Review — Donkey Kong Country Returns (Wii)

DKCR art - playwisegaming.com“Donkey Kong Country Returns” marks the revival of Nintendo’s immensely popular, vine-swinging, barrel-blasting, side-scrolling platformer. The game was developed by Retro Studios, which is quite a surprise considering they’ve been making first-person Metroid shooters for the last 12 years. After his 14-year hiatus, does Donkey Kong blast out of retirement with a vengeance or merely slide out of his rocker and break his hip?

WARNING: Text beyond this point may contain spoilers!

Donkey Kong Country Returns

  • Price: $50
  • Concept: Monkeying around
  • System: Wii
  • Genre: Platformer
  • Length: 8-12 hours
  • Replay Value: High
  • Recommendation: Get it son!
  • Score: 88

Story: 80
“Donkey Kong Country Returns” hits the jungle floor pounding, but this time he’s only bringing one of his pals along for the ride: Diddy Kong. The obnoxious villains of the previous Country games, the Kremlings, are also missing from this adventure — thank God.

They’ve been replaced with floating Tiki heads who serve their giant Tiki volcano master by hypnotizing the local wildlife into stealing all of the bananas on Donkey Kong Island for them, including a huge stash belonging to Donkey Kong himself.

That one sentence above describes just about the entire plotline, so it’s safe to say that story takes a back seat to gameplay in the latest Kong outing. In terms of narrative, “Donkey Kong Country Returns” is about as shallow as they come — which is perfect.

Rather than sitting through cutscenes, you’re squarely planted into the action at all times. If it were any other title, this story would be receiving a score in the 40 to 50 range, but it fits this action-heavy platformer.

DKCR actionGameplay: 95
Donkey Kong is still the king of the gameplay jungle, giving even Mario a run for his gold coins. You’ll find yourself bashing woodland creatures and clinging to grass-covered, swinging pendulums across more than 60 levels.

While Donkey Kong is full of everything you’d expect from a platformer, there is an incomparable amount of variety within each stage. Some levels will have you swinging among the treetops, while others will have you soaring around them in a rocket-laden wooden barrel.

There are also several levels with barrels that launch you into a background scene within the level, which makes you look smaller since you’re further away from the camera and adds a different level of challenge. You can also expect a boss battle at the end of each stage.

Minecart levels make a valiant return, which I found myself loving rather than dreading as I had in the past. These can be somewhat difficult and require some memorization, harkening back to the speedbike segments of “Battletoads” from the NES era.

Just like the minecart levels, the rest of this game is brutally hard. Expect to die hundreds of times as you struggle to get past that last set of spikes underneath a crumbling bridge at the very end of a level or as a giant purple bat is flying after you shooting sonar projectiles from only a few inches away.

Graphics: 95
DKCR silhouettedLow-quality, prerendered cutscenes aside, “Donkey Kong Country Returns” is gorgeous with its vibrantly colored baddies and picturesque beach and jungle scenes.

But the game doesn’t just stop at the expected locales. You can lumber with Kong across eight different stages including a twisted mechanical factory and the lava-filled pit of an erupting volcano. There’s even a few artistically silhouetted levels, which adds yet another layer of variety to the package.

Being a sidescroller, the game is not in 3-D, but the third dimension wont be missed in this lustrous world of 2-D adventure.

Audio: 90
The sound effects in the game are fitting, but the soundtrack is where the audio truly shines.

Just about all the classic DK tunes make a fitting resurgence in “Returns.” While their simplistic nature is obvious from their MIDI construction, you’ll still find yourself humming these catchy songs long after you put down the controller.

Functionality: 80
“Returns” is almost entirely constructed of gameplay, so functionality is extremely important. For the most part, the game has a very tight and precise control scheme.

Unfortunately, Nintendo has a compulsion to include motion gameplay in every single Wii title they release, and “Returns” is no exception. Three main moves in the game include shaking the controller, and often times this leads to performing actions inadvertently.

Rather than stomping the ground by standing still and shaking the remote, you’ll find yourself rolling forward, which is executed by pressing forward and shaking the remote. This will lead to accidentally rolling off platforms or placing yourself right in front of the path of a life-threatening projectile. Thankfully, this didn’t occur for me on a regular basis, but it was rather annoying when it did.

The controls are handled well, but Donkey Kong is a heavy, lumbering character, which makes sense. However, there were times when I found myself wishing I could jump just the tiniest bit higher to avoid another frustrating plummet to my death.

Entertainment: 85
“Returns” walks a very fine line between infuriating and entertaining, but, with a little patience and practice, it can be an extremely rewarding experience.

While the game is certainly challenging, you can use coins found in levels to buy extra lives, so amassing over 50 lives is relatively easy after the first few stages. Nintendo also included their super-guide functionality with the game, which helps to ease the difficulty.

If you die enough times in a row, you can have a computer-controlled silver-haired “Super Kong” finish a challenging section or even an entire level for you. But, mastering these challenges is part of the fun, and any frustrations from a difficult portion of the game are easily overlooked once you’ve bested some of the toughest levels in the platforming genre.

Value: 90
The number of hours you’ll get out of “Returns” directly correlates to your level of proficiency with platformers. Veteran players can expect to blast through the game in about 8 hours, but if you want to uncover every single secret you’re looking at closer to 12 hours of playtime.

There are certainly plenty of secrets to be found, with several hidden puzzle pieces in every level, which, if you find them all, unlock a new piece of concept art in the “Extras” menu. There are also hard-to-reach “K,” “O,” “N” and “G” letters in each level that, if all are found across a stage, will unlock a bonus temple level, which is usually even harder than the regular levels.

“Returns” also has a meek co-op offering that’s fun for a while but ultimately makes the game even more difficult due to each person taking lives from the same reserve. Unfortunately, playing co-op is the only way to use Diddy and his peanut-gun shooting ability.

The Sizzle:
Nintendo made a smart move by returning to the classic gameplay of the original “Donkey Kong Country.” Though the “controller-breaking” difficulty is not for everyone, Donkey Kong has returned in style with one of the best platformers to date.

Overall Score: 88

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Image Credit: Nintendo

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