1 Store223 Reviews
Pros: challenging, quirky humor, incredible level design, action packed
Cons: sometimes a little too hard
Other than a couple rounds of Dr. Mario online, I’ve played nothing but platform games over the last month or so. It started with Kirby’s Return to Dreamland; that was really easy. Then I made my way through New Super Mario Bros Wii, which was much more challenging and kicked my butt more than a few times. Recently I barreled my way through Donkey Kong Country Returns, a highly addictive and challenging experience developed by Retro Studios (who also brought Metroid into the next generation with the Prime series in 2002). The Super Nintendo was the only Nintendo console I never owned, but my neighbor across the street had it and I remember going over there all the time to play Mortal Kombat and the original Donkey Kong Country that was released by Rare.
Retro Studios did an amazing job bringing Donkey Kong into this generation. They didn’t change it up drastically like they did with Metroid and instead kept the core side-scrolling platform gameplay intact. DKCR was built from the ground up for the Wii and the final product that came to be reflects that. There isn’t much to the story, but something’s got the island animals all a ruckus and they’ve assisted these Tiki characters in stealing Donkey Kong’s banana stockpile. Thus the adventure begins as you make your way through 8 themed locations around the island to get the bananas back. The story is simple, but it gives Donkey Kong reason to rhyme instead of doing stuff with no particular point. The island serves as DKCR’s “overworld” map where you can choose the area to go to and then make your way along a level board to play each level. Retro kept the level map simple, but effective. It’s definitely not as elaborate as New Super Mario Bros.
The platforming madness is where it is at. Let’s be honest here, DKCR is hard. It’s one of the hardest games I’ve played in a long time and I think a majority of Donkey Kong veterans will even run into some troublesome parts during the course of the game. Some levels are simple and can be completed without breaking much of a sweat, but the majority of them I saw the continue screen several times. The goal is to make your way through multiple enemies and environment hazards to the big floating barrel at the end of each level and win a lottery prize. Levels contain a good mixture of side-scrolling and vertical platforming, and Retro really took advantage of the Wii’s power to make an amazing experience. A couple of the levels in the last two areas on the island are incredibly difficult and tested every bit of timing and precision skills I had to make it to the completion barrel. Before progressing to each new area you fight a boss that’s being hypnotized by these strange Tiki characters. None of the boss fights are too challenging with the help of Diddy’s jet pack. Without him though a few can get tricky. They weren’t the most memorable bosses, one of them is downright annoying (robot chicken), but they were still enjoyable to defeat. Not that I like to admit my gamer stupidity, but it took me close to 50 tries before I figured out the trick to beating the final boss. D’oh!
DKCR can be played with the nunchuck/Wiimote combination or by holding the Wiimote sideways like a traditional controller. I tried both and I preferred and recommend playing with the remote on its side and using the directional pad for movement and 1 and 2 buttons for jumping and running. Some of Donkey Kong’s moves require shaking the remote while pushing a certain direction and the D-pad is more precise than the analog stick. Using the motion controls for DK’s ground pound makes perfect sense because the motions are similar. Shaking the remote to blow and roll though just doesn’t make much sense to me. At least Retro put some thought into incorporating it and not an afterthought like Twilight Princess. There are many switches where the ground pound will be used to open up new areas, but I rarely used DK’s roll attack except for when it was required.
Diddy Kong appears in each level in barrels conveniently marked “DK.” His contribution comes in the form of his jet-fueled backpack that allows you to hover in the air for a few seconds. This makes many areas of certain levels a lot easier to manage. Take too many hits though and you lose him until you come across the next DK barrel. Thankfully there are checkpoints during each level and usually there’s a DK barrel somewhere close. Rambi the Rhinoceros also makes a couple of appearances though he’s not utilized in as many levels as I would have liked. There are many hidden areas to find in every level. One area of the island actually requires you to find several hidden switches in order to progress any further. I didn’t find them my first time through each of those levels, and I dreaded having to play some of them again because it took me probably thirty tries to finish those levels.
If Mario collects coins, then Donkey Kong collects bananas. There are tons of bananas spread throughout each level. Try to collect as many of them as you can because you receive a 1UP balloon for every 100 you collect. Trust me, you’ll want to stockpile as many extra lives as you can. I refuse to use the Super Guide feature that appears after dying too many times in a level, so I went through quite a few lives. There are also banana coins that are used as currency to purchase items from Cranky Kong’s various shops around the island and hidden puzzle pieces that unlock different gallery bonuses. The main item to collect in each level is four letters: K, O, N, and G. It’s easy to collect all four letters in some levels; there were some that I stumbled through and ended up collecting all four without meaning to. The majority of levels will probably require multiple playthroughs, especially rush levels that can cause you to pass the letters up while you’re worrying about not dying. You’ll figure out later in the game what happens when you collect all the letters from each level.
Some of the hardest levels in the game are the ones riding the mine cart and the new rocket barrel, which you have to navigate by tapping on a button to fly up and not do anything to come back down. The level designs are some of the best I’ve played. They’re all full of various obstacles and enemies to avoid and using the tops of enemies’ heads to get some extra bounce can mean the difference between failure and success. The levels play in 2-D, but Retro creatively made the backgrounds very much part of each level and not just a backdrop (New Super Mario Bros had pretty boring backgrounds). You’ll blast back and forth between the back and foregrounds with the screen zooming in and out smoothly to allow uninterrupted gameplay.
The visuals in DKCR are nothing short of gorgeous. Level designs are vivid and bold and blasting away and towards the screen is amazing. Retro created a true 3-D sidescroller that shows the Wii’s creative juices and that beautiful games aren’t always HD level realism. Small details like blowing flowers from their stems to reveal items and even a fire ember storm during some of the lava levels add a whole other level of appreciation to the game. One of my favorite levels has you outrunning huge tidal waves rushing towards the screen as you scramble to take cover and giggle as enemies get washed away. Another series of levels is played like a silhouette and the background is the only thing that lights up your character enough to see where you’re going – stunning. Many parts of DKCR fly by at a fast pace and even as you fly through a level it’s still hard not to notice all the hard work put into the graphics in this game.
The soundtrack is definitely one of my favorites in recent years. It’s a mixture of jazz and swing that fits the game’s goofy demeanor perfect. From the rising intensity of tribal drums during the fire levels, to the walking bass line during the silhouette levels that I mentioned; I’d buy the soundtrack and listen to it on iTunes. Thankfully a music gallery opens up after completing the game, so you can go back and check out different tunes from each area of the island. Sound effects also match what is happening in the game, like when Donkey Kong pounds on the ground or the explosion of blasting from barrel to barrel.
Donkey Kong Country Returns is my second favorite game on the Wii so far and definitely the most fun I’ve had with a side-scrolling platform game in awhile. It’s incredibly challenging but so well designed that even after dying 20-30 times trying to clear one part of a level, I still wanted to continue playing (partly because I’m stubborn). There is cooperative multiplayer where the second player takes control of Diddy Kong that’s great for families to enjoy together, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s “family friendly.” I can see a lot of parts being too difficult for younger children. There’s actually quite a bit to do in DKCR after completing the main game. If collecting all the KONG letters in each level isn’t your thing, playing Time Attack and unlocking the gold medal on each level might be right up your alley. The Gold medal time on the very first level of the game is hard enough for myself; I can’t imagine some of the more complex levels later in the game. My hat is off to gamers that unlock all the gold medals in Time Attack. DKCR is worth the $40-$50 price and is another wonderful Nintendo franchise revitalized. Here’s hoping Retro gets the green light to make another incredible Donkey Kong adventure on the Wii U.
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