The Leader of the Bunch
Many once-successful iconic franchises have attempted a series reboot, usually to meet an embarrassing failure. I can think of a few off the top of my head, that in their glory days were the cream of the crop, but just do not fare well in this day and age. Once in a rare while do the tides of gaming part in miraculous fashion to shine perspective upon the industry, how to successfully reboot a fifteen-year-old franchise. Donkey Kong Country Returns is the best example of this in, possibly, all of gamingís history. Retro studios were responsible for the Metroid Prime series, and this time have taken a classic beautiful formulaic design - that shouldnít even be tinkered with - and have successfully rebirthed a classic franchise masterpiece for a new generation.
Kongís gameplay is as solid as it was back in the era of the Super Nintendo. You will guide the simian pals Donkey and Diddy Kong through various stages of side-scrolling, platforming action in the pursuit of the courseís goal, all the while searching for loot and hidden areas that hold the game's juiciest treasures. The game is composed of eight worlds, and an elusive secret area that will put your skills to the ultimate test. The wonderful thing about the design is the inclusion of new items that you can use before you start a new course. These items will bestow various abilities and powers, such as invincibility for a short time, and extra health, among others. This is very helpful as the game is extremely difficult! Not as difficult as Donkey Kong Country 2, but thatís another story. Without the aid of the in-game helper, Super Kong, casual gamers donít stand a chance pushing through the hell that is found in Donkey Kong. To compare, New Super Mario Bros. Wii was difficult, but this game will suck lives faster than a hoover sucks dirt at a dirt convention! Stupid analogy aside, this game will truly test the gamer's skill. And kudos to the one that tears through it without ever using the in-game help.
Heís Finally Back
The game introduces eight new bosses to the series and each one is fun and frantic. Granted, you will have your easy-as-pie-giant-lizard-looking-things to bop on the obvious weak spots, but for every ďIíve done thisĒ moment you might find, the game switches it up on you and throws in a fresh idea. The mole train boss was my absolute favorite hands down. The fresh ideas donít stop there though. Over the fifteen hours of gameplay I found I was never doing the same thing twice. Every level offers some unique twist on the design. I really donít want to spoil anything here but I will say youíll find many mechanics that are casually introduced, then used to full effect later on. None of the mechanics feel like a gimmick, or even a chore. Every new idea the courses present follow through all the way to the goal. This type of polish, and attention to every corner, and every detail is what Retro is known for, and Kong in no way disappoints.
How Many Apes Does it Take?
Donkey Kong offers a co-op system as well, but I canít help but feel it was an afterthought. My theory here is that Kong was deep in development when New Super Mario Bros. Wii had just been released and people ate that up in droves due to the co-op system. Thus Iím guessing Nintendo persuaded Retro to throw it in as well. There never is a point in the game that is open enough to really accommodate two players. Yes, the first couple of worlds are open and spacious, but the remainder of the game's courses become tighter and tighter as you progress, severely hindering maneuvering room for one player, let alone two! This isnít helped by the timing of the obstacles either. The game tasks you with some insane platforming and one wrong step or timing mistake and it's curtains for the Kongs.
To Shake, or not to Shake...
It seems the controls have been the dividing line for most reviews. After spending hours with each control scheme, I say youíll either love it or hate it. The first control layout is a mirror image to Super Mario Bros. for the Wii. You move with the directional pad and to roll or pound the ground you shake the remote. Now, let me specify here, you actually have to _shake_ the remote. A simple flip of the wrist isnít going to do it here. You have to give it a pretty good up and down to get Donkey to respond. This led me flying off cliffs and platforms far too often. Thank the banana gods then for the second scheme, this is very much like the Mario Galaxy series. You control Donkey with the analog stick and big olí A button is your primary jump. Now to roll and pound you have to shake BOTH controllers in tandem. Imagine youíre beating a drum and youíll get the idea. This is much simpler and one I wish I had used earlier on. If youíre a master at making Mario spin through his spheroid planets, getting Donkey to roll will be second nature. Besides this small kink, the rest of the controls are silky smooth.
Kong, Kong, DONKEY KONG!
Each world feels alive and they ooze with color. No course looks similar to the last, and the artwork clearly has been polished to a blinding sheen. Every course offers such awesome innovations and ideas on the stale platforming mechanic that I feel that anything less than stellar visuals would have hurt the overall presentation. Thankfully the game doesnít disappoint and delivers delicious visuals served up in delectable helpings that will have you coming back to different areas just to view your surroundings. One of my personal favorite are the levels offering a picturesque sunset as the Kongs run through the course in a beautiful dark silhouette.
I love the classic tunes of the Donkey Kong Country series. Retro obviously foresaw everyone feeling this way and went with the age old ďif it isnít broke, donít fix itĒ mantra and barely touched the core compositions. Beautifully re-mastered with tender loving care the score of Country Returns has become my all-time favorite in the series.
To return to my opening analogy, the tides of gaming have been indeed parted with this brilliant reboot of a beloved classic series. Kong offers so many memorable moments, fresh ideas, and high-octane platforming thrills that youíll want to jump back into it the second you beat it. Not only to chase all of those shiny bonuses but just to immerse yourself into the beautiful, original world of Kong. The brilliant and fresh reboot of this classic series has just squeaked by to nab my personal top pick for Wii Game of the Year.
Brilliant reboot, that welcomes back a classic masterpiece.
Co-Op play seems like an afterthought.