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Jarrod Mawson
11 Dec, 2010

Donkey Kong Country Returns Review

Wii Review | Same kind of moon, new kind of jungle.
There’s been a rather large focus on franchise revival this generation. Sure, new franchises are popping up here and there, but we’re also seeing the return of many beloved classics. The Wii in particular has become a strong platform in seeing the return of so many familiar faces. Earlier this year the Nintendo 64 Japanese classic Sin & Punishment received a sequel in Sin & Punishment: Successor of the Skies, and only just recently Eurocom revived another Nintendo 64 classic with the return of GoldenEye 007. But it’s not just franchises being revived, but also classic gameplay. Last year Nintendo bought back home console 2D platforming with New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and early next year they’ll do so again with Kirby’s Epic Yarn.

This Christmas, however, we’ve got something extra special to play with. Something that isn’t Mario or Kirby. For many, this will be a game fourteen years in the making. This is Donkey Kong Country Returns, a return to the side scrolling jungle swinging platforming action popularised by Rare in what seems like many dreams ago. But with Rare long divorced from Nintendo, it was up to Retro Studios to pick up the torch. Would this developer, best known for the Metroid Prime Trilogy, be able to deliver a classic experience akin to what fans remember as one of the best games from the Super Nintendo? After many hours of platforming jumping and barrel blasting, we can safely report an assuring ‘yes’.


Why are you taking my bananas?! You don't even EAT bananas!

Why are you taking my bananas?! You don't even EAT bananas!
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Most gamers will know the drill. DK runs and DK jumps, swings from vine to platform, platform to vine, and so on and so forth. Fundamentally, DK’s game mechanics are identical to the very first games, though there are two significant changes to be found elsewhere. Firstly, Diddy is no longer playable as an individual, except in co-op play, as instead players will always control Donkey. Having Diddy in tandem enhances DK’s core abilities, such as giving him the ability to hover jump with Diddy’s jetpack, and to continuously roll as Diddy rides atop. Bringing Diddy along for the ride also grants DK an extra two health points for a total of four, showcasing the second big change; the new health system, which abandons the traditional one-hit-deaths found in the original games. At first it might seem bizarre to have classic DKC mechanics overhauled in favour of something new, but the new twists work well in the context of this particular game, and a traditional health system and the ability to control Diddy are hardly missed.

Outside of the usual running and jumping, DK has been given the ability to pound the ground with his palms, just as fans may remember from the original DKC game, and a new ability to crouch low and blow a gust of air. Both of these moves require DK to stop moving and are used infrequently, usually to discover hidden secrets or exploit an enemy’s weak point, meaning they rarely break the game’s usual fast pace.

The most bizarre change to the controls is DK’s famous roll. Slightly tweaked, though mostly identical to the original game, the roll allows players to attack enemies from the front, speed through levels, and collect precariously placed items when combined with a well timed jump. Unlike past games, this move is tethered to the waggling of the remote, which creates somewhat of a learning curve. Once mastered, players will find rolling to speed up or make those tricky jumps nothing short of second nature, but the motion controls do not necessarily add anything to the experience. They may be frustrating on first use, so it's disappointing that there is no option available to map the function to a button press.


The Wicked Witch of the East unleashes Flying Apes 2.0.

The Wicked Witch of the East unleashes Flying Apes 2.0.
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As important as the controls are, it is the level design that’s most important, and it is here that Donkey Kong Country Returns excels. Simply put, DKCR features some of the most impressive 2D level design of recent memory. Of the sixty-plus pure platforming stages found throughout the entire game, nearly every single one introduces some new mechanic, enemy, or twist to a familiar gimmick to keep it fresh. Never does the game devolve into copy/paste level design, instead constantly challenging the player to adapt to new scenarios, all of which are built from original ideas, such as avoiding rolling waves of a tsunami or dodging a hail of cannon fire, alongside returning mechanics such as timing barrel blasts, swinging across vines, and jumping atop bouncy tyres. It’s remarkably refreshing to see such phenomenal effort put into keeping players stimulated as they continue through the game, and makes the overall stage offering all the more impressive.

It’s certainly not a walk in the park either. While earlier stages are quite approachable to players of all skill levels, later stages will truly put your gaming skills to the test, and unlockable bonus stages are bound to lead to a fair few broken controllers. Though, even with its difficulties, the game never feels cheap or unfair. Everything feels extraordinarily deliberate, and when players tackle time trials they'll realise how meticulously the levels have been designed, with platform rotations and enemy placements having to line up in the perfect position for those speedy runs where every roll and every bounce is imperative to beating the clock.


DK and Diddy always get a kick out of rolling those pirates.

DK and Diddy always get a kick out of rolling those pirates.
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Breaking away from the pure platformer stages are two alternative types of levels found at various points in the game; mine-cart tracks and rocket barrel stages. Mine-cart tracks are a welcome and mostly unaltered return of the twitch-reflexed stages from the original game. Once again the objective is to reach the finish, riding atop out of control mine carts, jumping over obstacles and enemies that litter the path. Just as the pure platforming stages are varied, so too are each of these stages unique and creative in their own way, mixing up the traditional mine-cart formula with twists and tricks for an extra layer of platforming challenge. Much more numerous in this particular Donkey Kong Country outing than the original, they are a very welcome addition to the traditional platforming formula and offer some of the most intense white knuckle gameplay in the package.

The rocket barrel stages share only a couple of fundamentals in common with the mine-cart stages. These too have DK progressing through the stage at a mostly game controlled pace, and again the core objective is to dodge obstacles and avoid enemy attacks. However, unlike the mine-craft stages the player is not confined to rails or a track, instead given the freedom to move from the top to the bottom of the screen through the use of a single button. Where ‘A’ would normally jump, here it controls elevation and descent. Holding the button blast DK upwards, and releasing causing him to plummet. This simplistic control scheme acts as the backbone of these levels, with players precisely controlling DK’s position on the screen in order to weave through maze like obstacles. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with their design, outside of the unforgiving one-hit-kill deaths. On the contrary, the level design is solid and varied, and all are visually stimulating. However, differing so dramatically from the platformer focused design of the standard levels and the mine-cart stages does make these feel a little bit out of place, offering variety that could potentially come across a little shoehorned and unnecessary. Thankfully they are still enjoyable in their own right, and make up very little of the game’s complete stage offering.


Prepare to do a whole lot of dying.

Prepare to do a whole lot of dying.
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Graphically, Donkey Kong Country Returns raises the bar of what can be accomplished on the Wii. A palette of vibrant textures and gorgeous 3D models bring worlds to life unlike anything seen before in a 2D platformer. Where so many side-scrolling games feature stagnant and bland backgrounds, here each stage feels both complex and busy, with an astounding attention to detail in all the little touches, developing a wonderfully organic feel to the environments, where platforms, paths, and obstacles seamlessly blend into the game world. Every single level is packed full of little details that many players won’t notice until their second or third play-through, and the whole experience runs at a silky smooth sixty frames per second.

Only one criticism can be directed towards the presentation, and that’s the music. Outside of a couple of original tracks, the soundtrack is composed of remixed tunes from the original Donkey Kong Country. Most of these do a wonderful job of pulling at the strings of nostalgia, but don’t blend into the game world quite as well as they did in the original game. None of the music tracks could be classed as poor, but they fail to make a lasting impression, and it would have been nice to see more original tracks as opposed to remixes.


Dusk. The perfect time to steal bananas.

Dusk. The perfect time to steal bananas.
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When it all comes together, Donkey Kong Country Returns is an absolutely exceptional package. It manages to take what Rare established with the original games, and both revive and reinvent the traditional formula. Sure, it’s the Donkey Kong Country we remember, but it’s also fresh and new. The amount of detail and charm compressed onto the disk is mind boggling, and at its best the level design is so creative and varied that it manages to put Rare’s previous efforts to shame. It’s not just Donkey Kong Country as you remember it, it’s Donkey Kong Country improved in almost every conceivable way.

There may have been doubts to being with, with the developer going from the lonely space adventures of Metroid to the cheerful swing of the jungle, but the final product cements Retro as one of the most talented development studios out there today, as well as arguably Nintendo’s most valuable asset. This is not just one of the best games on the Wii, it is one of the best platformers of the last decade. Sublime in quality and polish, it should not be missed by anyone.
The Score
Donkey Kong Country Returns represents the apex of 2D platformer design, not just in reviving mechanics we're all familiar with, but reinventing them for a new generation. 9
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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12 Comments
3 years ago
Love this game.
A good reason to own a wii
3 years ago
Ggreat review. Great game
3 years ago
I love that you loved DKCR, blissful platforming and a fantastic acheivement for Retro. I honestly think the most visually impressive game of the year, shows how far good art design and platform mastery goes.
3 years ago
The more I read about this game this, the more I want it. I might just pick this up after christmas.
3 years ago
I know that monkey!
His name is Donkey!
3 years ago
Monkeys aren't donkeys. Quit messing with my head!
3 years ago
lol monkey and donkey don't even rhyme!
3 years ago
jashman wrote
lol monkey and donkey don't even rhyme!
It might if you're Jamaican?
3 years ago
Avoid waggling and get the VC version...
3 years ago
turbodirtlip wrote
Avoid waggling and get the VC version...
And avoid the brilliant level design too?
You crazy. (FWIW, the waggle is not a problem at all)
3 years ago
Pft. This obviously deserved a 10....
3 years ago
Amazing Game!

Only problem was i nearly broke my wrist trying to get those Shiny Gold Medals... Gosh they are impossibly hard.
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