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DK is Back - Donkey Kong Country Returns Review
Retro Studios has an uncanny ability of taking popular Nintendo franchises and creating compelling, rewarding gameplay experiences with them. Metroid Prime was indicative of this, and now Donkey Kong is getting the Retro treatment as well. Donkey Kong Country Returns is a great throwback to both the original series on the Super Nintendo as well as a time in gaming when challenge and high levels of difficulty were as much a part of the gameplay experience as the characters and levels themselves. Retro has managed to take Donkey Kong and put him in a stylish, easily recommendable Wii game that keeps you coming back for more for as long as it lasts.
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Donkey Kong Country Returns Storyline
If you expected Donkey Kong Country Returns to have some quirky, shallow plot like most other platformers, then you were absolutely right. DK’s banana hoard has been stolen yet again, but not by those blasted Kremlings. This time, strange Tiki masks have taken control of many of the island’s critters and have forced them to do their bidding. It is up to DK and his trusty nephew Diddy to return peace and normalcy to the island.
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Donkey Kong Country Returns Gameplay
If you’ve played Donkey Kong Country before, then Donkey Kong Country Returns shouldn’t be too unfamiliar. The game plays largely the same as the SNES original, but it’s the intricate additions and compelling tweaks that make this title stand out. You do the usual running, jumping, and baddie-stomping, but Retro has thrown in a number of gameplay quirks that make this title really stand out.
Though you mainly run from left to right, most of the game’s levels have DK barrels that blast you straight into the background. The progression doesn’t change much in these areas, but it’s a nice design choice on the part of the developers, and it’s certainly fun switching between foreground and background.
Aside from the on-foot action, there are also a few mine cart stages which are split up into two types. The first is the standard mine cart level where you need to jump over enemies and chasms. But the variation of these levels has you standing on top of the mine cart rather than riding in it. Instead of controlling the mine cart directly, you control DK and Diddy. Jump over an obstacle, and it is your job to guide the monkey duo back onto the mine cart. Rhambi the Rhino returns as well, and a new barrel with rockets attached to it allows you to take to the skies in certain levels. These stages add some nice level variety to the game, and they keep you enthralled with their constantly shifting objectives.
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Satisfying Difficulty Level
Donkey Kong Country Returns is no walk in the park. The game does a good job of teaching you the mechanics and controls early on, but after the first two worlds, the game’s difficulty picks up considerably. This is most definitely a good thing, especially with the number of easy games out there right now. And though Donkey Kong Country Returns never gets overbearingly difficult, it constantly challenges you to keep a steady hand and perform careful jumps. It’s a gameplay style that hasn’t been seen in platformers in years, and it is very welcome.
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You can play using either the Wii Remote and Nunchuk combo or by holding the Wii Remote horizontally. Both methods work well, though the Wii Remote and Nunchuk manage to provide a better overall quality of control. Everything is mapped out to the buttons well, but there are a few commands that require you to do some waggling. Pounding the ground, rolling forward, and other actions are all done by shaking the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, and these functions all feel tacked on. They don’t detract from the experience, but button presses could have easily done the job, especially when the game doesn’t register your movements correctly from time to time.
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Like other recent Wii games such as Kirby's Epic Yarn, Donkey Kong Country Returns isn’t a very long-lasting platformer. Even with its high level of challenge, you’re likely to get through the game’s eight worlds in just a handful of hours. Each world has plenty of levels to play through, but not all of these need to be cleared for you to get to the end. You can certainly go back and play through all of the game’s stages to your heart’s content, but this isn’t necessary in terms of game completion. A few more prerequisite stages would have been greatly appreciated, and they would have definitely added to the game’s lasting appeal.
Luckily, there are a lot of extra things to do for completists who like to squeeze every ounce of game out of their purchases. As previously mentioned, each world has bonus levels to play through, and most of these are far more challenging than the regular stages. There are also hidden puzzle pieces in every level as well as the infamous K-O-N-G letters. All of these collectibles are strewn about the levels, and most of the time they’re tucked away inside secret rooms that can only be accessed by the wiliest gamers with the most watchful eyes.
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Donkey Kong Country Returns features a highly stylized visual design. Everything has a natural level of charm to it. Foregrounds are rich in color, with bright and bold hues taking over. Because you spend a great deal of time running around in the game’s backgrounds, though, Retro made sure to add a lively look to these areas as well. They may be off in the distance, but the backgrounds are just as full of life as everything you see right in front of you.
Aside from all the visual charm, DK's latest game also has a nice artistic look to it. Levels are designed intricately, in-game architecture is stylish, and various subtle touches add a hint of artistry to the entire thing. Every level exudes its own ambience, and while some stages are more impressive than others, they each look substantially different from one another.
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The soundtrack in Donkey Kong Country Returns is pretty much what you would expect. Throughout the course of your adventure you hear some catchy tropical themes as well as a good amount of remixed tracks from past games. Even the new music is reminiscent of past titles such as the incredible Donkey Kong 64. The whole time you play this game, it’s obvious that you’re playing Donkey Kong, and this is due in part to the sound design.
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Donkey Kong Country Returns Review - Overall Score
Retro has done a great job of recapturing the look and feel of the Donkey Kong franchise. The game is enjoyable to play alone or with a friend. There is plenty to do despite the short length. Charm practically drips out of the game. And the platforming itself is rock solid. Yet it’s hard to shake the fact that Donkey Kong Country Returns feels all too familiar. While Nintendo’s other platform hero has been able to switch between dimensions with games such as Super Mario Galaxy 2 and New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Donkey Kong has been forced to stay inside a sidescrolling box. It’s certainly not bad that the tie-wearing ape constantly appears in 2D adventures, but there’s no denying that a follow-up to Donkey Kong 64 is long overdue. For what it’s worth, though, Donkey Kong Country Returns is an excellent platformer with only a few hiccups keeping it from reaching greatness.