The Donkey Kong Country series is, without a doubt, a staple memory for just about anyone who owned a Super Nintendo Entertainment System. The gameplay was rock solid, the music was outstanding, and the graphics were the absolute best you could find on any system. If you were old enough to play Donkey Kong Country when it came out, it probably still stands as one of your top SNES titles.
We’ve been waiting for a follow up to the series for quite a while now, and it is finally here in the form of Donkey Kong Country Returns. Nintendo has been bringing back a ton of old franchises lately, with games like New Super Mario Bros, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Goldeneye 007, and the upcoming and highly anticipated Kid Icarus game for the 3DS. It’s only fitting that DK should get the same revival, and who better to helm such an important project than Retro Studios, the team that put gamers behind Samus’ visor for the critically acclaimed Metroid Prime trilogy.
The first thing you’re going to notice when booting up Donkey Kong Country Returns is the music, and that theme song’s nostalgia is going to hit you like a ton of bricks. As soon as I heard that familiar tune, my lips twisted into a retarded smile and I giggled to myself a little bit, like the idiot I truly am.
But not to worry, I know many people have fears of the game being driven entirely by nostalgia. Well, much like with Eurocom’s recent Goldeneye remake, Donkey Kong Country Returns doesn’t have to rely on nostalgia to please customers.
In fact, this game could be completely stripped of its name, characters, and music, and it would still be one of the most engaging experiences on any current generation system. Period. The nostalgia factor just helps elevate everything to absurd heights, reviving childhood memories and making you feel really good about life.
Until, that is, the game starts kicking your ass. And it won’t take long, either.
I’m a seasoned gamer, I loved the Donkey Kong Country series as a kid (and have continued to play the first two games in the series semi-regularly into my adult years), and consider 2D platforming to be among my favorite gaming genres. I’m not out of practice, stale, or inexperienced with such games in any manner. But Returns spanked my tail end. Hard. Especially during later levels, when I realized it wasn’t at all abnormal for me to burn through 10 to 15 lives or more in a single level.
The thing is, I never felt like I sucked. I just felt challenged — urged to do better. The more I practiced, the more I tried, the more I failed, the better I got. I started to remember obstacles, item placement, and enemy whereabouts until I was able to finally get to the final barrel of levels I thought I’d never beat. After doing such, I found it amazing how easily I could blow through levels a second time while only losing one or two lives, or, not dying at all! This is a rare example of a game that rewards you not only by letting you move on, but by truly making you feel like you’ve accomplished something.
Strewn throughout the largely faithful-to-the-original-design levels are tons and tons of enhancements and innovations. Among my favorite additions to the gameplay are the segments where you jump into a barrel, turn on the ignition, and the damn thing turns into a rocket, blasting through levels at high speeds.
To control these rocket barrels is much like playing Helicopter, an extremely addictive flash game. Press the A button to ascend and release it to descend. It’s very simple, very fun, and is found in some of the hardest levels in the game. Other additions include interactive backgrounds that are part of the level, circular platforms covered in grass that rotate while DK holds onto them, and levels where you have to out run waves crashing into the playing field from the background.
As excellent as Donkey Kong Country is, I would not feel comfortable calling it perfect, because I did have a few complaints. For starters, there sometimes seems to be a bit of a wobble in the difficulty curve from one level to the next, and bosses are quite often the easiest level of an entire world.
The other thing that I wasn’t necessarily happy with was the mapping of DK’s roll move to a waggle function, when there are several buttons on the Wiimote that are either unused or do the same thing as another button. It makes no sense and even allows for some sloppy gameplay and accidental deaths. There is also no way to change controls, so it’s something you’ll have to get used to, unfortunately.
This is one of the best games I’ve played in a long time. The art style is gorgeous, the multiple layers of playfields are intriguing, the gameplay is solid, the music is amazing, and the entire game is a satisfying challenge from start to finish. Retro Studios has done an amazing job reviving a classic franchise and innovating the experience in such a way that everything is fresh and exhilarating. A must-buy.
Score: 9.75/10 (Outstanding)