It's on like Donkey-- *gets sued for a million dollars by Nintendo*
It has been thirteen-some odd years since the last epic edition of Donkey Kong Country. At last we saw the Kongs, a girl with a mad hairspin and chunky toddler named Kiddy were heroes of their own game. Now Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong are taking back their game via Retro Studios with Donkey Kong Country Returns for the Nintendo Wii. Is this game as fun as a barrel of monkeys, or will this game leave its players kong-fused? God, those were pitiful puns. Moving forward!
Donkey Kong and Diddy are resting in their banana bungalow on DK Island when suddenly a volcano erupts, letting loose a myriad of troublesome tiki pests. Their objective? To steal DK's banana horde while hypnotizing the local wildlife into doing their bidding. Diddy Kong watches in anger as the terrible tikis run off with Donkey Kong's banana stash. Meanwhile, a tiki enters DK's bedroom and attempts to cast the same hypnotic spell on the ferocious ape, but to no effect. So DK clobbers the ruthless tiki out of his home, and thus starts the quest to recapture DK's stolen banana horde.
Donkey Kong Country Returns isn't an exact replica of the Super Nintendo trilogy. There's some changes. For instance, in solo play, Diddy rides atop Donkey Kong's back and can hover for a limited amount of time. Another change is that each Kong now gets two hits instead of just one. While playing solo, players will lose Diddy if the team gets hit twice. They'll lose a life if they get hit four times (Donkey's two lives plus Diddy's two lives). More so, continue barrels have been replaced by a tutorial pig who waves a checkpoint flag when DK and Diddy cross his path. Most levels have multiple continue points to make this challenging game feel fairer. Additionally, Donkey Kong and Diddy can now cling and climb on grassy walls and ceilings. Lastly in this game, DK and Diddy can ground pound and blow on flowers to uncover hidden goodies. This is all mapped to waggling the Wii remote.
Which brings us to the controls. They take getting used to as shaking the Wii remote takes up three different commands. Holding the analog stick left or right while shaking (nunchuk controls are only used in this game) will cause Donkey or Diddy to roll. Holding the stick down while waggling will initiate DK or Diddy to blow, and finally, the ground pound is performed by holding the stick in a neutral position while wildly moving the Wii remote and nunchuk. Again it takes getting used to, but unless you're an incompetent person you'll have it down by the first world's completion.
Also new to the Donkey Kong Country franchise is kooky cooperative play. That's correct-- a second player can take control of Diddy as you play through the levels totally together. In some ways this is easier and some it's harder. For bosses, if one of you perish you can press the 1 button to send a DK barrel down to your partner to revive your lost Kong. Other places where there's little room to maneuver, it's a pain. Sometimes it's better to just have Diddy ride Donkey Kong's back in such sections.
The new editions to Donkey Kong Country knows no bounds as this time around collecting the K-O-N-G letters fiendishly hidden or in plain sight no longer grant the player a 1-up. Instead it's much more important to capture these elusive letters. Getting all the K-O-N-G letters in all of the levels of a given area unlocks a temple level. These levels will test your platforming prowess as they are the most difficult levels in the game. Even the first area's temple is no cakewalk. Kongs don't even like cake-- unless it's banana-flavored. Also hidden among the lecherous letters are puzzle pieces. There can be up to nine in a given level or as little as five. Regardless, these babies are well-hidden preaching to the player to seek out every nook and cranny of a given level. Completing puzzle piece collection in a level earns you a new image to look at in the image gallery while beating the boss of an area gives you the music from that world to listen to as well as a diorama.
Onto the level design which is spectacular. Sometimes these levels require memorization such as the ravishing rocket barrel levels where you steadily press the A button to lift up you rocket barrel to avoid hateful hazards that are a one-hit kill. Or even the mine cart levels where sometimes lucky leaps are the way to pass through them. You'll go crazy in one level where your mine cart falls into a circular rail which rolls down a hill as you leap over the only gap in the rail in a continuous fashion. That's just in the fourth world! Later worlds are full of perilous platforming, hard-to-judge jumps, and rude dudes with attitudes (speaking of the enemies here).
Each area in the game has its own theme. There's the Jungle, Beach, Ruins, Cave, Forest, Cliff, Factory, and Volcano areas. Each of these areas ends with a climactic confrontation with a beastly boss. Some are as simple as waiting for the baddie to charge and then hopping on its exposed weakpoint. Others are more complicated having you ground pound switches on revolving circular platforms to make the malevolent monstrous boss weak enough to attack him. The final boss is the most challenging because unless you have Diddy with you, you only have Donkey Kong's two hearts of health to survive the bodacious battle.
Small things like bonus rooms return as well where the goal is to capture all the loot in the room before time runs out. What you receive for this dangerous deed is a puzzle piece. Even the names of the levels have that classic DKC alliteration, the same type I've been overdoing on purpose in this review.
Visually, DKC Returns is an impressive beast. The levels are colorful and detailed, the backgrounds are great to look at, and there's plenty of Easter eggs to uncover in the scenery. Never before possible in a DKC game since we were all playing on a 16-bit system is the ability to jump between foreground and background with the help of barrels. It's cool looking at something in the background, and then being able to platform on it. Bravo, Retro Studios. Bravo. Sound-wise, Metroid composer, Kenji Yamamoto heads the musical directing duties. There's remixes of nearly every original Donkey Kong Country theme including Aquatic Ambiance, Fear Factory, and Life in the Mines. Whether the new stuff meshes well with the old is up to the player. I don't think it sounds as good, but that's all water under the bridge. It's still a stellar soundtrack.
Ultimately, this kid-friendly game might be more for the retro crowd who have the patience for the sometimes brutal difficulty of the game. Even so, cooperative play is a suggestion for one more experienced to play with a less experienced player. Although Rambi the Rhino is the only returning ride-able animal in the game, he controls very well and feels like riding a rhino should. Because we all know I ride rhinos in my spare time.
Regardless, the level design is some of the best the series has ever seen, the visuals are vibrant and vivacious, and the music is oftentimes soothing and fitting of the level you're in. Without a doubt, Donkey Kong Country Returns is one of the best 2D platformers in quite some time, rivaling the excellent New Super Mario Bros. Wii. For a hardcore platformer that will take quite a while to complete, you can't go wrong with Donkey Kong Country Returns.
[SuperPhillip Says: 9.5/10]