Nintendo owes a lot to their big furry ape. He’s after all the character that put them on the map back in early 80s in arcades. Since those popular days he’s shown up in several platformers that have mostly been considered classics of their time, but since his showing in the average Donkey Kong 64 he returned for another outing and made his entrance with a ground-pounding success.
DK goes bananas
Donkey Kong Island is invaded by musical creatures, called the Tiki Tak Tribe. Their power involves the ability to hypnotise animals through the use of music to do their nasty deeds. They go one step too far and they have animals, like elephants and giraffes, stealing Donkey Kong’s secret hoard of bananas. Not one to take these criminal activities lightly, Donkey Kong sets his sights on retrieving his bananas and teaching these musical miscreants a lesson or five. They really should not mess with his bananas.
As has become common with Donkey Kong Country games, you’ll navigate the world selection screen one level at a time. Complete a level and it’ll open the next point of interest that might include branching paths to spice up the otherwise linear experience. Donkey Kong Country Returns is a traditional 2D platformer where you’ll platform through jungles, caves, beaches, volcanic eruptions and many more themes. The variety is quite impressive, but it’s the art style that’ll grab your attention right away. It’s a beautiful game. The colours are vibrant. Retro Studios obviously had a grand time with the art design for each level. Some levels even have the characters appearing as a silhouette to the sunset backdrop. It’s really unfortunate that the Wii can only output 480P. As stunning as the levels are, there’s no use in having beautiful levels without characters to fill in the blank bits.
Donkey Kong is extremely diverse. He can walk, run, crouch, jump, barrel roll, ground pound, blow, grab and cling to objects. What makes it all so impressive is that he can perform all these various movements using the Wii remote and nunchuck. You’ll be using the various buttons to perform most these moves, but by shaking the Wii Remote he’ll perform his trademark ground pound. It feels extremely natural to shake away when you need to punch something. The nunchuck’s motion controls are used to have him blow dandelions or a grounded seedlings to reveal hidden items or to roll out of harms way. The good news is that you can turn the Wii remote on its side and use it as a traditional controller, especially if you plan to play this with a friend by your side in local co-op.
Holding onto both characters is important too as together they can pull off special moves.
Diddy Kong will be joining Donkey Kong on this adventure, who is the character player two will control and comes with his own set of moves. Should you play it by yourself you’ll be playing as both characters. Lose all the heart containers for one of them and you’ll only have access to the one character until you discover a DK Barrel that has your buddy inside. Holding on to both characters is important too as together they can pull off special moves called barrel jet and Kong roll. Barrel jet allows you to hover in mid-air for a while and Kong roll will have the duo continuously rolling until you stop the movement. It’s perfect for when you’re surrounded by enemies and in a bit of a panic. Hovering is important as there are a lot of secrets in each level. You’ll be on the lookout for the more obvious K, O, N and G letters (Kong, duh), but to find everything each level has to offer you’ll have to search for the puzzle pieces. These are not easy to locate and will require some accurate platforming. Things get way more complicated than that.
There is no school like old school
Retro Studios have done amazing stuff with the level design for each stage. Some levels will have you jumping in and out of the fore- and background by using blast barrels, but you’ll also have to tame an animal. Rambi, the popular Rhino, returns. He is invulnerable to most enemies and can simply barge through them and a ground pound is a simple waggle away. Once you go for a ride on Rambi’s back you’ll feel invincible. Things can get really tough though. The Minecraft levels will have you pulling your hair out, especially if you’re trying to 100% it, and the stages that involve compulsory rocket barrel events will test your patience. This game has that old school 8-bit vibe to it in terms of its difficulty curve.
The early fights are simple, but towards the end of the game it’s only something for veteran platformers as it’ll test you to your own limits
There’s always something to collect or to keep an eye on. One hundred bananas will provide you with a balloon and one balloons grants you another continue. Any coins you collect can be spent in Cranky Kong’s shop that is filled with all forms of great items. These items include extra lives (balloons), Squawks the parrot (helps you find hidden puzzle pieces), heart boost (adds an additional heart to your health meter), banana juice (invincibility) and a map key that’ll open a hidden path in each map area. At the end of each area you’ll be facing off against a boss and you’ll use everything you’ve learned to beat whatever the game can throw at you. The early fights are simple, but towards the end, it’s only something for veteran platformers as it’ll test you to your own limits.
Donkey Kong Country Returns is proof that the traditional platformer still has a say in the modern era and that 2D is as revolutionary dimension as its newer 3D cousin. It’s nearly been a decade since this classic launched on the Wii, but it’s as enjoyable to play today as any other platformer. If you own a Wii or Wii U then this purchase should be on like Donkey Kong.