Donkey Kong Country Returns Review

December 18, 2010 at 3:24 PM | Posted in (All Posts), Reviews, Video Game Reviews | Leave a comment
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Donkey Kong Country Returns Review

Donkey Kong Country Returns (Nintendo Wii)
Released On: Nov. 21, 2010
Developer: Retro Studios / Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo

To say “Donkey Kong is back” would not do justice for how special this moment is. Retro Studios has worked with Nintendo to not only put out a new Donkey Kong game on the Nintendo Wii, but they did it in the best way imaginable — by bringing him back to surroundings and kind of gameplay that fans have been longing for. When RARE first created Donkey Kong Country back in the mid 90s, the giant ape and his monkey-pals were kings of the 2D genre. With 3D rendered character models and the most fun sidescrolling gameplay imaginable, the Donkey Kong Country series was one of the most cherished series of the time.

After RARE (then developer) left Nintendo in the early stages of the Gamecube lifespan, and Donkey Kong went through a number of experimental phases. None of them were as largely successful or critcally acclaimed as his SNES legacy, and every appearance from the great ape left fans wanting a return to that formula.

Retro Studios has returned the series to the basics. Even the title of the game — Donkey Kong Country RETURNS — spells out how DK and his family are back to what fans have been wanting.

I’ll go ahead and spoil it — this game is great. This game is fantastic. This game is what Donkey Kong fans have been wanting — no questions about it.

But is there room for improvement? Is Donkey Kong Country Returns a “return” to something that should have been left behind? And should the series not play off nostalgia, but rather evolve from that gamplay and move forward?

Read on to find out:

Donkey Kong Country Returns is part reimagining/remake of the original DKC series on the SNES. You play as Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong and sidescroll through levels, collecting the K.O.N.G. letters, jumping on enemies, ground pounding, looking for secrets, getting to the end of the level, and fighting a boss at the end.

The game can be played with both one or two players — similar to New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Player 1 always takes control of Donkey Kong, while Player 2 always takes control of Diddy Kong. When playing by yourself, you always control Donkey Kong (with no switching ability) while Diddy Kong rides on DK’s back and assists in flying around with his jetpack.

Early in the game, fans of the original will find a lot of throwbacks to to original Donkey Kong Country. The level layout is pretty comparable to the level design in past games, but some of them are VERY VERY challenging — which is not a bad thing. As for returning characters, other than DK and Diddy Kong, the only other member of the Kong family to return is Cranky Kong, who sets up shop and sells items like extra lives. As for returning animals, only Rambi the Rhino is actually controllable. Squawks the Parrot is featured in the game, but rather hanging onto his feet and flying around, Squawks serves as an item you can purchase in Cranky’s shop that helps you find hidden items. Characters like Funky Kong, Candy Kong, Dixie Kong and even King K. Rool do not make an appearance.

As for enemy types, Kremling enemies (crocodiles from the original DKC) do not make a return. Instead the main antagonist of the game is taken up by a group of Tikis. These floating Tiki-masks and wands hypnotize the animals in Kongo Jungle and force them to steal DK’s cherished banana hoard. DK and Diddy set out to get their bananas back — just like they did in the original Donkey Kong Country.

There is no denying that Donkey Kong Country Returns plays off a lot of nostalgia from the original DKC released in 1994 — but Retro is far from ashamed of it and never hides their love for the DK family. Lots of easter eggs are hidden throughout the game, like a reference to the documentary “The King of Kong” and even items shaped like the Rare (old developer) logo.

The control of the game is where my issue lies. You have the option between two control schemes — the Wii remote and nunchuck (somewhat similar to Mario Galaxy) or the Wii remote held sideways (similar to New Super Mario Bros Wii). Both controls work fine up until motion controls come into play. A simple shake of the Wii remote won’t get the job done here. If using the nunchuck option, you have to bring the remote and nunchuck straight up and down in “ground slapping” motion in order to get DK to slap the ground (or ceiling or wall — depending on where you are). With the Wii remote held sideways, you have to bring the remote straight up and down with a decent amount of force. A “side-to-side” shake rarely works. Retro made the motion controls somewhat specific for certain situations, and that surprises me.

I’m the last person to complain about motion controls in a Wii game, but I felt that a game like Mario Galaxy 2 perfected the formula by allowing players to do just a simple shake in any direction. I was hoping DKCR would have a similar feel. Don’t get me wrong — this DOES NOT break the game, but after playing for hours and hours, your tolerance for the controls dwindles a bit. A homebrew hack (that I am in no way suggesting) allows players to play DKCR with a Classic Controller, and I have to say that having this third option would have really helped.

Visually — the game is great. I don’t want to be pessimistic, but I can’t help but feel that it “could” look a lot better. That being said, everything in the game is very fitting to the “style” of the game. All the characters look like they fit in this new DK universe, but with elements from the past dropped in all the time, it creates a delight for the eyes that will wow both old and new DK fans.

Most of the audio tracks in the game are direct remakes or remixes of old songs from the original Donkey Kong Country, and they sound great. Retro did come up with a lot of new tunes, especially in the later levels, and a lot of them are just as memorable as RARE’s soundtracks. Some of the noises — particularly when jumping on certain enemies — got on my nerves a little. Jumping on some enemy types produces this sound that I can only describe as “two coconuts clacking.” Forgive me for being so fond of the past, but I would have much rather heard the animals let out some cry of pain as they did in the past — but this is a very minor mark that probably is only limited to myself.

All in all — there’s not much I can say about Donkey Kong Country Returns that you haven’t heard elsewhere. Being a longtime fan of RARE and the Donkey Kong franchise, I’m a little saddened to not see more of the past Kong characters (like Dixie or Funky) make a return in this game. The motion controls are my only (minor) gripe concerning the gameplay, but the fact that this game exists and it also happens to be THIS GREAT is a real miracle. Retro and Nintendo finally came through for fans of the tie-wearing-gorilla. If you own a Wii and take pride in owning only the “best” Wii titles out there, you HAVE to pick this game up. Forgive the cliche — but this game is “on like Donkey Kong.”

Donkey Kong Country Returns gets a 9 out of 10.

My only worry now is what they’ll call the sequel? Donkey Kong Country Returns Again?

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