During the mid to late 90’s the Rare’s Donkey Kong Country series were my favourite games. Intense platforming action combined with graphics and music so awesome that you couldn’t believe they were coming out of a 16Bit Super Nintendo. I could also go as far to say that the original DKC was (and probably still is) my favourite 2D platform game of all time, Super Mario purists may scoff but there’s something I really like about the British take on the platform genre. In my opinion Rare were very innovate in bringing prerendered graphics to the SNES and they also created a unique platformer that fit right in between the slow pace of Mario and the speediness of Sonic.
Donkey Kong Country 64 (1999) was the last game in the series that was created by original developers Rare, its higher res visuals and massive levels ensured it was unique for being the first Nintendo 64 game that required compulsory use of the N64 (Ram) Expansion Pack. During the intervening ten years we’ve seen some other Donkey Kong games such as Jungle Beat; an unusual platformer that could be played with the GameCube Bongo controller. However none of these DK games really captured the essence of the Country series.
So it was a surprise to everyone when Donkey Kong Country Returns was revealed at last year’s E3 convention. Not only was it totally unexpected to see a return to this forgotten franchise but the game was being developed by Retro Studios, creators of the Metroid Prime trilogy. Donkey Kong Country Returns for Wii is brand new entry into the series that goes straight back to the roots of the original DKC game rather than incorporating the gimmicks from the later titles. Just like the original DKC game, our heroes Donkey and Diddy awake from the lazy existence of relaxing in the jungle to find that some nasty bugger has stolen all of their bananas.
The Kremlings aren’t to blame this time. A strange race of musical creatures known as the Tiki Tak Tribe are using their hypnotic powers to control the minds of the jungle inhabitants. We see everything from Giraffes to Elephants all becoming slaves to the relaxing rhythm, they then start carrying those precious bananas away into the sunset. As you can imagine, Donkey and Diddy are not best pleased and immediately give chase – thus our game beings.
I hope you’re ready for some of the toughest platforming action since Mario & The Lost Levels because this game is one unforgiving beast. Now I’m sure you’re already used to 2D platformers so I will not insult you (too much) by describing what you actually do. Initially you start just with Donkey as you progress through the level rolling and jumping across platforms, pits, spikes and other obstacles. Almost all of the enemies in the game can be defeated by a simple roll or a stomp on the head but later on you will encounter some that will need differing tactics.
When you encounter a DK barrel you’ll be able to join forces with Diddy Kong which will give you two major advantages. Firstly this doubles your hit points from two to four making things slightly easier. Secondly Diddy’s new jetpack comes in very useful because it allows the pair to hover in the air for a couple of seconds, this combined with a long roll and jump will result in some very long jump distances. A Donkey Kong Country game wouldn’t be the same if it didn’t feature some of its most famous features now would it? Barrel Blasting, Tyre Bouncing, KONG Letters, Minecart Crashing, Secret Hunting and not forgetting those Animal Buddies. In fact almost everything that made the original DKC title is here in Donkey Kong Country Returns.
It’s all very well copying and pasting stuff from the original but often it is what you add and what you take away that makes the most difference when creating a sequel. There are several changes in DKCR and let’s go over the main ones now! First up the two player tag team mode has been reworked and is now a fully fledged real-time coop system that is very reminiscent of New Super Mario Bros. As long as you have enough life balloons you can survive on a stage indefinitely by resurrecting each other. On the other hand things are much more hectic when the two characters are independent, the camera will be constantly zooming in and out to fit you both onscreen (Smash Bros style).
A new Rocket Barrel provides some serious fun which rivals the minecart rides in terms of difficulty. You need to safely steer the Kongs through a tricky obstacle course with only the power of thrust or gravity, kinda reminds me of the lava magic carpet stage from Disney’s Aladdin on the SNES. The Kongs also have some new moves to show off. I’ve already mentioned Diddy’s Jet Pack but that’s not all folks. You now have the power of blow. That’s right you can now crouch down and blow the petals off flowers to reveal a bonus, you can also blow out enemies that are covered in flames that would normally be too hot to jump on. Climbing has been improved too, previously the only things that you could climb before were ropes and vines. Now you will encounter patches of thick grass on walls and ledges, this really helps with additional vertical gameplay and the hiding of secret bonus rooms.
Oh I guess I should mention that Diddy Kong has a peanut gun, the funny thing is I didn’t realise this ‘til after I finished the game. I didn’t use it once! So who remembers the animal buddies? Yeah we know that they’re basically Yoshi from Mario but they were all so damn cute. Well there is some good news and bad news; Rambi and Squawks return but the rest of the gang don’t even get a mention. The lack of swimming levels mean there’s no Enguarde but why we don’t get to see Expresso the Ostrich and Winky the Frog is beyond me!
Last but not least comes the Super Guide; designed for those not as finely tuned to ball breakingly hard platformers as some of us. After around six failed attempts at clearing a level you will have the option of getting Super Kong (the CPU) to finish the level for you. This might be great for getting past a tricky level but you get none of the rewards, my advice is not to use it – I didn’t and I’m still alive aren’t I? If you need more lives or invincibility potion then you can just visit Cranky’s Store and spend some of your banana coins.
Many people have complained that there is no classic or gamecube controller support; I agree that it would have been fun to play it SNES style but I was more than happy with the WiiRemote and Nunchuck scheme. I found them intuitive and responsive enough and I think most people will be fine after a bit of practice. Much has already been said of the graphics of DKCR. The switch from prerendered to polygonal has been fairly successful, everything is lush and detailed to the max. The rumours are that there are six times as many polygons on screen than Metroid Prime 3, which to this day is still considered to be one of the Wii’s hottest looking games.
Alright I’ve been holding it off for as long as I can but we need to talk about the music. The OST from Donkey Kong Country is epic and loved by millions worldwide; Retro made a rather interesting choice to not create a new soundtrack but recreate and remix the original. In short it is certainly amazing to be listening to the classic tunes in this new game but it can’t go without saying that despite the huge leap in technology; these remixes just don’t compare. Donkey Kong Country Returns for Wii is a really fun title and certainly one of the best 2D platformers on the system. There’s just something magical about the speed and subtlety of the level design, one moment you can be blasting breakneck through barrels and at other times you’re hopping slowly from platform to platform with pixel perfect precision. The variety of level types is great. The easier Jungle levels are the most like the original but as you progress right up to the deviously hard Factory and Volcano you will be testing your skills with moving platforms, fire, steam and gravity switches amongst other things.
I estimate that you’ll take around ten hours to finish the main game but you’ll then have to go back to find all of the hidden Jigsaw pieces and KONG letters if you want to unlock all of the game’s secrets. There is an image gallery, music gallery and even a whole set of hidden levels – which are even tougher than the main ones! If you’re ready for the toughest and prettiest platforming on Wii then like me you’ll go bananas over Donkey Kong Country Returns on Wii. What else but 9 out of 10?
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