Reviews: Donkey Kong Country Returns
Old-school yet modernized, this is a great platformer
Donkey Kong Country Returns is truly a next-gen 2D platformer. Gone are the tile-based levels featured in the Mario games, and instead, we get levels that truly look different from one to the other. What's more, almost every level has its own unique feature that not only gives each level their own personality, but also makes them feel truly dynamic and alive in a way that older platformers just couldn't. Levels will have you running through beaches and caves, jumping from barrel to ship to platform during a heavy storm that results in turbulent water, hiding behind walls to avoid heavy waves crashing in from the distance, making your way through a factory while smoke obscures much of your view, riding the back of a whale, and much more. No trick wears out its welcome, as everywhere you go, there's a new surprise. Plus, when tricks get reused, there's always a new twist. For example, one level takes place with the foreground entirely in silhouette in front of a sunset background. The "silhouette" concept is later used again, in a factory-themed level with clouds of steam obscuring your view. Almost every trick blends perfectly with the core platforming, preventing the game from feeling gimmicky. What's more, this game puts up quite a challenge. The levels start out putting up a fight in the beginning and generally get tougher as you go. On the other hand, the challenge is also surprisingly fair. Most boss fights are based around pattern recognition, making them much easier once you've learned exactly how they work. In general, in fact, it's possible to learn what to do in each level after making many mistakes. There were quite a few levels where I lost over 8 lives - the limit needed for the game to ask if you need help - but I pressed on, as extra lives are plentiful if you know how to get them. The 2-player mode changes the game up a bit. The two players can separate, and considering the fast pace of the game, getting left behind happens a lot, but fortunately, you teleport right to the other player within 3 seconds of being off the screen, keeping players together. If you die, you can use up a life and rejoin with the press of a button. In short, a fun, fast-paced platformer with amazing level design, and a good challenge. Retro in many ways, but also truly next-gen.
It's like DKC never left us.
In the pantheon of Donkey Kong Country greatness, Diddy's Kong Quest is still top banana. But Returns is not only a worthy second-placer, it made me feel as though fourteen years hadn't passed since my last side-scrolling stroll through the Northern Kremisphere. The gameplay and artistic aesthetic are both spot-on, the music could use a little polish but a couple of great themes do stand out (I'm thinking Mast Blast and Sticky Situation, though the plentiful remixes of familiar tunes are great, too), and although not all our old friends are back to greet us, the fresh faces we'll be running into definitely feel like a part of of their world—even when they're trying to kill us with some catchy musical hoodoo. And, honestly, do you really think Retro will drop the franchise after just one game? There's a high chance of seeing Dixie Kong and entourage at some point in the future, methinks. The game is, indeed, very challenging, quite a bit more so than its three predecessors; hidden goodies are remarkably well hidden, and one tiny misstep renders them lost forever—at least until you try the stage again. Not that this is a bad thing by any means; most of us weren't very experienced gamers back in ninety-six, and even if we were, things have changed a lot since then. Retro has taken that into account and created an experience that will make us pull our hair out today as much as the previous installments in the series did years ago. It's matured along with us, and that's a great thing for it to have done; just ask that boy wizard over there. It definitely won't leave fans as dissatisfied as New Super Mario Bros Wii may have. Nothing left to do now but wait for Tiki Tong to cast his spell on K. Rool...