Also available on: N/A
Developer: Retro Studios
Anyone who calls themselves an avid gamer will have encountered Donkey Kong at some point. Countless retro enthusiasts hold the barrel-throwing simian's debut close to their hearts, while Super Nintendo owners will no doubt recall how groundbreaking Rare's Donkey Kong Country was in the 16-bit era. The great ape has long been a mainstay in the Big N's roster, appearing in flagship franchises such as Super Mario Kart and Smash Brothers, yet the character's SNES outings remain his most definitive. With the sheer volume of retro remakes on the market, it came as no surprise that Nintendo was rehashing the award-winning formula on Wii; but is Donkey Kong Country Returns a barrel of laughs or a potential banana skin for the gaming giant?
As the legion of fans that owned the original Donkey Kong Country will testify, the game was a technological marvel that pushed the SNES hardware beyond its limits. It may have played like your average platformer, but variety and scope helped set it further apart from its competitors. In its heyday, Rare's masterpiece was one of the most impressive console titles around, despite the sheer frustration its unforgiving nature often gave rise to. Donkey Kong Country Returns is a different story entirely. In a world of HD graphics and Blu-ray technology, the game doesn't exactly look like a tour de force alongside its PS3 and Xbox 360 counterparts, yet it's as colourful and vibrant as anything else on Wii. Gameplay is certainly reminiscent of its age-old predecessor, though there's a few surprises in store in this department.
Like New Super Mario Bros. before it, Returns strives to capture the essence of its predecessors, while fleshing out the experience for a modern audience. First and foremost, the game panders towards the nostalgic crowd by acknowledging its roots. Barrel-hurling, vine-swinging, banana-collecting and mine cart-riding are all revisited in the faithful update. This is vintage platforming action just the way you remember it, with the obligatory system-specific tweaks thrown in for good measure. The Wii's motion interface has been well integrated, enabling the player to perform ground stomps, rolls and other special moves by shaking the controller. It's an amalgamation of old and new that really works. Intuitive controls help this one recapture the magic of its forebear, though it's the innovative level design that makes old-school mechanics feel fresh again.
One of the biggest differences between Returns and its SNES ancestors is the role of Donkey Kong's sidekick Diddy Kong. The original sported a tag team system, while the new game has players control both apes as one. In the single-player campaign, Diddy crops up whenever you crack open a barrel marked with DK, riding on your back until his health meter is spent. With your friend attached, you have access to his jetpack, which enables hover capability for a short period. In multiplayer mode, the second player takes control of Diddy. Although this hampers player one somewhat by depriving them of the jetpack, gameplay remains balanced thanks to the presence of the second player, who can push on through the level while his companion respawns.
DK's adventure plays out across a series of varied landscapes. Many pay homage to the original, such as the lush jungles and perilous caverns, while others chart new territory for the series. Each stage has a unique feel, hitting you with additional obstacles to ensure the learning curve is continuous. At various points throughout the game, you'll be blasted into the background to explore new areas. This seamless blend of 2D and 3D action may not be anything new, but it's used reasonably here. Later levels have the series legendary difficulty down to a fine art. Bottomless pits are abundant, instant death traps grow ever frequent and enemy movement patterns become more unpredictable. Whether all of this is a good thing depends on your standpoint. Masochists and gifted gamers might enjoy the level of challenge, while your average player may feel the developers have gone overboard. Luckily, there are measures in place to ensure balance. Extra lives are plentiful, available in bulk from the in-game store, and the 'Super Kong' mode provides you with a video walkthrough of troublesome stages.
A complete play-through can take up to ten hours, but there is much more longevity than this on offer. There are special items to collect in each stage such as hidden jigsaw pieces and the individual letters that make up the word ‘Kong’. Fortunately, most of the levels have bags of replay value and are fun to revisit to retrieve the objects you missed. Those persevering enough to collect all of the letters will be rewarded with secret levels, but be warned, these unlockable stages really separate the men from the boys.
Overall, Donkey Kong Country Returns is a masterclass in level design and living proof that innovation is still possible with old-school mechanics. While it isn't anywhere near as groundbreaking as the SNES original was in its day, the game could still teach most current generation offerings a thing or two about compelling gameplay. Sure to strike a chord with retro fanatics and contemporary gamers alike, this one is worth going ape over.
> What do you think of the game? Share your views