Donkey Kong Land

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Donkey Kong Land
Donkey Kong, a brown gorilla wearing a tie, and Diddy Kong, a brown monkey wearing a red vest and cap, walk through the jungle towards the viewer. Above them are two flying pigs and a wasp, aside them a mole wearing a hard hat, and behind them a muscular crocodile. The words "DONKEY KONG LAND" appear above, and on the left side the "GAME BOY" banner appears from top to bottom.
Programmer(s)Paul Machacek
SeriesDonkey Kong
Platform(s)Game Boy
  • NA: 26 June 1995
  • JP: 27 July 1995
  • EU: 24 August 1995

Donkey Kong Land[a] is a 1995 platform game developed by Rare and published by Nintendo for the Game Boy. It condenses the side-scrolling gameplay of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) game Donkey Kong Country (1994) for the handheld Game Boy with different level design and boss fights. The player controls the gorilla Donkey Kong and his nephew Diddy Kong as they defeat enemies and collect items across 30 levels to recover their stolen banana hoard from the crocodile King K. Rool.

Development began in 1994, before Donkey Kong Country's completion, and lasted a year. Rare's Game Boy programmer, Paul Machacek, developed Land as an original game rather than as a port of Country after convincing Rare co-founder Tim Stamper it would be a better use of resources. Like Country, Land features pre-rendered graphics converted to sprites through a compression technique. Rare retooled Country's gameplay to account for the lower quality display, and David Wise and Graeme Norgate converted the soundtrack to the Game Boy's sound chip.

Donkey Kong Land was released in mid-1995. It sold four million copies and received positive reviews. Critics praised it as successfully translating Country's gameplay, visuals, and music to the Game Boy, though they disagreed over whether it was an equal experience. Land was followed by Donkey Kong Land 2 (1996), Donkey Kong Land III (1997), and a Game Boy Color version of Country (2000), which attempted to replicate the SNES Country games more closely. Land and its sequels were rereleased for the Nintendo 3DS via the Virtual Console service in 2014.


A monochromatic screenshot of Donkey Kong, a gorilla, hanging from a chain in a construction site. On his right, a banana bunch floats and another chain hangs.
Donkey Kong hangs from a chain in a city-themed level unique to Donkey Kong Land.[2]

As a handheld companion to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) game Donkey Kong Country (1994), Donkey Kong Land features similar gameplay:[3] it is a side-scrolling platform game in which the player controls the gorilla Donkey Kong and his nephew Diddy Kong across 30 levels.[4] Donkey is stronger, Diddy is faster,[5] and the player can swap between them at will.[6] They jump between platforms, stomp on enemies, swing on vines, and avoid obstacles.[7][8] The story begins after Cranky Kong challenges Donkey and Diddy to replicate Donkey Kong Country's success on the Game Boy's 8-bit hardware and coaxes King K. Rool and the Kremlings into stealing their banana hoard again.[7]

The player travels through four worlds,[7] their progress tracked by a world map.[9] Land retains some level themes from Country, such as jungles and coral reefs, but introduces others, such as cliffs and clouds. It also features different level design, enemy varieties (such as flying pigs), and bosses.[1][7][10] Levels are populated by collectible bananas, barrel-shaped cannons, hidden bonus stages, throwable items, and letters spelling K–O–N–G that save the player's progress.[7][11] Some levels feature one of two animal companions, the rhino Rambi and the ostrich Expresso, who provide the Kongs with special abilities. Each world ends in a boss fight.[7] The player starts with a limited number of lives, which are lost if they fall down a bottomless pit or are damaged by an enemy.[1][8] The player can earn extra lives by collecting balloons or a hundred bananas.[7]


An original model Game Boy, a white, brick-shaped handheld. The upper half has a green screen surrounded by a gray border. The bottom half has a D-pad on the left, A and B buttons on the right, and Start and Select buttons in the middle.
Donkey Kong Land was developed for the Game Boy (pictured).

Rare began working on Donkey Kong Land in 1994,[12] alongside Donkey Kong Country and shortly before the cancellation of a Battletoads Arcade Game Boy port.[13][14] Rare's co-founder, Tim Stamper, asked their Game Boy programmer Paul Machacek to port Donkey Kong Country to the Game Boy. Machacek convinced Stamper it would be better to develop a similar but original game, as he had with the Game Boy version of Battletoads (1991). He reasoned it would not take much more effort and would expand the audience beyond those who had not purchased Donkey Kong Country.[12][15] After Machacek spent roughly three weeks updating the Game Boy Battletoads game engine to handle a Donkey Kong game, development began and lasted a year.[9][16]

Like Country, Land features pre-rendered graphics converted to sprites through Rare's Advanced Computer Modelling (ACM) compression technique.[17] Although the Game Boy is considerably less powerful than the SNES, its basic architecture is similar; this allowed Machacek to easily transfer Country artwork to Land and the artists to use the same PowerAnimator tools for new ACM assets.[16][18] The project pushed the Game Boy to its limits because of its graphics. Particularly, constructing levels with slopes and animating collectibles, both uncommon in Game Boy games, required a greater ROM size.[19] The limitations meant only one player character could appear on-screen at a time and that Rare had to reduce the number of bonus stages and animal companions.[9]

Land's team started as just Machacek but grew to over 15.[20] They worked separately from the teams that developed the Country games for the SNES, and designed levels using a spare Silicon Graphics workstation with a custom level editor.[19] Machacek spent considerable time trying to authentically re-create Country's gameplay.[9] Because the Game Boy's small, slow, and monochromatic display made reacting to obstacles more difficult,[9] the team did not re-use level layouts from Country,[16] made boss fights more predictable, and gave Expresso the ability to defeat enemies.[10] They turned the K–O–N–G letters into a save feature, rather than having them provide an extra life as in Country, to make completing the game easier.[9] The team sought to distinguish Land from Country with new game mechanics. Machacek said that replicating Country did not stop Rare from introducing new worlds and design elements in a similar way to the teams developing the SNES sequels, Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest (1995) and Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble! (1996).[2]

The soundtrack was composed by David Wise and Graeme Norgate, who worked to convert Wise's Country soundtrack to the Game Boy's sound chip.[1][9] Norgate, who described Land as his most upbeat work,[21] wrote original tracks to fit the new locales' atmosphere.[9] It was his first Game Boy project and the system's technical restrictions forced him to focus on melodies. He said Wise helped teach him as they worked together: "He'd drip feed me little tricks to improve the overall sound. 'You can repeat the melody three steps forward at a third of the volume to emulate an echo', and voila, your lead melody now has a lovely tight delay that makes it sound a lot wider and smoother."[21]


Donkey Kong Land was the second Donkey Kong game for the Game Boy, following Donkey Kong (1994).[8] Like Donkey Kong Country, Land was announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago in June 1994 and promoted through Nintendo's Play It Loud! marketing campaign.[22][23] It was released in North America on 26 June 1995, in Japan on 27 July, and in Europe on 24 August.[24] In Japan, the game was released under the title Super Donkey Kong GB. Nintendo distributed Land in banana yellow cartridges, unlike other Game Boy games, which came in grey.[1][25] Land was one of several games optimised for the Super Game Boy, a peripheral allowing Game Boy cartridges to be played on a SNES; playing it through the Super Game Boy adds colour palettes and a jungle-themed border.[2] Donkey Kong Land sold four million copies,[26] making it the bestselling Donkey Kong game for a Game Boy console.[9]


Donkey Kong Land received positive reviews and was named the best Game Boy game of 1995 by GamePro.[28] Critics considered it a successful translation of Country's gameplay to the Game Boy and wrote that players who enjoyed the SNES game would also enjoy Land.[b] Diehard GameFan and Electronic Gaming Monthly highlighted the new levels, mechanics, and locales,[30][29] and The Electric Playground said the controls were tight and responsive.[8] GamePro said that despite the technical limitations and smaller scope, Land was "a formidable effort considering what it accomplishes on a portable system", with lengthy levels and challenging gameplay.[6]

Reviewers praised the visuals, impressed by Rare's effort to preserve Country's pre-rendered art style.[c] GameFan and Video Games: The Ultimate Gaming Magazine called it one of the best-looking Game Boy games with detail unprecedented for the system,[27][31] and Computer and Video Games (CVG) said the visuals and animations were still excellent despite lacking Country's fidelity.[5] The Electric Playground said the visuals, though great, highlighted the Game Boy's limitations, as its monochromatic screen occasionally made it difficult to comprehend the gameplay.[8] GamePro agreed that the Game Boy's screen did not do the visuals justice.[6] Some critics recommended playing Land on the Super Game Boy for adding colour and making the visuals easier to discern.[3][6][31]

Opinions differed as to how Land compared to Country and the rest of the Game Boy's library. Some critics considered Land equal to Country (CVG called it superior on the basis of its gameplay);[5][27][29] others called it lesser.[3][8] Game Players felt that both featured quality gameplay, but Land lacked the visual fidelity that made Country special.[3] Several called Land one of the best Game Boy games,[5][29][31] but The Electric Playground said it was not as inventive, satisfying, or original as the 1994 Game Boy Donkey Kong. Still, they felt it was one of the Game Boy's best platformers and an essential purchase.[8] The music and sound were praised as among the Game Boy's best.[d] The Electric Playground believed they were near-perfect translations of Country's,[8] and GameFan said they sounded on par with a SNES game when played through the Super Game Boy.[31]


Michael Teitelbaum wrote a children's book adaptation of Donkey Kong Land, Rumble in the Jungle, following its release.[1] Land received three follow-up games: Donkey Kong Land 2 (1996), based on Diddy's Kong Quest; Donkey Kong Land III (1997), based on Dixie Kong's Double Trouble!; and a Game Boy Color version of Donkey Kong Country (2000), which re-creates the SNES game using Land's graphics and audio.[20][32] The follow-ups attempted to replicate the SNES games more closely; unlike Land, they do not introduce new level archetypes or enemies.[20] The Land trilogy was rereleased for the Nintendo 3DS via the Virtual Console in 2014.[33]

Retrospective reviewers considered Donkey Kong Land a technical achievement.[7][34][35] Nintendo Life felt Rare successfully replicated Country's art style on the Game Boy and praised the music, which they considered among the Game Boy's best.[7] However, Polygon wrote that the developers "were so preoccupied with whether they could [replicate Country's graphics] they forgot to ask if they should. The rich visuals of the Super NES games become completely illegible on Game Boy... a blurry grey soup of pixel-junk."[34] Nintendo Life said that enemies blending with the background made Land needlessly difficult and lamented the absence of the Super Game Boy enhancements in the 3DS rerelease.[7]

Polygon ranked Donkey Kong Land and its sequels among the lesser Donkey Kong games;[34] Nintendo Life ranked it towards the middle.[35] In a 2018 interview, Machacek said that of the games he worked on, Donkey Kong Land remained among his favourites.[16] Some of Land's levels, such as K. Rool's pirate ship, would be featured in subsequent Donkey Kong games.[15] It also established a tradition of Donkey Kong games being distributed on yellow cartridges, which its sequels and Donkey Kong 64 (1999) would continue.[1]


  1. ^ Known in Japan as Super Donkey Kong GB[1] (Japanese: スーパードンキーコングGB, Hepburn: Sūpā Donkī Kongu Jībī)
  2. ^ Attributed to multiple references: GamePro,[6] The Electric Playground,[8] Video Games,[27] and Electronic Gaming Monthly.[29]
  3. ^ Attributed to multiple references: Computer and Video Games,[5] The Electric Playground,[8] Video Games,[27] and GameFan.[31]
  4. ^ Attributed to multiple references: GamePro,[6] The Electric Playground,[8] Video Games,[27] and GameFan.[31]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g Zverloff, Nick (17 April 2013). "Donkey Kong Land". Hardcore Gaming 101. Archived from the original on 27 December 2022. Retrieved 27 December 2022.
  2. ^ a b c Hayhoe 2022, p. 66.
  3. ^ a b c d e Game Players staff 1995, p. 70.
  4. ^ Clays 1995, p. 62–63.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Clays 1995, p. 63.
  6. ^ a b c d e f The Axe Grinder 1995, p. 78.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Frear, Dave (17 October 2014). "Donkey Kong Land Review (3DS eShop / GB)". Nintendo Life. Archived from the original on 20 May 2021. Retrieved 30 December 2022.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Lucas, Victor (31 August 1995). "Donkey Kong Land". The Electric Playground. Archived from the original on 6 August 1997. Retrieved 30 December 2022.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i Hayhoe 2022, p. 67.
  10. ^ a b Milne 2022, p. 20.
  11. ^ Nintendo Power staff 1995b, p. 10–23.
  12. ^ a b Loveday, Leigh (11 March 2005). "Scribes (March 11, 2005)". Rare. Archived from the original on 11 May 2006. Retrieved 27 December 2022.
  13. ^ Nintendo Power staff 1995a, p. 90.
  14. ^ Gach, Ethan (6 July 2018). "Rare Finished Making a Battletoads for Game Boy That Never Came Out". Kotaku. Archived from the original on 30 January 2021. Retrieved 27 December 2022.
  15. ^ a b Bailey, Dustin (1 July 2022). "Donkey Kong Got His Original Game Boy Spin-Off Because It Was Too Hard to Port Donkey Kong Country". GamesRadar+. Archived from the original on 27 December 2022. Retrieved 27 December 2022.
  16. ^ a b c d "RVG Interviews: Paul Machacek". Retro Video Gamer. 8 May 2018. Archived from the original on 30 December 2022. Retrieved 27 December 2022.
  17. ^ Nintendo Power staff 1995a, p. 89.
  18. ^ Nintendo Power staff 1995a, p. 93.
  19. ^ a b DF Retro: Donkey Kong Country + Killer Instinct - A 16-Bit CG Revolution! (YouTube). Digital Foundry. 16 December 2017. Archived from the original on 2021-12-11. Retrieved 27 December 2022. Event occurs from 25:51 to 28:00.
  20. ^ a b c Hayhoe 2022, p. 65.
  21. ^ a b Greening, Chris (15 July 2011). "Graeme Norgate Interview: Composer of Goldeneye and TimeSplitters". Video Game Music Online. Archived from the original on 2 October 2018. Retrieved 27 December 2022.
  22. ^ GamePro staff 1994, p. 38.
  23. ^ Nintendo 1995, p. 3.
  24. ^ "Donkey Kong Land (1995) I Game Boy Game". Nintendo Life. 16 April 2019. Archived from the original on 13 December 2022. Retrieved 28 December 2022.
  25. ^ Nintendo Power staff 1995a, p. 91.
  26. ^ McFerran, Damien (13 March 2010). "Feature: The Making of the Nintendo Game Boy". Nintendo Life. Archived from the original on 27 December 2022. Retrieved 28 December 2022.
  27. ^ a b c d e f Hallock 1995, p. 67.
  28. ^ a b GamePro staff 1996, p. 26.
  29. ^ a b c d Malec 1995, p. 135.
  30. ^ Lee 1995, p. 12.
  31. ^ a b c d e f Lee 1995, p. 83.
  32. ^ DiRienzo, David (25 January 2015). "Donkey Kong Country". Hardcore Gaming 101. Archived from the original on 25 February 2021. Retrieved 6 June 2020.
  33. ^ Campbell, Evan (13 October 2014). "Donkey Kong Country, Land Trilogies Coming to Nintendo's Virtual Console in Europe". IGN. Archived from the original on 30 December 2022. Retrieved 30 December 2022.
  34. ^ a b c Parish, Jeremy (10 May 2018). "The Definitive Ranking of Donkey Kong Games". Polygon. Archived from the original on 3 April 2019. Retrieved 31 December 2022.
  35. ^ a b Lane, Gavin (9 July 2021). "Best Donkey Kong Games of All Time". Nintendo Life. p. 2. Archived from the original on 31 December 2022. Retrieved 31 December 2022.

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