Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Live Free or Die Donkey Kong. Returns with a Vengeance.

At the rate that it has been going, the DK franchise seems to keep reinventing itself like Die Hard or Rocky. Or Madonna. But this is one that I approve of. Donkey Kong Country Returns for the Wii is a re-imagination of the original DKC for Super Nintendo. Released by Nintendo but developed by Retro Studios (Metroid Prime), it takes a lot of the good from DKC and gives it a nice facelift.

Positives:

It looks and feels just like the original DKC. If you are in my age group (24-30) you probably played DKC as a kid. So you know how huge DKC was. Back then, it was a breakout on the Super Nintendo. It was one of the first games to use pre-rendered 3D graphics. Today, it’d be a joke if you didn’t have that, but back then, this was huge. And on the Super Nintendo of all places! DKC Returns brings that same side-scrolling, 3D feeling back. The upgrade is the Kong can now interact with the foreground and background visa-vie barrels. Now the game doesn’t feel like a flat side-scrolling with pretty graphics.

The music is spot on. Very rarely I’ll boast about music in a game or movie unless it’s really good. DKC Returns will have you humming and whistling as you play. So many of the original soundtracks are back with, of course, upgrades. From the very first level, I knew the song and I couldn’t help but stop Donkey in his tracks and bop my head to the beat. Thank you for Retro Studios for keeping the classics a classic.

Using the Wii controllers, for once, isn’t a hassle. One of my issues with the Wii are the controllers. Unless you get the classic controller or plug in your gamecube one (assuming the game will allow you to use those), the standard Wii controllers can be finicky. Mario Kart Wii is a great example of this. If you’re not 100% on all of the time, Mario will drive off course in a flash. Retro Studios took that as a challenge to make a game to work with the Wii controllers. So much so that you can’t use anything BUT the Wii controllers on DKC Returns. The control scheme for DKC Returns makes sense. If you want to do the ground pound, move your hands up and down. If you want to do your barrel rolls, start running and use your Wii Remote to go for a spin. Motions and fluid and requires little effort to make things work.

Good platforming with some odd challenges. As the game progresses, it can become difficult, in a good way. It uses a similar progression system of challenge as DKC. The further you go, the harder it gets. If it becomes too hard, you do have the Super Kong mode to zip you through the end of the level. New challenges including grabbing onto walls and ceilings to surpass obstacles, dodge 3D objects in the background such as a giant octopus or large tidal waves, and the like. It’s a good progression on the challenges Donkey has had to overcome to get his bananas back.

Negatives:

No Underwater level. I’ll leave it at that.

You can’t play as Diddy in single player. To elaborate, Diddy Kong is there and you need Diddy to access hidden puzzle pieces, Kong letters, and what not. However, Diddy is an accessory. You can’t do the buddy swap like in DKC. He’s just there. And it’s lame. Now you CAN play Donkey and Diddy in two player mode, but again, they are restricted to first and second player with no switching.

Donkey’s jungle friends are no where to be seen. With the exception of the Rhino, everyone else is noticeably absent. Even the Kong family is missing a few members, such as Candy. Cranky Kong is still around to act as shop owner, but the rest are sadly MIA. They would have added more dynamics to the game if Retro took the time to add them in.

The Cranky Kong shop. As one of the features in the game, you can buy items such as extra life balloons, hidden level keys, and extra hearts using banana coins found strewn about the island. Aside from the balloons, everything has a one time use that you have to equip, and you can only equip one thing at a time. Bought that extra heart? Great. It’s only good once and you better hope you find enough coins in that level or you can’t get another. And don’t forget to equip them! This is one feature that I disliked. Mostly because I want to play just like DKC and not have to worry about equipping items. So by the time I was halfway through the game, I had a stockpile of hearts stored up because I kept forgetting to equip. I just want to play the game! If you’re going to give me an extra heart, tack it on to all of the levels.

Bottom line: It will make you feel like a kid again. Ignoring the no underwater levels, no Donkey/Diddy switch, and no jungle friends, this is one hell of a flashback that was worth the wait.

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