Review by Archmonk Iga

"Mixing old-school gameplay with the power of the Wii, amazing level design is what makes DK's return to the country so great."

Rare's Donkey Kong Country trilogy on the Super Nintendo were some of the finest gameplay experiences the world had ever experienced at the time. Even now, people are going back to them because they were all so ahead of their time. Unbelievable graphics, creative level designs, and some awesome characters are only a few of the reasons they will forever be remembered by those of us who played them.

Fast-forward to the second decade of the new millennium, and Rare's hold over Donkey Kong Country is long gone. Retro Studios, creators of the basically flawless Metroid Prime trilogy, have taken DKC under their wing and have revamped it into something both brilliantly old-school and new and exciting. While (in this reviewer's personal opinion) Donkey Kong Country Returns isn't quite as revolutionary or heavy-hitting as Metroid Prime, Retro does an excellent job of showing that that sort of thing doesn't matter so much as long as the game is fun as hell. And in case you don't know yet, Donkey Kong Country Returns is fun as hell.

Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong are going bananas over the theft of their bananas by the evil Tiki Tak Tribe. The Kremlings have seemingly said bon voyage to the island where the Kongs live, but those darn Tikis have set up camp and now poor Donkey and Diddy have to set out on another adventure to make things right (in other words, to get their beloved fruit back). While I loved the Kremlings, any complaints about their absence should be disregarded—DKCR is a new DKC game, made by a new developer, and is on a new system. Basically, it's a new beginning to the DKC series, and it is a welcome one. The Tikis are just as goofy as the Kremlings, but in their own new ways. If there was anything I didn't understand about the game's presentation, it was the serious lack of the other Kongs. Aside from Donkey and Diddy, all we get is Cranky Kong and Super Kong. No Dixie, no Funky, no Candy, etc. Sure, their uses in the old games may be unnecessary on the Wii, a much more powerful system than the SNES, but even a couple cameos by them would have been nice. Here's hoping we see them in the sequel (which we WILL get, right Retro?).

Being a huge MP fan and knowing that the same developers are responsible for DKCR, I can't help but compare the graphical improvements they have made to each of these beloved series. MP's visuals were about as good as they could get on the Gamecube, and being a first-person shooter, it really was unbelievable how awesome they were when you looked at the previous Metroid games. And while DKCR certainly has amazing visuals and does some insanely creative things with them throughout each and every level, they aren't quite as revolutionary as MP's were. Then again, the original DKC games had such amazing graphics that it kind of doesn't matter anyway.

But I don't like making the game's graphics sound poorly designed, because they're far from it. The game will do things that will simply stun you upon viewing. Whether it's a tropical setting, rumbling volcano levels, even levels where the environments only allow you to see the DKs' silhouettes, DKCR looks spectacular. Even more impressive are what takes place within the levels—launching the DKs far into the distance then shooting them back towards us, obnoxious bug-like creatures filling the screen from all directions, and other crazy onscreen activities fill up DKCR, making it like no 2D platformer before.

Musically, DKCR brings back many tunes from the series' SNES days and gives them their own little twists to make them memorable on DK's Wii debut. While I think many agree that the game's original tracks are far less memorable, the fact that the revamps are so good helps us look past the blander new tracks. The hilarious monkey sounds are back too, which is great.
SOUNDS: 8/10

With amazing level designs, classic controls, insane difficulty, fun co-op play, and a whole new set of enemies to encounter, DKCR does nearly everything right in its gameplay. You can play it alone or with a friend playing as Diddy, giving New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Kirby's Epic Yarn a run for their money. Using Diddy Kong is a lot different than before too, because he's got a little jetpack to help cover more jump-distance—it's pretty easy to take it for granted, and once you lose him (in one-player mode), the game gets much tougher.

It's hard to even begin talking about how awesome these levels are, just because there are so many of them and their variety are so profound. The classic sidescrolling from the SNES days works just as well on the Wii, but since it's such a powerful system by comparison, the amount of stuff going on in each level is much grander. You really have to play through it to appreciate how much work went into these levels. One addition I really liked was how you could cling to ceilings—they did some very inventive things with that feature. There are also a lot of minecart levels, and even an entire area that consists exclusively of them. Rambi the rhino is back too, and he's as useful as ever… but sadly, he's our only animal friend we'll get to use. Squawks is in the game, but only to help you find puzzle pieces. Other cool level features include riding a whale, fast-paced barrel cannons, giant mechanical hands, crazy barrel-rockets, and so much more. The boss levels are also a lot of fun, though don't require quite as much thinking as the bosses in Metroid games. I really can't describe the scope of Retro's imagination put into the gameplay.

To give the game more of a "Wii" feeling, DKCR requires you to shake the remote to pull of certain monkey-moves. In addition, they allow you to use the classic NES-control style or attach the nunchuk. I always used the NES-control just because I don't like playing sidescrollers with a 360-degree joystick, but both options have their ups and downs. Shaking the remote allows you to pound the ground, roll, and blow a gust of air, depending on what you're having the monkeys do. Shaking the remote while using NES-controls is kind of a pain, especially blowing the air, but I suppose you get used to the discomfort when you've played a good amount.

One of the most important things you should know about DKCR is its challenge—this is one of the hardest games I have played in years! I am not exaggerating. Certain levels will have you retrying dozens of times. In some levels it actually gets ridiculous—you get to the point of frustration where you are completely sick of the game and think they made it so hard just to piss you off rather than to provide you an enjoyable experience. Even before getting to Time Trial and Mirror Mode, the game is challenging. For a game that tries to appeal to younger kids, it's hard to see how Retro thought they would have the patience to play through all these excruciating levels. Even the checkpoints with that VERY unlikable pig don't help relieve the pain caused by some levels.

But despite the unreasonable difficulty in certain levels and annoying controls, playing DKCR is a blast in so many ways. More than anything, the level designs are what make it such an amazing experience. Fingers crossed we get a sequel with more animal friends and less levels that are insanely hard just for the sake of being hard.
GAMEPLAY: 8.5/10

Even if you blaze through DKCR, beating it will be a long and challenging task. To add more game time, you can collect all the puzzle pieces and KONGs throughout every level. To add even more game time, there are the Time Trials and Mirror Mode, both of which are somehow even more ruthless than the main game. Seriously, these two modes are only for the most devoted players, because they are SO hard. It is possible to get 200% in this game if you have the commitment and patience, so many players can expect days and days of play time with DKCR. As a possible downside, the game's heavy difficulty can be a turn-off for some players, and there's no doubt in my mind that many DKCR owners will never beat the game because of that.

A visual masterpiece, DKCR's outstanding levels and two heroes are what make this game a necessity for any Wii owner. Rare must be pretty impressed with what was done with their beloved series by Retro, but the more important question is how impressed the fans are. Suffice it to say, I think we're pretty damn impressed.
OVERALL: 8.4/10

Thanks for reading =)

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 01/10/11, Updated 01/18/11

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

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