Review by MarioSuperstar
"Retro Studios has brought Donkey Kong back to life!"
Donkey Kong Country Returns is a platformer that Retro Studios reinvented from the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. The game was part of Nintendo's E3 2010 Press Conference that displayed other games coming into the future such as Kirby's Epic Yarn and GoldenEye 007. Donkey Kong Country Returns is exactly what the title says: a revisit to the Donkey Kong platforming series everyone loved 16 years ago.
Donkey Kong Country was a game released in 1994 and remains the highest-selling, non-bundled Super Nintendo game. The game was revolutionary by making use of pre-rendered three-dimensional graphics. Its soundtrack is adored by many gamers and has been placed as one of the best video game soundtracks ever released. The gameplay featured platforming antics that were unprecedented: mine carts, animal rides, shooting barrels, and flickering lights. Every 90s gamer knows the feeling of quick pit deaths and frustrating obstacles. Its sequels, Donkey Kong Country 2 & 3, brought the same quality graphics, music, and gameplay later on. Does Donkey Kong Country Returns live up to its predecessors?
For the most part, Donkey Kong Country Returns passes the first test. It is similar to Donkey Kong Country in the fundamentals by continuing on the tradition of levels that make you want to pull your hair. Bonus stages are back as well as remixed songs and collectibles. Essentially, everything that made Donkey Kong Country fun to play is back.
Retro Studios also added quirks of their own. The new barrel rocket, for example, is a new mode of transportation introduced in the game. One must also be aware that there are no Kremlins in this game. The Tiki Tak Tribe is the replacement. Retro Studios made Donkey Kong Country Returns similar enough to its predecessors while also adding their own unique touches.
The audio of the game mostly consists of remixes and a few original songs. The remixes are fantastic; in fact, if Retro Studios had actually stuck with pure remixes, I would have given audio a perfect rating. The original songs are good in their own right, but they are simply forgettable in comparison to David Wise's masterpieces. There are a few good original pieces, but they are average for the most part. They do fit their environments perfectly and nothing sounds out-of-place. To be fair, it is not realistic to expect this game to match up to the original game's atmosphere, so I will simply say the music does its job. The music in this game is satisfactory.
As for the sounds, you get your standard monkey business. There is truly not much to say here. Nothing truly stands out in a negative or positive way. I do enjoy the punching and hitting sounds from Donkey Kong, though.
The storyline is standard stuff. I am not going to dive into much due to spoilers, but the script is essentially the same as the original Donkey Kong Country. Once again, a mysterious tribe steals Donkey Kong's banana herd. It is up to Donkey Kong and Diddy to get it back. Everyone knows the storyline is probably the least important aspect of the Donkey Kong Country franchise, so it does enough to give a motive to the gamer.
The graphics of Donkey Kong Country Returns are the dreams Rare had in 1994. The backgrounds are three-dimensional and interactive. There were actually moments where I would ignore Donkey Kong and stare at the moving environments in the background. In addition, there will be moments in the game where the background is relevant to the gameplay in the foreground. It is an interesting touch added to enhance the overall experience. I truly enjoyed the backgrounds for the simple fact that they gave life to a stalling franchise.
The modes of the game are similar to its predecessors, and Retro Studios added some new twists. Time Trial is an interesting mode that definitely caters to speed runners. Collecting main quest items allows the player to unlock several galleries that are pictures, music, and diorama. It is good to have rewards for collectibles. Two-player mode gives players the ability to use Diddy simultaneously. It is similar to New Super Mario Bros. Wii's multiplayer. While the game's modes and presentations are excellent overall, I do have one minor complaint. There is no "Hours Played" stat on the file screens. Retro Studios may have simply overlooked this feature, but it does make speed running the entire game more difficult. The modes and presentations are still very impressive.
The controls have received many complaints from old fans. In this game, you can only play by the nun-chuck or the Wiimote by itself. I have never tried the nun-chuck and have stuck mostly with the Wiimote. The Wiimote plays exactly like a Super Nintendo controller save for a few exceptions: shake to roll, blow, and pound. You cannot roll with the 1 Button on the Wiimote; it is purely shaking. In addition, there is no classic controller configuration. Most of the complaints seem to stem from a lack of options.
To an extent, these complaints are legitimate. Why cannot one use a classic controller with a classic game? It sounds inevitable. I suppose Retro Studios must have had a slight oversight, or Shigeru Miyamoto directly wanted players to try a new way of playing. Regardless of the reason, more options cannot hurt.
I personally feel the other complaint may be a lack of adaptation. I have found rolling to be perfectly responsive with enough practice. Rolling in Donkey Kong Country Returns is not as stressed as the past games on the Super Nintendo. The only times I have rolled were for retreating purposes and extended jumps. In short, it does not change the overall experience of the game significantly.
The gameplay is the most important aspect of any game, and Donkey Kong Country Returns does not disappoint. One of the new features is Donkey Kong's ability to blow. This uncovers hidden items under certain objects (you will instinctively recognize them). This element adds another layer of difficulty by giving the player something to look for while he or she is concentrating on completing the level.
Another new element to the game is floating. If the player rescues Diddy, he or she is able to use his jet pack to allow the player two extra seconds after a jump. Imagine playing most of Super Mario Sunshine without Mario's F.L.U.D.D. That is the how hard the game can get without Diddy, but someone will probably beat the game without Diddy for bragging rights.
There are so many new obstacles and antics that it would be too much to go over, so I will just simply say that no two levels are the same. Just like the original Donkey Kong Country games, each level has its own feel in terms of how to complete them; however, there is one aspect that I miss. While each of the levels is unique, the backgrounds and general environments may get a bit repetitive. In the older Donkey Kong Country games, you had more variation. For example, in the first world of Donkey Kong Country, your first two levels are a jungle, then a cave, and then a beach. In Donkey Kong Country Returns, each world is stuck in its environment and there is not any variety. This is not a major issue but it is a minor, personal annoyance. The variety of level-design in the game is fantastic and ingenious, but mixing the environments together would have been perfect.
The difficulty of the game is hard to assess, because it truly depends on how familiar the player is with the Donkey Kong Country franchise. I have no doubt that collecting every item is difficult regardless of your familiarity. The game constantly dares the player to take collectibles during easy death situations. As for completing the game without any care of collecting, it will still be moderately challenging; especially for newcomers or players who are not familiar with the series. Most of the elements of difficulty are removed since you can easily buy lives. The developers also added a Super Guide that allows the game to control Donkey Kong and show how to complete the stage. These features do not stop the players from ignoring these options and making challenges for themselves, but the options are there. The difficult nature of Donkey Kong Country still remains, and as a person that's played since the beginning, there have been times where I've lost 25+ lives on a single level.
The bosses are another important form of difficulty and design. In comparison to the past bosses, they are more dynamic. Bosses still follow a pattern but it is definitely more complex. I do, however, find the final boss fight slightly disappointing. It was not easy by any means, but I simply expected a tiny bit more. It is not comparable to Donkey Kong Country 2's boss fight at all. I understand it is Retro Studios' first time, so I will give some leeway; however, considering the last few Donkey Kong Country games, it is natural for fans to expect more out of the final boss.
Veterans are probably wondering what has not returned in the game. Most of the animal buddies are absent. Rambi and Squawks make their returns but outside of those two, no one familiar is in the game. There are new animal buddies in a few levels that I will refrain from mentioning. There are also no water or snow levels in this game. Sadly, those were my favorites in terms of atmosphere. Overall, the game has a very mixed sense of nostalgia and originality.
The replay value of this game is dependent on what the player plans to do. If you only make it to the end, you may spend about an estimated 10 hours (We could sure use that time function.) If you plan to complete it 100 percent, you will probably double that. If you are unfamiliar or new to the franchise, add a couple of hours. Relatively speaking, that is above average for most platformers today. Therefore, replay value is there for most players.
In conclusion, Donkey Kong Country Returns is a fantastic rejuvenation of a 16-year-old franchise that needed a comeback. Retro Studios brought the franchise to the present and kept it as close to its original style as possible in the year 2010. I definitely recommend this game to anyone who enjoyed its predecessors. Almost everything fans loved about Donkey Kong returns in a new light. New players may get frustrated easily if they do not enjoy classic gaming, or they will enjoy the old school way of figuring out how to progress in a video game. It truly depends on who you are.
The reason this game does not get a perfect score is that I felt Retro Studios could have done more. The developers did a great job in keeping the franchise the same, but small oversights and shortcomings make me want to ask for more. Could there have been more controller options? Could they have included the water and snow levels? These are mostly minor complaints that do not change the big picture, which is that Donkey Kong Country Returns is worth a play from anyone who calls himself or herself a video game fan.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 12/14/10
Game Release: Donkey Kong Country Returns (US, 11/21/10)
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