Donkey Kong Country Returns Review
Coming off their hot streak with the Metroid Prime series, Retro Studios tries their hand at rebooting another famous Nintendo mascot: Donkey Kong. While not adding much to the formula, Retro Studios keeps what made the original Donkey Kong Country games great, while simultaneously building upon it and perfecting it. What the game lacks in innovation, it makes up for in sheer fun, brutal difficulty (in the most positive ways, of course), and beautiful scenery, resulting in a game that bests its beloved counterparts.
Review by Dustin Grissom
Donkey Kong Country Returns is, as the title says, the return of the Super Nintendo’s Donkey Kong Country series. Between the void of the third Donkey Kong Country and Returns, Donkey Kong has had a quality roller coaster of games. Starting out with the decent, Rare-developed N64 platformer, Donkey Kong 64, then later venturing to the bongo-controlled title for the Gamecube; Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. Donkey Kong Country Returns is the Ape’s first starring role on the Wii, not including the poorly received racer Donkey Kong Barrel Blast and the remake of Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. Donkey Kong Country Returns is the first attempt to bring Donkey Kong back to his original, old-school SNES days, and it more than succeeds doing so.
Donkey Kong does not control the same as Mario, his movement, jumps, and physics are very different, this isn’t a bad thing, it is just something that takes getting used to. I died plenty of times trying to do the easiest of actions during the first level of the game because of the learning curve, but once I got used to the controls, I started to nail the most difficult jumps with ease.
You control Donkey Kong with the analogue stick on the nunchuck to navigate, and press A to jump and hold it to hover with Diddy Kong. Occasionally you’ll have to shake the remote and nunchuck to either ground pound, roll, or blow (a mechanic used to blow flowers, fans, or other objects to obtain bananas, coins, etc.). You’ll have to stop moving entirely, then start to shake your remote to commence a ground pound, something that occasionally causes accidental deaths by making you roll off a cliff instead of performing a ground pound. This happened rarely in my game, but I can see how it may cause problems to less patient gamers.
The beginning of the game stays close to the original Donkey Kong formula, not shying away much in terms of creativity. This doesn’t mean I didn’t have a blast with the first hour or so, but it did leave me a little worried about the rest of the game and how it may not differentiate itself enough from the original games. Luckily, I had no reason to worry, because as the game progresses, new, creative ideas constantly flow in. You will never be doing the same thing for too long, whether it is your basic run and jump levels (with included barrel blasting!), the plenty of different variations on mine cart levels, the new Rocket Barrel levels, where you must dodge hazards by boosting up or falling down, and plenty of awesome set pieces. Donkey Kong Country Returns is a platformer that keeps you on your toes, making you always curious about what lay around the next corner.
Complimenting the near-perfect game play, level design, and variety are the beautiful graphics. Replacing the old, pre-rendered graphics of the SNES games, Donkey Kong Country Returns makes use of the Wii hardware with vibrant, real-time visuals. Effects, graceful animations, stylized characters, and gorgeous backdrops are always present in the game, the game looks great, but some areas look cooler than others. The game also has a few levels where Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong are just silhouettes, their only color being Donkey Kong’s red tie and Diddy’s hat. The backdrops are always beautiful during these segments, they are in full, vibrant color (opposed to the enemies and characters), and this makes for absolutely astonishing looking levels. These levels also change up the game play by adding visual tricks. Sadly, there are just a few of these levels, which is definitely not enough.
The game’s story isn’t amazing, nor does it need to be. Ditching a typical platfomer’s classic story of saving a damsel in distress, Returns sees Donkey Kong pounding and swinging his way through Donkey Kong Island to retrieve his stolen banana horde from a new group of villains that are utilizing the Island’s inhabitants by hypnotizing them. The game’s story elements are represented by nicely done cut scenes and happenings in the background during game play.
If you have been looking for a game to challenge yourself, look no further. Donkey Kong Country Returns is as challenging as it gets, sure, it may not seem that way from the first couple of worlds, but in the latter half you’ll be losing countless numbers of lives trying to beat a single level. But it doesn’t end there, after collecting all of the K-O-N-G letters (which is a challenge amongst itself) in a world; you’ll be allowed access to a new level, a level that will test your platforming skills to their sheer limit. You’ll also have to collect all of the puzzle pieces that are included in each level (which could take plenty of playthroughs of one level to accomplish) and complete a level in a certain amount of time (insanely tough) to 100% this game, it’s tough, but it’s definitely worth it. In the end, it took me over 10 hours to plow through the story, but maybe double (perhaps more) to collect everything and complete all of the extra challenges.
If that frightens you, fear not, as Retro and Nintendo have included features to help the less experienced gamers out there. The Super Guide/Cosmic Guide makes a return from New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Super Mario Galaxy 2, allowing the game to essentially play itself for a level if you are having difficulty beating it, allowing you to progress through the game. It’s good for the less determined, but I found myself ignoring it whenever I was allowed to use it (which is after a certain amount of deaths). The game also helps you by letting you visit Cranky Kong’s store, allowing you to purchase extra lives, an extra hit point, a temporary invincibility potion, and even a key that unlocks secret levels.
You can also bring in a friend to play as Diddy Kong, which is the only way to play as Diddy by himself. You cannot play as Diddy in the single player, but you can pick him up from a barrel to add 2 extra hearts to your health and give you a floating ability. After you get hit twice with Diddy, he leaves, leaving Donkey Kong by himself. This really changes the game play up a lot, making you have to adapt to the different styles of game play. This is a fun, added challenge.
You have two choices, to play with either the Wii remote and nunchuck combo, or with the Wii remote on its side. I tried both, but could never get the hang of controls with just the Wii Remote, so I stuck with the nunchuck version, but I can see many people that would prefer the Wii Remote by itself opposed to the nunchuck and Wii remote. You must waggle the remote to ground pound, roll, or blow, but Retro also added other new game play mechanics like the ability to climb.
Donkey Kong Country Returns isn’t only the best game in the series, but also one of the best platformers I have ever played. Its controls are near-perfect, its graphics are beautiful, its difficulty is daunting, and its variety, creativity, and level design shine in ways that creates nothing other than pure fun. Retro did it with Metroid years ago, and they prove themselves once more that they can match the quality standards that are expected from a Nintendo game and create a game that can go down in history as one of the best platformers of all time.