Donkey Kong Country Returns: Review

Posted: April 10, 2011 by CptToffer in Review
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Hello Antiherogamers!

Welcome to our first review: Enjoy!

Donkey Kong Country Returns Review:

Gaming for me has always been about one of two things; it’s either escapism: Becoming immersed in a rich vibrant story, looking on in awe at the world before me; or it’s enjoyment, the fun factor of gaming, solo or with friends, challenging or easy, that allows me to have a good time. If a game can provide me with either of these two things then usually the rest falls into place. Even if a game isn’t particularly immersive, the entertainment factor can support this. The same goes if a game is maybe too easy or too hard; if it’s got a great story I feel compelled to finish it. On occasions a game provides me with both a level of escapism and entertainment. Donkey Kong Country Returns is one such game.

Anyone unfamiliar with the series shall be given a brief recap of it’s history. The series follows the adventures of the Kong Family usually lead by the infamous Donkey Kong, whose first entry into the series was on the Super Nintendo, supported by by the baseball cap wearing Diddy Kong. Games two and three all added various new characters including Dixie and Kiddie Kong, not to mention the help provided by Candy, Funky And Cranky Kong who acted as shops, save points and similar. Donkey Kong and family got a fully 3D outing on the Nintendo 64 but have remained largely dormant aside from some spin-offs involving some drums and hand-held entry’s.

Fast forward to 2010 and Retro Studios are handling proceedings, the first Donkey Kong Country entry without Rare at the helm. The story is a familiar one for anyone who’s played the series. Once again Donkey Kong has gone and had his stupidly insecure stash of bananas stolen, quite literally from under his home. As per usual he promptly beats his chest, grabs Diddy Kong, and makes off into the jungle after his many bunches of bananas. The thieves of said bananas are not the usual Kremlings but are in fact a group of evil Tikis known as the Tiki Tak Tribe. They appear to hypnotise the islands inhabitants using a blend of music and hypnotic gazing. The departure of the Kremlings marks the end of an era for the Donkey Kong Country series. I was disappointed not to be able to relive the glory days of fighting the various forms of Kremling, but alas I think it was equally important that Retro Studios took the series in a slightly different direction without alienating it’s huge fanbase. The story itself isn’t deep or crucial to the gameplay and it really shouldn’t be. I’m glad that Retro Studios understood that the focus should be on the fun factor rather then weaving a heart wrenching tale of an ape and his lost bananas. It’s hardly a theme to set the literary world alight.

This is the enemy? Really? Ok sure the one that looks like my spine seems a little pissed but someone probably mistook him for a xylophone

Before delving into the heart of the game, I wish to address the control scheme that the game has adopted. I was concerned that a series so important to me would be exploited to ridiculous lengths using the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. I can happily report that this is not the case. The control scheme is very standard for platform gaming and the only important additions are some new moves for Donkey Kong. The first fans will recognise as his signature ground pound move which is activated by shaking both the Wii Remote and Nunchuk simultaneously. The move is used to defeat enemies, break boxes and undercover collectables. The same movement while pressing down on the control stick makes the ape, and it even feels odd typing it, but it makes him blow. Yes blow as in blowing air out of his mouth. Honestly one of the stranger things for a large ape to do, but alas this allows for extinguishing of fires and finding of items. There isn’t anything else out of the ordinary and the controls are as tight and responsive as I would expect from a top title such as this one.

Moving on to the most crucial part of any platformer, the gameplay. Much like everything else so far, the gameplay stays true to it’s roots. A very smart move by Retro Studios seeing as the previous instalments have been nothing but exemplary. Could this be a problem though? Essentially adopting the same style with little innovation despite a fourteen year gap in the last entry to the series. In a word, no it’s not. As I’ve stated above the previous gameplay was excellent and really unless you’ve got a specific gameplay element or feature (read gimmick) then I don’t believe you can really innovate the genre any further then it has already gone already. Super Mario Galaxy 2 has set the bar ridiculously high for platforming games in the current climate. It would be pointless for Retro Studios to risk upsetting a loyal fanbase on risky change to the expected formula in an effort to hit the same highs as Mario.

The phrase "Oh shit pull up" is one often uttered when on the awesome rocket levels

The levels are split up into eight areas, each with anything between six to ten worlds. This is all displayed on a colourful world map. Each area has it’s own theme, ranging from Jungle and Beach to Forests and Factory. Every area and every world has it’s own identity, which adds to the enjoyment as you try and work out from the level name just what sort of danger you can expect. ( A word to the wise, I wasn’t ready for “Muncher Marathon” and even with this warning I doubt you will be either) It’s all very reminiscent of the original Donkey Kong and I love it. Some of the routes in the areas are locked and can only be opened by purchasing keys from everyone’s favourite member of the Kong Family; Cranky Kong. Yes the grumpiest ape has returned once more, verbally abusing the player but offering various items for sale in his store. You don’t need to buy any of these items, not even the keys, but I did just so I could play that one extra level. It felt a shame to miss any of them out.

The levels themselves are a joy to behold. Each one is fun, frantic and challenging. There’s always something going on in the foreground, background, above you or behind you. There’s always something to jump on, ground pound and erm, blow on? It never gets overwhelming and you always want to get involved with the action. A cornerstone of the series has been the collectables. The infamous K O N G letters make a welcome return, some in very tricky locations towards the end. There are also jigsaw pieces to gather which unlock artwork and you also collect coins to spend in the store. There are hidden areas dotted around that hide some of the aforementioned jigsaw pieces and the occasional blast barrel leading to a secret area. The opposition in these levels are what you would expect. Some things you can jump on, others you cant. Some things that need one hit, some that need three. They really are a secondary thought to my primary enjoyment which is jumping, rolling and, if you’ve got Diddy Kong, briefly jet-packing through these excellently crafted arenas. I will be honest in saying that the enemies are nothing special with the exceptions of the boss fights. The boss fights are varied, challenging and just plain fun. A couple of the later ones really tested me, especially that caterpillar thing, which got a perfectly well earned fist pump from me upon it’s death. I had so much fun fighting the bosses of this game that it really hit home for me that I can’t remember the last decent boss fight I actually had. That’s one thing Mario doesn’t have over this game. Bowser’s ass has been kicked so many times it’s almost a relief when I see him come lumbering over the hill. Speaking of familiarity, the mine cart levels are back and better then ever. Those combined with the chase and rocket levels are some of the most enjoyable. The rocket levels are new to the series and essentially involve Donkey Kong riding a rocket through the level, the propulsion for which is controlled by pressing a button to increase and decrease height. Great fun and very challenging if you’re trying to gain all the collectables.

The levels are among some of the most enjoyable that I’ve played in a Donkey Kong Country game. There is so much more to them then meets the eye. Areas break away to reveal unknown action, DK barrel blasts through scenery, shooting up the inside of a tree trunk, as the camera pans to an angle that puts you in the wake of the explosion. Some of the larger bosses combat you then jump into the background, and begin firing cannonballs at you, before jumping back, smashing through whatever stood in their way. It’s so well designed that your just never quite sure what to expect. It’s fantastic fun.

Challenge is something this game does well. The Wii and Nintendo alike are often scrutinised for appearing to be very family orientated, never focusing on the hardcore demographic and generally not having anything with any teeth to it. There is substance to this argument as we all know, but there are games that are for adults only. While this isn’t one of them, the younger gamer maybe put off by the steeper learning curve. It starts off innocently enough, its appearance colourful and inviting, luring you into a false sense of security. By world four there are flashes of tricky moments, the bright colours replaced with more neutral ones, the opposition growing in number. As you enter the Factory and Volcano stages the difficulty levels have reached levels akin to the games of old. I entered the Volcano stage for example with nearly seventy lives. I left with just over thirty. This was partially down to the difficulty of the level and my stubbornness to get it done there and then. That’s what this game does to you, it grips you. Death is a minor annoyance when you’re having this much fun. It never feels unfair either. The challenge posed was never so difficult that I threw the controller down or that I shouted obscenities at the television. If I made a mistake or died, it was always my fault for going too fast, or not timing the jump right or generally making a mistake. When a game’s got you convinced that the only reason you can’t beat it is the fact you’re not good enough, then it’s onto a winning formula. Because I did beat it, and the elation at the finish lines was warm and fuzzy in the pit of my stomach.

Lush looking locations

Graphically this is a beautiful game, easily one of the best looking on the Wii. As I’ve stated previously there is generally a lot going on, and I’ve found myself sorting out whatever minor minion was hassling me, and then stopping to have a look around. Just taking in the scenery. Maybe the ship floating in the background of the Beach or the pumps and cranks of the Factory. The style from the world map to the intricate details of the levels really looks like it was crafted by someone who cared about the finished product. The music is something that hits the nostalgia note once again. The old school Donkey Kong Country beats are there, any fans will recognise them instantly and they will feel very much at home right from the start. The new music is just as excellent, as is the sounds for each and every part of the game.

Overall as you may have guessed I have very little complaints with this game. I’m totally sold on the new enemies and I’m pleased that most of the opposition was creature based, including the bosses. This maybe my history with the series as opposed to disagreeing with the Tikis as the bad guys, but they generally seemed very non-threatening and not very evil at all. My only other complaint and believe me it’s a minor one is the challenge. I’m not thinking of myself here, this is more geared towards other gamers who may be put off by the rising difficulty towards the end. That said with a lack of hardcore titles out there, this may be the sort of challenge that younger gamers need.

Retro Studios made a very smart decision not to radically change what Donkey Kong Country is and has been for all these years. Instead they took what Rare did to make the series so memorable and just improve on the formula, taking away parts that wouldn’t be missed. Not once did I think “Oh what about feature X, or option Y from this game or that” If you liked the original series you will love this. Rare can rest assured that their series is in very good hands. Role on the sequel.

Pros:
Donkey Kong Country that you know and love
Amazing level design
Great music
Enjoyable challenge

Cons:
New bad guys don’t match up to the Kremlings
Challenge maybe off putting for some

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