Stellar platforming, striking visuals and presentation, fluid character animation, dynamic levels and worlds, great soundtrack
Omission of Classic Controller support
Leave it to Retro Studios to breathe new life into a classic and beloved Nintendo franchise. Nearly a decade ago, the developer revived the Metroid series for a new generation with Metroid Prime; and now, Retro has repeated history with Donkey Kong Country Returns.
The Wii title is an extension of the Donkey Kong Country platform games, which were critical, commercial successes on SNES. As in the previous games, Donkey Kong finds that someone has stolen his banana stash. In Donkey Kong Country Returns, the culprit is a Tiki Tak Tribe who are brainwashing the inhabitants of DK’s island to do their evil bidding. This simple plotline sets up Donkey and Diddy Kong’s wonderful adventure, which is full of personality, challenge and excitement.
Donkey Kong Country Returns’ presentation brims with character. Donkey Kong’s iconic red tie serves as a transition piece between different menus and gameplay, and bananas swirl in and out of the screen between bonus levels. These minor but consistent details hide the brief loading times well and demonstrate how every aspect of this game is so well polished. For example, the lush visuals feature fantastic character animation, even for disposable foes. Frogs spiral out of control after receiving a pounding from DK, and sharks joyously jump to sink their teeth into the banana-loving ape. The animations– as well as the wonderful art design– breathe so much life and charm into the game.
Each level and subsequent world also impresses with variety and striking set pieces. For one, new game mechanics are constantly thrown into the mix, such as an octopus terrorizing you across a stage. Or DK jumping in a barrel that transforms into a rocket. Or navigating the classic and challenging mine cart through caves. Donkey Kong Country Returns proffers such diversity without even dipping into a variety of platforming tropes, like ice or snow stages. Many locales also boast depth, which is not just a gimmick but also a dynamic element that feels fresh and exciting. When DK wonders across an old pirate ship in the background, it’s not just for show. Donkey Kong can also find a well-hidden barrel to blast into the background and explore the boat. This interaction between Donkey Kong and the environments persists through the entire game, with levels literally crumbling apart as Donkey Kong journeys through them.
The journey is by no means easy, either. Like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, DK’s latest adventure features a Super Guide to assist players through difficult stages. Even self-proclaimed superstar gamers may find themselves leaning on some help, as Retro dishes out some hairy and devious stages and obstacles. The Wii Remote and Nunchuk serve as the main control scheme to navigate the tough levels, though the Wii Remote held sideways is optional as well. The former setup works well, with motion to ground pound and roll. In addition, the analog stick feels perfect for controlling Donkey Kong, as he’s a bit heavier and more slippery than many platform heroes, such as Mario. With that said, it’s odd and questionable as to why Retro omitted Classic Controller support, especially for people who prefer buttons over motion movements.
What everyone will agree on is the stellar soundtrack. Donkey Kong Country Returns nicely remixes past hits from the series, evoking a sense of nostalgia for franchise fans. At the same time, the musical selection boasts plenty of new tracks that keep you humming and bopping your head as DK hops from platform to platform. In particular, the hypnotic song used by the Tiki Tak Tribe to entrance bosses stuck out. This melody was a pleasure to hear upon every encounter.
Players do not have to encounter bosses or stages alone, though. Donkey Kong Country Returns also boasts a two-player cooperative mode, with the second gamer controlling Diddy. This differs from the single-player affair in a few ways, namely that Diddy has the ability to use his peanut guns with another player. The multiplayer feature works well, but fails to support a dynamic enough camera to stay with both players. Instead, the player who’s left behind while platforming automatically spawns next to the faster player. Even so, the option to game with a friend is welcomed.
Last but not least, this title features so many hidden bonus stages and cool unlockables that players have a reason to keep coming back (even after beating the game). For one, Retro places graphical cues throughout the levels to allude to in-level secrets. The design is rewarding, while at the same time giving off a great sense of discovery. Each level also contains the traditional KONG letters and puzzle pieces to really put people’s skills to the test. Needless to say, there are plenty of reasons to replay a stage, and these bonuses egg you on well.
Everything about Donkey Kong Country Returns is so fluid and smooth. Retro constantly surprises players with new game mechanics, striking set pieces and tons of Donkey Kong charm. This title is quite possibly the definitive side-scrolling platform experience for Wii.