Friday, March 18, 2011

Game Review: Donkey Kong Country Returns

Donkey Kong Country Returns

I don't know if you've heard, but Donkey Kong Country has returned.

Wii, 2010

Publisher: Nintendo

Developer: Retro Studios / Nintendo

Time to Complete: 8-10 hours

Developed by Retro Studios, Donkey Kong Country Returns is Nintendo's attempt to re-ignite one of their signature franchises from the 90's. Similarly to Metroid: Other M, this game is a follow-up of sorts to the SNES age. So does it recapture the magic of the DKC series, or is it a mediocre game where Donkey Kong doesn't jump until he's given the okay from his commanding officer? Find out inside. Also, there will be naked Candy Kong. That'll bring in the ratings!

The big question going into this game was simply whether or not Retro Studios would be able to live up to the massive expectations of fans. Nintendo trusted them with the reinvention of Metroid and they didn't fail on that front, so they've proven themselves before. In this case, rather than a complete reinvention they opted to just update and modernize the DKC world. A lot has changed in the past fifteen years. Now, we expect our games to be conscious of the third dimension, if not occupy it.

From the start, it's clear that this game is designed around the Wii's specific strengths and weaknesses as a system. There are two potential ways to control this game: with the Wiimote/Nunchuck combination, or with the Wiimote alone horizontally. I found that the latter was the best way to do it; at the same time I found myself often wondering why they didn't make this game Classic Controller compatible. The same issue has popped up with Metroid Other M, New Super Mario Bros, and likely numerous other games. If they don't want to make the Classic Controller mandatory for new games it's completely understandable, but it seems silly to not include it as a control option. Fact is, the sideways Wiimote as a controller is about as comfortable as that blocky old NES controller from the 80's. This detracts from the game a bit, make no mistake.

The smog is coming

On the other hand, the controls might well be the game's only major fault. As far as the level design goes, this is a pretty innovative game. While it is a 2D platformer, it incorporates lots of 3D elements. The levels never really -seem- two-dimensional, and this helps bring the player into the game world. That said, this is a classic action game in every sense of the word; as such, the difficulty is high and will frustrate some players. It's that good kind of difficulty, though. Sometimes the game can drive you crazy, yet it's too much fun to give up. There were levels that I literally lost 30-40 lives in and yet somehow never stopped having fun.

The plot of this game is completely inconsequential, but it's worth noting that the Kremlings and King K. Rool are completely absent from this game. Many DKC purists/nerds may balk at this and act like it's the equivalent of Paul McCartney and Blue Man Group forming The New Beatles. It's really not that big of a deal, though. This is essentially a DKC restart. The new villains are a bunch of nefarious masks, and they help give the boss battles in the game their own distinctive feeling. The way music is used during the aformentioned boss fights is pretty zany and inventive.

The smog is here

The graphics in this game don't quite wow in 2011 the way DKC did in 1994, but they're pretty darn nice. The animation is fluid and just fun to look at. There's an outstanding variety in the level design, with an assortment of levels that completely run the gamut of environmental situations. Right from the get-go the game impresses visually, with a series of beach levels that show you exactly what you're getting into: a brightly-colored, vibrant fun-stravaganza the likes of which you would otherwise need both Fruity Pebbles and LSD to experience. However, one of those things is pretty bad for you... and the other is illegal, so play this game instead.

How is the sound, you ask? The sound is amazing. The DKC series on the SNES was renowned partly for the incredible music. DKCR takes many themes from the original DKC and remixes them, giving this game a soundtrack that is old and new and the best of both worlds. Retro Studios really outdid themselves with the music for this game. The soundtrack is perhaps the best thing about the game, and even if you never play this do yourself a favor and go listen to some of the soundtrack on youtube. Astounding tracks all around, and the nostalgia is in full swing. The one criticism that this soundtrack might get is that there are very few new tracks. This is true, but in this case... the soundtrack just works regardless. Of the new tracks, one that stands out in particular is the final boss theme; it sounds like a Metroid battle theme that Retro re-appropriated and it is truly outstanding.

Every time I turn the page I black out!

Donkey Kong Country was one of the biggest games of the 1990's. It helped the Super NES overpower the Sega Genesis in the pitched console war that raged on for years. Donkey Kong Country 2 was (very debatably) the best installment in the series and another all-time SNES classic. The third game... well, the less said the better as it was a huge step down, but it was a fairly decent platformer. After that a few N64 games expanded the franchise a bit, but we never really got another true DKC game until this one. Donkey Kong Country Returns is the closest thing we've had to a DKC4. Then again, this game has far more in common with the original DKC than either of the two SNES sequels, so calling it DKC4 wouldn't have been a very good idea. It's a reboot of sorts without being a remake, one that sports a number of improvements, and it's well worth a shot. The one downside? It's a bit on the short side, so a rental would suffice for people who aren't platform game fanatics.

And now, without further ado... Nude Candy Kong.

::holds earpiece:: I'm sorry, I was just informed that I misheard. It's actually nude Cranky Kong. I apologize for any inconvenience this has caused.

"SURPRISE! Har Har Hardy Har!"

Rating: 8.8 out of 10

1 comment:

  1. I gotta know now where does this game fit in?