Regardless of genre or franchise, Retro Studios gets it done.
After I played my way through Donkey Kong Country Returns I realized that its developer, Retro Studios out of Austin Texas, is one of the best developers around. Who knew that after the brilliant Metroid Prime trilogy they could just turn around and pump out a great Donkey Kong game out of the blue? Well, guess what? They totally did! DKCR is damn fine platformer. From start to finish Retro has simply made a Donkey Kong Country game that outdoes the previous games in the series. And not only that, but Retro solidified themselves as one of the best artistic developers around today.
It’s quite difficult to tell you what Donkey Kong Country Returns is all about. While blazing through the majority of the game I never really understood what was going on, to be honest. Not that it was a bad thing—platformers usually involve some sort of antagonist that steals some sort of valuable and you must progress through a multitude of stages to eventually end the terror once and for all. Is it different here? Nope! Unless of course you count evil tiki heads as being unique, but that’s up to you to decide.
What really stands out in Donkey Kong Country Returns is the great attention to detail. Yeah sure—the level design is great, yeah, yeah, we all know. But what makes these stages so much fun to play is the sheer amount of stuff there is to see and collect. These levels aren’t your standard platforming affairs, no. Rather the stages feel like lengthy, challenging obstacles that feel unique from one to the next. You could just run and jump from left to right until you reach the conclusion, but that’s not much fun. Trying to collect all of the KONG letters as well as the 5 to 9 puzzle pieces is what makes the game much more enjoyable.
Donkey Kong controls very well. You can either use the Wii Remote turned sideways (my preferred choice) but you can also use the Wii Remote and Nunchuk combination if you please. Shaking the Wii Remote will cause DK to smash the ground and doing this while running will make him roll for faster movement and ultimately a longer “super jump” if down correctly. One of the most useless maneuvers that DK can perform is the blowing mechanic where you shake the remote while ducked—which, of course, I found to be completely dumb. It never seemed like something that was needed, ever.
But it’s when you equip Diddy Kong on your back that the game becomes far more precise. I found that not having Diddy Kong by your side completely ruins—well, let’s say... makes the game much less enjoyable to play. This is mainly because Diddy Kong adds 2 more hearts to your overall health plus adds an incredibly useful “float” when you hold the jump button down. It’s very frustrating when you lose Diddy Kong and must finish a difficult level without him.
And speaking of difficulty, Donkey Kong Country Returns is incredibly difficult. Like... really, really hard. Sometimes there’s so much things happening on screen that you’re likely to lose concentration and completely eat it by accident. Luckily, lives (or balloons in this case) are frequently collected and you can easily run over to Cranky Kong’s shop and buy them for cheap. This makes some of the more difficult levels—the levels where you die 10-15 times—more manageable without worrying about hitting zero.
One of the aspects of Donkey Kong Country Returns I really never appreciated were the classic mine cart levels and the new barrel rocket stages. Having never liked the mine cart levels from the classic SNES Country games, I was pretty sad to see them back. Sure, they’re definitely part of the Donkey Kong Country design, but I still hated them. Retro decided to add a pretty annoying barrel rocket stages too which were, always, completely frustrating and awful. Some of them were so hard that I literally lost 15-20 lives at a time, almost completely diminishing my life count.
Though give it to Retro Studios to add Nintendo’s patented “Game Help” mechanic to the game. This feature lets the game play you through the level you’re stuck at. This is for the people that don’t have the time or patience to sit through a difficult part of the game. I personally never used it but it’s a nice addition nonetheless. It’s incredibly useful for newcomers to the series and/or the platforming genre.
Donkey Kong Country Returns features some pretty incredible art, no matter what the situation. Every world has a unique aesthetic from the generic Jungle, Beach, and Forest stages to the awesome Ruins, Factory and Mountain levels. Just the sheer amount of action happening on screen is completely awe-inspiring. The character models look fantastic, the game runs very smooth, plus all of the menus and general stuff looks great, too! There are three levels in particular that look phenomenal, though. These levels feature an amazing “silhouette”-looking design where the foreground is completely dark while the background is colourful. Retro Studios, continue, to have the best artists around—imagine what they could do with an HD console.
Donkey Kong Country Returns’ sound design is also quite phenomenal. It features your classic Donkey Kong Country tunes but the new tracks sound really good, too. Most of the music reminds me of the Metroid Prime series, which if you think about it, makes sense. But pretty much everything about Donkey Kong Country Returns is awesome. Whether you’re into the series or not, this new Country game for the Wii is not only one of the best platformers on the system, but it’s one of the best games on the Wii. Yeah, yeah—there are some quirks here and there, but looking past these blunders is easy. No matter what console, genre, or intellectual property, Retro Studios just gets it done. And with Donkey Kong Country Returns, it’s no different. They got it done, again.