If there is one thing we can usually count on when it comes to Nintendo, it is that when a game with a familiar name is released, it is going to be good. When Nintendo announced Donkey Kong Country was returning at last year’s E3, the crowd went nuts and for good reason. The original game was one of the most technically impressive and fun experiences on the SNES. Fast forward to Nintendo’s motion-controlled console dominated by crappy party game collections and forced waggle schemes, and this tie-wearing gorilla is just what the core gamer ordered.
If you want to know the story behind the game, it is the same as it always was. DK is searching for his stolen bananas and he will stop at nothing to get them back. Unlike the later games in the SNES series, Returns goes back to its roots and focuses on only one character with a helper in the form of Diddy Kong. You will revisit some re-imagined locales from the original game plus a host of new ones. The boys at Retro Studios have done an amazing job of crafting their own interpretation of the classic, as well as catering to fans of the original.
DKC Returns lives up to its namesake in the gameplay department alone. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, Retro has created a 2D game using modern game design sensibilities. Think of it like New Super Mario Bros. and you get the idea. Another thing that comes with the classic gameplay is the classic difficulty. This is one punishing game and it lets you know that upfront. On my first outing, I tried to blast through the first level in the way most modern games allow only to be treated to a game over screen. If you get stuck too often, DKC Returns does offer up the ability to play the game for you a la New Super Mario Bros. While most gamers scoff at this idea, it is nice to have if you get frustrated on one part and want to just get past it.
Diddy Kong helps out along the way with his jetpack that allows you to jump further and cross certain areas, but you will still be tested over and over again in the timing department. There is very little margin for error and, if you take a hit while carrying Diddy, you will lose him, making the game that much harder. Still, is this really something to complain about? DKC has always been a challenging series and to think this new version would be without the difficulty is preposterous.
Controlling DK is fairly simple and like most Wii games offers up two control schemes. You can go old-school with the Wii Remote sideways, like a traditional controller, or you can throw in the nunchuk for standard action. Either one works fine, but I preferred the sideways remote simply because the controls are straightforward enough that you really don’t need anything else. DK can jump on enemies, roll and slam the ground to stun them. The real challenge here is timing and knowing how to defeat each type of enemy instead of throwing a plethora of styles of gameplay at you.
There are a ton of levels and bosses to take down plus the quintessential abundance of collectibles. Bananas earn you extra lives, as do balloons. You can also collect banana coins to spend at Cranky Kong’s shop after each level. There are also tons of puzzle pieces as well as the word K-O-N-G in every level to collect. You can go back to previous areas if you are a collection nut, and tracking them all down will certainly take you an inordinate amount of time. Still, even with all of this, the main game is somewhat on the short side. This is mainly because you can clear an area without actually finishing every single level. This is nice for those that just want to get to the end, but not optimal if you want to get the most out of your experience.
The single player game is definitely where Returns shines but, if you fancy a bit of co-op, a second player can take control of Diddy Kong and join in your adventure. While most games benefit from this, Returns actually suffers. Playing with a buddy is a blast at first, but the steep difficulty, trying to manage two characters through it and, of course, losing your hover ability make it a lesson in frustration at times. While it is a nice added feature, I don’t recommend it unless you have the patience of a saint.
The original DKC was one of the most gorgeous games on the SNES, and Retro has done the same with Returns. This game is absolutely stunning in terms of design and animation. Every level is a visual treat that will have 2D fans salivating. I love the way the 2.5D style lends itself to moving in and out of the levels, and the way the developers have taken advantage of it not only in aesthetic ways, but also in the gameplay department. The music also returns, with nods to the jazz tunes found in the original. This is one of the better Wii games in overall presentation.
Donkey Kong Country Returns is yet another fantastic rendition of a Nintendo classic. The company seems to have a flawless track record when it comes to resurrecting their franchises. Fans of classic 2D games, or the original DKC games, owe it to themselves to pick up this amazing return to the franchise. The difficulty is the one area that may throw some gamers for a loop, but with the ability to let the game play itself it becomes a non-issue. Besides, what would DKC be without some punishing challenges?
Review copy provided by publisher.