N+ Review: Donkey Kong Country Returns
By AntonCaptainSeagull. Wednesday, January 12, 2011 4:27:15 AM
====== Donkey Kong Country: Returns ======
To start off I want everyone to get one thing clear, this is not a Rare Ware game, this is a Retro Studios production. Rare did the DKC's on SNES and Retro is best known for the Metroid Prime series on Gamecube and Wii. For those of you who don't know Rare sold out to Microsoft and can no longer make console based games for anyone else. However Retro has been amazing for Nintendo fans... and they certainly have not dropped the ball here, now let's get rolling with the review of Donkey Kong Country: Returns, or as I like to call it, Donkey Kong Country 4. Oh and this game is hard. Hella hard.
The first thing you will notice is the amazing color on everything, which isn't new to DKC games, but because the last game was on a system five generations old, you will notice a big improvement in the gloss covering everything. The second thing most long-time fans will notice is that everything is actually 3D modeled! The original DKC games we made using pre-rendered 3D graphics and flattened into 2D "videos" of the characters, which was no doubt amazing for that time, but now it's much much deeper. Throughout the game game having fully modeled stage items and characters really brings this game up to date, but using a side-scrolling play field is what really keeps this game rooted in Country culture, and of course is what every loyal Donkey Kong fan has ever wanted since DKC:3.
There has always been "room" for improvement in the old games though, we just didn't know it yet, or even could make it happen for that sake. The "room" I am talking about is true depth in the stages, all throughout the game you will find that barrels will blast you between the fore-ground and the back-ground, and even into a closer fore-fore-ground type are that is very close to the screen. It's a simple mechanic, but one that is a really natural feeling progression in the DKC universe. By simply adding this depth stages now are more puzzle like in areas that require you to get past large gaps, discover hidden items, show off the scenery, and up the difficulty too. The mechanic never feels out of place or used just for the sake of being used. Moving too and fro isn't the only thing this depth brings to the table, enemies and environments are now more hazardous because of it too!
In previous DKC games, the background was always for pretties and staging. Now you have giant octopus tentacles getting closer and closer, pirate ships blasting cannon balls at you, tidal waves that will carry you away if you are not properly hidden behind strong enough shelters, gears and gizmos that can crush you or leave you without a ground to stand on. This also makes the game more challenging, which is of course what well seasoned Donkey Kong players like myself want. Well, I cant really say that this is something that hasn't been done on SNES games before, if you have ever played Super Ghouls and Ghosts, you may remember a stage where the tidal wave comes from the background and crashes down on you if you are not properly shielded, and in Donkey Kong Country 3, one of the mechanical stages has a bird launching molten metal balls at you - very cool stage with very cool music I might add. But no game I can remember had this much background stuff going on at once that could help or kill you. This honestly is a side-scrolling game, but it's like playing three or four at once, So be prepared.
All the while all this madness is going on in the background, the foreground can be affected by it too! Yeah, not only do those waves kill you, they also wash away bananas and other items, crush weak shelters, and toss around sunken ships. Cannons in the back can destroy platforms for you, or help you kill enemies. The good news is Donkey and Diddy can also affect the terrain in areas too. You can find golden platforms which when pounded by the Kongs can create tidal waves in the background to bring sunken ships back to the surface, or cause rocks to roll off cliffs creating new platforms to proceed in the stages. You can also fire cannons to the background critters firing cannons at you! This is another welcomed natural progression for the series, and doesn't feel tacked on.
Donkey Kong has pretty much the exact move-set we remember from old DKC games with one addition, blowing air. Yeah, it's not only funny, it's cute. And it's not only cute, it's affective! most of the time it's just a little gimmick used to blow away dandelion parachutes or put out flames, which usually result in hidden bananas, coins, or better yet puzzle pieces, but sometimes will also unveil new paths and even kill some enemies! Some of the fire-type enemies can be put-out by DKs ape breath, killing some and stunning others. Diddy can also use this move.
Diddy has the same moves he always had, plus a few new ones like the peanut gun! Used just like Donkeys ground pounding action, Diddys version also shoots peanuts out at enemies in front of him, stunning most of the ones they hit. While Diddy is riding Donkeys back player two can shoot peanuts forward, a move that is not usable in 1P mode sadly. Diddy also comes equipped with his barrel jet-pack in this game allowing for some limited time slow decent jumps! The jet pack helps so much it's rediculous, especially when Diddy is riding Donkey Kongs back. If you are able to find Rambi while playing as Diddy + Donkey, or just as Diddy, you can still use that jet-pack to help you cross large gaps! - insane right? This feels like DKC:Rs answer to loosing Dixie Kongs hair-spin move which I have always called the "Hairlicopter" so you know, this is a move which does not feel to strange for the game, another welcomed addition.
One new move for both the Kongs is the "Cling" maneuver, where they can grab onto chains or grass or similar type surfaces when found on ceilings or walls. This move adds so much monkey/ape to the kongs feel, and also lets the stages evolve in ways not otherwise possible. The move is similar to the wall sticking found in DKC:2's honey levels, only now you don't have to jump off to ascend the wall, you can just climb right up walls, and across ceilings. Great addition, very welcomed.
That's really it for the moves, next I would like to talk about how much the play experienced is changed by the simple fact that you play as BOTH characters at once. Diddy doesn't just follow you and tag-out with Donkey, Diddy now hangs onto DK's back which lets you use the jet-pack like I mentioned before, but also gives you a total of four hearts, or hits before you die. After taking two hits while carrying Diddy, the little guy will get scared and run away to the next closest DK barrel for hiding. This change is most noticeable in 2P mode. Player two can hop off Donkey anytime they want to explore the same stage, using the same screen (not split) at the same time player one is running around. You can cause double trouble to enemies which is always nice, but can cause you additional difficulty in areas like mine-cart stages that require ducking, because if one of you fails at ducking in the right spot, you BOTH die, and when you come back it costs two lives (one for each player). Barrel blasting can also become difficult at times, it's best for player one to just grab Diddy and place him back on his back just before navigating these areas.
Rambi is the only buddy to come back, well so does Squaks, but he isn't ridable or anything like that, he doesn't even carry a torch for you this time, no he only helps you find puzzle pieces - AFTER you pay him, and only for one level until you pay him again, jerk. Rambi is the same old Rambi found throughout the game in crates, he can bust into places the Kongs can't, destroy enemies the Kongs can't, and also gives you an extra hit. Rambi still has his charging ability too, which is good for speeding through stages.
The biggest hit to your nostalgia bone? the music. The soundtrack has alot of new stuff that sounds so natural next to all the new arrangements of DKC1 music found in the game too. While the new stuff is good, most of us will and are going ape over the new arrangements of the old tracks. Keep in mind though that they are all DKC1 rearrangements, nothing from 2 or 3 to be found here - which honestly makes me think that DKC may Return one or two times more, hear's hoping ! After you defeat the boss of the "Areas" on the island, you can unlock the sound gallery for that area in the Bonus menu - so cool.
What is missing:
Kremlings. If the game had Kremlings as bad-guys instead of Tikis it would be a little better I think, at least it would feel more nostalgic, The Tikis take nothing away from the game, don't get me wrong but the (assumed) Rare-owned Kremlings are classic baddies.
Underwater levels. Retro said that the underwater levels were tested, but didn't fit into the flow of the game. Whatever Retro! even in the old games the flow changed in the underwater stages, but it was a nice change of pace placed periodically throughout the action - thankfully they found a place in this game for the underwater music to stay.
The Baddies March. Remember when you beat those three older games you would get the march of the baddies at the end? well you don't here, sorry to spoil that for you but it's better you deal with that disappointment sooner than later like I did. But really if these three things are all I can complain about, it's obvious i'm trying really hard to complain. Go get this game already!
Before I end this I want to touch back on how hard this game is. Remember when you went out and got New Super Mario Bros. Wii? You were all excited, you played it, you thought it was awesome, but you felt like it was a little short? Well it wasn't short, it was just as hard as the originals, maybe a tad easier, but now you are a seasoned Mario vet right? The inflation of difficulty doesn't match the inflation of your Mario skills. Donkey Kong Country: Returns on the other hand, has an inflation that is either matched or surpasses you Donkey Kong skills. It's so freaking hard in the later levels it's insane! I lost 30 lives in one stage, no joke, and I know I'm one of the best DK players around. So I want to caution you new side-scroller players, this game is not a quick play through, it's exactly what I felt like when I was ten, near impossible. Luckily if you die enough time on one stage the checkpoint pig will allow you to let a Silver Donkey Kong (referencing a glitch found in DKC: ) play through the stage for you! After the stage is beaten you can go to the next stage. If Silver Kong does this for you you wont keep any bonus he may happen to find, and the clear-stage blue circle remains red. For us vets though, you can smile knowing you have one good challenge waiting for you, and when you beat the main story, you can go back and try to find everything to unlock everything in the... I guess I will just leave that for you to discover.
Game: Donkey Kong Country: Returns
Developed by: Retro Studios
Genre: Side-Scroller / Platforming / Adventure
Players: 1 - 2 Shared Screen
Rating: ESRB - E for Everyone
Supports WFC: No
N+ Music is pure excellence
N+ Graphics are perfect, look at fuzzy DK!
N+ Lengthy and Challenging, great points for $50
N+ Bonus Galleries: Dioramas, Art, Music
N+ Plenty of things to collect, resulting in new areas and challenges
N+ Natural extension of the DKC series, this truly is DKC:4
N+ Hidden references: Donkey Kong, Mr Game & Watch, Metroid, Billy Mitchell, and probably more!
N- I miss the Kremlings
N- I miss the Underwater Stages
JudgmeN+: Perfect 10
- Anton Socha, Writer