Review – Donkey Kong Country Returns

Donkey Kong Country Returns
Retro Studios
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Wii
Genre: Platformer
Release Date: Out Now

The ape and his little buddy are back and equipped with some new moves. Retro Studios have moved on  from the Metroid Prime series and have been given the task of bringing back one of Nintendo’s most beloved franchises. There’s quite a bit of doubt to be had by fans considering Retro Studios are known for creating first person shooters. But fear not, for I can tell you now that they’ve done a fantastic job. Hit the jump for the full review of Donkey Kong Country Returns!

It has been 14 years since we last saw something from the Donkey Kong Country series and let’s face it, DK hasn’t exactly had a good time. After being stuck in countless spin offs and poorly received titles, he and Diddy are finally back to show they’ve still got some life left in them. The Kremlings are out and the Tikis are in. The Tiki tribe are a group of drum shaped creatures who are going around hypnotizing the animals of Donkey Kong Island to retrieve all the bananas, including DK’s banana hoard. DK doesn’t like it when someone pinches his bananas, and he’s determined to get them back.

Believe it or not, there are some people out there who will back away from DKC Returns due to the fact the Kremlings are not present. While it is sad to not have them present, it doesn’t make the game any less good. There are other characters and features not present, such as underwater levels or the majority of DK’s animal friends, but does that really change the fact that it’s a Donkey Kong Country game? Not at all.

DKC Returns plays very much like the original trilogy. As DK (or Diddy if you’re player 2) you’ll be swinging on vines, bouncing on creatures heads and hoarding bananas through several different locations on Donkey Kong Island. The KONG letters are present, but the DK coins have been removed. These have been replaced with jigsaw pieces which unlocks extra content for you to waste some time with. While it’s not RARE, I can’t help but feel the jigsaw pieces are a reference to a certain N64 series.

The ability to tag in and out with Diddy is not present, but the game has been given a proper 2 player co-op mode. When playing as Diddy, you can choose to control yourself and help throughout the level, or you can hop onto DK’s back and let player 1 do all the hard work. When Diddy is on DK’s back, DK gains the ability to use the barrel jetpack to slowly hover in the air for a short amount of time. This ability comes in handy during the stricter platforming sections.

While there are quite a few features removed, some newer features have been thrown into the mix. DK and Diddy no longer lose a life from taking one hit, as a health system has been introduced. Each player has 2 hearts which give them the chance to last a bit longer. You can find hearts by interacting with objects when you need a little top up. An item system has also been introduced, but it’s not to be confused with the item system from Donkey Kong Country 3. Using the banana coins you’ve harvested from levels, you can purchase items from  good old Cranky Kong to help you on your quest, as well as a mouthful of abuse. Squawks has been reduced to an item that helps you find puzzle pieces, but I’ll leave that for you to decide whether that’s good or bad.

Along with new features, DKC Returns has some new level ideas. If you remember the E3 trailer we received earlier this year, you’ll remember a level where the surroundings including DK and Diddy are all silhouettes, with a sunset in the background. These stages are straight forward but they look fantastic. It gives off a unique style and really shows how something simple can be so effective. Unfortunately, there aren’t many silhouette levels throughout the game. Rocket barrels are also a new addition which helps bump the games difficulty up a notch. In certain levels, DK rides on a rocket barrel that continues to move forward. Using the jump button, you can make DK ascend. Press it too much and he’ll go crashing into the roof. These levels get dangerously trickier as the game progresses.

Mine cart stages make yet another appearance and prove to be just as frustrating. In the original Donkey Kong Country, it was easy to wrongly time your jump and miss the next rail. The same applies here in almost every mine cart level. It’s not just obstacles on the tracks you have to avoid either. At times you’ll have to duck under a roof of spikes and cling onto moss patches to reach the next mine cart. If anyone was to say that this game isn’t a challenge, they would be lying.

In the background of levels are objects that DK and Diddy can interact with. By ground pounding and blowing, you can move these objects out the way to receive items such as jigsaw pieces, banana coins and balloons. By interacting with certain things, the obvious example being the giant golden symbols, you will alter part of the level by causing the scenery to move. There will be times where you’ll hop into a barrel and be blasted into the background to continue your journey. It’s pretty amusing but the novelty wears off fast. Rambi also makes a welcome appearance in some levels, allowing you the ability to speed through and knock away everything in your path. Like the silhouette levels, he’s not used often enough.

Now I’m going to talk  about the soundtrack a little. If you’ve been keeping up with the trailers, you’ll know that a lot of the music in DKC returns are remixes of the original songs. Tracks such as Simian Segue, Jungle Hijinx and Fear Factory have been given updates, with some original tracks like the rocket barrel music. The soundtrack truly is perfection. They even included the old bonus room music!

The game features a total of 8 different worlds, with a few hidden levels here and there. Each world roughly consists of 6 or 7 levels and a boss fight, very much like the originals. Instead of just jumping on their heads and getting it over and done with, there’s a little bit of strategy evolved now. Some bosses require you to jump on them when they reveal their weak spot, where as with others you’ll need to discover how to leave them open for an attack. It would have been nice to use Rambi in a boss fight, kind of disappointed they missed that opportunity.

This is the part I hate writing about, the flaws. Donkey Kong Country Returns is a genuinely well polished game with some outstanding replay value and a perfect difficulty balance. However, my only complaint would be the controls. DKC Returns only allows you to play with either the Wiimote on its side or the Wiimote and Nunchuk combo. My main complaint comes from the fact that rolling is done by shaking the Wiimote. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve lost a life due to DK rolling off the edge instead of ground pounding.

Donkey Kong Country Returns just blows away its competition for the title of best Wii game this year. There have been quite a few great titles this year, but DKC Returns is a step above them all. Retro Studios have done a phenomenal job of capturing the feeling of the original games. The first few levels had me reduced to tears. Literally. While the rolling can be a bit off at times, it doesn’t stop this game from being one hell of an experience.

Final Score – 9/10

It may have a small flaw, but Donkey Kong Country Returns is a fantastic revival to the country series and has opened up a golden opportunity for the series. The best platformer this year, no questions asked.


One Response to “Review – Donkey Kong Country Returns”

  1. Marcus Acklin Says:

    Are Queen B. And King K. Rool In This Game?

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