What's most interesting about Donkey Kong
Country Returns isn't what has changed from the original games, but what
hasn't. It seems that developers Retro Studios decided not to stray too
far from the formula that made the Rare SNES titles so appealing. The game
stays very true to its origins in many ways, most notably in its mostly 2D
presentation. This is a hardcore, classic 2D platformer that brings the
original mechanics forward only minimally, with a few nods to motion
control here and there. It's a very surprising decision in many ways, but
it works because the Wii's accessible nature makes this simple
presentation seem natural and intuitive. You don't really need any of the
usual special effects or cinemas seen in other modern platform games.
There's not much irony, no spunky dialogue to sit through. The emphasis is
purely on the gameplay with the player's skill taking precedence. This is
definitely a game in the classic mode and works in both solo and co-op
modes of play. Its structure is very much in the classic mold as levels
unfold in a series of platform jumping sequences, attacks on foes and
mostly the collection of objects. There are several types of objects and
these can be traded in at Cranky Kong's store for extra lives and other
abilities as well. The store can be accessed at the world map between
levels, and is quite useful when you find a level that's just a little
beyond your abilities.
One of the most disappointing aspects of
the game is that because it uses the Wii's motion sensing, it doesn't
support the classic controller. This would have been perfect, but the game
still controls nicely using the standard wiimote. Most moves are performed
in the standard ways, with movement controlled by the wiimote's cross-pad
and jumping and attacking with the standard buttons. DK can also use a
special Barrel Roll attack that can be performed by shaking the wiimote
around, this allows him to run right past enemies. You can also use a
Ground Smash move when standing still. This is useful mostly for breaking
up crates but can also make for some pretty cool moves that allow him to
jump out of gaps quickly, though the timing of this takes practice to
master. The controls are smooth and intuitive, and most players should
have little trouble with the interface. Its feel is consistently good
throughout and there's an excellent flow to the game as you move from
level to level. Most sections are standard platforming fare, though there
are some sections where you zoom through levels by jumping into Rocket
Barrels and shooting through the sky. These mechanics are simple at first,
but later stages throw up obstacles and other timing issues that make
these sequences challenging. Other sequences have players riding on carts
in the game's dense jungles, which makes things move faster, but also
gives an added challenge when avoiding enemies.
As you might have guessed by now,
there's not much of a plot here, but the game's simplicity is one of its
key selling points. Donkey Kong is the main character here, but is joined
in many areas by his son Diddy. He can usually be added to the game by
throwing one of the barrels, which releases him. Once he's jumped on your
back, he can be used to add a bit of a boost to your jumps. His presence
also increases the number of hearts DK has, increasing his vitality.
Players will also be able to team up with a Rhini character, a powerful
Rhinoceros who helps him go right through otherwise unpassable sections
easily. He's king of the Donkey Kong equivalent of Yoshi, and getting him
is always a big help. Other items such as bananas and coins can also be
collected along with balloons, all of these help your character along by
increasing their powers, adding extra lives or giving them added vitality.
Similar to the template used in the Mario Bros. games, DKCR unfolds in a
series of themed levels which are branched together in a world map. These
can be played sequentially at the main selection screen and you can also
go back to completed levels if you want to find secret areas you might
Donkey Kong Country's expansive levels
can be quite long but there are frequent checkpoints so you won't waste
time backtracking through the game. There are some levels which are quite
difficult but the game isn't terribly taxing for experienced players.
Occasionally, you might find an area that's very hard to beat, and this
can be frustrating. However, there's a way you can beat the levels and
that's by calling on your Super Guide, which lets loose the Super Kong
character. Doing this will unleash this ultra-powered character who will
play through the entire level without fail, completing it and allowing you
to move on to the next one. The only drawback is that any items and extras
that might have been won on that level won't be credited to your progress.
You can go back and play again, and since you now know how to beat that
difficult section, the hints you gain can be quite useful. This basically
acts as an extended tutorial, which helps players who might be new to this
type of game or veterans who's skills might have grown rusty over the
years. This approach is successful and makes many of the 'hardcore'
techniques easy to learn which gives Donkey Kong Country Returns a much
more accessible feel than you'd initially expect.
Donkey Kong Country Returns successfully
brings the franchise up to date, but it isn't quite as fresh or innovative
as last year's New Super Mario Bros Wii. Its co-op modes are fun, but not
as mind-blowing as the 4-player modes in NSMBW. It's still an entertaining
and challenging title. Its solid gameplay mechanics are fairly easy to
understand, but there's enough flexibility for complex moves and attacks.
The earlier stages act as extended tutorials that teach you techniques
you'll need later on, and which makes the learning curve steeper than
you'd expect but not that daunting. While some of the level designs and
layouts can be difficult, a number of aids, such as the Super Guides help
new players along. The game's overall challenge gets higher as you move
on, and later stages will definitely challenge even the best players.
Donkey Kong Country's appealing visual style remains intact with this
installment and its simple 2D approach makes it a nice throwback to the
SNES era of gaming. Overall, this is a much-welcome return to greatness
and marks a solid title gamers old and new will enjoy.