Sunday, May 22, 2011

Donkey Kong Country Returns Review

In 1994, Nintendo released a revolutionary game on the SNES: Donkey Kong Country. The gameplay itself was, admittedly, generic; but the game made true waves in its graphics department. It used the most powerful technology on the SNES to move wire frames on-screen, virtually creating "3D". Looking back, these graphics are extremely primitive, but at the time were startling. Now with consoles able to produce amazing graphics on the fly, Retro Studios (developers of the highly-popular Metroid Prime series) decided to revive the DKC series, and the result is something that far outclasses its SNES grandparents.

Donkey Kong Country Returns changes a lot of staples of the franchise from the get-go, though. The main villains are no longer the tired Kremlings, but new drum-inspired Tikis. They hypnotize all the animals on Donkey Kong Island to gather all the bananas possible, which leads Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong to go and stop this ridiculous mess once and for all. The plot is told by humorous and often-interactive GC scenes, with preposterous setups and other crazy moments.

Donkey Kong still has the same "weighty" feel to him from the SNES days, but his jumping and acrobatic prowess have drastically improved. Instead of having small, very weak hops, Donkey Kong now has the precision leaping of his plumber archnemesis. Ground-slapping and Rolling is now delegated to a quick flick of the Wii Remote, and it's comfortable and precise. A second player can join in for co-op, too, though relegated to Diddy Kong. The little ape is much more agile, and gains a bonus boost from his rocketbarrel, though doesn't have the same "power" feeling as the bigger ape.

In a Retro tradition, the environments and stages are ridiculously well-designed. From classically-inspired levels to sun-bathed oceans that make everything feel like an Ipod commercial to a beach infested with pirates to the crazy mine kart levels, no idea feels overused or underused. The bosses are also great in design, too. Excluding the first and sixth one, their patterns are actually difficult to completely figure out on the get-go, and they provide a great challenge, a rarity for platformers.

Another staple of the SNES games was their legendary difficulty; this is carried over in DCKR. Unlike the original games, though, the challenge level never feels cheap or unfair; you always feel like you can beat it. The new Rocketbarrel levels are a true testament to this: they have easy to understand controls, but have a sky-high challenge level. Each levels also features the staple KONG letters, and the new Puzzle pieces. Finding and obtaining them is a true challenge, and they unlock great bonus features, including the Retro-manditory Art Gallery, which has beautiful hand-drawn artwork.

Graphics-wise, this game lives up to the SNES testament of delivering the best 2D graphics possible. Donkey Kong himself shows a great deal of emotion, from facial ticks to fluid movement. The music is also professionally done, with stylish remakes of classic DKC songs.

So what doesn't work? Well, the new blowing function (ducking and waggling the remote) slows down the action a bit, playing Wii Remote-only doesn't work out well, Time Attack can get VERY annoying, and the game can be a bit frustrating for less-experienced gamers, though there is a Super Guide mode that works much better than in New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Overall, though, this monkey still shines.


Gameplay: Still as fun as ever, and vastly spruced-up from the originals. 9.5
Graphics: Staggeringly good, with an astonishing attention to detail. 10
Audio: Well-conducted tunes will have your head bobbing in no time. 9
Overall: Donkey Kong Country feels like a true fulfillment of its SNES predecessors, and is another showcase that the Wii is the new system for amazing 2-D platformers. More fun than a barrel of monkeys.

9.5 Banana Coins out of 10