Thursday, November 29, 2012

New-stalgia: Donkey Kong Country Returns

It's time for the second edition of New-stalgia. What is New-stalgia? Simply put, games of this segment are modern classics-- titles that will most likely give players in the future much nostalgia as they fondly look back on them. The subject of today's edition of New-stalgia is Donkey Kong Country Returns for the Wii. We're going to monkey around a bit and see what I thought of the game back in 2010 and what I think about it after playing it now. Will my opinion shift for better or for the worse?

What I said then:

"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 More so, continue barrels have been replaced by a tutorial pig who waves a checkpoint flag when DK and Diddy cross his path.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."

"[The controls] 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."

"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)."

"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."

What I say now: 

When I previously played Donkey Kong Country Returns before my first Wii died on me and I sent it in for repairs, I had done a cooperative run with my older brother as well as a single player run through the game. However, I never fully completed the title (i.e. getting a 100% on the game profile). My brother and I went back to DKCR with that goal in mind this time around.

Let's start out with the level design. Unlike the original trilogy on the Super Nintendo, Donkey Kong Country Returns contains very long levels. Thankfully, there are several checkpoints rather than just one like Rare's Donkey Kong Country games. The levels themselves are absolutely astonishing in design-- clever, challenging, and just all-around entertaining. Each level has its own gimmick-- for lack of a better term-- that continually gets expanded upon from the beginning of the level to the end. One of my favorite levels is in the seventh world of the game. It is known as The Switcheroo. By hitting color-coded buttons on the walls, different platforms either jut in or jut out of the background for Donkey Kong and Diddy to traverse on. By the conclusion, you need to plan your jumps carefully as to not booby trap yourself into a bottomless pit.

Mine cart levels are a hallmark of the Donkey Kong Country franchise, and they return in full force. In fact, an entire world is devoted to mine cart levels and the all-new rocket barrel levels. The latter has you pressing the A button to steer a rocket barrel carefully through an obstacle and hazard-laden course. One crash and you're dead. As for the mine cart levels, these take a little memorization to get all of the secrets, but fast reflexes are essentially what will save your life nine times out of ten. There are different types of mine cart levels too. Some have you jump with the mine cart while others have you jumping out of the mine cart each time you press the A button. This kind of variety is most welcomed.

Levels contain plenty of secrets to find. The main collectibles consist of puzzle pieces, which unlock art and assets from the game, and K-O-N-G letters. Unlike the original trilogy, K-O-N-G letters actually serve an important purpose, other than simply giving the player an extra life for collecting them in a given level. Instead, when all of the letters have been gathered in a given world, an extra-difficult bonus level is unlocked. Completing all of these bonus "K" levels unlocks a final trippy level that will then open up Mirror Mode. I'm no Donkey Kong Country Returns professional platformer, so I shied away from that mode, which eliminates Diddy and only gives DK one hit. Yeah, that's more frustration than I could probably deal with.

Perhaps my only gripe with the level design is the lack of the underwater levels that the SNES DKC trilogy was an important part of the games. That said, there is already a brilliant variety of level ideas within Donkey Kong Country Returns as is, so I can't complain TOO much.

As for the controls, I stated in my 2010 review that having to shake the Wii remote to roll, ground pound, and blow took some getting used to, and that any uncertainty of the controls would be eliminated by the first world's end. That isn't necessarily the case. Particularly with rolling, the shaking required to perform the moves don't work 100% of the time, but this is generally when you have to do multiple rolls in succession. That said, there were times where I did die because the game didn't read my remote's waggling. Other than that, the game handles wonderfully, and you feel in control of DK and Diddy. The addition of using Diddy's jet pack might seem like a crutch for players, but it is absolutely essential for certain levels and specific tricky jumps.

The main thing I greatly enjoyed about the Wii was the resurgence of  the 2D platformer. Donkey Kong Country Returns is one of the better types on the system and of the generation, Wiimote waggling troubles aside. The game might not feature Kremlings and might not follow the DKC formula to a T, but it engages, it delights, it challenges, and it encourages players to search through every nook and cranny as they possibly can. It is a terrific complement to the original Donkey Kong trilogy, and it should not be passed up by any Wii owner or self-proclaimed lover of platformers. If you are in the mood for a difficult game, Donkey Kong Country Returns fits the bill and is one heck of a banana-slamma'.

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