Review by sircooksalot

"Donkey Kong Country Returns, but with a monkey on his back"

This is going to be quite a lengthy review broken down into the basic elements: graphics, sound, story, control, gameplay, and my opinion. I have tried to remove my bias for the game. DKC came out in 1994 when I was in the 4th grade. The game became an instant classic. For the time, the game was beautiful, graphically. The gameplay was tight and responsive. It was challenging this 9 year old gamer-to-be. To my satisfaction, they made two sequels that were just as good if not better. Ah, we have a rich history, DKC and I. When I heard that a new installment was being released, I was ecstatic. I expected a to see DKC on a new adventure with good gameplay with a large nostalgia factor. I was a bit surprised by the result and the fact that so much had changed, but the developers decided to keep the same name.

Graphics: I'll sum up the graphics in one word: colorful. These graphics are very cartoony. The graphics are far removed from the original's crisp, vivid graphics that were a large step for graphics on the SNES. While the graphics in this installation are not as cutting edge as the original, it seems to compliment the mood of the game. At times through the game you will be playing in the foreground and background. There are also some levels where what you do in the foreground will trigger events that occur in the background. The barrels no longer shoot you in a linear line; they will fire you in all 3 dimensions. Environments in this game are more interactive than the original. Most memorable for me is one where DK is trekking the beach, hiding behind rocks, because the waves will wash you off the screen. Keep in mind, Wii graphics cannot be graded on the same scale as say, Xbox 360. They are some of the best I have seen on the Wii.

Summary: colorful and interactive environments with a new 3D twist
Score 9/10

Sound: Again I'll sum up the music in one word: recycled. Many of the tracks are remixes from the original. Familiars return such as the overworld theme, the ruins theme, and snow barrel blast to name a few. I would say for every 3 DKC songs you hear, there is one original song. You can see this one of two ways: a nostalgic experience that you have been waiting for or a game afraid to try anything original that attempts to ride the coattails of its predecessor. However, the new songs do not seem out of place in the game. Some remakes/sequels have music that nearly destroys the experience, take New Super Mario Bros Wii: WAWA!

The remaining elements of the sound portion: the sound effects seemed to be a little quieter than those in the original, but that's really about it. DK and Diddy's voices have changed a bit as they seem to in every new game they are in. The effects have also changed for the monsters. Remember jumping on a Klap Trap, hearing him yelp out an "OW!" in despair? These monsters aren't so vocal with their demise.

It is worth saying though that sound can be tinkered with whether altering music or sound effects.

Summary: a mostly unoriginal score and very few sound effects for enemies
Score 5/10

Story: Basically, the Tiki mask leader steals DK's banana hoard while his subordinates hypnotize the jungle animals. By fighting these hypnotized, brainwashed animals you stun the tiki masks and have a chance to punch them. Along the journey Cranky makes his return to help you. Cranky seems to have aged beyond his witty cantankerous self. Instead of giving advice and nagging you about how back in his day he would find all the secrets, he offers extra lives and unlockable areas purchased by banana coins. Funky, Candy, and the other members of the Kong family do not return to aid Donkey in this installment. Rambi returns to help Donkey battle baddies, but do not expect to see anymore. Lastly, I know there are fans of K. Rool and Kremlings, so I will say that there is little to no mentioning of them. Most enemies keep the tiki idea as most of them look like tiki drums, masks, and totem poles. There are a few levels with spiders, skeletons, crabs, and bats.

Summary: a simple story not unusual for a platformer, but seems to abandon the roots of DKC
Score: 4/10

Controls: This game must be played with the Wiimote. I think you can play it with the nunchuk too, but I usually play it holding the Wiimote on its side. While holding the Wiimote in this orientation, the directional buttons are just that, and the 1 and 2 buttons are your run, jump, and grapple (for barrels only). The + is for pause. Donkey can still barrel roll, but it requires him to be in a sprint, then the Wiimote must be shaken. For a ground pound, the controller must be shaken while Donkey stands still. And for a new move in the series, Donkey can blow (to blow out fire enemies or to blow a dandelion). You do this by holding down and shaking the Wiimote. Some people find the shaking of the Wiimote frustrating as it doesn't respond as well as pressing a button to roll. While some games are made for the Wiimote like sports games and Order Up!, it seems like it has no place in this game. Since many of the players of DKCR have played DKC, it would have been nice to have the option to use the classic controller.

Summary: clunky controls, unnatural and uncomfortable use of the Wiimote, no option to use classic controller
Score: 3/10

Gameplay: Gameplay encompasses many aspects of a game. I have tried to break it down the best I can. I will probably pay too much attention to some detail and not enough to others.
Donkey and Diddy make their way across the island as they usually do. The areas are themed as they always are with beach, jungle, forest, ruins, cliff, factory, and volcano. They careen across a set of blue dots leaving red dots in their wake (or was it the other way around?).

We are used to DK using barrels as a weapons, checkpoints, and travel in his games, but this one all but abandons the idea. The main way to kill enemies in this game is jumping on them or occasionally a barrel. Sometimes it is necessary to use ground pound or blow before jumping on an enemy. Another element that may not have been as challenging in DKC was how treacherous the environment is. I found myself dying more to the environment and platforming than I did the enemies of a level. The platforming in this game is challenging.

The game is autosaved, so there is no need for a Candy Kong in this game.

DK can jump to any area of the map, so they have removed the need for Funky.

Diddy had a role in DKC. He was more nimble and fast that could cartwheel his way across large crevices, but weaker than Donkey. In this game the only way to play as Diddy is to have a 2nd player in the game. This doesn't actually make things easier as both people lose lives. When a single player is playing, Diddy will hitch a ride on Donkey's back and give him a little hovering power with his rocket pack. You no longer have the option to tag Diddy into play. I have to say that I use his rocket pack quite a bit, but it would have been nice to have Diddy as a stand alone character like in DKC. One reviewer said it best when they said Diddy has been reduced to a powerup. So now instead of only having 2 lives (one for Diddy and one for Donkey), you have 4 hearts. After Diddy's two hearts are gone, you lose him.

DKC has many attractive aspects, but one in particular has always been the hidden areas and collectibles. This game uses banana coins as currency for unlockable map areas and extra lives. Collecting KONG no longer gives extra lives, but unlocks secret levels and a hard mode. Puzzle pieces are the newest item to collect. Most of the time finding these areas require a ground pound or a blow. As hard as these are to find and as many as there are (5 to 9 per level), all they unlock for you is a bestiary and music. In past DKC titles, the bestiary was revealed to you at the end of the game once the boss was beaten.

Some levels are tough to beat, but this game comes with a built in guide where Super Kong can beat it for you. You do not get to keep anything he collects through the level, but do get to continue through the world.

Checkpoints are marked by a pig that waves a flag and not a checkpoint barrel.

The platforming in this game is definitely present. At times it can be very difficult, but most things in this game seem to have a pattern. It requires repetition to master some of the puzzles. In one level of the cliff zone I had blown through 20 lives and finally found a pattern in these rocks that fell in order to get between them. I was trying to rush through, but this pattern required that I stand back and count to a higher number of falling rocks in order to discover the right time to jump. There are plenty of extra lives in this game, but the difficulty of it will make you use them. At times this game seems to be blatantly frustrating.

Summary: challenging platforming that is sometimes endearing but also frustrating (sometimes due to controls other times because of beginner's traps), disappointment among character choices, hidden areas are still alive and well.
Score: 7/10

My Opinion: In this portion I will go over my opinion of the game. Overt bias ruins so many reviews. As a gamer I love nothing more than quality gameplay out of a game. Credit should be given where it is due and it should be critisized for its shortcomings. That's why I have set aside this portion for my opinion. It will not influence the game's score. As I said Donkey Kong Country holds some of my fondest memories of early childhood gaming. The graphics were crisp and vivid, the gameplay was challenging yet fun and submersive, the controls were tight and responsive. All of the following cannot be said for the newest addition to the DKC family. Another reviewer said it best when they said that it's a whole new Country.

The graphics give a lighter feel for the game and doesn't exactly make you feel like you are exploring a jungle, but maybe a jungle gym. DKC had a more realistic feel, while this one is clean but cartoony. The graphics feel like a step backward, but having the 3D element goes where the SNES never could.

The music leaves more to be desired. It seems that the developer decided to keep certain elements and trash others in this game. The music from DKC was kept. The music fit best in DKC. Snow barrel blast sounds like snow barrel blast, but it's a random cliff level with no snow in DKCR. The music in this is uninspiring and makes one wonder just how much effort was put into this game. I counted 2 original songs that I actually liked. If everything was remade and was only able to cling to the original idea, we wouldn't have the amazing music of DKC 2.

The controls will cause several deaths in this game. I would reorient myself in my chair, accidentally shaking the Wiimote, and DK would do a barrel roll down a hole. Not having the chance to use the classic controller dampened my excitement for this game. From reading the boards, I see several people do not like the controls. There is no reason not to implement an alternative method for controls for a game like this which has its roots in the SNES era.

All this game does is reinforce how well the original was made. The platforming is challenging, but overly frustrating due to controls and the beginner's trap. By beginner's trap I mean that there are so many things in the game that will kill you mostly because you have no idea what to do. Near the end of the game, the fun had run out and I just wanted to beat it; playing it seemed like a chore. Removing Diddy as a playable character for single player was a mistake, but I like the idea of having him on your back, too bad they didn't give you the option for both. Like so many remakes today, they don't leave well enough alone; they should have kept the vivid graphics, tight controls, and gameplay. I realize it has a new developer, but why stray from so many of the elements that made it DKC (the family of Kongs, Diddy as a playable character, etc) then keep others like the music from DKC? With all that we're left with in this game, any protagonist could have been put in and the game would have played just the same. I saw that several people gave it a 10. It makes me wonder how they decide what a good game is. This is an ok game, but not for what it claims to be: a sequel to one of the most memorable games I have ever played. I really wanted to like this game as DK and I have found many hours of Kremling-pounding fun in the past, but unfortunately it lacks the quality of its predecessors. It almost seems asif Retro knew gamers were waiting for another DK title and they wanted to make it look DK, but rush all of the other elements in order to ride the coattails of the earlier installments. If I were only rating on emotions, my disappointment and bitterness for this game, I would have given it a 4/10 as a lackluster experience that will be overshadowed by forthcoming games. New gamers who have not played the original are likely to disagree as this is their first experience with DK.

Thank you for reading my review.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 01/26/11

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


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