At E3 2010 the return to Donkey Kong country was announced, and a mere few months later we finally have the new release of Donkey Kong Country Returns in our grubby little primate paws, and let me tell you – Nintendo really knows how to bring a series back. First with the resurgence of Kirby, and now out buddies DK and Diddy Kong make a return to track down their yet again stolen stash of bananas. Nintendo tapped Retro studios to take on the revisit to DKC, and the game has stayed very true to its roots right down to the sometimes crazy difficulty level, while avoiding the trend to throw in as many references to the history as possible.
The setup is a very plain and simple one, a group of troublesome tikis make their way to Kong island and are able to hypnotize the locals via the powers of music, all except the Kong clan however. Donkey Kong wakes up to see his stash of bananas gone, and immediately embarks on the quest to get them back, with his pal Diddy Kong always ready to take along to offer assistance. Making your way through various locales on the island you’ll collect the omnipresent banana bunches, red life balloons, puzzle pieces and KONG letters. As with the previous titles in the series, the puzzle and letters are the keys to opening new bonus levels, which offer even more ridiculous platforming action to an already difficult game.
The game is an absolute blast to play for gamers who’ve experienced the frustration of the original titles in the series. It’s challenging enough to make you scream out in frustration, but forgiving enough to make sure you have enough lives to make it through a level before running out of lives. Taking a cue from Super Mario Galaxy 2, an autoplay mode is also included and available for gamers if they die more than eight times on a given level, the kicker here is that any items you may collect are not actually collected, it just allows you to move on with the game. The only real complaint that I have is the inclusion of Wii motion sensing controls that are a required part of the game and the lack of Classic Controller option. The motion controls are thankfully limited to making you pound the ground, perform a roll and also used to blow items, as in blow out some candles or the fluff off of dandelions. The problem with the controls is that sometimes the responsiveness wasn’t quite up to par and I’d inadvertently roll into a pit when I was attempting to use the blow command – or the ground pound would happen a little bit too slowly and I’d lose a health point. It was possible to learn to work around these issues, but they still were a little frustrating early on.
Be aware, this next line does not come with the standard qualifier of ‘for a Wii title’; Donkey Kong Country Returns is a gorgeous game in action. Each level is packed with thematic elements that both can add beauty, but also be interacted with; for example a level early on features tidal waves that sweep towards the screen wiping out crustaceans and primates alike if they are not in a protected zone. Other levels put DK and Diddy in silhouette mode with blazing colors in the background, and only the formal attire the characters are wearing as the splash of color on the otherwise black characters. It’s a fantastic effect that works extremely well, and caused a few deaths as I was busy gawking around the levels rather than playing them. The audio also is very well done, with songs that are very reminiscent of the games of yore, while still sounding fresh with the new take on the series.
As briefly mentioned, there’s not a whole lot of reliance on bringing back other characters from the earlier games. The Kremlins are nowhere to be seen, and even the extended Kong family are for the most part missing. Cranky does make an appearance at his store where you can buy extra lives and keys to unlock new levels with the gold coins you collect. Thankfully there’s no mention of Funky Kong or Dixie Kong anywhere in the game, and it’s kept to the core group of characters. As far as additional characters, Rambi and Squawks are the only other characters who make an appearance, Squawks is bought at Cranky’s shop and Rambi can be found on select levels to help out Donkey and Diddy.
Nintendo definitely has another hit on their hands here, as gamers who were around for the original series will likely flock to this title. Younger gamers will likely be in for a shock when they realize that this game offers a challenge, and it doesn’t hold your hand like a very, very large percentage of games out there now. Sure the automatic mode lessens the frustration, but still the game will punish players who try to rush without taking some looks ahead. For fans of tough platform titles, and those who are a little nostalgic for some hardcore minecart levels, rush out and pick this up and get cozy with some old friends.
- This trip down memory lane will punish, pound and frustrate the life out of you. But you’ll be going bananas in a good way with some old favorites.
Platform reviewed: Nintendo Wii
– Jeff Paramchuk