Donkey Kong Country ReturnsESRB:
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Category: Adventure, Platformer
Developer: Retro Studios
Nintendo seems to be on a bit of a role lately, as they reach into their vault of characters, wake up some old friends, and release some great games. So far this year gamers have had the pleasure to play a new Mario game, a new Metroid game, and a new Kirby game all for the Wii. Now we have a new Donkey Kong game. It is almost too much, but I have to say that Wii owners are truly blessed to have such a great resurrection of characters and titles. Donkey Kong Country Returns hits store shelves, and after playing the game over the past week I am happy to say that this is yet another great Nintendo game that Wii owners will be more then happy with.
Visually speaking, Donkey Kong Country Returns is a looker. Back in 1994 the original Donkey Kong Country utilized Silicon Graphics generated CGI that made up the pre-rendered levels. At the time this was quite a break through and looked awesome on Nintendo’s 16-bit machine. This newest iteration utilizes 3D graphics that are rendered in realtime to portray the 2D platform levels. The result is incredible and the style is clearly is an update and celebration of the original game. With bright colours, amazing level design, and some great special effects, you will see that a lot of love went into the look of DK’s latest outing. What I was amazed at was how you can go into the background of some of the levels, and play further off into the distance. The new graphics engine allows for this new visual element. The artistic style is also amazing. The first time you play the “Sunset level” in the first world you will appreciate what Retro has done with the Wii’s visual prowness as they allow some of their artistic vision to spread its wings. Finally DK, Diddy, and all the other characters animate smoothly and flawlessly, and you will no doubt enjoy watching everyone in action. Overall thumbs up for this visuals in this game.
The audio in Donkey Kong Country Returns is pretty much just as good as the visuals, and they complement everything in this game. The music is quite noteworthy as the jazz inspired tunes suit each level you come across. It is uncanny how well they match the visual theme for every level in each world. Of course the environmental effects sound great too, from gears turning, water splashing, and volcano’s erupting. And not lets forget DK and his pal Diddy; from the recognizable grunts and squeals to the sound of DK’s ground pound, all these bring the characters to life.
Donkey Kong has been around since the original NES days, but after that he was not fully resurrected until 1994 on the SNES when Donkey Kong Country was released. This game was developed by Rare and utilized some ground breaking graphics. The focus was on 2D platforming with Donkey Kong and his nephew Diddy Kong. The game was a monster hit selling 8 million copies and keeping Nintendo in the game at a time when Sony was just about to release its brand new CD based Playstation console. Of course it spawned a few sequels. Donkey Kong did hit the GameCube during the last generation of consoles, but this was in the form of a musical/rhythm game, so it has been awhile since the classic DK gameplay has been around. You can download the original Donkey Kong Country on the virtual console to check out what all the original hubbub was about.
Donkey Kong Country Returns is DK’s big return to his SNES platforming roots. Given that Microsoft now owns Rare, a new developer has taken the reins. Retro Studios, the same studio that took Metroid into the realm of first person shooters and 3D polygons, has been given the task of bringing Donkey Kong to the Wii. As with the past Donkey Kong Country games, DK and Diddy have had their Banana hoard stolen and it is their job to find them, and those associated with stealing them. There is a nice little story attached with why the bananas have been taken, and there is a new baddie in town with a new set of minions doing his work. These villains are new to the series. As per usual, I am not going to ruin the full story for you as you will have to play the game to learn the full details.
This newest game is definitely a platforming affair, with lots of running, jumping, finding hidden items, and avoiding enemies. That being said, Retro has taken a bit of creative liberty and upped the ante so to speak by adding their own creative flair. First off, they have taken much of the tried and true Donkey Kong gameplay and enhanced it somewhat. From the spicing up DK’s traditional mine cart levels to adding a bit of pizzazz to the very DK oriented Rocket Barrel mechanics, Retro’s touch is seen everywhere. Although everything looks and feels somewhat familiar, you will notice that there are new mechanics at play. For example, in the Rocket Barrel runs you now blast ‘into’ the background and foreground of the level or have to avoid some very harrowing obstacles. These additions to the familiar gameplay really do make this game Retro’s Donkey Kong as everything enhances the classic DK gameplay experience.
One of the biggest additions to Donkey Kong Country is the implementation of some new control mechanics. The Wii Remote’s motion sensing abilities are used this time around, as shaking it up and down allows DK to perform some new moves. First off, he will do a ground pound which will crush certain obstacles, open some hidden items, and stun enemies. If you press the d-pad (on analog stick) left or right, and shake the Wii Remote, you summersault roll in that direction and can run over enemies as you keep shaking. Finally, if you hold the d-pad (or analog stick) down, and shake the Wii Remote, DK will exhale a breath allowing you to blow various flowers to uncover even more hidden items. All in all these new control additions work quite well, and are quite fun. If anything, some may find the ‘blowing’ mechanic out of place given you do have to stop and smell, I mean blow the flowers to find hidden items. In a fast paced platform game this seems to take some of the ‘flow’ out of your adventure as this causes you to stop quite often. That being said, you do not have to stop and blow on the flowers should you not want too.
I should also mention that you have the option to use the Wii Remote/Nunchuk combination when playing. In my time with the game I stayed with the Wii Remote alone as the d-pad offered a bit more precision then the analog stick as even the slightest push on the analog stick could end in an untimely death due to stepping off a platform or inadvertently rolling when I did not mean too. Using the Wii Remote alone does not cause this type of thing to happen, plus using the d-pad only makes the game feel more old school as well, which enhances the 2D platform feeling.
Donkey Kong Country Returns allows for 2-player cooperative play. One person takes the role of DK while the other player takes the role of Diddy Kong. It is always nice when a game of this nature allows you to take a friend along. Like Kirby’s Epic Yarn, this feature is enjoyable and allows for you to some great multiplayer fun. For those hoping to traverse the levels as Diddy Kong only, unfortunately you cannot as he is only your sidekick in single player play allowing for extra hearts (health) and the ability to hover for a brief period as Diddy Kong rides on DK’s back and he himself has a jetpack on his back.
There are eight game worlds to play through with multiple levels in each one. You’ll find a lot of diversity and a lot of variety in each. Each level can be completed by just running straight through, but for the true completionist you will have to find all the letters on each level that spell “KONG”, as well as hidden puzzle pieces. By doing this you’ll open up some unlockables like artwork and whatnot. It will take a good amount of time to just get through each level without acquiring everything, and should you take on the task at getting all the letters and puzzle pieces, as well as finishing the time trials, expect some long term gaming.
If I have any issue, it is something which is a double edged sword so to speak. Donkey Kong Country Returns can be a very difficult game. Unlike Kirby’s Epic Yarn, which I recently reviewed, this game seems to be more geared for the hardcore and experienced gamers out there. Many of the levels will require repeated attempts as they can be quite difficult. I had quite a few bouts of frustration and screaming at my TV as I had to try and try again to get through different parts of different levels. Of course many diehard gamers out there are up for a challenge, and in this aspect the game does excel as it is not a cakewalk. I guess at the end of the day most casual gamers, or inexperienced ones, will find this game almost too tough, while the hardcore ones will most likely enjoy the challenge and stand up to it.
I also found the save system somewhat of a let down. There is only one checkpoint per level, and given the difficulty of the game, having to repeat certain sections over an over again can become a chore. I would have like to have seen at least a couple of checkpoints in each level, to soften the blow of dying so much. On the otherside of the coin though, this one checkpoint only is really a test for the hardcore gamers as dying is not seen as an option.
In an effort to address the difficulty of the game, Retro Studios has utilized the same ‘assist’ mechanic that was found in Super Mario Galaxy 2 and New Super Mario Bros. If you find yourself dying more often than not you can have the game play for you in order to get through the level. By simply pressing the ‘+’ button at your last checkpoint when prompted, this feature will take over. Given the nature of the ‘assist’ you are not rewarded with any of the letters or puzzle pieces in the level. I can totally understand why this occurs as the game plays for you, so there should be no reward for finishing the level this way.
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