Donkey Kong Country Returns Wii Review

Donkey Kong  is getting on a bit, it’s been nearly thirty years since he first kidnapped Pauline and bombarded Mario with a barrage of barrels. Since then Mario went on to great things, became the company mascot, and a gaming legend. Donkey Kong didn’t fare quite so well. He gets his own game now and again, some good, others not so good, and it’s been a fair while since he got a really great game. So it’s well overdue for his greatest hour to be resurrected with a new instalment in the Donkey Kong Country series, but with new developer  Retro Studios can it match up to what were undoubtedly some of the finest 2D platformers ever?

Story wise it’s the same old thing it’s always been with DK, somebody stole his bananas, and it’s up to him and Diddy to get them back. But this time the Kremlings are out of the picture, and have been replaced with the  Tikis, a bunch of floating tribal masks that look like rejects from a Crash Bandicoot game. In themselves they are no match physically for the Kongs, but with their hypnotic powers they have possessed pretty much every other creature  on Kong Island to do their dirty work. Why anybody would want to steal DK’s bananas is beyond me, but it keeps on happening, and as always there’s a formidable obstacle course for the Kongs to overcome if they want their bananas back.

The game is split up in to nine worlds, each with eight levels culminating in a boss battle. Veterans of the original games will find a few additions to the traditional 2D platforming they know and love. As well as the usual running, jumping, rolling and pounding, DK can now cling on to grassy surfaces, although why there is grass growing on ceilings and walls is a mystery. It’s a handy new way of getting around for the Kongs, and level design has been used to make use of it in the most ingenious of ways.

There’s more new additions to the series. The game now boasts an extra half a dimension, making it 2.5D. By using some of DKs blast barrels you can shoot off into the background where some sections of levels take place, sometimes even going back in to a second level of background. Another addition, although not one that affects the gameplay, is that some levels take place at sunset, leaving you playing the whole level in silhouette. It all looks very nice and stylised like this, but I found that on occasion it made it difficult to differentiate background from enemy, which was a bit of a pain.

The final addition to the franchise is that it is now playable in a co-operative mode. The second player takes control of Diddy Kong, in theory this sounds great, in practice it doesn’t quite feel right. Donkey Kong really is better off with Diddy staying on his back, as he does in single player, when they separate he loses Diddy’s jetpack power to hover a couple of seconds. And although it’s useful to split up in a fight, the disadvantages generally outweigh the advantages, and it’s not much fun to play as Diddy and spend most of the time sitting on DK’s back. On top of that when you both die, that’s two lives gone instead of just one, not that it’s hard to get extra lives from Cranky’s shop. It really is just best to play it as a single player game, the co-op just detracts from the experience, and is best left alone.

Changes aside though, pretty much everything that made the original games great is still here. There’s plenty of objects to collect: bananas, coins, letters spelling out ‘KONG’ and jigsaw pieces on every level. The themed worlds all feel like the original game, some even have the exact same tunes playing in the background, and the mine carts, and supporting characters like Rambi are here too. The level design is pretty much flawless, and makes all the right moves for a classic old school 2D platformer. Objects are placed, seemingly, out of reach, some platforms look like they don’t go anywhere, but invite you to have a look anyway. And it’s tough. Infuriatingly, hair pulling out tough, just like the games of yesteryear were, but never giving you the feeling that it’s impossible.

No game is perfect though, and as well as the ill-conceived two player mode the game does have a couple of other small faults. Well, I say faults, but really it’s just me being fussy. I think the game could have benefited from extra controller options, such as GameCube or classic controller, as I found with the motion control, shaking for a ground pound sometimes didn’t go as planned, as with some extra input it could also trigger different moves. The other thing is the return of the super guide from New Super Mario Bros and Super Mario Galaxy 2. Yes it’s handy if you get stuck, but it also removes the determination to persevere when you do get stuck; technically you can complete the whole game without finishing a single level yourself.

Minor quibbles aside though this is a fantastic game, Retro Studios have once again, like they did with Metroid, revived a long dead franchise successfully. If you have a love for the old school, and who doesn’t when you get to a certain age, then you owe it to yourself to buy this game. It’ll fill you with feelings of nostalgia without making you feel old. And if you’re too young to remember the good old days, give it a go, you won’t regret it.

9 out of 10
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