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Game Review: Donkey Kong Country Returns
An article by Jomingo
29 November '10
Finally, for the first time in 11 years a Donkey Kong game comes out that we can be excited about! About the same time that Retro Studios was looking for a new project, Shigeru Miyamoto was looking for somebody to make him a new Donkey Kong game. Kensuke Tanabe was keen to point out the relationship between the two, and the fact that the CEO of Retro Studios, Michael Kelbaugh, worked on the original Donkey Kong Country back when he worked for Nintendo of America. Clearly it was fate, and Tanabe thought so too as he codenamed the project F8. Thus began the development of Donkey Kong Country Returns. Two years and some months later, E3 2010 rolls around. Reggie Fils-Amie reveals to us what they'd been working on for so long, and the world went bananas from there. 5 months went by in a heartbeat; I have a copy in my hands, and I can tell you, it was worth the wait.
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When you start up the game and create a save file, you'll be greeted with a nice opening cutscene explaining the game's story to you. That's right, I said cutscene; this game has full motion video cutscenes, and they're all beautiful. Donkey Kong Island now has a volcano, and deep within it has been a dormant group called the Tiki Tak Tribe. They erupt from it's depths, and proceed to hypnotize the island's animals so that they can steal all the bananas on the island. Luckily, DK can't be hypnotized and so he sets out to regain his bananas and defeat these new villains. The Tikis are very unique; they're certainly no Kremlings, but they are very cool in their own right. You begin your journey by jumping down from your treehouse in Jungle Hijinxs. From their you can return to your banana cave to find it empty, or reenter your hut to get a balloon. That's right, this is Donkey Kong Country all the way baby.
The overworld map is now a fully 3D rendition of Donkey Kong Island, though it looks a bit different. The Volcano has apparently destroyed the Donkey Kong face on the front of the Island, and also must have melted Gorilla Glacier because they're both nowhere to be seen. However, as you progress through the game's worlds you realize more and more that this is the Donkey Kong Island we know and love. The in game map navigation is big step down from where DKC3 took us though, and actually feels very Mario inspired. Red dots represent levels you haven't completed, while blue dots are ones that you have. Every world has one branching path that allows you to pick which level(s) you want to play on your way to the boss, but there's never any serious choices you have to make throughout the game. Every world has one locked path, the key to which can be purchased at Cranky Kong's Shop.
The gameplay remains largely unchanged: collecting a hundred bananas gets you a life, which are represented by red Balloons. You still collect K-O-N-G Letters, only this time around they are used to unlock secret temple levels. They've also taken a page from Banjo-Kazooie's book and included Jiggy's... I mean, puzzle pieces. 5 to 9 puzzle pieces are hidden in every level and can be used to unlock artwork in the game's extras menu. Finally, banana coins can be collected and spent at Cranky Kong's shop. You now play solely as Donkey Kong, at least in single player, and when you break Diddy Kong out of DK barrels he just rides on your back. Both Diddy and DK each have two hearts, meaning that you can take up to four hits when you're together, however, don't think that makes it easy because you need every heart you can get. DK has most of his normal abilities: pounding the ground, roll jumping, etc, along with a major new one, blowing. That's right, DK can crouch down and blow a gust of air. This is used mostly for blowing out dandelions or other background objects that could contain hidden items. Throughout the game you'll want to pound and blow every background object you see in the hopes that you'll find some goodies. Diddy has every ability that DK has and more: he's now using both his peanut popguns and jetpack from DK64. When the little guy is on DK's back he gives DK these abilities, making it much easier to jump and glide. Every level has been designed with fluid motion in mind; every enemy is placed to let you bounce off of it conveniently for quick progression. This leads straight into the ridiculously difficult Time Attack mode, in which you are timed on your completion of a level and are required to beat a specific score. DKC has always been a game for speedrunners, and this game builds that mode directly into itself.
A new addition to the game is the co-op mode. A second player can jump in and play as Diddy Kong whenever you're on the map screen. Like I said before, Diddy has even more abilities than DK, making him easier to control for new players who want to accompany a veteran. The co-op works very well; much more so than New Super Mario Bros. Wii or Kirby's Epic Yarn. The difference between this game and others is that the two players can't collide with each other; they don't every bounce off of one another or come in any form of contact. This means that the two are essentially just navigating the same obstacles side by side and not getting in each other's way. When one of the players dies they can drop back in at the cost of one life, and be broken from a barrel by the other player, and if player two is getting overwhelmed at any time they can jump on DK's back and let player one navigate the part they're stuck on.
The game's controls work well enough, though they can be very hard to get used to. Pounding the ground is done by shaking the remote. Holding down and shaking does the blow move. These all work fine, but when it comes to rolling, it gets a bit more difficult. To roll you must shake the remote while running. This is hard to pull off not only because it feels very unnatural, but also because DK seems to have a lot more momentum in this game and will often roll right off the edge you were trying to reach. Luckily, after awhile the controls become second nature and actually start to grow on you. They don't hurt the game really, but it would have been nice to be given a Classic Controller option.
As far as returning characters go, their aren't a lot to choose from. Cranky Kong, the old geezer from the original arcade game, is back and crankier than ever. He's the only Kong helper found in the game which is a bit disappointing, however he probably has his best appearance of all time. Everything he says is hilarious and clever, and he even drops a serious hint about the game every once in a while. From his shop you can by a number of things using banana coins, the most important of which are life balloons. It seems odd that lives would be purchasable, and you might think that that makes it too easy to obtain them, but trust me, it's a needed feature. Lives can be bought in increments of 3, 5, and 7. Cranky also sells you banana juice (a temporary invincibility), a heart boost (an extra heart container for levels), a level key (for unlocking the world's locked path), and Squawks the Parrot. When you purchase Squawks and equip him, he'll float around in the level and locate where the game's puzzle pieces are hidden. The only other returning animal buddy is Rambi the Rhino, which is also very disappointing. However, riding Rambi is just as exhilarating as ever, perhaps even more so. The Rambi levels are probably my favorite of all, and he's become practically invincible in this game. He's even able to jump in pits and destroy spikes! Shaking the controller to make him charge is very satisfying too.
The game has a ton of content. It contains a whopping 72 levels, 8 of which are unlocked by collecting K-O-N-G Letters, 8 are purchased from Cranky's shop, 8 are bosses, and all of them are a blast. The levels all have a ton of variety in them as well. They've almost gone overboard with mine carts, completely topping anything Rare's done with the concept. They've also introduced a new thing called the Rocket Barrel. While riding the Rocket Barrel, you constantly propel forwards, and have to click A to elevate yourself, or do nothing to drop. You must move up and down with exact precision to navigate the various obstacles. It's very difficult, but very invigorating. Actually, that can be said about the entire game. It will take you a ton of effort to complete, but it is completely worth it.
So that's all I can really say. The levels are all extremely beautiful and full of tiny details, and the game is completely polished. Retro really knows how to make a good looking game, and it shows. I have almost no complaints about this game, and any that I do have I can look past because of how downright fun it was. It was literally the best game I've played in a decade, and it earns a perfect 5 out 5. To me, it ranks above the first and third games in the trilogy, and comes in close second to Donkey Kong Country 2.
- by Jomingo -
This article was written by a DKC Atlas Forum staff member. All opinions expressed within this article are those of the writer, and are not necessarily shared by DKC Atlas, or the DKC gaming community.