Written by Thomas Read
Donkey Kong is one of the best-known video game characters of all time, but the last few generations of consoles have been a strange experience for the ape. The original arcade game Donkey Kong is one of the major success stories of early gaming, and predates even Mario Bros. The Donkey Kong series became truly adored for its series of Donkey Kong Country games on the Super Nintendo, and with the release of the Nintendo 64 came the outstanding DK64 3 years later. After some oddball rhythm games on the Gamecube we finally saw another platforming DK game, more than a decade after DK64.
And boy, does it ever.
Donkey Kong Country Returns has the perfect name, as that’s exactly what it feels like. Retro Studios (Makers of the renowned Metroid Prime series) has done an excellent job of capturing the overall feel of Donkey Kong Country while still managing to make it new and fresh in many ways. Most of the elements that appeared in DKC return, like Diddy Kong, the dreaded minecart levels, Rambi the Rhino, collectible KONG letters in every level, and much more.
Platforming has evolved in countless ways since DKC was originally released and made its mark on the genre, and DKCR uses these new tricks expertly. From grabbing onto rough walls to climb, using Diddy’s jetpack to extend your jumps, which is a returning boon from DK64, hellishly hard “steer the rocket through obstacles without exploding” sequences, being able to pound the ground to yield hidden objects, hit switches, etc and boss fight mechanics the original game could have only dreamed of, this is definitely a modern platformer. There are also two, count them, two hit points, so a single contact with an enemy will not end your level like in days of old.
These levels can drive a man to insanity
The new gameplay feature that I was most blown away by was the fact that frequently throughout the game, there are two layers of platforming. Generally you blast through a barrel to the background where more platforms, secret areas, and collectibles are. Things you do in the background can affect things on the main level sequence, and this was an impressive bit of platforming I wish more games would use. It’s important to mention that the game’s presentation is remarkable and the island setting is beautiful to look at. Each world is completely unique and you can tell a lot went into making this a great-looking game. The music is everything you’d expect from a Donkey Kong game, varied and fitting to every level, and is fun if nothing else.
This game does a hit-and-miss job of capturing the difficulty in DKC, which, if you’ve never played, can be frustrating beyond words. DKCR is unfortunately easy for perhaps the first half of the game, but becomes more of a hair-pulling ordeal the further you go. Be warned, you will find quite a few levels you will have to replay literally dozens of times because of their required perfect execution to clear. There’s a rather insulting feature included where if you die too many times, the game will finish the level for you. I never used it, rather electing to suffer through the levels more times than I’d care to admit. It’s an understandable addition, however, as some of the Wii’s more casual players simply would not be able to finish this game without it. It’s a clear step up from the overall easy experience of New Super Mario Bros Wii, and gamers who didn’t feel challenged enough with it will be pleased with DKCR.
Completionists will enjoy the sheer amount of collectibles added. In addition to the returning “KONG” letters in each level, there are hidden puzzle pieces and even a speed run mode for every level (Good luck with that, I could only get a gold medal on the first couple levels.) These collectibles open a secret world after the end of the game, though for most people there’s not much point in playing for too long after the final boss is beaten aside from clearing levels you skipped.
No game is perfect, and DKCR has its flaws. The 2-player is an obvious improvement from the original, as now both players can play at the same time, but its potential isn’t reached. While it’s nice for 2 people to play as both Diddy and Donkey Kong, Diddy Kong is superior to Donkey Kong in almost every way (being faster and having both a jetpack and peanut gun.) This makes it hard for Donkey Kong to keep up at times. All in all, however, the co-op is a welcome addition, if not flawless in execution. I was also amazed and disappointed at the lack of Classic Controller support, as this is a game that just begs for it. While unfortunate, the Wiimote still does a good job, and the choice to play with or without a nunchuck is nice.
Overall Score: 83
Not for everyone, but has a wide audience and some people will absolutely love this game. If you enjoy platformers, especially retro ones, you will be pleased with DKCR. For some, this game will be too difficult, but if you find no shame in skipping levels, that won’t be a problem. If nothing else, the game is a fun play, a positive experience, plenty of gameplay and a solid addition to any Wii library. The price has just recently been dropped from $49.99 to $29.99, so this is a great opportunity to pick up a great game.
Genre Score (2D Platformer): 89
Donkey Kong Country Returns is one of the best 2D platformers available on the Wii, and any gamer with fond memories of the original games, or any platformer fans in general might just fall in love with the newest Donkey Kong. If you enjoyed the single player of New Super Mario Bros Wii, but wanted a little more complexity or difficulty, you’ll have a great time. It’s classic and retro yet fresh, and if you’re a fan of the original Donkey Kong Country, this game is a must-own.