Donkey Kong Country Returns Review: It’s On Like Donkey Kong… Really, It’s On

Despite Donkey Kong practically kick-starting the Nintendo we know today, the franchise has been pushed to the side since the Super Nintendo days. Nintendo has been pumping out Mario titles like no other recently, Donkey Kong, on the other hand, has been chilling for the last five years after the release of Donkey Kong Jungle Beat for the Gamecube. Thankfully, Retro Studios has finally brought the gorilla back to star in an all new title, Donkey Kong Country Returns. With the developer’s lack of experience with platformers, things may have looked a little shaky to some fans. But rest assured, Donkey Kong Country Returns proves itself worthy of its name.

Story

Donkey Kong’s banana horde has been robbed again! This time, not by King K. Rool, but by strange Tiki creatures that have possessed all the animals in the Jungle to their bidding. Players have to traverse across eight worlds that range from lively jungles to cold metal factories to track down these banana thieves! He’s not alone of course as Diddy Kong joins in on the adventure, along with Cranky Kong who acts as a shop keeper. Although it is strange that characters from the classic Country series, like Funky Kong, are missing in this entry.

Gameplay 

Those familiar with the Donkey Kong Country franchise will feel right at home with Donkey Kong Country Returns. Most platformers have floaty controls with a large window to readjust mid-air, but not Donkey Kong. Donkey Kong jumps like he is a Belmont, falling like a chunk of lead every time he leaves the ground, making every jump a huge risk. Once you take off from the ground, where and how you land is pretty much final. If you didn’t line up it correctly, and don’t have Diddy Kong’s jetpack on hand, you better cross your fingers for a miracle.

While controlling Donkey Kong is difficult, the real challenges come with the levels themselves. Donkey Kong Country Returns has a steady difficulty curve to wean players in, but as you start to climb, Country Returns starts fighting back; slapping you in the face over and over again. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any more difficult, it does. Although, the word challenging probably fits better than difficult. The levels never feel absolutely impossible, driving you to try over and over again until you succeed. When you do succeed, there is much rejoicing!

Donkey Kong Country Returns mainly just focuses on standard platforming, but adds some variety with different means of transportation. The classic mine carts return as challenging as ever. Rambi the rhino also returns allowing you to ram objects, punt enemies and break spikes. And the last classic element, but definitely not the least, are the barrel blasting segments where players cannon from barrel to barrel. New to the mix is a rocket barrel, which has to be propelled around obstacles on screen either horizontally or vertically.

Unfortunately, there are some difficult elements that can’t exactly be filed under “challenging,” but instead frustrating. Specifically, motion controls do nothing but get in the way. Country Returns maps three actions to the waggling of the Wii remote. Shaking the controller while Donkey Kong isn’t moving will cause him to pound the ground, stunning enemies and revealing certain secrets. Ducking while waggling the Wii remote will make Donkey Kong blow away flowers, blow out candles, and other blowing things, which is an awkward and out of place mechanic in itself. And finally, moving while waggling the controller will cause Donkey Kong to roll… the most problematic of all the motion controls. It can be easy to accidentally perform one of the other two moves instead of the move you had in mind, especially in areas where you have a limited time to act. The most troublesome is the roll. If you accidentally roll near the edge, your death is pretty much guaranteed. It would have been nice to just map the roll to a button, remove the blow feature, and leave waggling to pounding the ground.

Multiplayer

Donkey Kong Country Returns features a co-op mode for two players. If you’re familiar with New Super Mario Bros. Wii, you’ll find that the multiplayer isn’t nearly as destructive. Players phase through each other rather than bonce off of each other, which is both helpful and hurtful since it discourages team work, but at the same time makes accidental friendly deaths rare. While the normal platforming is for two players, sections with mountable forms of transportation, like mine carts and the rocket barrel, turn the two player game into a single player game. While both players can control these sections, there’s really no need to as two players acting at the same time only gets in the way. With entire levels dedicated to these sections, the other player is just stuck watching until the level is complete. There’s also a heavy in-balance between characters. Donkey Kong just has his standard set of rolling, jumping etc. Diddy Kong, on the other hand, can do everything Donkey Kong can and more. He has a jet pack, peanut pistols and, in general, just seems more nimble. Really, the only reason to use Donkey Kong is because you can’t use two Diddy Kongs. One player is just stuck being the big D.K.

Lasting Appeal

After playing Donkey Kong Country Returns, I sort of regret hitting Sonic Colors so hard for its lack of length. I think I just simply forgot that platformers tend to be fairly short games. And while Donkey Kong Country Returns is noticeably lengthier than Sonic Colors, it is still a short game. That’s where the collectathon comes in! Each level of Donkey Kong Country Returns has multiple puzzle pieces to find along with the classic KONG letters from the original Donkey Kong Country. While some of these are placed right in your face, others are extremely well hidden. It is going to take you awhile to find all of them. Your reward? Concept art and a music gallery are the immediate rewards. Eventually you will unlock bonus levels and a mirror mode which switches the levels from scrolling left to right to right to left and increases the difficulty of the game, limiting health and the use of certain items. If you want to spend a lot of time in Donkey Kong Country Returns, there is a lot here to keep you busy.

Presentation

Do you even need to ask? It is a classic Nintendo franchise! Of course they are going to put a bunch of money into making it look and sound great! Visually the game is colorful and has some beautiful environments, effects, and…well, everything! It runs smooth as butter and looks great the entire time! It’s just unfortunate that, due to the game’s heavy difficulty, it’s hard to appreciate the effort that went into the beautiful backgrounds. While I didn’t notice any original tracks here, the remixed tracks all sound fantastic and do the originals justice. They are new enough to sound fresh, while still staying familiar with what Donkey Kong Country fans love. 

Conclusion

Did you like New Super Mario Brothers Wii last year? You’re probably going to like Donkey Kong Country Returns. Obviously it is different since it is still Donkey Kong, but if you love platformers, you need to do yourself a favor and pick this one up. There’s a ton to collect and unlock, so if you’re the collector type, you’ll be busy for quite sometime. The difficulty of the game is well balanced, making you feel challenged but without completely squashing you. Issues in the multiplayer and motion controls hurt the game, but definitely don’t ruin it. Overall, this is a great package and a love letter not only to Donkey Kong fans, but fans of platformers in general.

Score: 8.8

Pros:

  • Varied gameplay without interruption of platforming formula
  • Difficult but mostly in a challenging, rather than unfair, way
  • Tons to collect that will keep fans busy well after the credits roll
  • Fantastic visuals coupled with a remixed tracks that do the originals justice
  • Fun multiplayer, despite some issues

Cons:

  • Motion controls get in the way, rather than enhance the experience
  • Many segments don’t lend themselves to multiplayer

3 thoughts on “Donkey Kong Country Returns Review: It’s On Like Donkey Kong… Really, It’s On”

  1. Odd, I cannot edit my previous post. Okay, double post it is. For the most part I agree with Oculin’s review. There are a few points I’d like to make which he did not, and few places we disagree. I’ll tackle this in the same he did for consistency of style. Disclosure: I am in the volcano world, so I haven’t quite beaten the final boss yet.

    Story
    It’s a reboot of the DKC series; it simply has to open with the theft of DK’s bananas starting a blood feud. I will say I miss the characters from the original trilogy. Cranky is back, doing what he does, but no Wrinkly? No Funky? No Kremlings? Well the Kremlings might be the result of Rare’s creation of the original franchise. As of this posting I could find no definite answer as to who retained ownership when Nintendo sold of their stake in Rare to Microsoft. Only two animal companions make a return: Rambi in his usual role, and Squawk as divining rod for the Puzzle Piece collection. All that being said: the game gives a solid base on which to expand. More of the Kong family can be introduced in the sequel and Retro finds their voice with this franchise.

    Gameplay
    At the start, this feels very old school. Donkey’s move set is almost identical, even though the commands are a little different. This is on a Wii, different button combinations is to be expected. Here I disagree with Oculin slightly. I do not fight DK to be a Belmont heavy. He does hit with some force, more than the original DKC, and it’s hard enough you can almost feel it as a player. Also he does fall quickly compared to, say, Mario. I have been able to correct trajectory in midair. Not as much the SNES era games but more so than New Super Mario Brothers. The use of 3D physics in a 2D game was my chief complaint regarding NSMB and NSMBWii. So if you misaim a bit you have about a 50/50 chance to save. That being said: Pray you have Diddy for the tricky jumping sections.

    Speaking of Diddy, he has been demoted to Power Up for the single player campaign. One of the iconic elements of the SNES era was the tag team system. It allowed you to pick the better Kong for the situation. In this version everything is designed around using Donkey and only Donkey. They did include a touch of the “Use ____ here” element in this game by requiring you to have Diddy to reach bonus areas and such, but it’s not quite the same.

    As Oculin said, this game gets rough. But I can say there have only been a few times I’ve ragequit due to the difficulty. Yeah it’s hard, yeah I’ve burned 40 lives on a single level, but for the most part I haven’t stopped having fun. Speaking of Lives, the game doesn’t give you many lives but it does give you a ton of coins. You can use the coins to stock up on lives at Cranky’s shop. This is a nice mechanic. Also they designed many of the harder spots to have a whole lot of bananas right at the checkpoint. There have been several times that I got a new life almost every time I died because of how many bananas are just there to grab.

    Lastly, this treads into the Presentation section and I will discuses it more there, but there is a feeling of samey-ness in the game. Most if not all the levels in a given world feel almost the same. It was most noticeable in the Cave world in which almost every level was either a Rocket Barrel ride or a Mine Cart run. Including the Boss!

    Multiplayer
    I don’t have a player 2, so I can’t speak on this. What I saw of it from Video Games AWESOME was not too impressive.

    Lasting Appeal
    There are so many collectibles that there is a real good chance you’ll keep at it. Not to mention its fun. When I’ve gotten frustrated with a level I can’t get past I have gone back to earlier levels to finish collecting the puzzle pieces and KONG letters just for a change of pace.

    Presentation
    Oh my but this game is shiny! The 3D world used for 2D platforming is beautifully done. Placing the 2D segments in multiple planes of the 3D world was a clever touch that adds to the fun. And the camera work is just golden. You’ll notice when you play that the game zooms out at times to show you everything you need to see, which is also a hint that if it does zoom out, you need to be looking ahead to plan your path, watch for enemies, or whatever. Also there is a good deal going on in the background. Some levels are fun to watch just because you can’t take in what’s going on way back there while focusing on finishing the level. To illustrate my point: the Giant Egg and Mine Cart level. I won’t spoil it. Also, the picture Oculin posted in the presentation section: those rocks for a banana when the shadows line up. Stand there and admire it for a minute when it does.

    But as a counter point, the dynamics of the original game were missing. The first level of DKC ends with a rainstorm. The second starts with a rainstorm. In the Obligatory Ice World, the first level gradually builds to a blizzard. Then DK goes through a cave to avoid the worst of it, and the third level has you fighting through the snowstorm until it blows itself out. The only time I saw anything like that was the factory. The Factory world started out smoggy until you hit the fan at the end of the level. This clears the smog on the over world and the rest of the levels are normal visuals. This leads me into the samey-ness as well. Almost all the levels in each world look the same. And not just “The beach is sandy,” but every beach level is covered with wrecked pirate ships. All of them. Parts of the levels are platforming on or through these wrecks. To be fair the SNES games had elements of this too, but not quite as bad as it seems here.

    Conclusion
    It’s a solid start. The absence of the missing elements is strongly felt, but leaves Retro with a lot of room to expand. It’s challenging without being frustratingly so, and gives you plenty to come back to and play again.

    Score: 7/10

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