Review by Shining_Knight7

"More fun than a barrel of monkeys... or even the original for that matter!"

Introduction: Wow... Donkey Kong Country, now that's a game that brings back some memories. The memorable cast of characters, amazing graphics for its time, award winning soundtrack and addictively amazing stage designs of this series have and still do ring true in the hearts and minds of many gamers. Since then, Donkey Kong and his friends have been missing in action excluding spin-off titles such as King of Swing and Jungle Beat - each interesting in their own rite but none that could satisfy people like a real installment of the Donkey Kong Country franchise. Flash forward nearly a decade and word came out to me via Nintendo Week that a new Donkey Kong Country was in the works. Pretty big news. So, I'm sure everyone is wondering if it can stack up to its rich legacy and for those new to Donkey Kong, if it's worth its weight in well, bananas or gold or cash for that matter? If you want a seasoned, expert hardcore gamer's opinion on this matter then you've come to the right place. Let's begin!

Gameplay - Intro: In this latest addition to the series, you reprise the roles of title characters, Donkey Kong (an ape) and his chimpanzee best friend and sidekick, Diddy Kong (ironically of no relation). In it, as with past installments of the series, you'll be running, barrel-rolling, jumping and more through eight action-packed worlds collecting bananas, KONG letters, bananas coins, 1up balloons, finding secret bonus areas and more as you make your way to the goal of each stage. The game is loaded with plenty of puzzle elements to interact with and countless baddies which makes the stages feel lively and complete. Many enemies can be defeated simply by either jumping on them one or more times, by rolling through them or both. Some enemies however must be avoided altogether or extinguished first before jumping on them in order to avoid taking damage. Getting hit twice will cost you one life unless you use a special item to increase your maximum health or if you have Diddy Kong on your back (or if you're Diddy, riding on Donkey Kong's back) to share health with. On the plus side, most stages have one or more checkpoints that upon passing you can start at if you die.

The game is as simple or challenging as you want it to be. Do you aim for exploring every nook and cranny, collecting every little extra and find every last secret or do you just want to survive and make your way to the climatic final battle? Donkey Kong Country as a series has always been the type of game where you make what you want out of it and you get as much or as little as you put into it. It's very straight forward in the sense that all you have to do is make it to the end in one piece but you're strongly encouraged to and rewarded for collecting anything and everything you can get your hands on. Anyone who has played a past Donkey Kong Country game will NOT be disappointed and should know what to expect.

The stages range from moderate and refreshing to lengthy in length but never does a stage feel TOO long or drawn out. They are all very lovingly handcrafted with much time and attention focused on even the most minor of details and it shows. The game also focuses on originality, FINALLY deviating itself from the same tired and beaten return of the Kremlings and King K. Rool, by implementing new enemies and a new threat for Donkey, Diddy and their precious banana horde. While they leave a little bit to be desired, I welcome them with open arms over years of the same old baddies any day.

At any time on the map screen, a second player may join or leave the action through the role of Diddy Kong who can either fight and explore alongside Donkey Kong or hop on his back to power-up his jumping and barrel rolling capabilities as well as share health. Players also share lives. Like in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, a player who has lost a life can immediately get back into the game without waiting and without restarting the stage as so long as both players don't die at the same time. A player may also get another player back in without using a spare life by breaking open a DK barrel. What did I tell ya about those barrels full of monkeys, eh? Brilliant.

No matter how you play, the stages fit your playing style of choice like a glove and feel meant for both single and multiplayer experiences. Many of the later stages with more complex puzzle elements, while they can be simply completed by going solo and having Diddy strapped to your back for upgraded maneuverability, are much more rewarding when playing with a friend as those same stages require a good deal of teamwork when moving around separately in order to keep both players alive and advancing while collecting goodies at the same time. I personally had tons of fun in stages where platforms moved based on the weight put on them and I had to work with my partner to help balance or off-set them in order to either help them or myself cross or access hidden areas and goodies. Needless to say, the gameplay mechanics, controls, etc. are all time-tested and work very fluidly with a natural feel.

In closing, I honestly became sad to the point of getting teary eyed after completely beating this game and finding every last secret because I had SO much fun playing it that I never wanted the adventure to end. I've been playing this and the original hand in hand as of late and was wishing the original felt as rewarding to play as this game.

Overall Gameplay Score: 10 out of 10

Controls: You can control the game with two control schemes. Holding the Wii Remote sideways or by using both the Wii Remote and Nunchuck, holding the remote vertically. In terms of which is better? Honestly they both feel great and it's strictly a matter of preference however I prefer the Wii Remote + Nunchuck method because it gets you more into the game, especially when you're pounding things silly, swinging both arms wildly just like Donkey Kong himself does. Players who favor holding the remote sideways can get into the shaking fun too by shaking the Wii Remote like one would in Wario Land: Shake It but it feels more free spirited and fun to be able to use both arms independently shaking both the nunchuck and remote than together at the same time with just the remote by itself.

There's not too many buttons to memorize. You got one for jumping and one for grabbing. If you have Diddy on your back, or if you are playing as Diddy, you can hover for a short period of time by pressing and holding the jump button. In two player mode, either player can press the button for grabbing while next to their partner to have Diddy hop on Donkey Kong's back and by player two for Diddy to dismount as well. Shaking the controller method of choice (NOTE: Those who are using both the nunchuck and remote will need to shake each frantically in rhythm - i.e. left, right, left, right, etc.) performs a ground pound for as long as you continue to shake. Moving left or right while performing a single shake of the remote will execute a barrel roll which is needed for some jumps. With Diddy on your back, you can shake continuously to perform the new Kong Roll which will allow you to roll for as long as you keep shaking. Shaking while pressing and holding, down, will allow you to blow air which is needed for finding hidden items within plants, blowing pinwheels that are often parts of puzzle elements and for putting out fiery enemies so that they may be harmed.

The controls are fluid and highly responsive however from experience, with so much to remember I sometime mix up blowing with rolling due to holding in the wrong direction while shaking. All in all, not bad at all.

Control Score: 9 out 10 - When a game feels as enjoyable to play as it looks, you know you got a winning formula.

Story: If you've ever played a Donkey Kong Country game before, you know the story. Just replace the kremlings with evil tikis. For those unfamiliar with the story, it goes like this. Donkey Kong's precious banana horde has been stolen... again! Needless to say, he wants them back, every last one. This time however, King K. Rool is for once not behind their disappearance. Instead, an evil tribe of volcanic tikis did by hypnotizing the inhabitants of the island into stealing every banana on the island. Why they need the bananas is not initially known and I refuse to spoil it. Anyways, when they finally get around to hypnotizing Donkey Kong, much to the tiki's surprise, it has no effect. Puzzled, Donkey Kong stares at the tiki wondering what the hell are you trying to do to me? The tiki tries again, and fails. Annoyed, Donkey Kong kicks the crap out of the tiki (which you take an active part in during the first stage) and steps outside. It doesn't take long afterwards to realize his bananas are missing for millionth time. Fortunately for Donkey Kong, carrying that many bananas is impossible to do without dropping some along the way and so a convenient trail of them are left in their captor's wake for Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong to follow.

The story is simple. There is no dialogue but the actions and body language of the characters do a phenomenal job getting across to us the feelings of the story's major players as the story unfolds. This is done through a series of short, well polished, detailed cut-scenes that have to be seen in order to be appreciated. However, it was the ones before and after a boss battle that definitely left me with a smile on my face or a good chuckle. Don't just go watching them on YouTube though, as tempting as it may seem as it's far more rewarding if you watch each part as you get there.

(Fun Fact: The Donkey Kong you know and love in the Donkey Kong Country series isn't the original Donkey Kong who kidnapped Pauline and battled Mario that starred in the self-titled arcade legend. That Donkey Kong is actually this Donkey Kong's grandpa, now known as Cranky Kong. Cranky's son and this Donkey Kong's father is Donkey Kong Jr., also from the arcade era that had to rescue Cranky from Mario. Confusing family tree, isn't it?)

Story Score: 8 out of 10

Graphics: I've always wondered what Donkey Kong's world would look like in fully updated graphics and now I have my answer. The designers at Retro Studios put a painstaking level of attention to detail and their craftsmanship shows through and through with the character and enemy designs as well as the look and feel of each stage and its backgrounds. The graphics and animation are very fluid and beautifully rendered. I felt fully immersed very quickly, my only wish is that I could've seen something this beautiful on the 3DS. It really is breathtaking what they've done it and is fitting for the return of the true king of the jungle. Also, some stages have a real artsy effect where everything is a silhouette (the best way I describe this is think about the people completely colored black on the iTunes gift cards but things like their iPod or earbuds would stand out in another solid color) except for DK's tie and Diddy's clothes which appear as a solid shade of red. I wish more stages did such a beautiful effect though.

I simply can't get enough and for the Wii, I think this is the best it's going to get with only one or two games for the Wii ahead of it such as Zelda: Twilight Princess.

Graphics Score: 10 out of 10

Sound: Where to begin? The music for one is amazing. It's a mix of original tunes and beautiful remakes of tunes from the original Donkey Kong Country. Fans will instantly recognize tunes from classic stages such as Jungle Hijinx and Forest Frenzy lovingly remade with a lush array of new instruments and awe-inspiring depth. Nothing was wasted and it all very carefully fits the mood and feel of each stage.

However, what I liked most are the minor and often overlooked details. The sound effects are world class. If you listen closely you can hear an array of ambience from each stage, including the sounds of not only your own but each enemy's footsteps and would you believe it sounds different based on what they are and what they're walking on? Other enemies, like the most basic of tikis that populate the early stages can even be heard making soft noises or chuckles if left alone long enough. Birds make their appropriate cries and almost every enemy has their own special sound effects from moving, to attacking or noticing you, when they're attacked and when they're defeated. It all fills out the game's environment so smoothly and I deeply appreciate that.

Last but not least, I love the sounds / voices that Donkey Kong, Diddy Kong and Cranky Kong make. They actually fit this time unlike in past games that they were featured in. It's very pleasing to the ears and it's just as I always imagined how they should sound.

Sound Score: 9 out of 10 - The music is wonderful and while its no Super Mario Galaxy, what it lacks in music, it more than makes up for with it rich sound effects that add alot to the game's atmosphere.

Replay Value, Play Time & Fun Factor: Donkey Kong Country Returns delivers alot for its value and everyone at Retro Studios did their best to make sure this game doesn't disappoint in any area. Replay Value was NOT overlooked thankfully. Besides featuring a multi-player co-op mode where you and a friend or family member can work together, the game is packed with a very rewarding ending as well as enough extras to warrant being thorough with the game. Each stage has you searching for puzzle pieces and collecting KONG letters. Each stage has anywhere from five to nine hidden puzzle pieces and finding them all within a stage will unlock either a new piece of artwork, dioramas or music from the game's soundtrack. Collecting all of the K, O, N and G letters within each stage of a world unlocks a hidden, more challenging stage. Completing all of those stages unlocks another fun and challenging set of surprises which again I refuse to spoil. If you're up for a real challenge, I recommend that you make it a point to complete these hidden stages by spelling KONG in every stage of every world. It's worth it.

Cranky Kong sells a key in his shop in each world that unlocks an extra stage you normally can't reach on your own. If you want every KONG letter and puzzle piece, you must buy these.

Secrets aside, you'll also have access to a Time Trial mode where you can take a crack at getting a gold, silver or bronze medal. Personally I found the times for Gold a little unforgiving but perhaps it's just because I love taking my time and soaking in all this game has to offer. That and there's probably shortcuts I still haven't discovered yet.

Unlocking extras isn't frustrating at all, especially with the help of a friend. KONG letters are always in plain sight but most of them require skill and careful planning to access. If you die, you'll have to recollect them unless you passed a checkpoint - the ones you collected up to that checkpoint remain yours. All KONG letters must be collected in a single play-through in order to count.

Puzzle pieces on the other hand are hidden in often very clever spaces. Some of which right under your nose and will have you saying, "I can't believe I missed that!!!" when you ultimately give up and purchase some hired help which I'll get to soon enough. However some, especially in the later stages are tucked away in a such a crazy place that you probably will never find them without said help which is a little cheap but what can you do? Unlike the KONG letters, you don't have to get them all in one shot. You also get to keep the ones you collected in a stage even if you die in the process regardless of if you passed a checkpoint or not. The only catch is you have to finish the stage to officially keep them or else you'll have to collect them again. While you can always choose to find the pieces on your own or with a friend, if you feel like you need some help, you can purchase a parrot from Cranky Kong's shop with some banana coins. Squawks the parrot will help you find them by, well, squawking when you're near one you haven't found yet. Just keep in mind that exiting a stage by means other than winning it, will cause you to forfeit any puzzle pieces of KONG letters you found during that attempt.

With plenty of stages, two player cooperative mode and alot of hidden and not-so-hidden goodies to hunt for you, you really can't lose. Your efforts are rewarded with hidden stages, art, music, and more plus a special challenge for experts which I sadly can't give away.

Replay Value Score: 8 out of 10... Welcome to the country, you'll be sure to be spending a good amount of time collecting KONG letters and puzzle pieces to unlock some truly rewarding incentives including a much higher difficulty level to give each stage one last hurrah. If you don't care for the artwork, music or dioramas - one should, at the very least, collect the KONG letters to unlock the hidden stages and their own special surprise if you complete those.

Overall Play Time & Fun Factor: 8 out of 10 - You get plenty of bang for your buck. Even if you ignore all the extras and just breeze through the stages, you'll be finding yourself enjoying a few good days or weeks depending on how long you play per day in DK's neck of the woods. If you make the most out of you experience, increase the game play time by that much more.

Final Verdict: So, would a Donkey Kong Country without Kremlings, King K. Rool or Rare's involvement be just as sweet? Honestly? The answer is a joyful yes. I honestly can't stop gushing about this game and that is very seldom for a gamer as demanding as myself - heck, check out my other reviews if you don't believe me. Donkey Kong Country Returns definitely delivers and if I may be so bold, say that it even outclasses the three Super Nintendo classics that set the series' golden standard. Everything is made with love, care and plenty of planning. Every aspect of this game is proof of that from its graphics and its music but most importantly, what Cranky Kong preached about most in his glory days... the gameplay! It all shines through, making this a truly must-have gaming experience.

Seriously, after all I said, why are you still reading this when you can buy it!? Buy it now, in new condition to make sure scratches don't ruin any part of this!

Final Score: 9 out 10 - If you're looking for more fun than a barrel full of monkeys, which this game has plenty of by the way, then you've come to the right place! Not too many games earn a near perfect or perfect score from me. A game must truly earn such a rating and I use this rating rather sparingly but this game has definitely earned its keep. It does the series justice and raises the bar along with a whole new level of expectations for the Donkey Kong Country series. Here's to hoping they make a sequel - perhaps a Diddy's Kong Quest Returns! One can only hope but then I'd probably start missing Donkey Kong himself too much.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 04/27/11, Updated 10/31/11

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

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