the level for you to find.

Some levels do require the animal buddy to proceed. Most of the time, in these cases, you’ll jump into a special Animal Barrel that transforms the Kongs into the animal buddy pictured on the side. The levels which do this are subsequently designed with far more challenging sections that can only be defeated through good use of that animal buddy’s movements and skills. By forcing you to become the animal buddy, you’re prevented from getting yourself in a position where you lose the animal buddy in a level section that requires their movements to get past. It’s a great way of employing user experience to enhance the level design.

Level Gimmicks

Some levels have their own special mechanics that you have to deal with. For example, in one level, the level is filled with lava, until you jump on Clapper the Seal, who temporarily transforms that lava into water which can be safely traversed. Another level has a wind mechanic, where every so often the wind blows strongly enough to affect all Kong movement, forcing you to have to plan your jumps when the wind is blowing in the direction you want to move. Yet another level features a rising floor, forcing you to make quick decisions about where to go and how to defeat enemies, before running out of room and getting crushed. Most of the time, such gimmicks are only used in that specific level.

How do these gimmicks impact movement? It’s a clever way to test your knowledge and mastery of the various movement mechanics you’ve been introduced to. By adding a special mechanic that changes normal level gameplay, you need to understand how these gimmicks impact your abilities. In cases where your movement itself is directly affected by the gimmick, you also need to apply that understanding to counteract the gimmick’s impact to continue making progress through the level.

Beyond mechanics, special level gimmicks help those levels feel more memorable!

Camera Concoctions

A critical, yet often overlooked, aspect of movement is the game’s camera. After all, it’s a lot harder to make precise movements if the camera isn’t framing the action well! Thankfully, Donkey Kong Country 2’s camera is well designed to enable making your movements with confidence that you won’t get screwed over by it. It’s also used as a way to focus your attention on where you need to be going, as well as hiding goodie sections and bonus areas.

Framing

Let’s start with looking at the basic camera framing. When moving through a horizontal stage, the camera is placed mostly behind you, leaving you a little sight of what’s happening behind you, but giving most of its real estate on the challenges that are immediately in front of you, the direction you need to be going. If you turn around and move leftwards in a horizontal level, however, the camera position shifts to put the Kongs at the center, giving you more sight into what’s happening behind you, without making it feel like this is the “correct” direction to be moving in. It’s one way the game helps prevent you from getting lost in a level.

What about vertical or square levels, where progression can include moving leftwards or rightwards? Here, the camera sits in such a way that you can see more of the area in the direction the Kongs are facing than the direction behind them. This is a good compromise, though it does sacrifice some of the camera’s ability to tell the player where to go. Such instances are usually paired with level design that doesn’t let you move too far in a horizontal direction, however, so if you do end up accidentally backtracking, you won’t lose much time over it before figuring it out and turning to go the correct way.

A technique that is also used is placing sections of level that are impossible to navigate backwards through once you go through them. There are also a few instances where the camera itself is prevented from moving backwards, forcing you to keep moving in the intended level direction.

Motion

Something that isn’t immediately obvious, until you start paying attention to it, is that the camera’s vertical height is precisely controlled. Depending on where you are in the level, the camera’s vertical height is fixed at a predetermined coordinate; as you move through the stage horizontally, the camera’s height is automatically adjusted depending on the height of the terrain you are walking across. When you reach vertical level sections, or swimming and flying areas that involve vertical movement, then the camera follows the player’s movement.

There are certain areas of a level where the camera’s vertical and horizontal movement are stopped. In cases like these, it makes it clear where the intended progress of a level is, and it also prevents the camera from clipping too far off the edge of a level (a place you don’t need to see to make any gameplay decisions). Interestingly, this technique is sometimes used to obscure entrances to goodie or bonus areas, requiring you to watch carefully for telltales signs (such as the lone banana near the edge of the screen) and rewarding you for your observational skills.

Importantly, the camera does not move vertically to follow Diddy and Dixie when they jump. This allows you to not lose sight of the ground, and anything on it you might be jumping towards or away from. It is a subtle way of allowing you to maintain precise control over where you are moving. If this camera mechanic weren’t in place, it’d be easy for enemies to drop out of frame while you’re in mid-air. That would make it much harder to plot your movements, since you’d have to rely on memory to know where you should and shouldn’t jump. It’s a crucial component to making the Kongs’ movements feel good.

Aspect Ratio

A huge difference with Donkey Kong Country 2, compared to modern platformers, is the use of the squarish 4:3 aspect ratio. This was how most TVs were built back in the days when this game was released, so that was the only supported resolution the game had. Unlike the rectangular 16:9 aspect ratio, which is what computer monitors and TVs commonly use these days, 4:3 gives you much less horizontal screen real estate, so there’s less room to tell you what’s coming up.

Having to account for this limited width of frame has a lot of influence on the game’s design. For example, rarely do you see long and wide sections of challenging gameplay, and the times you do encounter them are specifically designed with the obscured view in mind, forcing you to react quickly to what you see as the camera reveals what’s coming next; consequently, you need to know your movement well so you don’t have to think about what to do when you see the next challenge in frame; you can just instinctively react to it. We don’t often think of aspect ratio as a part of the game designer’s arsenal, but the limited nature of the aspect ratio in DKC2 is clear evidence that it does, in fact, play an important part of how a game’s design feels.

To Be Kong-tinued

In this part, we examined many different ways the level design of Donkey Kong Country 2 takes the movement mechanics of the player and provides exciting, challenging ways to use them. We also examined the various special forms of gameplay, which either incorporate special movements or enhance the challenge of your regular movements. Finally, we took a look at how the game’s camera itself plays an important role in how the movement feels. No matter how good a game’s character feels to move, without good level design those good movements won’t feel as fun as they could be.

There is one more component that makes the movement feel good: the enemy design. In the final part of this three-part series, we’ll examine the baddies of Donkey Kong Country 2 and how they, too, play a crucial role in making the movement feel good. Stay tuned!

This is Part 2 of a 3-part series. Check out all the parts here!

Part 1: Here!
Part 2: This post.
Part 3: Here!

How Donkey Kong Country 2’s Movement Feels Amazing (Part 1)

This is Part 1 of a 3-part series. Check out all the parts here!

Part 1: This post.
Part 2: Here!
Part 3: Here!

As a child, I loved to play Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest; as an adult in my early thirties, I still love playing it. One of the reasons, among many, why is the game’s character movement feels almost perfect. Never do I feel as though I can’t adequately control Diddy or Dixie Kong as I navigate them through many levels of perilous adventure. As a game designer, I found myself wondering: what is it, exactly, that makes me love DKC2’s movement so much?

To begin answering that question, I’ll take a close look at the action verbs DKC2 employs related to the player characters. It’s not just a matter of analyzing the actions and movements in and of themselves, however; the level and enemy design of DKC2 are intentionally crafted to augment those basic actions. As is undoubtedly true for many games, it is the whole package together which creates that feel I love so much.

To break this lengthy dissertation into digestible chunks, this will be a three-part series. We’ll open up with a look at the basic movements and abilities of the Kongs themselves, as well as some special moves that are used to spice up the normal gameplay. After that, we’ll examine how the levels are designed to take advantage of the basic and special moves. Finally, we’ll look at the enemy designs and how those compliment the basic moves and abilities as well.

Kong Kapabilities

To begin this design dissection, we’ll look at the many forms of movement present for the Kongs in DKC2. First up: the core action verbs. Each Kong possess a base set of moves that you’ll be employing throughout the majority of the game.

Walk and Run

You have two basic ground movements, one for walking, and one for running. Diddy’s speed is slightly faster than Dixie’s, for both walking and running, but both feel fast enough that I don’t feel particularly disadvantaged when using the slower Kong. The actual movement speeds themselves feel just right to me; I’ve never found myself wishing that I could move faster or slower.

Triggering the run and walk actions are simple: hold the Y button and a direction to run in said direction; don’t hold Y, and that same directional input is a walk. Personally, I always appreciate it when games give me the ability to walk when I want to, even if most of the time I’m probably going to run. Having an easy-to-use slow option gives me that more precise control when I feel like I need it.

For 3D games, having easy walking also lets me get more immersed in the fantasy of inhabiting a character in a world. No one runs all the time in real life!

Accelerating from a standstill to a walk is near-instantaneous, which further helps with making the Kongs easy to control, but there is just enough acceleration that you don’t feel the characters instantly transition from idle to walk. Running, on the other hand, only happens after you press the Y button, which triggers the controlled Kong’s spin move before transitioning to the run. That animation helps convey a reason for why the character is suddenly transitioning to a run speed, while also giving you an attack move which is easy to trigger. If you were holding Y and start moving from idle, though, you just accelerate briefly into the run speed; again, just enough acceleration to make it not instantaneous, but short enough that it doesn’t impact your control over the character.

Speaking of spin maneuvers…

Spin

Both Kongs have a spinning maneuver, but each does it differently. The execution of both spin maneuvers result in the same outcome, however: pressing the Y button causes the Kong to perform a spinning attack move, which is capable of defeating most ground enemies; if Y is still held, then any directional ground movement will subsequently result in the Kong moving at a running speed.

As mentioned, the Kongs each have their own spin on the spin maneuver. Diddy’s is a cartwheel, looking quite acrobatic, while Dixie’s is a body spin, twirling her pony tail (termed by the game as a “helicopter spin”). Interestingly, Diddy’s cartwheel looks like a more natural action than Dixie’s, which can contribute to his move feeling faster than Dixies, but in fact both spin at the same speed and move the same distance, which means you aren’t disadvantaged when faced with level sections which ask you to use the maneuver.

Dixie’s helicopter spin serves a second purpose while in air: pressing Y while in midair causes Dixie to spin constantly, giving her a slower fall speed, and thereby giving the player greater control over where they want to land. Diddy does not have this ability, which helps give both Kongs distinct roles: Dixie is useful for air control, while Diddy is useful for moving more quickly.

Jump

An essential ingredient to most 2D platformers is the jumping action, and both Diddy and Dixie are more than capable of performing this function. Pressing the B button causes the selected Kong to jump into the air, up to approximately three times their own height. Tapping B causes a short jump, while holding B slightly longer results in a higher jump. While it may seem pointless to have this scaled jumping, having some control over your jump height makes you feel more in control than you would if you only had a single jump height.

There is more to the feel of the jump than the upward movement. Running and jumping allows you to cover more horizontal distance than walking and jumping, providing more encouragement to run through the levels. While in the air, you have full control over horizontal direction, giving you the ability to precisely place where you want to land and making air control feel responsive. When you fall, you accelerate to a constant speed, which you maintain until you hit the ground (or the enemy on it), which makes it easier to predict where your jumps will land.

Interestingly, it seems that your fall speed is the same as your jump speed; it takes the same amount of time to fall from the apex of your jump as it does to jump up to it. However, if you are moving in a horizontal direction while in midair, it seems to slightly increase the amount of time the Kong stays at the apex of the jump. This is something I only noticed when going through my recorded footage frame-by-frame to try and get ballpark estimates, but now that I think about it, this gives you a little more time to figure out where you want to land before you start falling. It’s a clever design, one that I hadn’t thought about before.

Most enemies can be defeated by jumping on them, and this jump attack is something you’re going to do a lot throughout the course of the game. The game encourages you to do this by giving you a greater jump height when you jump off the top of an enemy than when you jump from the ground, allowing you to cover greater distances. Even if you don’t actually jump off the enemy, landing on one grants you a small bounce acceleration that still lets you move up and onward. These movements help make bouncing off an enemy feel good.

The spin moves also have a role to play in performing jumps. While spinning off of a ledge, you can press the jump button (B) to cause the Kong to jump while in mid-air. This allows the Kong to cover more horizontal distance than they’d be able to cover by simply running and jumping. The timing on this is fairly forgiving; the game doesn’t want to impede you from pulling this maneuver off.

Duck

It’s easy to forget about the ability to duck, as it’s a passive move compared to walking, running, spinning and jumping. This move causes your Kong to duck down and hold still, effectively decreasing their vertical hitbox size by about half. This is used to less effect than other moves, but there are still places that will require you to duck under passing enemies, so it has a part to play in the movement design.

Team Throw

Finally, you can pick up your partner to put them on your Kong’s shoulders, then subsequently throw them by pressing Y (the normal throw button). If you hold the up direction as you throw, this results in launching your partner up into the air in a slow, controllable way; without this, your partner Kong is simply thrown to the ground, remaining where they fell until you come back for them (or they go off-screen, in which case they run back to you automatically). The horizontal throw can also be used to defeat enemies that could be defeated with normal attacks.

Special Skills

Now that we’ve discussed the basic Kong moveset, let’s examine cases where the game modifies these default maneuvers to introduce other forms of gameplay. These serve as an occasional change-up to how the game flows. Just as with basic movement, the feel of these special movements is important.

Climbing

Throughout various levels, ropes are placed, which the Kongs can climb when you leap into them. While on a rope, your movement is restricted to a single plane, either horizontal or vertical (depending on which way the rope faces). Diddy and Dixie’s different movement speeds factor here as well, with Diddy being able to traverse ropes slightly faster than Dixie.

Keeping the rope climbing speeds fast, close to their walking speeds, means that it doesn’t feel like the game slows down during the climbing sections, so they still feel good to move around on. This, in turn, makes it fun to navigate through the various challenges the designers place along the paths the ropes and chains force you to traverse.

Swimming

In some levels, there are water sections that the Kongs can swim in. Jump and spin attacks can’t be performed underwater, so the gameplay changes from defeating enemies to avoiding them. While underwater, you are able to move in all directions, but you sink downward unless you tap the B (jump) button to swim upward.

Like the climbing sections, your movement speed underwater is close to your regular movement speed, although the requirement of tapping the B button makes swimming more skillful than simple navigation; you have to time button presses to keep yourself afloat while swimming past enemies. Unlike the climbing sections, swimming sections allow you unrestricted horizontal and vertical movement, adding yet another flavor of movement variety to break up the rote platforming that dominates most of the game.

Flying

Some levels give you access to the Squawks animal buddy, a parrot that grants the Kongs the ability to fly. The flying sections are similar to swimming sections; you can move in all directions, but have to continuously tap B to move up or you float back down to the ground.

The similarity in how swimming and flying sections work from a movement standpoint allows for the designers to reuse player expectations for how those mechanics work, and avoid having to teach yet another new mechanic.

Speaking of animal buddies…

Animal Buddies

These are animals that the Kongs can ride (or, in some cases, transform into), and using an animal buddy changes what moves the player can perform. With all the animal buddies, there are similar base movement motions: there is a slower “normal” speed, and then a faster “running/swimming/flying” speed when moving while holding down Y. Beyond that, however, each animal introduces different changes to the movement equation.

Animals can be accessed in two ways. One is through a crate, in which case the Kongs ride the animal. While riding the animal, taking damage causes the Kong to fall off and the animal to run away; you can also choose to dismount the animal willingly. The other is by transforming into the animal itself. Dismounting the animal is no longer an option, so you are stuck with that animal’s movement changes. Usually, transformed mode is given when the level’s design explicitly requires that particular animal’s movements to progress through the level.

Either way, at some point in the level you’ll reach a “no-animal” sign, which removes the animal buddy and gives you some kind of reward. By giving an end to the animal buddy use, this allows for only having some parts of the level be designed around the use of the animal, and in some cases even have multiple animals within the same level. It makes the animal buddies another tool in the player’s movement arsenal.

Let’s take a look at the animals and what their movements add to the gameplay.

Rambi

A rhinocerous that gives you a faster running speed. Rambi is impervious to damage when jumping on enemies or running into them with its horn, only being vulnerable to attacks from behind (and certain projectiles). Holding down A prepares an even faster run in the direction Rambi is facing, plowing through enemies and breaking through hidden entrances to bonus areas.

Riding Rambi makes you feel almost invincible, so you feel more willing to move fast and make risky decisions. Enemies are mostly no longer a challenge for you. These things combined make Rambi feel amazing to use. To account for this, oftentimes Rambi’s location in a level is hidden, making finding him a reward for looking around the levels, rather than blazing through them.

Enguarde

A swordfish that gives you full movement control underwater. No longer do you need to tap B to stay afloat; Enguarde hovers in place when idle, and moves in whatever direction you input. The sharp-looking bill on its face can defeat any underwater enemy, and clearing enemies makes the underwater sections that much easier.

Having Enguarde removes a lot of the challenge from swimming movement, which means riding Enguarde feels similar to riding Rambi, in that you feel more free to move where you please, with ease. Since Enguarde makes underwater movement and gameplay much easier, his locations, like Rambi’s, are hidden well in the level, so that finding and using him is a reward for good exploration.

One could think of Enguarde as the underwater version of Rambi.

Squawks

As mentioned, Squawks is a parrot that gives you the ability to fly in a stage. Unlike Enguarde, you don’t get to hover in place when idle, so there is still challenge involved with using the bird. Squawks also has a ranged attack, hurling eggs out of its mouth in a parabolic trajectory when the Y button is pressed.

Unlike Enguarde, who generally makes level movement easier, Squawks requires more care to ride. Any contact with an enemy damages Squawks, so you are required to be careful as to where you fly. The egg projectiles don’t fly straight, so aiming them to hit enemies, while maintaining flight, is in and of itself a challenge for the player. As such, Squawks is often placed in locations that are easier for the player to find.

Squitter

Squitter gives you the ability to shoot webs. Pressing Y delivers an attack web which can defeat any non-invulnerable enemy; you can control the arc of the shot by holding up or down on the direction input after the attack web has been fired. Pressing the A button (or, alternatively, either the L or R buttons) shoots a slow-moving platform web. Pressing the platform web button again after firing deploys the web platform, giving you something to stand on in mid-air. These platforms disappear after a short period of time, however, so you need to move quickly. Unlike other ground animals, Squitter cannot defeat enemies by jumping on them, so you need to keep away from foes and blast them from afar.

From a design standpoint, Squitter is a massive change to your movement toolset. Riding him takes away your ability to jump on enemies, but gives you an infinite amount of projectiles, making you adopt a long-ranged approach to defeating enemies. Creating platforms at will allows you to avoid hazards, pitfalls, and enemies that would otherwise prove difficult or impossible to overcome; they also provide an interesting way to add more vertical movement to the regular platforming action.

Rattly

This snake has an extremely high jump, allowing you to reach higher platforms than you could with the Kongs by themselves. Holding down A charges Rattly to make a super-jump, similar to how holding A charges Rambi to make a super run. Rattly defeats any enemy that it jumps on, except for ones that are invincible. Interestingly, when Rattly moves along the ground, movement consists of small jumps that result in a lurching style of movement; this is perhaps an encouragement to move by pressing the jump button, which feels more fun to do.

Rattly is all about the jump. He can jump on nearly anything and live, and, since your spin attack is taken away while riding him, you are strongly encouraged to jump on foes in your path. The high jump allows for adding taller sections to levels that take advantage of that bigger jump height.

I am leaving out Glimmer and Clapper because they do not change your movement mechanics.

Careening in Carts

Three levels let you ride in carts. While in a cart, the Kongs move in a consistent rightward direction at a controlled speed (you can go faster by holding the forward directional input, and slower by holding back). Depending on the level, jumping will either cause both Kong and cart to jump, or just the Kong. With the consistent movement, beating these levels is about reacting to upcoming threats quickly; you aren’t given time to ponder your next action. This can be frustrating while learning the level, but it results in satisfying rushes once you consistently react correctly to the level’s challenges.

What does this sudden change in movement bring to the design table? The rush of speed, for one. It’s fun to move fast through a level, much faster than you normally get to move. Along with that speed comes reduced amounts of time to react to level hazards. You can’t stop to figure out how to get past those hazards, either; you’re hurtling at them at high velocity, and you have to make quick choices about how to get past them. This is hard, but exhilarating, and they add a health dash of experiential spice to the movement gameplay.

These cart levels are ones I loved playing as a kid. That said, I think it’s good that there aren’t many of these kind of levels, as the high tension throughout would make level to level gameplay far more exhausting if that was the majority of the action.

Tossing in Throwable Objects

One final Kong ability remains: throwing objects. Both Kongs are capable of picking up and holding barrels and other objects placed throughout the level by holding the Y button; releasing the Y button causes the Kong to throw the projectile, which will defeat any enemy that it touches along the flight path. Aside from certain animal buddies, this is the only ranged attack you have access to in the game.

In many cases, the objects will break on impact, whether with the world or an enemy, making them a single-use resource. This forces you to consider carefully when you encounter a projectile to throw; should you use it now, on the nearest enemy, or should you try to hold on to it to use on some future part of the level with a more difficult obstacle, or a bonus area entrance? Your movement isn’t impeded while holding a barrel, so you still have the same level of control that you do normally; however, since objects break on contact, and you are forced to throw the object when you jump on an enemy, holding on to a projectile you wish to keep intact transforms the gameplay from defeating enemies to avoiding them until such time as you wish to use the projectile. This is a great way to subtly introduce a change in gameplay.

Interestingly, I always thought in my mind that you moved slowly while holding on to a barrel, but in testing I found that this is actually not true; you still move the same amount regardless of whether you’re holding an object or not. This is an interesting psychological effect; I wonder if the designers intended it, or if it was just a byproduct of our expectations for movement with held objects.

What if you don’t want to hold the projectile right now, but still need to keep it around? You can hold down and release Y to set the object back down on the ground, where it will wait for you to collect again. If you move far enough to cause the object to go off-screen, however, it resets its position back to where you found it; while this was probably something introduced by the technological limitations of the SNES days, rather than a design decision, it’s something you still have to consider when setting the object down.

The way in which Diddy and Dixie throw projectiles differs for each. Diddy picks up objects with his hands and throws them in a flat, shallow arc that is almost effectively a straight line; Dixie picks up objects with her ponytail (boy, her hair can really defy the laws of physics, can’t it) and throws them with a more pronounced arc. Because her hair is on her head, the release point of projectiles Dixie throws is higher than Diddy’s, resulting in making it easier to hit enemies that are up in the air. Both Kongs are able to jump while holding objects, which provides additional control over where the projectile is thrown. Since Diddy’s throw starts lower to the ground, jumping and throwing is almost essential when throwing with him to get good distance. Giving the two Kongs different throwing styles further differentiates between using the two Kongs, making it useful to have both around to switch up which one you use for a given situation.

There are many kinds of objects the Kongs can throw throughout their journey. Each kind of object provides different characteristics that affect player strategy for using them.

Barrels

This is the bread and butter projectile of the game: a simple, metal-banded wooden barrel. You can throw it normally, which will fling the barrel forward and cause it to break on impact with the ground (plowing through however many enemies were in its way), or you can heave it upwards into the air, which will cause it to land softly enough to not break on impact, and subsequently will roll along the ground (and through enemies) until it hits a wall or falls off a ledge.

Crates

Crates, on the other hand, are square projectiles that clearly communicate that they won’t roll. They also break on impact, regardless of how you throw them, making them a much more limited resource.

Buddy Barrel

The buddy barrel contains your partner Kong, if you lost them at some point during gameplay, and when the barrel breaks open you get your partner back. Interestingly, the buddy barrel’s impact mechanics are similar to the crate, in that it breaks immediately on impact with the ground or with an enemy, so when there is no Kong in the barrel the two objects are pretty much the same, functionally.

Cannonballs

These spheres of solid metal do not break on impact with anything, but they also do not roll when they hit the ground. Because of their indestructible nature, they are useful as reusable projectiles or shields for as long as you can keep from throwing them into a pit.

Chests

Chests break only on impact with enemies (or bonus area entrances), and they contain some form of beneficial pickup (or “goodies”) which gives you something of value, from banana bunches to life balloons (extra lives) to Kong letters, and everything in between. Since they don’t break on hitting the ground, you pretty much have to use them on enemies, which means you’ll have to find an enemy to use it on or you won’t be able to break it.

TNT Barrels

The holy hand grenade of DKC2, these explosive barrels are capable of destroying any enemy in a fiery explosion. This explosion has a small radius that will destroy any other enemies it touches. This barrel is often the only means you are given to deal with invulnerable enemies, which means being given one can be a sign that such an enemy is coming up.

To Be Kong-tinued

We’ve taken a deep look into the movement of Donkey Kong Country 2. From the simplest, basic moves to the variations introduced by special abilities, controlling the Kongs feels tight, responsive, and fun. But having characters that move well is only part of the gameplay story; the environments the Kongs move through and the enemies they fight contribute just as much to the feel of the movement as the movement itself.

In the next part of this series, we’ll take a dive into the level design of Donkey Kong Country 2, and see how much it impacts how the movement feels. Stay tuned!

This is Part 1 of a 3-part series. Check out all the parts here!

Part 1: This post.
Part 2: Here!
Part 3: Here!