The Best ‘2s’ in Video Games

Today is 2/22/22 Tuesday! To celebrate this profuse amount of twos, I figured I’d reach into my backlog and resurrect an idea I had a while back and highlight the best “2s” in video games. Not the best sequels per se – no strictly subtitled sequels (like Majora’s Mask), no 3s, 4s or any of that – just the best “2s.” Games with ‘2’ in the title.

When I first thought of making this list, I intended it to be a ranked top 10 list, before it fell on the back burner. I decided to resurrect this idea for 2/22/22, but did so pretty last minute. As such, I didn’t bother to take the time to narrow down or rank this list, so I’ll just list all the games I thought of alphabetically (16 games total). Perhaps some day I’ll get around to making the originally intended “Top 10 2s in Video Games.” But for now, I hope you enjoy this list as it is.

Before we get started, it’s important to note that I’m not counting games like EarthBound or Secret of Mana here. In Japan those games are respectively known as Mother 2 and Seiken Densetsu 2, but since I’m writing from an American perspective, those games will always be EarthBound and Secret of Mana to me. Also, “Tooie” doesn’t quite cut it. But we can consider all those games to be honorable mentions.

Now then, on to the twos!

Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back

The original Crash Bandicoot gave the Sony Playstation a mascot, but it lacked polish. Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back gave that mascot a game worthy of his reputation. It’s an improvement over the original in pretty much every way, and set the tone for the rest of the series more so than its predecessor did. One could argue Crash Bandicoot Warped ended up the best game in the original Crash trilogy, but it did so while introducing racing and shooting sections. If it’s pure Playstation platforming you want, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back is still a hell of a lot of fun.

Diablo II

Diablo II is one of those games that you just replay over and over again, learning from your previous playthroughs and seeing how you can do things better. It’s also great fun with friends. Diablo II’s simple hack-N-slash gameplay hides deep RPG mechanics that make for a memorable experience. Even before the recent remake, people were still playing Diablo II over two decades later as if no time had passed. It’s that engrossing.

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

The first Donkey Kong Country revolutionized visuals in video games, and became an instant hit that extended the SNES’s lifespan. But its sequel, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest, improved on it considerably in every conceivable way. DKC2 sees Diddy take center stage, teaming up with his girlfriend Dixie, who can glide with her ponytail. The level design is constantly inventive, the gameplay is refined and always fun, and the soundtrack is gaming’s greatest. DKC2 is one of the best platformers and sequels ever. It’s Rare’s masterpiece.

Oh, and “Diddy’s Kong Quest” is the greatest pun in the history of video game titles.

Half-Life 2

Half-Life 2 is the first Valve game on this list, but it won’t be the last. Too bad they wouldn’t show up at all if I ever make a list of the best ‘3s’ in video games because…well, you know.

Half-Life 2 revolutionized single-player FPSs and narrative video games in one fell swoop. Its dark and dreary sci-fi world is unforgettable. And Half-Life 2 presented plenty of fun ideas along the way, not least of which being the Gravity Gun, which allowed players to manipulate the game world like nothing seen before.

Halo 2

Halo: Combat Evolved is the reason the Xbox was such a success. With all due respect to the other great games on the console, Halo was its crown jewel. The only game that was capable of knocking Halo off its pedestal? Halo 2, of course!

You could argue that Halo made the Xbox brand what it is. Similarly, you could say Halo 2 made online gaming on consoles what it is. Online games had existed on PC for a while, and consoles had dabbled in the idea (Saturn Bomberman!). But Halo 2 is what made it the standard for multiplayer games, and is the online experience everyone has tried (and only occasionally succeeded) in replicating.

Kirby’s Dreamland 2

The original Gameboy gave us all some cherished memories, but I’d be lying if I said most of the games held up against the test of time (remember that in those early days, the convenience of handheld gaming meant sacrificing some quality). That’s not the case with Kirby’s Dreamland 2, a title that’s still fun and charming to this day. Introducing Kirby’s animal friends and combining them with Kirby’s copy abilities is still one of the best additions to the series, making it a mystery why the concept has only ever happened again one other time. A perfect little game when you’re on the go.

Mega Man 2

Is Mega Man 2 the grandaddy of video game 2s? Only one game on this list predates it, but I think Mega Man 2 is the game that established the idea that, in video games, the sequel is expected to be better than the original (whereas in movies it tended to be the opposite). Mega Man 2 upped the ante from the original, and set the standard for the series which remains to this day. With some of the best level design and the most beloved soundtrack on the NES, Mega Man 2 remains a timeless classic. The template for what a ‘2’ should be.

Mega Man X2 ain’t too shabby, either.

Portal 2

Here comes Valve again. 2007’s Portal was a little slice of heaven. A game built around a creative idea (using portals to get from point A to point B), and told a simple story. It was short, but pretty perfect. A sequel could have tarnished the purity of Portal’s concept. Instead, Valve outdid themselves with a sequel that’s even more creative, fun and memorable than its predecessor. Adding just enough gameplay additions to feel meaningful to a sequel while not going overboard, and including a co-op multiplayer mode that further toys with the Portal concept. As innovative as it is unforgettable, Portal 2 is an all-time great.

Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of those games that you just get absolutely engrossed in. Using the end of the old west as a backdrop for its open-world – brought to life with some of the most realistic visuals in gaming – is just absorbing. There are countless things to do at any given moment. You can focus on the (great) story if you want, or you can hunt some outlaws for the bounty on their heads, play some poker at a saloon, hunt down legendary beasts, the list goes on and on. You may even be heading off to do one thing, only for another to demand your attention along the way. No matter how you choose to spend Arthur Morgan’s (and your) time, you’ll enjoy every minute of it.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Just like Mega Man 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 deserves a place in the hallowed halls of great video games 2s. It outdid the original Sonic the Hedgehog in pretty much every way, with better levels, boss fights and music (such glorious music!). Plus, it introduced us to Sonic’s sidekick Tails. The Luigi to Sonic’s Mario.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 became the best-selling title on the Sega Genesis, and solidified Sonic’s place in the gaming world. Many still consider it the Hedgehog’s peak (though Sonic 3 & Knuckles, CD and Mania may have something to say about that). When you think of Sonic games, Sonic 2 is usually what your mind immediately goes to. A classic.

Street Fighter II

Street Fighter II is perhaps the most accomplished of all the video game 2s. Mega Man 2 and Sonic 2 may have set the standard for their series, but their predecessors are still fondly remembered in their own right. But in the case of Street Fighter, no one cares about the original, while the sequel created a phenomenon. Street Fighter II pioneered the multiplayer tournament fighter, created (by accident) the concept of elaborate combos, revitalized arcades in the early 90s, and set the standard for the series and genre. It was so good, in fact, that Capcom couldn’t stop re-releasing it.

Super Mario Bros. 2

Yes. This counts.

Super Mario Bros. 2 is unfairly seen as the “black sheep” of the Super Mario series (even with Super Mario Sunshine on the table. smh). Part of that is due to the original Super Mario Bros. being so revolutionary, and Super Mario Bros. 3 being such a phenomenon, with Super Mario Bros. 2 sandwiched in between. But people didn’t seem to mind that so much back in the day. Not until it became common knowledge in the west that what we know as Super Mario Bros. 2 is actually a different game in Japan (Yume Kōjō Doki Doki Panic) did our Super Mario Bros. 2 suddenly lose much of its reputation.

That’s dumb. Because Super Mario Bros. 2, as we here in America know it, is still one of the best games on the NES. And it introduced us to elements that have become Mario mainstays, notably Shy Guys, Bob-ombs and Birdo.

Super Mario Bros. 2 is the oldest game on this list, and even after all these years, deserves mention on any list like this. Reskin or not.

Super Mario Galaxy 2

Super Mario Galaxy 2, like Portal 2, is unique in this list in that it improves on its predecessor in virtually every way, despite its predecessor seemingly leaving nothing that needed improving. 2007’s Super Mario Galaxy was a gem in the world of gaming that breathed new life into Nintendo’s flagship franchise (and the Wii console). Then Galaxy 2 came along, took the foundation of the original, and just let its imagination run absolutely wild. Super Mario Galaxy 2 may look like its predecessor on face value, but whereas the first Galaxy was all about giving the Mario series something new (space and gravity), Galaxy 2 is a treasure trove of ideas and concepts themselves. A non-stop toy box of innovation and fun, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is one of gaming’s greatest achievements.

Oh, and Yoshi’s back too! Kick. Ass.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

While Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Portal 2 perfected already perfect formulas, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island took a flawless game (Super Mario World, duh!) and basically said “yeah, that was great. But now we’re going to do something so different it could be an entirely separate series.” But hey, it’s got that “2” in the title, so it counts!

Yoshi’s Island is another triumph for Mario, platformers, and sequels. Throwing Yoshi (rather, a tribe of Yoshis) into the spotlight was a stroke of genius, wildly changing up the gameplay from the rest of the Mario series (creating a spinoff series for Yoshi thereafter). Enemies become eggs, which are your ammo to reach far away objects and collectibles. The time limit is gone, as is the traditional health system (protect Baby Mario!). It was fresh and innovative in 1995, and Yoshi’s Island has lost none of its luster in the years since. Combine the creative gameplay with the crayon-inspired visuals and epic boss fights, and you have one of Nintendo’s best games ever.

Team Fortress 2

Yet another Valve sequel! Can you imagine what Valve could do if they realized the number 3 exists?!

Team Fortress 2 is an interesting case because the original Team Fortress was a mod for Quake before becoming a game of its own as Team Fortress Classic. So Team Fortress 2 is technically the third game in the series. One thing’s for sure, Team Fortress 2 became the team shooter by which all others would be judged. With nine different classes, a variety of maps and modes, and an art style that looks like The Incredibles, it’s all too easy to see why Team Fortress 2 became a hit right out of the (Orange) box.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was Naughty Dog’s attempt at bringing the action and adventure of Indiana Jones to the world of video games. While it did that, it did so with a number of hiccups (unpolished controls, enemies that apparently eat bullets, etc.). That wasn’t the case with Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, which realized the potential of the series to create one of the most beloved Playstation games of all time.

The set pieces were bigger and more elaborate than before, the puzzles were more clever, and the action was non-stop. Uncharted 2 really brought the Indiana Jones-like spectacle to life. Nathan Drake’s second outing was never short on thrills. It’s a blast.

It could’ve had more Sully though. Because more Sully is only ever a good thing.


That’s it. That’s my list. I know, you’re probably going to bite my head off for “missing” one game or another. But I can’t play everything!

At any rate, I hope you enjoyed this list. Perhaps it gave you a trip down memory lane or maybe even inspired you to check one of these games out that you missed out on before. Maybe one day I’ll make the traditional top 10 list version of this, but for now, let’s just sit back and celebrate all of the 2s!

Happy 2/22/22 everybody!

Donkey Kong Country Turns 25!

Today, November 21st 2019, marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the release of Donkey Kong Country on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System! It’s also the twenty-fourth anniversary of its exemplary sequel, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest. It also means it’s been exactly nine years since Donkey Kong Country Returns was released on the Wii.

Whoa whoa! DKCR is already nine years old? Where the hell did that time go?!

Yessir, the Donkey Kong Country series is now twenty-five years old. If I may give my two cents, I personally think DKC is probably the best all-around 2D platforming series. DKC2 and DKC: Tropical Freeze, in particular, should rank as some of the greatest platformers ever made.

Originally a trilogy created by Rare on the Super Nintendo, Donkey Kong Country was later revived by Retro Studios on the Wii and Wii U/Switch with two additional entries. Whether under the creative minds of Rare or Retro, Donkey Kong Country has provided some of the best 2D platforming experiences.

Between the phenomenal gameplay, masterful level design, and perfect, perfect music, the Donkey Kong Country series should rank alongside The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario as one of Nintendo’s finest.

Happy birthday, DKC! Can Tropical Freeze get a sequel now?

Top 10 Kongs in the Donkey Kong Series

As part of my continued celebration of Donkey Kong Country 2’s twentieth anniversary, I thought it’d be fun to make a top 10 list of the Kongs themselves. That is to say, the simian characters who have appeared throughout the series.

Of course, there are a total of thirteen Kong characters who have appeared throughout the series, so I may as well say the three who won’t be appearing here from the get-go. Tiny Kong won’t be on here, because she’s just an unnecessary and sucky version of Dixie. Chunky Kong also won’t be here, because he’s just an even dumber version of Kiddy Kong (why didn’t DK64 just reuse the characters from DKC2 and 3 instead of making goofy replacements for them?). And Candy Kong won’t be here. Because eeewww.

Now with that out of the way, here are the top 10 Kongs from the Donkey Kong series!

Continue reading “Top 10 Kongs in the Donkey Kong Series”

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest Review

DKC2

When Donkey Kong Country became a massive success in 1994, it was inevitable that it would get a sequel. Little did gamers know that said sequel would arrive the very next year. With such a relatively short development time, DKC2 could have easily been little more than a cheap cash-in. Instead, it ended up being one of the greatest sequels in video game history, and twenty years later, it can still safely make that claim.

The original Donkey Kong Country is a classic in its own right: It had revolutionary visuals, an unforgettable soundtrack, and some of the most fun platforming gameplay of its day. Still, there was room for improvement, with the overall experience being simple and straightforward when compared to something like Super Mario World, not to mention the dull boss fights.

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest not only ironed out DKC’s rough edges, it also improved everything its predecessor accomplished, and added a sense of gameplay depth that makes it one of the few 2D platformers – if not the only 2D platformer – that could better Mario at his own game.

The most immediate difference players will notice between DKC2 and the original is the absence of Donkey Kong. The subtitle of “Diddy’s Kong Quest” is more than just a brilliant pun, as this game took DK’s sidekick and put him into the spotlight. The big ape himself has been kidnapped by K. Rool, with the villainous crocodile now going by the monicker of “Kaptain” to reflect the new pirate motif of his minions.

DKC2 retains the tag team style gameplay of the original, however, as Diddy is now paired up with his girlfriend Dixie Kong. Though Diddy and Dixie are closer in size and appearance than DK and Diddy were, they are actually more distinct gameplay-wise. Diddy retains his faster movement and farther jumps, while Dixie – the most useful Kong to this day – can use her ponytail to glide and make her landings precise.

An addition has been made to the tag team setup, as Diddy and Dixie can now climb on each other’s shoulders for team-up moves, with the currently-controlled Kong able to throw their teammate to defeat enemies or reach places that are otherwise unreachable.

The addition of Dixie and the team-up moves add extra layers of depth to the experience, and makes the gameplay stand tall over its predecessor.

Donkey Kong Country 2Then there are the Animal Buddies, who are more versatile and instrumental this time around: Rambi the rhino returns with a new charge attack, as does Enguarde the swordfish with a similar new move. Squawks the parrot has seen a complete overhaul. No longer confined to holding a light on a single level, Squawks is now big enough to carry Diddy and Dixie in his talons and fly to great heights, and can spit projectiles at enemies. Winky the frog has more or less been replaced by Rattly the rattlesnake, who betters his predecessor’s jumping capabilities. Then there’s Squitter the spider, who can take out enemies from a long distance and create platforms with his webs.

Though the Animal Buddies were fun in Donkey Kong Country, their inclusion feels far more integral in Donkey Kong Country 2, with entire levels being dedicated to their mechanics.

Donkey Kong Country was a success in large part due to its visuals, which were a revelation in their day. It shouldn’t be a surprise that DKC2 upped the ante in this area, with a wider array of colors, more detailed backgrounds and visual effects, and even more fluid character animations. But the technical advancements are merely a bonus, as the art direction proves to be the game’s real visual treat.

Whereas the action of Donkey Kong Country took place on Donkey Kong Island, with locations that were to be expected from a platformer starring simians – such as jungles, forests and snowy mountains – the adventure of Donkey Kong Country 2 takes place on K. Rool’s home turf of Crocodile Isle, which serves as a dark, gloomy, and melancholic contrast to platforming norms.

Donkey Kong Country 2Crocodile Isle will see Diddy and Dixie venture across pirate ships, volcanoes, thorny mazes, giant beehives, and dilapidated amusement parks, to name a few of the game’s locations. Even when it uses familiar themed environments of the platforming genre, it puts new spins on them. When you make it to the game’s forest world, for example, it’s an haunted forest filled with ghosts and skeleton crocodiles. The game’s seven worlds usually have a primary theme, but are not restricted to them, with Rare wisely employing a variety of stages within each world.

It’s in the levels themselves that the creativity shines brightest. There’s a sense of imagination stemming from every level that’s rarely approached in gaming, with every stage presenting new gameplay ideas that still feel fresh and original today. Many levels are built around a unique hook, like controlling your jumps through gusts of wind or racing a series of Kremlings on a roller coaster, that are utilized to their fullest and then gracefully left behind after their level is done. Every stage of Donkey Kong Country 2 is swimming in creative ideas, and the game knows better than to let even one of them overstay their welcome.

Donkey Kong Country 2The boss fights greatly benefit from this new sense of creativity. Where the first game enlarged regular enemies, had DK and Diddy bounce on their heads a few times, and called it a day, DKC2 instead presents a more varied and challenging rogue’s gallery of big bads, with even those that fall under the “big enemy” category bringing a unique challenge to the game.

Though Donkey Kong Country was always a challenging game, it was here that the series became known for its great difficulty. Each world of DKC2 is considerably more challenging than the last, and a host of secret levels are among the toughest obstacle courses in any platformer. But never once does the game feel unfair. The challenges stack up reasonably, and continue to grow as you get more accustomed to them. The difficulty curve is pretty much perfect.

Additional challenge and depth has been added through the game’s collectible items. Though bananas, balloons and the K-O-N-G letters all return to give Diddy and Dixie extra lives, the new items have a greater range of uses.

Banana Coins are a common new item, and are used as currency for the Kong characters who appear on the world map: Cranky Kong gives tips on the levels’ secrets, while his wife Wrinkly Kong saves your progress and gives advice on the game’s basics. Funky Kong can take you to any previously visited locations, and the aptly-named Swanky Kong hosts a quiz show that gives Diddy and Dixie the chance to earn multiple extra lives.

The two big new collectibles in the game, however, are the Kremkoins and Donkey Kong Coins. The Kremkoins are won in the game’s bonus stages (every level has one to three), and are traded to a Kremling turncoat named Klubba for access to the Lost World, where the aforementioned secret levels await. Fifteen Kremkoins are required to visit each level within the Lost World, which makes hunting down and completing the bonus games a much more worthwhile and rewarding endeavor this time around.

Every level in the game also houses a single Donkey Kong Coin, which must be located in order to obtain a full one-hundred (and two) percent completion (as well as earn the right to be called a video game hero by Cranky Kong).

Getting through the game itself is already a great challenge, but if you’re going for full completion, Donkey Kong Country 2 remains one of the toughest games to appear on a Nintendo platform.

Donkey Kong Country was already a platformer with a strong sense of atmosphere, and this is but another category in which the sequel outshines it. I’ve already touched on the visuals and art direction, but what really gives DKC2 its unique soul is its soundtrack.

The music of Donkey Kong Country 2 is composer David Wise’s opus, and combines memorable melodies with ambient sounds that give the game a mood that’s all its own. The music of DKC2 perfectly captures the sense of urgency of this quest to save a fallen hero, while also reflecting the game’s often dreary environments beautifully.

Donkey Kong Country 2The soundtrack works in a wonderful contrast to that of the first game, with the more swanky and energetic score of the original being replaced with more somber and menacing tunes (you need only to listen to the tracks that accompany the world maps of both games to understand the drastic change in tone). In one of the game’s subtle works of brilliance, the most beautiful and soothing tracks usually accompany the most difficult stages, which encourages you to keep trying your hand at them in hopes of triumph, instead of giving up on them in a fit of rage.

Despite how appropriate each track is to their location, this is also a soundtrack that can very much be enjoyed as its own entity. As great as the soundtrack to the original Donkey Kong Country was, the soundtrack to Donkey Kong Country 2 is that much greater.

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest is one of the best and most creative platformers ever made, and a perfect example of what a video game sequel should be. It betters everything its predecessor did right, while also correcting whatever missteps it had. And it does it all with a tone that is entirely its own, combining cartoony characters with a world and soundtrack that’s dark and melancholic.

You won’t find many games that are built so strongly around such contrasts, and none that execute them better, or provide this much fun while doing it.

 

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