Review by Cam424
Welcome to the disappointing jungle.
As corny as it sounds, the Donkey Kong Country series has a special place in my heart. I grew up on the Super Nintendo and N64, so Rare's take on the classic Nintendo character is a favorite for me. There's so much to think about when one brings up Donkey Kong Country. Great graphics, fantastic level design, neat secrets, among more. Last year when Donkey Kong Country Returns was announced, I was excited to see one of my favorite franchises brought back. Well, a year has passed, and I've played Donkey Kong Country Returns. Sadly, I can't say that this is a good entry to the series. Perhaps I expected too much, but overall, I'm VERY disappointed.
This is a Donkey Kong Country game. If you expect some Shakespearian work of art, don't even bother. Donkey Kong Country Returns' plot is focused on a menacing Tiki creature hypnotizing all of the animals in Donkey Kong Country, and forcing them to steal our eponymous hero's hoard of bananas....and that's it. You spend the entire game hopping around from landscape to landscape, beating bosses, collecting bananas, and eventually defeating the leader of the Tikis. Although previous DKC games have followed this basic plot, DKCR clearly had the opportunity to revamp the series, but it didn't, instead opting for a cheap "Remember the old days?" motif.
Many characters from previous DKC games are omitted. In this game, you only get to see Donkey Kong, Diddy Kong, and Cranky Kong. Gamers who expect to see previous villains like Kremlings and K. Rool himself will feel short-changed, as all of the enemies consist of basic-looking animals, and various Tiki creatures, which seem completely out of place for this setting and art style. It almost seems as if the Tikis belonged to a scrapped concept by Retro Studios, and out of laziness, they just re-used the models.
For the small minority of gamers who aren't familiar with how these games work, Donkey Kong Country Returns is a throwback to the old DKC games, in which Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong run, jump, swim, fly, bounce, and traverse their way through exciting landscapes, intriguing puzzles, and many hazards. This formula returns in DKCR, although it's missing a lot. To put it bluntly, DKCR has become simplified to the extent where you feel like you're playing a knock-off of the original DKC games, and not a sequel. Compared to the original games, the level and puzzle design is incredibly simple and boring. It took me around 1-3 minutes to complete the average level in DKCR with ease. I found myself having extra lives in the range of 15-20. Hazards and puzzles are laughable, as any small child can think of a good way to overcome them within seconds. DKCR prides itself on being slightly ambitious, and having interesting levels, such as a beach where everything is a silhouette, and caves that get bombarded with tidal waves. I've seen these types of levels in games before, and frankly, I was bored.
As for gameplay and controls, DKCR is a step down. One of DKC's big features was the concept of a tag-team. If you didn't like Donkey Kong, you could press a button and play as the faster, lighter Diddy Kong. This concept has been abandoned in DKCR, as Diddy simply rides on Donkey Kong's back the whole time, providing an incredibly-cheap jetpack boost with the push of a button. DKCR also abandons the concept of a two-hit kill. In the old games, if a player was hit, they'd lose their respectable primate. In this game, each character has two hits that kill them. Unless you're a novice gamer, this feature is pretty useless, and makes having Diddy in the game altogether equally useless.
Much like the first DKC games, players can get a lot of special items, such as bananas, coins, and puzzle pieces. These items can be used in Cranky Kong's shop, where you can buy one-ups, banana bunches, and more. Had this game been more difficult, the idea of Cranky's Shop would be great, but since Retro Studios dumbed it down, it's just a waste of space.
When I think of the Donkey Kong Country series, I immediately think of insane graphics, beautiful, vivid levels, and memorable character design. In Donkey Kong Country Returns, none of this applies. This game is so forgettable and bland-looking that I was on the verge of returning it to the store due to buyer's remorse. What happened? Retro Studios did a fantastic job with Metroid Prime, yet they can't design simpler character models? Since this is a Wii game, the graphics are nothing special in terms of polygon count, on-screen objects, etc. Besides Donkey Kong, Diddy Kong, and Cranky Kong, no characters in this game feel like they were fit for the DKC franchise. The enemies in this game seem like they were taken from a number of forgettable platformers from the early-2000's.
The level design in this game isn't good, either. In previous games where you would find crazy locations like factories, swamps, pirate ships, sawmills, boilers, etc., you're met with level archetypes like Jungles, Mountains, Beaches, etc. Upon finishing this game, I actually thought to myself if this was a completely different game before DK characters were thrown in it.
The sound effects and music in DKCR are terrible. I can't even say that there's original music in the game. A majority of the music featured in DKCR consists of remixes/remakes of previous music from DKC1. This would normally be acceptable, and quite nostalgic, but the music was composed with some of the corniest MIDI/Synth instruments I've heard in ages. A lowlight of the soundtrack happens to be the music for the beach levels, which may be the most cliche, hackneyed music I've ever heard.
If you want to listen to different songs, go ahead and try. Many songs repeat themselves throughout the game. Essentially, you have a single song for each world, with minor remixes thrown in. As for sound effects, they're just bland, and sometimes annoying. Every single time you jump, walk, ground-pound, or do anything, DK, Diddy, or Rambi the Rhino makes an obnoxious sound that makes you want to put the TV on mute.
This game was such a disappointment in my opinion. I really wanted to enjoy it, and before its release, I couldn't wait for it. The sad truth is, you can't revive a classic franchise if you're not 100% familiar with it. Retro Studios had a great opportunity to make one of this generation's greatest adventure games, and what they developed was just "bad" in every sense of the word.
Rating: 2.0 - Poor
Product Release: Donkey Kong Country Returns (US, 11/21/10)
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