Thursday, October 6, 2011

RE: Donkey Kong Country Returns (Wii)

It's that time once again. Time for RE:, a segment where we take a fond look back at a game already reviewed and beyond the hype. It's important to note that RE: segments are not revisionist reviews. They're merely a means to survey past games and point out any positives or negatives I missed when I originally reviewed them, and to remember what it was that was so enchanting about the game in the first place. Our subject today is none other than Retro Studios' attempt at recapturing lightning in a bottle with Donkey Kong Country Returns for the Nintendo Wii.

Who could forget as a Super Nintendo boasting that that system was a 2D platforming fan's dream console? You had Mario, Yoshi, Kirby, and then from a little company known as Rare, Donkey Kong Country. The game utilized 3D sprites and backgrounds to great effect, creating an unbelievable atmosphere. The title's superb soundtrack by Dave Wise, Eveline Fischer, and Robin Beanland only further enhanced the ambiance as well. The Donkey Kong Country series would make an entire trilogy, each time introducing a new Kong into the fold. For the original it was Diddy Kong, for DKC2 it was Dixie Kong, and for DKC3 it was Kiddie Kong. Each game brought with it new elements, and last year more than a decade later and after Rare has been sold off to Microsoft making Kinect games, Retro Studios brought the series back to the mainstream with Donkey Kong Country Returns. Was this the reboot that fans would go bananas over?

It's a quiet day on DK Isle where Donkey and Diddy Kong are slumbering in DK's crib. Suddenly a nearby volcano erupts, blasting forth creepy creatures known as the Tiki Tribe, our villains. They hypnotize all wildlife and begin stealing Donkey Kong's infamous banana hoard. Silly Tikis, don't they know what happened to the last critter that was foolish enough to steal the big ape's bananas? Regardless, Donkey Kong gets awakened by a Tiki who attempts to use its black magic to seduce him. This fails and DK pummels the enemy out of his house, far away into the background. Through eight worlds and multiple levels, Donkey and Diddy Kong must slowly and surely retrieve the stolen bunch of bananas to restore peace and order to DK Isle.

A typical every day rumble in the jungle for the Kong clan.

Immediately I was drawn to the magnificent presentation Donkey Kong Country Returns sports. From the sensational 3D models of characters, enemies, and objects to the beautiful backgrounds, DKCR is a gorgeous game. Some levels only show a silhouette of DK, Diddy, and the numerous enemies inhabiting the levels such as Sunset Shore, an early first world level. The captivating sunset casts a shadow on everything turning every bush into a possible ambush point for Donkey Kong and Diddy. While the Tikis are no Kremlings, they have their own personal charm to them. Other levels are quite busy with an octopus closely stalking our pair of monkey heroes, another with falling columns ready and willing to crush anyone foolish enough to pass underneath them, and another where DK and Diddy ride on a whale, using its blowhole to reach out of the way items and other goodies. Coinciding with the graphics, the soundtrack is a mix between old and new. The old consists of remixed tunes such as Jungle Groove and Fear Factory while the new features, of course and obviously, brand-new material. This new material doesn't hold a candle to the work of Rare's composition veteran trio, but it fits the game's aesthetics nonetheless.

Sights like this make DKCR a glorious game to glimpse.

As stated already there are eight worlds to explore in Donkey Kong Country Returns. The first is set in the jungle while another is all about the beach, cave, forest, factory, or volcano. The varying locales do nothing short but impress with their wonderful backgrounds, numerous obstacles, and wild enemies to combat against. For better or worse, one world is entirely made up of mine cart and rocket barrel levels. Mine cart levels are auto-scrolling places where precision jumping is key. One must leap over chasms, over downed mine carts, and over oncoming traffic if survival is something the player wishes to shoot for. Meanwhile the rocket barrel levels has the player carefully throttling the A button to ascend and letting go of the button to descend. This is all the while avoiding enemies and foe fire. In each world there's a key which can be purchased from Cranky Kong to unlock a secret and optional level. The aforementioned Sunset Shore is but one of those levels. Additionally, collecting the K-O-N-G letters in every level in a world unlocks an ultra-difficult K series level full of spikes, traps, and timing-based platforming peril. Perhaps something great happens once all of these K levels are completed...

Run atop a rolling Donkey Kong to gain some extra speed.

DKCR can be played alone or with a friend or family member which is common with current day Nintendo titles along the lines of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Kirby's Epic Yarn, and the upcoming later this month Kirby's Return to Dreamland. With two players one controls Donkey Kong and the other controls Diddy. Both members can take two hits before death approaches. When one member perishes, a DK barrel will float around on screen. Hit this as the other player, and the downed member will return into the action. At any time Diddy can hop onto the shoulders of Donkey Kong and carry him via his jetpack. Alone, Diddy can shoot off peanuts at baddies to take them out. When playing in solo mode, Donkey and Diddy are already one. A player cannot control Diddy by himself in this mode which is unfortunate as Diddy is terrific for tricky jumps.

Donkey Kong Country wouldn't be Donkey Kong Country without some bosses to beat down and battle, and DKCR is no exception. Each world concludes with a boss encounter of some variety. Some are as simple as bash the boss's noggin a few times to defeat it while another has the player or players carefully sauntering underneath the boss and attaching themselves to its underside to do maximum damage. Compared to Rare's DKC trilogy, the bosses here in this Wii iteration are pretty lackluster overall. Still, they could have been much worse as many games this generation have shown us.

The boss battles are the most lackluster part of DKCR.

Controlling the pair of Donkey and Diddy Kong can be a bit bewildering at first. One must shake the Wii remote to do a wide variety of actions. I find that flicking the Wii remote downward works wonderfully and seldom (if ever) doesn't register my input. This action is used for rolling, ground-pounding, and blowing on flowers to uncover hidden goodies like puzzle pieces (collecting all of them in a level unlocks new concept art) and banana tokens (used to purchase a smorgasbord of stuff in Cranky's shop). Hidden barrels and rooms lead to bonus areas where collecting every banana and coin in the area before time runs out awards the player(s) with a puzzle piece. Going after all of the puzzle pieces definitely lengthens the play time and adds to the fun as some are located in truly devious locations.

This agitated octopus will use its
tentacles to trip up our heroes.

Returning back to Donkey Kong Country Returns was an enjoyable and entertaining experience. Those who argue that Nintendo platformers are too lax in difficulty have obviously not played this game. It can be mighty challenging just to complete much less 100% and finish all of the speed runs. Yes, the controls can sometimes befuddle players, but with enough experience with them, they become second nature. Retro Studios have proven themselves to be a capable developer who can do much more than just be known as the Metroid Prime team. They perfectly blended their Western design philosophies with Nintendo's Eastern ideals to form one match made in heaven. Outdoing every DKC save for the second installment, Donkey Kong Country Returns is one of the great platforming games of this generation. If you can cough up the required amount of dough for this treasure, happily do so. You won't be disappointed. Frustrated in later levels, yes, but disappointed? No.


What already reviewed video game would you like to see receive the RE: treatment? Cast your opinion in the comments section, and I'll see about considering it.

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