It was precisely like this. The way Diddy and Dixie Kong look in the screenshot above is exactly how I must have looked when I first saw Diddy Kong and Dixie Kong looking exactly like this.
Canada, New Brunswick, Fredericton, 1996. I enter the living room of the MacDonald family. It feel like I’m standing in the house of some of my friends’ parents. Rather their grandparents. Dark paneled wooden walls, enormous couches with oversized, un-puffable cushions, and an impractical, large coffee table that you have to wiggle yourself around uncomfortably to make place for others. Trinkets on the shelf. Photos, figurines, a few books, and probably bowls of dried flower petals.
Amidst this grandma-ish ugliness: A massive TV. An oasis of color in a dreary and dark living room. In front of the TV on the floor: a strange, clunky console with pastel purple buttons. In front of the console, also on the floor: Our host family’s son. Let’s call him Eddie. Eddie MacDonald. In his hands, a… SNES controller? And on screen: Donkey Kong County. One of my favorite games for my recently purchased SNES. But it’s not Donkey Kong Country. It’s different. More vibrant. Donkey himself is missing. Instead, there’s a blonde monkey girl running about. And then a sword emerges from the bubbling lava and their jaws drop. Mine too. What an expressive animation. So there is another Donkey Kong Country? There’s more of this magical wonder of a video game?
There was a time when I discovered albums by beloved bands I didn’t know existed through random browsing at the record store or later on Napster. Stumbling upon treasures. And that’s exactly how I felt in the MacDonalds’ living room. Adrenaline, excitement. Someone was playing a game I would have looked forward to for months if I had known it even existed. It’s my personal benchmark for positive bewilderment.
In the summer of ’96, I was spending four weeks in a summer camp with children from eleven other countries. I made friends with people without the basis of a common language. It was a defining experience in my life that certainly made me a better person. And exactly halfway through the four weeks, the so-called “Family Weekend” was scheduled. Two of us each visited a local family to experience real life outside the confines of the camp. I was not prepared for such a wondrously alienated connection to my own room back home, which was patiently awaiting my return on the other side of the Atlantic. The exoticism of the US SNES! The casual nonchalance of a little boy playing something I couldn’t comprehend. Freaking Dixie Kong!!
I only had a weekend at the MacDonalds. We went on trips, played some basketball, cooked together…. but for a few moments I played Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest. It seemed like a quantum leap in terms of technology and gameplay. I didn’t know if it would ever be released in Germany. It seemed to be one of those things friends tell you when they come back from vacation, and you could never tell if they were fictional or not. Like this:
“I was in Canada. They have a second DKC game there. With Dixie Kong. You can take her on your shoulder and throw her around. And when they hit a boss, their jaws drop. There is more: At the end of a level, she plays electric guitar. And Diddy raps. And there’s swords coming out of lava and a giant pirate ship and a fair and you’re in a wasps’ nest where everything is honey and sticky. As a spider!”
But fucking hell – it was all real! The overactive fantasy of a fifth grader turned into a game. Not the USA – Canada was my land of unlimited opportunities.
When I returned to Germany, I was eager to find out whether the game would also be available here. The result was both disillusioning and delightful: it had already been released in December of the previous year. I could have wished for it for the previous Christmas, but I had to fly halfway around the world to even hear about it. I wished for it for my upcoming birthday. But a few days after my return (and still before my birthday), I was unsuspectingly turning a page in a video game magazine when I was stunned to see a full-page advertisement for a game that would be released in just four months, just in time for Christmas: Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble.
How wonderful to be a child.
It’s not just my Canadian experience, but the general consensus that holds Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest (1995) as the best game of the SNES trilogy and one of the best platformers of all time. Even Christmas 1996 couldn’t change that, when DKC3 was indeed waiting to be unwrapped under the tree.
This article is part of an ongoing series of texts on 30 games from 30 years.
This post is also available in: German