Donkey Kong Country Returns is not a remake by any means, but a continuation of what Rare first established 16 years ago on the Super Nintendo. Diddy, Cranky, Rambi and even Squawks are popular characters from the Super NES original that return, yet you may ask, “What has Retro done to make this new Donkey Kong title stand out?” Well, simply put, Retro Studios may not give gamers and DK fans alike the same innovation that they did with Metroid Prime, but they have carefully weaved together a satisfying albeit challenging experience.
Hit the jump to see what else Retro Studios has in store for DK.
In the tradition of 2D revival games like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, DKC: Returns stays true to the classic side-scrollers of old. The main differences though are within the gameplay and visuals. Instead of pre-rendered backgrounds and characters, Retro Studios has put their various designers to work on every inch of detail that Donkey Kong’s world has to offer. Every facet, be it the various flora, cliffs, and beaches are brimming with Retro’s patented attention to detail.
At first thought, I was a little worried about the first bits of level design and the difficulty of DKC: Returns; however, further along the game, I realized that the beginning level/world acts as training wheels for newcomers. Now, that may seem like stating the obvious, but DKC: Returns can be a tough-as-nails experience if you’re clumsy or don’t have the right coordination when performing tight jumps. The difficulty in DKC: Returns can be brutal and unforgiving at times, but it progresses considerably over time to make sure the player isn’t punished when they begin to play. Although, there are times that will have you clenching your controller to the point of it cracking. When one gets to the later levels of the game, expect to receive fifteen to twenty deaths that are either clever or downright unfair. Now, again, this doesn’t hinder the experience, but merely keeps it from being dumbed down.
Now, instead of going with only one control set-up, Retro implemented Wiimote and Nunchuk support to coincide with the option of holding the Wiimote sideways, much like Nintendo’s previous side-scollers this year. Simple waggle motions will allow DK to pound the ground with his fists, roll and (I’m not joking here) to blow on flowers to reveal puzzle pieces and coins to unlock secrets. The waggle motions with the controls are not forced to the point where they become gimmicky, but can prove to be an annoyance if not used correctly. While using the Wiimote and Nunchuk setup, there were times where a slight push of the joystick either right or left would lead DK to roll off a cliff or into an enemy. Sometimes, it would also be unresponsive, especially when rolling is critical to evading enemies and the bosses’ projectiles. This crux doesn’t bring the game to an ultimate fault, but it becomes a certain annoyance that would have benefited from a custom control setup.
Retro Studios may not have had a huge burden on their hands when developing Donkey Kong Country Returns, but they have certainly garnered more respect as a premier in-house developer. What they provided is another rich Nintendo-published platformer that is brimming with hours of fun, even if one was not weaned on the original Donkey Kong Country titles. Sure, there are some small missteps with the motion controls, but Retro is able to balance these issues with two control options that will please either the casual or hardcore crowd.
At the end of the day, Retro sought to make a game that brought back memories of Rare’s gaming feat sixteen years ago, while not dumbing down the experience for a specific group. Donkey Kong Country Returns, with its polished, yet nostalgic gameplay and its gripping, yet challenging difficulty, is one of the best 2D platformers this year. Sure, Retro didn't make a game changer of any sort, but it certainly brought back a series that's sure to carry on steam for years to come.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5