There aren’t many game current game characters that are nearing the age of 30. There is of course Pac-Man, Mario recently celebrated his 25th anniversary as a standalone character, and who knows what the Pong paddle is up to these days? But there’s one character everyone seems to forget. Donkey Kong has been around just as long as everyone’s favourite moustachioed plumber, but where’s the love? Since Rare stopped developing the Donkey Kong Country series, everyone’s favourite ape has been slung into sub-par platformers, sports titles and fairly decent DS titles as a villain. But thanks to Retro Studios (the amazingly creative team behind the Metroid Prime series), fans of DK and the DK Crew can smile once more with the release of Donkey Kong Country Returns.
And smile you will, in between fits of frustration, obscenities and maybe a few tears, because while the game is definitely made for fans of the original Donkey Kong Country series, it is also made for hardcore gamers only. I pity any casual gamer who picks this up to see what all the fuss is about, as it isn’t likely that they’ll enjoy anything after the first stage of the first world (even with Nintendo’s new Super Guide feature). But for those who have years of gaming under their belts and a slew of ‘90s side scrolling platformers locked away in their muscle memory, you’re about to embark on one of the single best reasons to own a Wii console.
For those who aren’t familiar with the DKC series, the premise is simple: A villain shows up, takes all of Donkey Kong’s bananas and it’s up to DK, his friends and some wild animals to help him get them all back. The map is split up into eight themed worlds, each with varying numbers of stages within (including incredibly varied and satisfying boss fights). Each stage tasks you with getting from point A to point B while looking out for the letters K-O-N-G and hidden jigsaw puzzle pieces along the way. While these aren’t mandatory, they will allow you to unlock art, music, and dioramas as well as ridiculously hard bonus stages.
The big difference in this 2010 sequel is that, for the first time, Diddy Kong is no longer just a sidekick that can help you through areas. At any stage you can get a friend or partner to pick up a second controller and jump into Diddy’s shoes. While it’s possible for Diddy to just climb onto Donkey Kong’s back for an easy lift throughout tough stages of the game, the fun comes in helping each other out and finding the secrets of each level together. All in all, this game is better than New Super Mario Bros Wii when it comes to two-player, co-operative action.
The graphics are what you would expect from the DKC series, with everything very much in the style that fans have come to love. The new addition is that there’s just so much more going on. Some levels you’ll be shot from barrels into the background, while in others you’ll be whisked closer to the camera while riding on a mine cart. On one occasion you’ll be nothing more than a silhouette against a blinding sunset background (this level is gorgeous, if not a little confusing). In fact, almost every level will have you a little speechless, be it due to something happening in the background or coming towards you.
As mentioned earlier, this isn’t a game for the casual or easily irritated. While you do have a set amount of lives and you can buy them at Cranky Kong’s store, they just don’t matter in the long run; if you run out of lives, you simply hit Continue again. The only real benefit from having a steady supply is that, should you run out of lives mid-level, you won’t start from a mid-way checkpoint: you’ll have to start again. You will burn through those lives (especially while playing with someone) as there are plenty of opportunities to simply misjudge a jump, run into an enemy or simply accidentally roll off a ledge to your demise. But Retro Studios expects you to lose numerous lives and, in doing so, you learn every nook and cranny of each stage so that you can actually finish them, placing you well to go back and attempt to score a gold in each stage in the time attack mode.
Donkey Kong Country Returns should be a must-have for all those Wii owners looking for something to play, or for those who have brushed off the Wii as something that no longer looks after the hardened gamer. While the difficulty may turn many off, there will be a lot of people DK’s age that have been aching for this genre to make a decent return. This is that return.