Review by xcamel24
"For the name "Returns", it sure doesn't feel familiar."
When people discuss prime franchise names for the super nintendo, what comes to mind? Usually the first things to come off people's tongues are Super Mario World, Final Fantasy, Super Metroid, and the 3 Donkey Kong Country titles by Rare. When released, it redefined the 2D platforming spectrum and brought a new series of ideas and gameplay to an aging character and franchise. After Donkey Kong 64 on the N64, we haven't really seen much for our Ape friend. We've had the mario vs donkey kong games, which star mario, the DK king of swing games, which really haven't done that well, and Donkey Kong Jungle Beat- which was a moderate success and had some very unique gameplay. So when fans heard Donkey Kong Country would be "Returning", everyone was jumping for joy for the opportunity to play Donkey Kong again with a controller. I was sold on the idea right away and without trying it out, bought my copy. But to my dismay- I found that this wasn't a familiar Donkey Kong Country game.
Normally I wouldn't start with controls, but I feel because this is so important to the gameplay aspect, we need to hit this first. The controls in Donkey Kong Country Returns are tough. You have two options and only these two options- The wiimote by itself and the wiimote + nunchuck option. Between those two, I really preferred the wiimote. Most people probably will go the same route. You basically have a jump button, a grab/run button, movement, and your attack. Except, your attack isn't mapped to a button. Instead, it is forced to be on the motion control part of the controller- requiring you to initiate a shake of the remote or remote/nunchuck to do those operations. Standing still on the ground initiates a ground pound, while doing this while running does the famous Donkey Kong Country roll move (the one you do off a cliff and still do a jump afterwards.) Holding down and shaking initiates a blow move, which is new to DK. I don't know about you, but in a manic series of platforming shaking the wii remote is a terrible option. I had many a time where I just had a quick panic, thinking a hadn't made a jump, only to make it, and in my panic, I moved the wiimote, which rolled me right off the cliff. I had way to many rolls I didn't want and when I did need to roll it was terribly inconvenient. The controls are really, really tough. I didn't like them so much, that, using my Gecko OS, I loaded the a codeset to use the classic controller with the y button assigned to roll. This helped a ton, but isn't an option to many of you. The controls are a huge downside to the game.
What isn't a downside is the gameplay. If you're looking for a great, extremely challenging platformer, this is right up your alley. If you make it through the game without the game asking you if you want help from super kong, then you're pretty much an old school guru. This game is extremely difficult and each level brings it's own aspects and ideas that are brand new to the series. If you didn't already know, it's done by Retro Studios, so the idea they've taken here is really to rebuild it from the ground up, while gathering the old nostalgia of classic DKC games. So you won't find any kremlings here, or really anything from the past Donkey Kong games, save for some barrel blasting and banana collecting. Most of the enemies and level design are different. There are also a slew of collectibles that aren't easy to find- even in the very first level. In fact, I've only gotten one level where I did in fact get all the puzzle pieces and KONG letters. It was actually in the 4th world. If you are a completionist- you will be playing this game for at least 30 hours to get 100%. There is so much to do and get that it's really unreal. Something about the gameplay and levels just feels incomplete though- and the farther I got the more I felt that way. It lacks a sort of "epic" feel, it reminds me of the very frustrating Megaman X6, where they had some good ideas and thoughts, but were executed in a way that was beyond difficult, but frustrating and incomplete. By World 4 I was losing an average of 7 lives or so per level. There is one particular level I died 30 times on. It's not the kind of challenge that is fun to overcome, but the kind of challenge that leaves you throwing your controller. Then you'll go to another level and before you know it, reach the goal and say "that's it?" And it will be. The boss fights especially are dull and boring. However, the level design and platforming usually make up for this. I also should add that Diddy Kong in the single player mode has been removed as a playable character to a powerup. In 2 player mode, you can play as Diddy, but you lose twice as many lives if you die. 2 player mode, while I haven't tried it yet, seems to be pretty popular.
The music for DKCR is good and bad. The original music seems uninspired and bland, while the remixes of classic Donkey Kong themes are extremely well done and put together. I'm wondering if Retro just doesn't have a good music composer and that's why we get this from their products. Metroid Prime really didn't have a incredible soundtrack (but it didn't need to, it just had to fit the scenario.) Overall the music isn't that great here, except for remixed stuff, which is wonderful. I will give them some credit- they do have a nice song for the rocket barrel levels. Sound effects are crisp and clean and well done.
Overall I'm not a graphics fiend and DKCR does a great job with graphical work. The art is crisp and clean and the in game movements and transitions are fluent and well done. The game does a great job of using scenery as a part of the level and things you wouldn't expect to be part of the level just start falling or appear out of no where and cause trouble. It definitely keeps you alert and thinking. The grass effects and lighting are all great. I really can't complain at all about the graphics, they are as good as I'd ask for for a 2D platformer. The story is told via cutscene videos that are great looking. They are few and far between, but they are good when they appear.
Overall DKCR is a nice, lighthearted themed game that appeals to the masses, but really is one of the most challenging and frustrating platformers on the wii and perhaps among all current consoles. But it really doesn't feel like old Donkey Kong Country at all- in fact take out the DKC remixes and put in another character besides Donkey Kong and you could have a unique IP instead of DKCR. It's a good game in it's own right, but the game just feels too much in some areas and not enough in others. There are a ton of things done right here, I'd love to see Nintendo expand upon those ideas, but I really think in 2011 we should be looking for new 3D titles for these guys- especially on the wii console- and not trying to recapture nostalgia so much.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 01/24/11
Game Release: Donkey Kong Country Returns (US, 11/21/10)
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