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Donkey Kong Country Returns Review

by Brian Leahy, Nov 22, 2010 3:00pm PST
Related Topics – Review, Nintendo Wii

Let me begin this review by saying that Donkey Kong Country is one of my favorite games of all time. The day it was released, I was 10 years old and stayed home from school to finish the game without turning my poor, overworked SNES off. So, you might say that my personal expectations for DKC Returns are a bit high.

The good news is that DKC Returns is a great game. There isn't much of a story to be discussed beyond: Donkey Kong's banana horde is stolen and he and Diddy Kong set out to retrieve the stolen fruit from the creatures of the island across 8 areas, turned against Donkey Kong by evil tiki-themed, musical instruments and their mind-control powers.

Donkey Kong now has the ability to climb on grassy surfaces, which are used extremely well in some levels and greatly add to the platforming. The climbing is used much more than barrel blasting, which is quite limited when compared to the original. That being said, each level feels unique and has a great combination of gameplay mechanics.

When you get Diddy, you'll get the ability to hover for a few seconds while jumping as he uses a jetpack while holding Donkey Kong. It makes a lot of the platforming much easier, but I found myself getting used to it and having trouble when I didn't have Diddy. Diddy also doubles your life, giving you four hearts over Donkey's two.

There are some challenging levels. I never found myself stuck for more than a few minutes, but younger gamers might have a tough time. Most of the difficult levels have just one or two spots that make them difficult. Checkpoints are usually placed right before them and if you really can't make it through, you'll be able to have the computer auto-play the level after a lot of deaths.

While the game is setup with a short, effective cutscene of said banana horde being stolen, the story doesn't progress level to level. I'm not saying the game needs a strong narrative and engrossing story, but the drive to keep playing relies solely on the levels themselves. New gameplay concepts are introduced all the way through the game and each of the 8 worlds has a unique look and feel.

That being said, the levels are quite short. I found myself clearing entire worlds in around 30 minutes if I wasn't trying to get every collectible on each stage. There is quite a lot to collect if you're a perfectionist, though. With K-O-N-G to spell, banana coins, and puzzle pieces to find. Unlike the original, the bonus rooms and hidden items are telegraphed in DKC Returns. With minimal effort, I found most of the hidden items in a level, finishing only missing one or two things.

Banana coins can be spent on items at Kranky Kong's shop, but the menu never changes. You'll be able to buy extra lives, a one-time use extra heart, an invulnerability potion that gives you 10 hits before going to your hearts (use this on boss fights), and Squawks, which will tip you off to nearby, hidden puzzle pieces. Finally, you can buy a key in each world, which will unlock a pathway to a new level and will be needed for a 100% run. Honestly, I found myself mostly ignoring the shop and usually had around 80-100 banana coins stockpiled at any one time.

The biggest issues with the game are the control schemes. The game can only be played with a Wiimote and Nunchuk or a sideways Wiimote (superior). I booted up the game with my classic controller all ready to go only to be told to remove the unsupported attachment. The game is essentially a three-button affair, but due to the sideways Wiimote's two accessible buttons, the third becomes "shake the Wii Remote" and is modified by the directional pad. Neutral, Kong will pound the ground. Hold down and you'll use the mostly useless "blow" move. Hold left or right and you'll roll. There are several places where you'll need to quickly use one of these three moves to collect an item quickly, but mess up because it's a terrible control scheme. Not allowing the classic controller is a massive mistake.

In the end, Donkey Kong Country Returns is a solid game and a nice throwback to the SNES classic. I was smiling during a lot of the levels, but I often found myself reminiscing more about Rare's original game than focusing what I was currently playing. It doesn't eclipse its predecessor, but it's a fun ride. If you are too young to have played the original on the SNES, this is a great way to experience the Donkey Kong Country goodness.




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