Review by noseriouslyguys

"A Defining Game of this Console Generation"

Two-Sentence Review:
If you own a Wii or a Wii U and enjoy traditional video games, you need Donkey Kong Country Returns in your collection. This game is the reason you bought the system.

Game Overview:
Donkey Kong Country Returns is a fast-paced, side-scrolling platformer for one or two players simultaneously. The game's eight worlds and abundance of long levels will probably take you around 20 hours or more to play through the first time. Finding all the hidden areas of the game will take much longer, however, and will involve playing through most levels multiple times, searching everywhere for things you may have missed. The game keeps track of the secrets you uncover, and rewards you with extra levels and various other bonuses (developmental concept art pieces and the like) along the way. Beyond that, once each level is completed, you are given a set of three time challenges (bronze, silver, and gold rankings) that encourage you to play through that level in the fastest possible time. This all serves to provide engaging reasons to play through the same level multiple times — far more-so than most other games in the genre, even previous games in the series. As a result, the game feels brimming with content and reasons to keep playing.

Gameplay:
This game is fun. Really fun. It's also very challenging. And it's that very challenge that allows the game to be so fun. This is because the game delights in throwing completely unexpected challenges at the player out of nowhere — mid-stage, mid-JUMP even — as you're struggling to keep your footing and avoid enemies. The player is forced to really focus on what's going on if they want to survive, relying on instinctual reactions and making split-second decisions about how best to handle the situations being thrown at them. Nearly every single new level had me frantically saying something along the lines of, "What is THAT? How am I supposed to handle THAT!? I'm totally going to die aren't I... AH, NO NO NO, DON'T DO THAT!! Whew, I made it!!" The developers managed to consistently surprise me with almost every single passing stage, and that is truly an amazing accomplishment.

While dealing with the tension created by the game's up-tempo pacing and rigid difficulty, players are also expected to keep an eye out for secret areas and items. These secrets come in many forms, the likes of which are fairly common in platforming games like this — fake walls, out-of-the-way platforms, breakable surfaces, and so on. But Donkey Kong Country Returns unassumingly introduces its own mechanic, which, though it might seem fairly pointless or added just for laughs at first, is implemented in such a manner that it ends up adding a lot of variety to the overall game. I'm referring to the player's ability to blow on things. Yep. Amidst all the chaos happening around you, you can choose to bend over and gently blow on the petals of a nearby flower, often being rewarded for doing so in some small way. But this simple action isn't just tacked on as an after-thought; it is fully explored and integrated into the game itself. You'll find flame-engulfed enemies who must first be blown out before they can be attacked, or background lights that, when all are blown out, reveal a secret. These little opportunities are everywhere, so much so that they end up instilling the game with that classic Nintendo "secrets could be anywhere!" feeling found in such legendary games as Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and yes, the original Donkey Kong Country. Tapping into a long-forgotten element of the best of classic gaming? Chalk up another amazing accomplishment for the developers of this game.

There are platforming concepts in Donkey Kong Country Returns that I have never seen in any other game in my 20+ years of gaming experience. Specifically, there are platforms doing things I've never seen a platform do. Let that sink in for a second. How many games can you say that about? The game even manages to breathe creative and new life into returning series stage types like the riding-in-a-minecart-without-brakes levels, so that they never feel forced or played-out. Altogether, this is one of the most exciting and consistently-surprising games I have ever played.

Despite all my praise, however, there is one rather serious flaw with the gameplay. The player's primary method of attack is a "somersault" attack that plows through the enemy. This critical move often requires absolute precision because of how fast-paced and challenging the game is. But the developers curiously chose to assign this move not to an actual button, but to the "shake the controller" motion so often employed by Wii games. You will likely eventually get the hang of it, but it's still inherently somewhat imprecise. There should have been an option to play with the Wii's Classic Controller, using traditional Super Nintendo controls. (There is a homebrew solution for this, but it is much too elaborate for the general public.) Were it not for how excellent the rest of the game is, this would have been a much bigger point of contention. It is not enough of a reason to ignore this otherwise outstanding game.

The two-player simultaneous cooperative mode works surprisingly well. Players are unable to hurt each other. Rather, they must cooperate by verbally deciding with each other how they're going to tackle the next challenge, coordinate their attacks, or time their jumps. When one character falls off-screen for more than three seconds, the game intelligently brings that player ahead to where the other player is. This is bar-none the best cooperative platformer I've ever played, beating out New Super Mario Bros. Wii (in which players often accidentally get in each others' way) and Kirby Super Star (in which the second player is treated as just a "support" character, unable to make any of the decisions).

As an aside, allow me to talk to fans of the series. You will notice the following: the absence of swimming levels, the presence of only one animal companion (Rambi, and he shows up very infrequently), the lack of supporting Kong characters and their related mini-games (aside from Cranky), and the lack of the ability to throw your partner in order to reach higher areas. I might agree that the absence of some of these series traditions would be disappointing, were their omission not more than made up for by the extreme quality of the resulting game. Retro removed stuff, but they also added stuff. It does not change the fact that the game is exceptionally fun.

Presentation:
This game has style to spare. The colors are vibrant, the levels' themes are varied and continuously fresh, the animation is full of character, the menus are simple and clean, and most importantly, the game has personality and charm that makes it stand out among its peers. At all times, the game world feels alive. Even routine video game staples such as the title screen and file-select screen are pleasantly bright, lively, and active.

While many of the gameplay concepts were based upon those found in the original Super Nintendo trilogy, the enemy characters in this game are entirely new to the series. These new characters are much more cute and silly than their predecessors, allowing the developers to inject a bit of their own personality into a series popularized by another company. This is most heavily explored during the fights with the bosses, many of whom end up coming across as more adorable than dangerous. Fans of the series may be initially put off by this change, but I personally prefer that the new developers chose to create their own style instead of cheaply imitating that of the previous developers.

Musically, the game features new, high-fidelity arrangements of nearly all the tracks from the Super Nintendo original, along with a few new pieces. Stage background music is repeated surprisingly infrequently between stages, and when a piece is reused, it's usually a slightly different variation. This means that the music is always very well-suited for the atmosphere of the stage. Kenji Yamamoto (of modern Metroid fame) headed up the composition team.

Final Notes:
There are a number of reviews around the Internet making outrageously negative claims about the quality of this game. I refuse to believe that anyone could play this game and not enjoy themselves, unless of course they are coming in with some sort of bias. The fact that this game currently has an averaged score below 90% is absolute madness. I've written this review to do my part to help this game receive the kind of attention it deserves and to provide a counterpoint to the reviews of those unfortunate souls who find themselves unable to appreciate this modern classic.

Pros:
- Extremely fun
- Masterful level design
- Often-unprecedented platforming ideas
- Many reasons to replay levels
- Exemplary 2-player simultaneous gameplay

Cons:
- No option to play with the Classic Controller or assign the main attack to a button

Final Score: 10/10 (98%)

General Retail Price as of This Review: $50
Price Worth Paying: $50

About the Reviewer:
I'm a 29-year-old who grew up playing video games. I play games from every genre and have no bias towards any specific company or developer, so I try to come into every new game with an open mind. I care about gameplay systems over presentation in all cases, although I also have a deep appreciation for game music and skillful visual design. I design and program games in my spare time, so I have a good idea of what is and is not possible in a game, and shade my reviews accordingly.

The Reviewer's History with this Series:
The Donkey Kong Country games on the Super Nintendo are easily among my most-played and favorite games. I've played every game in the series through at least once to 100% completion (with the exception of Donkey Kong Land 2 and 3), including the spin-off Donkey Kong 64.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 10/09/13

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


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