Review by Lance Rocket

"Not Worthy of the Donkey Kong Country Name"

I was one of the many people who was thoroughly excited when this game was first announced. Just a few months ago I had relived the series while introducing it to my roommate - who immediately became addicted and did not leave our living room for about the next month. He kept commenting on how he couldn't believe how innovative the games were, that they were Super Nintendo games, and how challenging and addicting they were.

Donkey Kong Country took platforming to the next level with it's graphics, music score, and creativity. Never before had a platformer had such realistic detail from front to back. Never before had a player been surprised with such a plethora of secrets and bonuses. Perhaps most important of all was the inclusion of two separate characters with unique skill sets. There was an amount of strategy to having two characters; indeed some of the games secrets could only be reached by using one particular character. Donkey Kong Country's successors only built upon the ground that DKC had laid out for them. More brand new, unique characters. More secrets and bonuses - with the added twist that finding all the bonuses meant more playtime for the player (as in DKC3 with the lost levels). Finally we came upon Donkey Kong 64, which was easily one of the best adventure games on the Nintendo 64. Complete with a sense of humor, over one thousand collectibles, and a grand total of 5 unique playable characters (not to mention all of the great assisting characters from the previous games that we had come to know and love), the game delivered what fans had come to love - hours of gameplay, creative adventure, and occasional frustration.

After playing all the way through Donkey Kong Country Returns, I have to seriously wonder if the developers PLAYED any of the previous titles before starting to make the game. Clearly they at least considered it, because the very opening moments of the game are nearly identical to the first title. But I have to wonder if they got any further than the first few moments of the first level. This game brings absolutely nothing new to the series, and worse yet it actually REVERTS the entire series in a way.

Let me start with Diddy Kong. How could you take the crux of Donkey Kong Country - multiple characters - and just throw it away entirely? Diddy Kong is still present in your adventure, but he has been reduced to a mere power up. Finding him brings you a better jump via his rocket pack, a better roll attack, and two extra hits from enemies. But don't even think about switching over to him. This amazes me. It's not like they were lazy and didn't feel like programming a second playable character - you can play as him in two player mode, and the difference is almost unfair. As always, he is faster and has a much better jump than Donkey Kong. It's almost as if the developers purposely made him unplayable to make the game more difficult. Regardless, I'd like to know how an ENTIRE team of developers thought it would be a good idea to take away one of the best aspects of the Donkey Kong Country series.

Not only can you not play as Diddy, but you will be left without him at crucial times. There are times when Diddy is unnecessary - mine cart levels, rocket booster levels, etc. I do not blame the designers for not giving him to you for these levels. But there are several levels where you are left without Diddy Kong and his inclusion would make the level 6 times easier. I think I hit my breaking point with this phenomena with the final boss fight. You can bring Diddy into the boss fight the FIRST time you fight him (remember, this means a better jump and 4 hits from the enemy as opposed to 2). But if you die, you will not be able to recover Diddy until you lose all your lives or exit the level - and the boss is not easy. Several of these levels that deprive you of Diddy become infinitely easier once you finally decide to leave the level, go to a different level to get Diddy, and return. However, you should not have to do this - the game is hard enough WITH Diddy.

Beyond this, the title suffers from a complete lack of innovation. Remember all the previews for this game? I think every single preview I saw for this game showed that cool silhouette level, which brought a lot of hype in and of itself. This is because it was one of the only original things the developers came up with. Everything else it borrows from the previous titles (with the exception of new enemies, which are totally uninspired and rarely difficult). We have the overworld map with 8 different "worlds." Each world has a totally bland theme - "Jungle" "Beach" "Factory." Each level within these worlds is almost indistinguishable from the next, with some slight exceptions. Where are the wonky level names, the quirky kremlings, the helpful kooky family members? All gone - with the exception of Cranky Kong, who seems to be nothing but an afterthought. At one point, I rebooted my game and I only had two extra lives at my disposal. I got a "note" from Cranky that he had left me more balloons. Signed off "Love Cranky". Umm, WHAT? Cranky may love his family and he shows as much by helping out - but the Cranky we all know and love would never EVER admit it out loud. Again I ask, did the developers even play the games before trying to make this one?

I think I've vented my frustrations enough, so I will now get to what IS good about this mostly passable game. It is a lot of fun to play, and you will definitely feel moments of nostalgia via the developers supplying familiar music and some familiar elements of previous gameplay, though it is very weeded out from previous installments. The game is DIFFICULT, even for seasoned veterans. There are plenty of collectible items to be found, and the game is riddled with hidden areas. The player that tries to collect everything will have a much more difficult time than those who just play through. There are some levels that have hints of innovation - which is mostly a product of a stronger processor than the SNES had. They have actually upgraded the boss battles from before - most of the boss battles are pretty difficult, which is a refreshing change from before.

This game looks like Donkey Kong Country, sounds like Donkey Kong Country, and smells like Donkey Kong Country. But it does not feel like Donkey Kong Country. Prior to this installment, the series had an amazing ability to redefine itself and make the game even more fun and challenging than it had been before. I think if the game had been released with a different name, and they swapped out Donkey Kong for some other completely random character, I would find it to be a perfectly fun game. But the fact of the matter is that the developers missed their mark here. I hope they will think twice before they decide to release another game and return to the heart of what Donkey Kong Country was supposed to be.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 12/06/10

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

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