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January 13, 2011 / Jett

Early Impressions of Donkey Kong Country Returns


 The Donkey Kong Country series used to be a staple of Christmas cheer in my household. I received all three Donkey Kong Country games from Santa on the years they came out. Though I have extra-fond memories of the first one, all three games were pretty good. However, ever since Donkey Kong 64 in the late 90s, DK hasn’t really starred in his own platformer. Instead, he’s spent over a decade starring in spin-off titles and making regular guest appearances in games like Mario Party.

Donkey Kong Country Returns is a welcome return to form. Besides being a return to Christmas tradition for me, this game goes back to the series 2D platforming roots. As of writing, I’ve just beaten world 2, but I wanted to share a few thoughts on what I’ve experienced so far.

The original Donkey Kong Country was a graphical powerhouse when it first hit the scene. For the time, it looked so good, that even the best PlayStation One games of the time couldn’t compare. If you’re looking for that same type of technological leap from Donkey Kong Country Returns, you won’t find it here. If it’s any consolation, the game retains its signature look while looking great for a Wii game. Other than the fact that it doesn’t run in HD, I don’t have anything to complain about.

What really is stealing the show this time though, are the level designs. I’m only a quarter of the way through the game, and the level designs are some of the most creative I’ve seen in a long time. None of these levels feel like they were made with a stock level creator. Everything feels meticulously designed for maximum fun. Every stage I’ve seen introduces new wrinkles to the gameplay or displays some insane set-pieces that take the levels to the next level. Maybe things will repeat as I go, but it seems like every level has its own unique set piece to make the game feel more grand. One of my favourite levels so far is the tidal wave level, where tidal waves are traveling from the back of the screen towards you, and you have to take cover at the right time in order to stay alive. As you traverse through the levels, enemies, items and large rock structures will get washed away by these massive waves, which is really neat and really fun to play through. Having beaten all three Donkey Kong Country games multiple times (and having played through the first one relatively recently) I can say that the levels in this one are way better than anything you’ll find in the originals.

Though I’m having a great time with it so far, I can see the game’s difficulty turning some people off who would otherwise love this game. I felt that New Super Mario Bros. Wii was a challenging game and I so far I find this to be even more so. Donkey Kong Country veterans should love it, but I think this game will probably be too hard for most kids or casual gamers. In a co-op environment with a skilled player, they’ll be able to get by and have a great time, but as a solo experience this can get daunting very quickly. If it’s any consolation, the game offers to beat a level for you if you die 8 times in a row on it.

My only gripe so far is that the game does map multiple functions to motion controls. If you’re standing still, shaking the controller will make Donkey Kong pound the ground. If you’re moving, shaking the controller makes Donkey Kong roll forward. If you’re crouching, shaking the controller will make Donkey Kong blow out a gust of air. Because of the nature of this setup, you’re bound to accidentally roll off a cliff when you want to ground pound or encounter some other life-ending mistake. I’m adjusting to what the game is looking for in order to minimize this, but using all of the buttons in the Wii remote + nunchuck setup or supporting the Classic Controller would have cleared up the issue.

Donkey Kong Country Returns so far has been great. I’m loving how the game has taken the now-vintage Donkey Kong Country formula and pushed it way farther than I ever thought it would be taken. I’m excited to play more of it in the near future.

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