Review by StephenYap3

"I loathe you, ape (No trolling intended)"

It's been more than 10 years since a Donkey Kong Country game was released, growing into a popular franchise with loads of secrets, unlockables, and fun. Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong kicked Krusha tail like a Starsky and Hutch duo to recover the banana hoard in the first Donkey Kong Country, Diddy and his new partner Dixie Kong flew to Kaptain K. Rool and liberated Donkey Kong in Diddy's Kong Quest, and just Dixie and her overweight (but helpful) nephew Kiddy done defeated the Krusha King to free both Donkey and Diddy in Dixie Kong's Double Trouble. The series became a trilogy, with Diddy's Kong Quest being the best in the series by many critics. I personally preferred the original over the later two, even though the original was insanely challenging.

Yet, even though Rare was on a roll with the later Donkey Kong titles until its last project with Donkey Kong 64 for the N64, there was a glaring flaw with the trilogy's game play. In expense to having a ton of tactics to defeating enemies like stomping or throwing stuff at them (plus being able to get extra lives by grabbing balloons or collecting 100 bananas or collect all 4 KONG letters in a level), each Kong had always backed down when they take a single hit, whether be weak or strong. This led to a lot of frustration that whenever an inexperienced player tries to enjoy them, the result was always a tantrum or sorrow. And the worst came for the boss fights, where each boss took more than 3 hits to defeat. It was an attempt to bringing fun to the trilogy, but Rare could've addressed to this.

So anyways: After over 10 years since the third Donkey Kong Country was released, a new entry to the series was developed for the Wii. And because Rare was bought to Microsoft after Rare's last game Conker's Bad Fur Day for the N64, Retro Studios decided to take on the job of bringing back the new era of the series. Introducing Donkey Kong Country Returns, another game where Donkey and Diddy partner up again in upgraded game play, yet for some reason not as innovating as the past three titles. And while the game does flaw as its predecessors, enough of it is weighed down by such massive level design, new stuff, hidden secrets, and much more. If this isn't a good Wii game to add to the good Wii games list, I will say that Nintendo is really doing a good job on apologizing us for their year in 2008.

The trilogy had its problem on telling its story while being plot-less, but Returns learns from that and its story now makes more sense. A clan of Tikis had appeared around Donkey Kong Island, brainwashing animals to take down the king of the jungle: Donkey Kong. After the Tikis got every last bit of animals, one of them went on over to DK's pad and tried to wash him. Unfortunately for them, it failed and as DK notices that the island is in peril through the work of the Tikis, he runs on out and finds the Tikis taking DK's entire banana hoard aboard the ship. This infuriated the ape and on the way, he meets up with his nephew Diddy and together, they both set on out to retrieve the banana hoard and save the island.

Most of the trilogy's game play has returned in Returns: Donkey Kong can jump, roll, throw barrels, climb, swing, and pretty much anything he does in the original he still has in Returns. Yes, you can still jump on enemies or roll into them to dispatch them. The one ability that has been upgraded since the original DKC is Donkey's Ground Pound move, this time more emphasized to solving puzzles and other things in Returns. You can use the Ground Pound move repeatedly by shaking the Wii Remote vertically and cause earthquakes or other things you may encounter throughout the whole game. Probably one of the problems that traditional gamers may find, but I guess this feature is here to build muscles.

The flawed staple since the past three titles have been fixed by Retro Studios in Returns. Donkey Kong alone takes two hits to lose a life instead of one hit and throwing a fit. There are a lot of other obstacles in Returns that heavily emphasize on the health meter of DK's, but there are hearts in the game that help restore a heart. The overall feature of the health meter could've been changed to four or five hits per death routine, but at least two hits to die is much more reasonable than dying in one single hit.

And while you could switch between both Kongs in the past three titles, Returns now puts Donkey Kong upfront entirely and Diddy is now Donkey's piggy-back buddy to help him blast through the game. As long as Diddy is on Donkey's back, the Kongs can do more things: Donkey Kong can roll continuously until he crashes into a wall or when you stop shaking the Wii Remote, instead of being able to roll and cover a few distances. And while jumping, Diddy can carry Donkey in the air to cross distances for a short second. Lastly, Diddy has an additional two hearts of health as Donkey's body armor, where attacks are absorbed by Diddy. Donkey loses Diddy if Diddy should have his last heart lost. Most fans would be outraged for this feature in Returns, but can you blame Retro Studios for this? Let's be reasonable, people. There never really was a difference between Donkey and Diddy, if Donkey is strong to take down muscular enemies while Diddy being the fastest, since players can beat any level with any Kong. So instead of keeping that concept, Retro Studios tweaked it to something better and that would be more abilities given to one character before losing them.

If you disliked this concept, Diddy alone can be played in Returns' new Co-operative mode. Unlike the trilogy's co-op mode, Returns' co-op mode lets both Player 1 and Player 2 play simultaneously in one level. And instead of starting co-op mode on a new file like the past three, you can still start it up on any saved file. In expense to Diddy being able to use his Peanut Popgun and Rocket Barrel Pack from DK64, Diddy can only be played by Player 2 while Player 1 has his/her hands on Donkey. It was an excellent idea to emphasize Returns to focus on Donkey himself, but I wish players wouldn't be very picky about not being able to switch between Donkey and Diddy since again, there never was a difference. And worst of all, if both Donkey and Diddy die in co-op mode, the cost is two lives instead of one. I found this concept to be annoying, but maybe it would be nice for Retro Studios to fix it. So ask yourselves this, people: Which method is better? Playing as Diddy as Player 2? Or not playing as him at all?

Returns also have a bunch of its own recurring items like the Bananas and Balloons. Bananas come in single or bunch of 5 or 20, and collecting 100 bananas grants an extra life and so does a balloon itself when collected. Many of these items are found out in the open, but sometimes they must be revealed through uncovering them from hidden areas. There are the K-O-N-G letters that instead of granting extra lives, it opens a hidden level in the world when all letters have been collected in each of a world's levels. And those levels are very challenging when compared to the other levels in the world, but hide a surprise at the end. What's the surprise? See for yourself.

And if those items aren't enough, there are even Puzzle Pieces and a Heart power up. The heart power up restores one heart of health, hidden in some spots. The puzzle pieces build a picture in the picture gallery, and collecting all puzzle pieces in a level yields pictures. The puzzle pieces are also hard to find and each level contains enough of them to keep you searching, and they are also found in timed bonus rooms in a level, and collecting all items in the bonus room yields a puzzle piece. It's a good attempt to add replay value, yet after a while it may get addicting or boring. You choose.

Another staple of the series since Donkey Kong Country 2 is the Banana Coins, where they are found in levels and can be spent on stuff. As opposed to being able to carry up to 99 of them, Retro Studios boosts it up so that you're able to carry 999 banana coins. And instead of spending them at any shop, you buy stuff at Cranky's shop. You can buy extra lives, power ups, and even a key to unlock a path in a world. Extra lives come in 1, 3, and 7 balloons. I went here a couple times to stock up on lives, but otherwise I've been coming here to get keys to unlock paths to new levels. Yes, keys unlock paths to new levels.

The power ups from Cranky's shop consist of a parrot named Squawk, a Heart Boost, and a Banana Juice. Squawk aids your hunting for Puzzle Pieces, Heart Boost adds one extra heart to your overall health, and Banana Juice grants you temporary invulnerability. Each power up lasts for one level, and they are activated on the map screen's pause menu item Inventory. Those are useful power ups that even Rare should've thought of from a long time ago, yet I hardly ever used them at all. The ones I used so far are the Squawks and the Heart Boosts. I used Squawks to find hard-to-find Puzzle Pieces while the Heart Boost was used for fun in a level I've beaten before. Of course that they don't make the game much easier, so using them very wisely is very vital. And lastly, you can only use one of these items per level, so choose wisely.

As for the levels, the levels are amazing and challenging. And while the challenge itself is how the series is, the levels make Returns look like some out-of-this-world carpet ride. The backgrounds have different occurrences, there are additional levels in the background, and sometimes a level will turn the Kongs and the level itself into a shadow texture. Not much to talk about for the levels, but you'll be likely amazed at it.

--Final Words--
That's all there is to talk about for Donkey Kong Country Returns. It's an excellent Wii game to add to your library, despite a few hidden flaws. New Super Mario Bros Wii was going to be on my “Best Wii game” award, but sadly it lost to this game. And ignore the haters, I beg of you.

Score: 9.7 out of 10


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

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


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