Review by Zerothma

"One of those games you donít know youíll enjoy when you unwrap it"

Donkey Kong Country (DKC) was a series developed by Rare back in 1994 on the Super Nintendo. I never got all that much play time in, considering I've never owned a Super Nintendo. So getting this game for Christmas was not only surprising, but (mostly) a new experience for me. Sure, I've played a little DKC as well as plenty of other Platformer games, so how does this game in particular stack up? Let's see if Retro Studios could pay a decent tribute to a classic game series from the past.

Story:

Floating Tiki men have hypnotized the animals that live on the island, causing them to steal Donkey Kong's bananas! He must now go on a journey to get them back.

Um, so that's the whole story, really. It's certainly less than spectacular, to say the least. Often times when you buy a game, you know generally what's going to be in it. That said, I didn't expect much story-wise. Actually, it's so underwhelming that it's almost refreshing. Honestly, any convoluted reasoning is fine as long as it gets you out of the house and on an adventure. The platform genre as a whole isn't really strongly story based (as opposed to Role Playing Games). So the story given here does its job by giving Donkey Kong and Diddy a reason to go on an adventure. The story is adequate at best, though I wouldn't expect much more.

Gameplay:

Games that aren't story based often times rely on gameplay to be the main draw. This game does just that. The gameplay is varied quite a bit throughout the game. It has many Traditional Platformer elements attached to many of the levels. You jump pits, stomp enemies, avoid traps, etc. Mostly, this game relies on two elements, muscle memory and reaction time. The levels in this game are hard. Things happen quickly around you, while you feel like you're just a little too slow. This game is rated E for Everyone, but small children might get very frustrated, so I'd watch out for that if you are a parent considering buying this for a child.

I feel like I'm spitting random ideas out there, so I'll break this down a bit. The game has different types of levels. I've mentioned Traditional Platformer levels already. There are also rocket levels. You grab on to a rocket and control only the vertical movements by holding or tapping the 2 button. Then there are Mine Cart levels. You hop in a cart like Indiana Jones and swiftly ride through a rollercoaster-like area. When you jump, the cart jumps. Again, you only get to control the vertical motions. You can only get hit once in a mine cart though. There are no underwater levels for some reason. There's also vine swinging and riding on a couple different things. There is certainly enough variety to keep you interested.

Why is this game intoxicating? You die so often, but you also replenish your lives quickly too. It's almost torture at some points, but it feels so good to beat the levels. It feels even better to beat the level with a friend. This game supports 2 players. One plays Donkey Kong, the other Diddy. Diddy can hover a short distance by holding the jump button, making him fundamentally better (as far as I can tell) than Donkey Kong. Each character can only take two hits before dying. Life recovering items are rare in some levels, so accidentally getting hurt once can really make a life or death difference. Diddy can ride on Donkey Kong's back. If he does, Donkey Kong gets the hover ability. If you play one player, having Diddy gives you 4 hits before you die. In two player, each person only gets two hits before they die, but if the other player can get to a safe enough spot, then the dead player can spend a life to get back in the game. You get coins throughout the game, so you can go to Cranky Kong's shop to buy lives or helpful items that you might need.

It's got all the action and adventure you could want from a platform game. It works in worlds like the old Mario Bros. game (World 2 stage 3 would show level 2-3). Variety is plentiful. There are boss fights, collectibles in each level, and secret stages. You can even do Time Attack mode and try to beat the levels as fast as you can to get medals. There is some definite replay value. I even found myself not collecting everything on purpose so that I'd have to go play through levels again. More than anything, I found that the level design was very similar to DKC. I felt like I was playing Donkey Kong Country due to how the levels were designed more than anything else. I noticed early on that there were none of the old standard enemies in this game. It's like if Mario didn't have Goomba's, but instead had something else that acted nearly the exact same way.

Sound Effects and Music:

A lot of the music is from the original DKC. It's remixed a bit, though. I enjoyed the music thoroughly. Sound effects were all appropriate. I think that there was really only one sound effect that really bothered me, which was the sound of Diddy dying. The music is fitting for each level. Honestly, I can't really find anything to complain about regarding the music. The sound effects were almost nearly spot on, so I'd give this music and sound effects a near perfect score.

Graphics:

The graphic in this game are fantastic. The best part of this game might be the graphics. I can think back to the last time I stopped in a video game to just look at my surroundings, and that was years ago. Multiple times I've stopped just to watch the background of this game. A few times even, I've been distracted by the graphics and gotten myself killed. This game has layers upon layers of eye-popping goodness in each background. Occasionally you will travel to the background via barrel while the game manipulates the 3D properties this game has (also known as depth). There is quite a large variety of environments for this game to cover, and each are covered well.

This game may have some of the best graphics of any game on the Wii. Get yourself a knock-off pair of component cables (I got mine for $3 online) and sit back and enjoy the view. The graphics rival those of Super Smash Brothers Brawl and Monster Hunter Tri. Yeah, they are that good. This game is proof that you don't need a powerful system to create amazing environments. It's about the effort! This game is just oozing with effort.

Controls:

This is the one unfortunate thing that holds me back from truly loving this game: The controls. In a game that is so fast paced, why do I have to crouch down and shake the Wii remote to blow on dandelions? But, oh-! I've missed blowing on them, so now I have to stand up and turn around ever so slowly, take a step turn back around slowly, and crouch and shake again. Hurrah, I've found 1 banana. It takes way to long for Donkey Kong to turn around. His jumping doesn't feel like it pushes him in the air fast enough either.

Shaking the Wii remote is terrible. While standing still, shaking the Wii remote slams the ground. While crouching, shaking blows air. While walking, shaking makes you roll. Now, out of each of these, the rolling is the only one not dreadfully slow. So it stands to reason that rolling would be used for survival and speed. And then you accidentally slam the ground instead, and you are dead because a boulder was chasing you. Shaking as a whole is bad. Did I mention you'll be doing it in pretty much every level? It's poorly implemented. Rolling needed to be assigned to a different button (perhaps the 1 button).

But the worst of all is timing jumps, more specifically, jumping off of an enemy. If you jump on an enemy, you bounce upwards. If you time your button press, you get extra height for bouncing on an enemy. After playing through 5 worlds with a friend, I still couldn't always time the bounces correctly. The problem is that I got it down to where I would bounce successfully 95% of the time. This means, 1/20 times I would end up killing myself or missing a bonus. Some levels require a ton of bouncing, and no matter what happens, I struggle with those levels the most. Then you get Diddy and everything changes. Suddenly holding the jump button (which causes you to bounce higher) will cause Diddy's jetpack to go off, which screws up your timing on the next bounce if you aren't even more spot on with your initial timing. I found myself failing around 30% of the time per bounce when Diddy was with me.

The controls are the worst part of the game. It took me the better half of the game to get used to the controls. The most frustration I've had was from this game stems from the controls.

Conclusion:

This game is a good game. Lots of replay value and tons of variety per level and world, respectively. The audio is a pleasure. The graphics are fantastic. The game has a strong design, overall. The only real problem with this game is the controls. Aside from that, some fans will be disappointed by the lack of underwater levels and old enemies. Overall, it is a great tribute to a series lost for years. I think most fans will really be pleased with this game.

Pros:
Great graphics
2 Player
High replay value
Fantastic level design
Good music

Cons:
Controls
Slightly slow user-interface
Chances for nostalgia missed


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/03/11

Game Release: Donkey Kong Country Returns (US, 11/21/10)


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