Back on form with some stunning visual’s and some of the best level design of any platform title, Donkey Kong Country Returns is a powerful player for the genre’s much coveted ‘Game of the Year’ crown.
For those of you out there old enough to remember running down to your local amusement arcade after school to cram handful’s of shiny new 10p pieces into the latest tabletop or upright cabinet title, then you will look on the latest game from Nintendo with a warm fond feeling circulating around your fuzzy thought patterns. Donkey Kong has been a firm favourite with fan’s of the Nintendo franchise for as long as we can remember, ( even when the long-armed ape was nothing more than a barrel throwing bad-guy bidding to splatter a certain Italian plumber at every opportunity ). This latest adventure for the now good-natured gorilla see’s our long-term affection with the lovable character taken up a few notches, as new ‘morphing’ level design, and some of the finest platforming gameplay to be had in any title, gives Donkey Kong Country Returns an entertainment value that is better than the average game.
We were unsure at first how the game was going to fare, considering that the original developers Rare are now firmly ensconced at Microsoft. But stepping up to the plate, and hitting this baby so far out of the ball park you would need binoculars just to see the vapour trail of the games meteoric success, come Metroid Prime developers Retro Studio’s. Would the seconded developers be able to take the much-loved character back to the top of the gaming charts? Or would they crash and burn in a fiery hell of 2D platforming nonsense? To be fair to Retro Studio’s they surprised everyone with just how good a job they have done, and though they may have overlooked one or two very minor control problem’s Donkey Kong Country Returns looks all set to rank up there alongside its classic predecessors as a true gaming diamond.
The story plays a small part in the game, as Donkey Kong Country Returns is really all about the titles actual gameplay, but nevertheless there is a plotline there for those gamers looking for a little more depth to the platforming fun. The naughty Tik Tak Tiki’s, the eponymous ‘bad guys’ of the piece, are controlling the fluffy inhabitants of Donkey Kong’s island paradise, and with the use of some clever ‘Jedi Mind Trick’ style powers they are getting their minions to steal all of our hirsute heroes ‘Banana Billions.’ This will not do at all, and so the Big Guy goes on a mission, along with his namesake ‘mini-me’ Diddy Kong, to reclaim his fruitful fortune.
Along the way to the promised land of the end of game hidden level’s and bonus unlock rewards of the Golden Temple challenges, players will undergo a thrilling time in the maniacal monkey’s realm as they run, jump, roll and smash their way across some spectacular level’s that look to have been designed by a team of ‘Platforming Perfectionists’. Donkey Kong Country Returns is an absolute joy to play with memories of earlier versions of the game being generously scattered throughout the zones, as you will pass through sections with motif’s from titles from yester year and memorable music ringing in your ears.
The visual’s are sumptuous without, surprisingly, being ground breaking. Instead of the developers causing gamers to drop their jaw’s and ‘coo’ at sparkly bit’s of impressive tinsel, Retro Studio’s have opted for the wiser decision to make the gameplay the thing that has players bashing their slackened appendages on the carpet at the sheer quality contained within the actual game itself. As we have said so many times before in our reviews here at GamesMediaPro, all that glistens is not necessarily gaming gold.
The way that the developers have constructed each level in Donkey Kong Country Returns is a true testament to the amount of time and effort that Retro Studio’s, and their skilled staff, have invested in their game. The set design’s are an absolute joy to encounter, with everything being laid out before you in such a way that it keeps the gameplay flowing from the very beginning of the section to the last cheering endorsement by the end of level celebrations. There are some truly inspired moments throughout the game with some exceptional Co-oP zones where you and a loved one, or friend, can overcome the obstacles and hurdles in front of you by some highly inventive gameplay. The same has to be said for the Boss Battles, as well as the spectacularly enjoyable ‘vehicular levels’ where you will get to zoom around the island at breakneck speed’s as you attempt to lift the flag in some of Kranky Kong’s Kart Races.
There are a whole host of collectibles for players to search out and recover as Retro Studio’s continue in the original developers footsteps and pack in as much ‘replay-ability ‘ value in as possible. Everything is on offer for gamers to collect from banana’s to cons and the highly important pieces of the level’s secret puzzle. It’s great to see. that in an age when it seem’s that the single player campaign is being ever whittled away in the developers bid to snare the online multiplayer crowd, that Nintendo and their supporting studio’s still very obviously remember why people buy videogames in the first place, and that is to experience the campaign for themselves. The multiplayer and Co-oP modes being a bonus to the main story.
Another feather in the cap of Donkey Kong Country Returns has to be the way that the developers have allowed the levels to be so versatile in their design. In that we mean that usually when you play a platform title the format is set in stone, and you get to Point D from Point A via Points B and C respectively. However with Retro Studio’s take on the successful franchise they have introduced a style that is as innovative as is it effective, and even though there have been several other attempts by various developers, all with varying results and degree’s of success, we have to say that the way that Retro Studio’s have brought into play the ever evolving level design, that is constantly morphing and changing around you, and making for new and exciting challenges with every visit, works so well with their title and has to be the best example of this kind of level design to date.
Donkey Kong Country Returns does have one fault in its otherwise flawless performance, however, and we feel that it is in the way the game demands that it be played using the motion controller only. For us we would have liked to have seen such a genuine classic of gaming greatness being allowed to use the original style of classic controller, and thus extending that misty-eyed stroll down memory lane for all us aging gaming stalwarts. Alas, it is not to be, and so for that reason, and that reason alone, it saddens us to say that Retro Studio’s will fail to reach the dizzy heights of the perfect 10 in the final score. A true pity as this is one game that should have allowed players to at least choose how they would have liked to play it.
With a little bit of something for everyone Donkey Kong Country Returns will have gamers from five to seventy-five reaching for the Wiimote to take part in one of the most highly enjoyable gaming experiences this year.
Graphics: Great stuff from the developers as they squeeze every last drop of 2D goodness from their title. Visually impressive and side scrolling gaming at its very best, Donkey Kong Country Returns will leave gamers without that ranting outburst at the TV as they berate all and sundry for screen tearing or frame rate drop. Clean as a whistle and beautiful to boot. 9
Gameplay: Simply flawless as Retro Studio’s take an established gaming powerhouse and somehow manage to make it even better. The changeable set design is inspired and actually works, the levels are painstakingly detailed with a flow and pace that is rarely, if ever, done as well as this. So much to see, so much to do and so much reason to keep on coming back for more. The only minor issue was the lack of classic controller compatibility. Otherwise it is perfection. 9
Replay Value: With so much going on in Donkey Kong Country Returns it is highly unlikely that gamers will see all it has to offer and complete everything it has up its sleeve, for the completionists out there, in one play through. With the added bonus of interactive and changeable level design, being put to the best use we have ever had the pleasure of experiencing, Retro Studios title will keep you coming back time and again to unearth that last lost coin, or track down that bothersome banana, as you seek to uncover all this game has to give. 10
Presentation: Once again Nintendo has proven why the are streets ahead of the competition with this fantastic foray into the fledgling days of gaming. Bringing back elder statesmen characters is always a worry, as though some are undoubted greats, they may not translate very well to a new demographic and, as a result, lose some of that allure and respect by looking like nothing more than a last-ditch effort at milking a cash cow. This, however, is a million miles from such cynicism. Retro Studio’s have done a sterling job with Donkey Kong Country Returns and it shines through in every pixel of every level as the game is just head and shoulders above its competitors in every respect. Visually impressive with a score that will have Dad’s across the globe wiping away a silent tear from their eyes as they remember a time gone by. Classic gaming for the next generation of gamers. 10