Review by PSICOffee
"It's Better Than No DKC4"
I think the game is great, and have played the originals to death. I'm not blinded by nostalgia, or else I'd think the originals were absolutely perfect, but I agree with most of the complaints about this game. Any newcomer to the series who hasn't played the originals will absolutely love this game, and for the most part classic fans will be pleased too. I have no problem including this game as worthy to being considered a Donkey Kong game. The difficulty is hard, but not too hard if you've played a lot of platformers. Honestly I felt the game is too easy most of the time, where I end up with literally hundreds of extra banana coins, but we need more difficult games like this to remind us how good a game can be. Anyone who plays the game can see what's to love about it.
My biggest gripe with the game is the controls and physics (no I'm not a sonic fan boy). Yes I'm sure I'll get used to them in time and forget my old habits, but honestly I shouldn't have to if I'm playing a DKC game. Lots of people have said shaking to roll is awkward, and I completely agree, but I'll explain why. For me playing the old games, I developed a trick to always keep my thumb held on the Y button of the SNES controller in an arch over the B button. When I needed to jump I'd flatten my thumb to hit the B button, thus removing the need to keep my thumb from changing position off the Y button and able to swiftly move through the levels. Obviously the biggest way to fix this for the Wii game is allow classic controller support but for some reason Retro decided against that option (not really too much to ask) so for me the next best option is NES-style Wii Remote controls. I love shaking the Wii Remote to ground pound, as it's satisfying and works, and blowing on things is an interesting new mechanic (its uselessness replaces the uselessness of ground pounding in DKC1). I don't understand how shaking to blow makes sense but whatever, it doesn't get in the way of the action too much.
In the original DKC trilogy by Rare, you would roll into an enemy, and by hitting that enemy your roll would gain momentum striking many enemies in a row. Countless times I've died in DKCR because I'd roll into an enemy, killing the first two in a row of three, only to stop right in front of the third enemy in the row and get hurt. I'd have to remember the same momentum doesn't apply in Retro's game, and occasionally I'd have to jump just before hitting an enemy I'm rolling into, which doesn't always work. Yes, you have an infinite roll when you get Diddy, but this only adds more to the fact that Diddy is just a power up extending your health, jump, and roll; not to mention how tiring shaking your wrists is compared to simply pressing a button. Shaking feels inaccurate, although I'm sure it's not, but it also shares the function of ground pounding. Many times I wanted to roll into an enemy forgetting I had to be moving to perform a roll, and instead ground pounded.
There is absolutely no reason rolling couldn't be mapped to the 1 button. It worked just fine by having roll assigned to the B button in the Donkey Kong Land series and there were only two buttons available. Picking up things or grabbing a wall and running are assigned to the 1 button, and jumping is assigned to the 2 button in the Wii version, so add a simple roll to the 1 button and you've got the same controls to the DKL series that worked so well.
Speaking of picking up barrels, even the original DKC game allowed you to put a barrel back on the ground without having to throw it. In some instances, there were parts of the level I carried a barrel looking for a wall to break open to find a bonus room (they're all even easier and repetitive with more apparent hints this time around; many not even needing barrels anymore) and other times I realized I picked up the barrel too early and wanted to put it down so I could clear the enemies and get a clear shot of something I wanted to hit. Because I simply can't put the barrel back down, I have to backtrack far enough and return for the barrel to re-spawn or try to find another one. In an example of returning to primitive DKC1 form and ignoring the advancements of DKC2 and 3, barrels can no longer be thrown upward at a target. It's something so small yet considerate to the ease of control and not losing valuable and hard to come by barrels.
Jumping isn't the same as before either. When you jump and release, DK does a small jump, and when you hold the button he does a higher jump (standard platforming mechanic here). Thankfully rolling off a cliff and jumping in air as a gameplay mechanic is intact (however ironically unrealistic it is) even though it takes getting used to now with the new way to roll. The problem is when you have Diddy and jump, holding the 2 button, you start the jet pack that runs for a second then turns off. When I'm already doing a high jump holding down the button, there are many times I don't want to use the jet pack but end up using it anyway because I have to consciously remind myself to let go of the button sooner than I normally would playing the original trilogy. This isn't a problem in two player when you have the option to place Diddy on DK's back or not if you're the first player, and wasn't a problem in DKC2 and DKL2 when you pressed the Y and B buttons respectfully to initiate Dixie's hover ability if you chose to. I don't mind that the hover doesn't last until you reach the ground, but if it doesn't, then it should be a case where you press the 2 button again at the height of your jump to start the jet pack. It's completely backwards to how an extended or double jump generally works in platformers, as they aren't performed just by holding the button longer, and goes against what has been ingrained in our minds as much as pressing up to enter doors (I'm aware of Cave Story). In Super Mario World the feather ability would be used by holding the jump button longer, but would last until you reached the ground like Dixie Kong's, benefiting the player with slowing difficult jumps, and behaves differently from Diddy's jet pack.
Instead of assigning the use of Diddy's jet pack to pressing the 2 button twice, Retro decided in DKCR the player would use it just holding the 2 button longer than a normal extended jump. They decided to use the double-tap option for something elsejumping on enemies higher. Not even covered in the manual, the player has to press the 2 button again right before they land on the enemy in a jump to get the highest jump to get hard to reach KONG letters. In the original trilogy, you only needed to hold the jump button when landing on an enemy to bounce higher off them, and could release the jump button before landing on an enemy to do a little jump. Not even in SMB do you need to press the B button again every time you land from one goomba to the next in order to maintain your high jumps. In one level of DKCR I tried to reach the letter where I only had one shot to get it, by doing a high jump off an enemy. You have to be extremely precise to know when to press the 2 button again before you land on the enemy or else DK will do a small jump, missing your only opportunity to get the letter and you'll have to intentionally kill yourself to restart the level from scratch to try again. It takes a lot of getting used to the new way of bouncing higher off enemies that wouldn't have been a problem in the original DKC trilogy.
A new player unfamiliar with the original trilogy might not have problems getting used to these reversed jumping mechanics, but the least Retro could have done was add an option to make the jet pack performed by pressing the 2 button (or A button if you're using the nunchuck setup) twice in midair and jumping on an enemy higher by only having to hold down the 2 button. It worked perfectly in the DKC/DKL series so why change it (after all this is supposed to be a rebirth of the series)? Perhaps Retro was trying to be more rhythmic by making the player hit beats when landing on the enemy, but this is only cumbersome. These issues of control are only more examples of how considerate Rare was to the smallest detail to find which control method and physics worked best in their games.
It's a shame the Kremmling's, most animal buddies, and snow/water levels are absent but I understand Retro wanted to make their own enemies and slow paced levels aren't their thing (because modern gamers are obviously too impatient). I'm not particularly bothered by the Tiki's as they serve their purpose and it's nice to have new villains (even though now with all the generic statues in the jungle and new enemies filling the atmosphere I feel more like I'm playing the original Crash Bandicoot in some levels which feels weird). However the Kremmling's are funny (Krusha) and I know their absence is not because Rare owns them (they were in DK King of Swing). It's fascinating to see the scenery change from cave to jungle and vice versa (even the music changes) in DKCR and more mine cart levels are a welcome surprise (even the song changes on/off the carts). But it seems the cave levels rely too much on their gimmicks and not enough on platforming. It would have been nice to at least have a background cameo of some of the animal buddies also.
Not having the other Kong family members is a shame because they added more "personality" than what we have now in this game, which replaces Funky Kong with the 1 button on the map screen, and Candy with an auto save feature. Speaking of atmosphere and personality, I'm not bothered at all by the bright colors, updated look of characters, or feel of the levels. This is Retro's decided art style. Anyone who feels this game doesn't have its atmosphere is clearly not paying attention to anything else but DK himself. It wouldn't hurt to have a cameo of the other Kongs, especially swanky who hasn't been seen in some time. Cranky could have just as easily just been another menu option, but was probably kept because Retro saw him as a key popular figure to the series. I understand by modern standards its completely backwards to not have auto save or not get out of a world with a button, but that seems pretty ironic considering how backwards this game takes the series by limiting most of its influences to just the first DKC (which is fine for its purposes if there will hopefully be more sequels).
Squawks may just be an item again, as he wasn't much more in the original DKC game, but that's the thing. This game is called Donkey Kong Country Returns, but ignores many of the advancements made in DKC 2 and 3 (again, hopefully they make a sequel to this including influences from those games, which I'm sure they will considering what happened to Metroid Prime, thus making this argument moot). They include banana coins and Diddy's abilities from DK64 almost like they are teasing us to expect far more nods to the other games than just DKC1. In comparison to DKC2, DKC1 was pretty bland and basic in its collectibles. The fact this new game has unlock able levels places it past DKC1, but by taking most of its influences only from the first game it doesn't get much further to which is generally considered the best (DKC2). I'm not mad however, because the day this game was announced I knew they were going to do this. I knew the world map would have the classic DKC1 theme (as evidenced by its inclusion in SSBB) and not the cool DKC2 world theme, and most of the level music would be a throwback to the first game as well with some new (forgettable) tunes. I love the classic music and the remixes are nice (different world theme variations are nice) but DKC1 isn't the only DKC game to have brilliant music.
Many of these complaints are small, but if things aren't broken then there is no reason to fix them no matter how revolutionary you want to be with the motion controls. The reason many nostalgia freaks complain is because Rare found what works with the controls and perfected them, which is one of the most important things about a game. It feels like Retro tried to make compromises with many features of the original DKC trilogy: merging barrel rolling with infinite rolling, streamlined saving and moving through menus away from Candy and Funky, giving Cranky a purpose with Swankie's bonus items (seriously, no jokes about how absurd motion controls are? That's probably Nintendo's doing), substituting slow-paced water levels with fast-paced destroyed platform levels, updating the already beautiful music etc. They made a lot of design changes to their game that would make many of the features of the original DKC trilogy obsolete, but mostly work for their purposes, including new concepts like climbing walls (different from jumping on honey walls in DKC2). The game is perfect if you take into consideration that this is Retro's re-imaging of DKC, and remember times are different, and forget about the controls and physics you're used to with the original trilogy.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 12/10/10
Game Release: Donkey Kong Country Returns (US, 11/21/10)
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