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Nintendo's done well with their various "Wii-makes" over the past few years, and it was only a matter of time before Donkey Kong was given a chance to shine. I think Nintendo has finally found a good home for the big ape, as Retro Studios’ Donkey Kong Country Returns is a fantastic revival that does justice to Rare’s legacy, and should appeal to anyone who enjoys a great 2D platformer.
DKC Returns may not be a remake in the literal sense, but it will certainly be immediately familiar to anyone who played the original. Past the thematic setup of playing as an ape trying to reclaim stolen bananas, this familiarity is most pronounced in the way the game plays. The originals owed a lot of their success to tight, responsive controls, and DKC Returns is no different. The basic acts of running and jumping feel really sharp, making navigating the game’s many worlds satisfying at its core. The one caveat here is the ridiculous inclusion of motion controls. Other than running and jumping (which feel great), every other important action you do is done by shaking the Wii remote. This includes ground-pounding and rolling, the latter of which is a highly timing based action that often needs to be executed with precision. Motion controls and precision are two things that generally don’t get along, making this one of the most baffling design decisions I have come across in a while.
Fortunately, this bizarre misstep is but a single blemish on an otherwise stellar 2D platformer. In addition to the mostly fantastic controls, the level design, pacing, and overall variety in DKC Returns are all great. Each level seems to introduce its own unique enemies or obstacles- from vine swinging to mine cart rides to launching between explosive barrels the game does a great job at keeping you on your toes. The difficulty also ramps up at a steady pace, constantly providing a solid challenge without ever feeling overwhelming. In fact, DKC Returns can be pretty difficult in spots, and this challenge is great to see from a game that probably could have gotten away with simply relying on nostalgia. That’s one of my favorite things about DKC Returns, it never rests on its laurels or feels like a lazy cash-in. This level of care extends to the game’s presentation as well. DKC Returns looks and sounds absolutely amazing, from its lush, artistic designs all the way down to the awesome musical score that mixes together both old and new tracks to great effect. Last but not least, this is a surprisingly content heavy game. There are well implemented collectibles and bonus levels abound that will really test your skill if the lengthy main game isn’t enough.
I would argue to this day that the original DKC games remain among the best 2D platformers ever made. That Donkey Kong Country Returns successfully re-creates what made those games so great is a wonderful thing. I could do without the motion controls, and it may not advance the genre in any meaningful way, but that doesn’t stop Donkey Kong Country Returns from being one of the best 2D platformers I’ve played in years. Rare can breathe easy- their work is in good hands.
For additional information on my review style and scoring system, click here.