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