Ever since I picked up a Sega Master System controller when I was a wee lad, I’ve been a hardcore fan of gaming. Super Hang-On beget Super Mario Bros. beget Sonic the Hedgehog beget Super Mario World and so on and so forth. Over the years, graphics got better and better, and each new title made me sit up and take notice. The 16-bit era contained quite a few gorgeous gems at the time, but nothing, and I mean nothing, made me actually have to lift my glasses and rub my eyes like Donkey Kong Country, which looked like no other game that came before it on the consoles. Seriously, if you weren’t there in 1994, you wouldn’t understand, but this game was a looker beyond lookers, and just about everybody and their second cousins had to stand in awe of the title. It looked amazing. But how did it play? Well, that was the best part of all, you see, as it was one of the most addictive side-scrollers anybody had ever touched, and it was by Rare, which was a company that was on a hot streak with their other big title, Killer Instinct at the time.
Flash forward well over a decade later, and the original Donkey Kong Country still looks good given the SNES’ limitations. Back then, the SNES was at the top of the graphical heap, but today, the Nintendo Wii, is known for anything but its graphical power. So when it was announced that a new Donkey Kong Country was going to be released for the system, the first thing I thought when I saw the colorful, but unimpressive graphics, was that it better still have that addictive gameplay that the series is known for if it’s going to be worth a damn. Well, after a great deal of playtime with the game, I have to say that not only is Donkey Kong Country Returns addictive, but it’s also one of the most addictive games I’ve ever played in my entire life. And the graphics, when actually in motion, aren’t too bad too boot.
Not since the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater have I played a game where the words, “One more time,” were uttered with such frequency and with such reckless abandonment of the truth. Every time I missed a jump or got slammed by an octopus tentacle, I kept saying, “One more time,” no matter how many times I died. While the stages in the original DK Country trilogy were fun, I wouldn’t use the word variety when describing them—hop and bop stage, swimming stage, mine cart stage, repeat. But every level of this game provides something new and exciting to the player. Whether it’s riding on a whale and using its blow hole to shoot yourself skyward over obstacles, or it’s a flaming barrel that you have to pilot above and below explosions, or even a barrel blasting experience where you go hurdling in both the background and the foreground to topple rocks, every single stage provides something new to keep you going. And to think, this game isn’t even made by Rare, but instead, by Retro Studios, which is probably best known for taking the Metroid series to new heights with the Metroid Prime trilogy. Honestly, and some of you might think this is blasphemy, but I think Retro Studios should now be known as the company that makes series’ even better than the originators themselves. They’re seriously that good. And I’m going to go the length to say that this is the best DK Country game by far, the original being a classic, notwithstanding.
What sets this title apart from the original three on the SNES is actually what made the original three so excellent in the first place, and that’s the actual platforming. The original had a sturdy foundation of left to right exploration with a few secret paths here or there. But DKCR is brimming with different paths to take, as the background, foreground, underground, and sky, are all fair game for exploration this time, as the levels are completely sprawling. This is a game that rewards looking everywhere, with the completist in me wanting to collect every puzzle piece and letter that the game has to offer. I seriously spend great deals of time on these levels, just to find everything there is. This exploration aspect alone is enough to keep me addicted, but again, it’s the sheer platforming that makes it superior to any other iteration in the series, as every level has a different feel to it that you have to adjust to, meaning you won’t just breeze on by, especially in the later levels where the difficulty becomes insane.
What I also find interesting in this game is its two-player functionality, which seriously makes this game an entirely different experience. While New Super Mario Bros. for the Wii’s co-op play was nuts, with people either mad dashing for power ups or helping each other out, in DKCR, it totally changes the dynamics of this title. In single player mode, you can no longer switch monkeys on the fly, but instead, acquire Diddy Kong who sits on your back and can help you hover about to make safer landings. But in two-player mode, somebody else can control Diddy, and he’s a completely different character when played by an actual human being. It seriously changes the entire landscape and makes you want to play the game through twice, once on your own, and once with another player.
The presentation is also really unique. I know I said before that the graphics are unimpressive, but what they lack in graphical prowess, they make up for in creative design. This is a really colorful game, and it utilizes that rainbow effect to make it stand out from the pack of dull looking games today. One impressive level has nothing but DK’s silhouette with his red tie the only thing showing on his body as the calm orange background paints the entire level in shadows. It’s really beautiful. Another level atop ruins, has a lush jungle background that is all the more impressive when you actually shoot yourself into the background from a barrel. It’s great.
The controls are actually fun as well. I usually complain about how Nintendo sometimes force feeds the Wii mote to you when a standard controller would do just fine, but the nunchuku, WIi-mote combination works quite well, with this working just as easily as holding a controller with two hands. I’m still not too fond of holding the controller like a regular NES controller, but it’s an option that also works. It doesn’t hurt the game at all.
I seriously can’t find anything to nitpick about in this game. Sure, the story can be told to you in one sentence (These weird tiki gods hypnotize the animals in DK’s jungle and steal his bananas, the end), but when has DK ever needed a sturdy storyline to back up his exploits on a Nintendo system? The fact that Kranky Kong, who is the only Kong besides Diddy to actually make a return from the original series, is so funny is reason alone not to care that the story is so cut and dry. Seriously, Nintendo has always had its first party characters to make it worth owning the Wii, and DKCR is no exception. Pick this game up. It’s the best game on the system, since, well, Super Mario Galaxy 2. And that’s saying quite a bit, as that game was legendary.
Developer: Retro Studios, Nintendo