Saturday, January 1, 2011

Review: Donkey Kong Country Returns - I Love the Way it Hurts

Title: Donkey Kong Country Returns
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Release Date: November 21, 2010
Developer: Retro Studios, Inc.
Publisher: Nintendo
My Rating: 8~8.5ish I loved it, but there
was nothing new.

   I always said that the time for me to buy a Nintendo Wii would be when the release of a new Donkey Kong Country was imminent. A couple of years after the Golden Age of the Wii, I got my wish. I purchased my Wii in October, mostly in anticipation of Donkey Kong Country. A little more than a month later, Donkey Kong Country Returns came out.
   Needless to say, I had very high expectations. I had replayed the Super Nintendo DKC trilogy over the summer to review the state of the franchise at the last 2D entry. I understood DKC Returns would be a retro-throwback. However, as with all classic video game revivals, I was anxious to see what was new and exciting. I will revisit this thought towards the end of the review.
   Fans of the DKC series will instantly know the story. A mysterious tiki god stole a hoard of bananas. Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong go through the island on a quest to recover the stolen goods. Something I really appreciated about this game was the complete lack of dialogue. There were no voice overs and very little text to read. All of the story was relayed via short cut-scenes, which left me free to do what I wanted; play some DKC.
Here is an E3 trailer for DKC Returns from YouTube:
   The gameplay is pure Donkey Kong Country platforming. All of the original barrel blasting, baddie stomping, banana collecting is back. The levels are as frustratingly difficult as anybody can remember. Many of the later levels will make you throw your controller at the television, so be sure to wear your wrist-strap. The rail-levels returned. There are also levels in which you navigate a barrel propelled like a rocket. There are eight areas in all; nine if you count the endgame temples. Everybody should remember the collecting of the KONG letters, which is present here. Also, each level has puzzle pieces that can be collected. There are bonus rooms sprinkled throughout each level in which the player must collect all of the items within thirty seconds to obtain a puzzle piece. Rambi the Rhino is back; unfortunately, only in a couple of levels with very limited use. Also, there are no Rambi-specific bonus levels. I was very saddened by that. The only other animal character is Squawks, but he only works as a purchasable item that helps locate puzzle pieces. Some of the boss fights are incredibly hard, while others will be easily beaten without wasting a single life. They were all fun though.
   I have mixed feelings about the graphics in Donkey Kong Country Returns. The bottom line is that the Wii generally fails when it comes to impressing graphically. I believe Donkey Kong Country has always been the shiniest game on any Nintendo platform it has graced; even the N64. However, this is a far cry from where graphics in games are today. Also, the way it runs that disc in the console is shameful. To have moving backgrounds behind living scenes is really a standard. Nintendo does not even do it in high-definition. That said though, this definitely looks like a throwback to Donkey Kong Country, but the whole scene is just underwhelming in comparison to the Super Nintendo predecessors. Another graphical problem I saw was collision detection with a few of the baddies and obstacles. There were many times when I felt the collision was off by a centimeter or more. Even my wife said something about it at one point, which really highlights the point.
   The audio was anything I would have wanted from Donkey Kong Country. Already mentioned was the complete lack of voice-overs. My experience so far with Wii and video game narratives is either they have none or too much. After a long day, gameplay always wins over video game narrative for me. Spare me the talking and let us play! The music never strays from the classic, straight down to banana collecting and the boinks and bongs. I would like to hear some new mixes in the future; however, it was a good choice not to stray too far from the original soundtrack.
   Donkey Kong Country Returns offers two control schemes; with nunchuck and without. I chose the without scheme, but my kids really liked the nunchuck layout. Holding the Wiimote like a classic controller works best for me. Yet, I cannot help but feel like I am playing a Nintendo game when using the Wiimote as a classic controller. It is small, only has a couple of buttons, and you get blisters on your thumb from needing to jam down the directional buttons. The whole thing is just archaic and I wish we could move on to a real game controller. The implementation was perfect though. My jumps always landed fairly. I never felt as if I did not have good control of Donkey Kong.
   All in all, I love Donkey Kong Country. This franchise will always be known for some of the funnest, purest, challenging platforming available. This entry was true to the originals. We definitely need more DKC soon. However, I really want Nintendo to know that is time for something new. I really missed the ridable spider, ostrich, and swordfish. Water levels in general were absent from this edition. When things like this happen, it feels like players are getting less for their money. Please do not be afraid to go outside the box when bringing back a franchise. You might not go so far as to go from 2D to 3D, but you can still do something new. Love Donkey Kong Country Returns for what it is, but do not be afraid to ask for better next time.

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