Review by VinnyVideo

"A Donkey Kong game without Rare or Kremlings? Yes, it can be done, and if you liked the original DKC, this game is well worth the playthrough."

Donkey Kong Country Returns is, after a decade-plus wait, Nintendo's latest new game in the Donkey Kong series. Does it live up to its predecessors? While the game is by no means perfect, the answer is a resounding yes.

Pros
+ Succeeds in being fun in general
+ Challenging but not outrageously frustrating
+ Finding all the goodies will take you a while
+ Collecting the K-O-N-G letters now serves a useful purpose
+ Includes remixes of most songs from DKC

Cons
- Very limited use of animal buddies
- No Kremlings or other enemies from previous games
- No Kong Family members except for Cranky, who's lost some of his zing himself
- Little use of themes from games other than the original DKC
- Little variety of bonus levels
- Limited use of tag-team moves
- No underwater or snow/ice levels
- No use of weather effects

Gameplay: 9/10
DKC Returns does what New Super Mario Bros. did to the original Super Mario Bros., or to a lesser extent, what Zelda: Twilight Princess did for Zelda 64. In short, it repaints a classic title with a nostalgia-fueled palette.

The story in this game isn't fancy - basically, it's a bunch of jungle tikis carting away Donkey Kong's banana horde (who ever heard of that happening?), and then you go off on an adventure to get your potassium-laden tropical fruits back, while seeing if these baddies have a more sinister purpose of their own. You won't get an epic, convoluted story or hours of live-action cinemas - and that's really just fine, because the gameplay is what really counts in a game.

The gameplay itself, which generally takes place in traditional side-scrolling platform style, feels a whole lot like the original Donkey Kong Country games for the Super NES. DK jumps, runs, rolls, fires from barrel cannons, and does most of the other things you'd expect. The main new additions include some ground-pounding and blowing maneuvers executed by shaking the Wiimote. These new features are added seamlessly and play a part in almost every level in the game. Diddy is around for the ride, too, but in an excessively literal sense - all he does is ride on DK's back and fires his signature Rocket Barrel to provide a few precious seconds of float time, serving about the same purpose F.L.U.D.D. does for most of Super Mario Sunshine.

The levels include most of the environments you'd expect, like jungles, temples, forests, cliffs, the ever-environmentally-unconscious factory, and so forth. Unfortunately, there are no underwater levels (we're told they were too difficult to program effectively), and no true cave levels. In their place is a greater sprinkling of mine cart and rocket barrel levels, which, despite the excitement factor of their breakneck pace, occasionally feel a little repetitive and overdone.

Many of the levels in DKC Returns can safely be described as "difficult," including some fairly early in the game - even World 1 has several traps that are nearly impossible to avoid the first time you meet them. Thankfully, however, checkpoints are available in great abundance, so you'll rarely be forced to replay a difficult sequence many times.

The game's cast of characters has changed drastically. There are no Kremlings - at all. You won't even find Zingers or Gnawty beavers. While the tiki enemies and random jungle animals end up serving about the same purpose, I still think it's sad that the Kremlings - which were vile-looking yet full of personality - are totally gone.

Graphics: 8/10
The original DKC featured graphics that were heralded as easily the most impressive in any game ever produced. While technology has progressed a little bit in those 16 years, the graphics in DKC Returns are impressive but aren't stunning in comparison to other games of today. Still, there are many rich, detailed backgrounds and some impressive explosions, along with some nice 3-D barrel cannon sequences. I wish the developers had made better use of weather effects and changing conditions, though, like the thunderstorms, blizzards, and sunsets that made the original DKC such an amazing experience.

Sound: 8/10
The music in DKC Returns consists primarily of remixes of the main songs used in the original DKC. Some of the arrangements are almost identical to the originals, while others take more liberties with the arrangements. Regardless, most of them are satisfying and successfully fit the mood of the respective levels. There are also a few new pieces, which vary in quality, but it's obvious that they weren't written by the original composer.

Some of the sound effects emitted by the Wiimote may become annoying after a while for some players, but the regular sounds are pretty good, especially the explosions.

Replay: 8/10
DKC Returns isn't just about playing all the levels once and forgetting about the game thereafter. Each level (except for bosses) has 5-9 golden puzzle pieces (lifted straight out of the Banjo series) that you can collect to unlock new images in the gallery, and you can unlock some tough extra levels (yes, they're even harder than the regular levels) if you find all the K-O-N-G letters in a world. Plus, completing a level unlocks a Time Attack mode for that level, and trying to earn all the Gold Medals is going to keep you mighty busy. And even once you've hit 100%, you'll find a particularly dastardly challenge waiting for you! Sadly, however, the two-player tag team mode feels a little thrown-together and serves little purpose for most levels.

Final: 9/10
A Donkey Kong game without Rare or Kremlings? Yes, it can be done, and if you liked the original DKC, this game is well worth the playthrough.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/31/11, Updated 02/28/11

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


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