Released late last year, Donkey Kong Country Returns (DKR) is the fourth instalment of the Donkey Kong Country series, with the Wii breathing new life into the game thanks to its unique control system. The game opens to a serene tropical island filled with happy animals. Suddenly, little floating tiki’s hypnotise all the inhabitants and make them steal Donkey Kong’s banana stash. Unaffected by the hypnotic trance, Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong run into the forest to reclaim what’s theirs and save the island.
For a platformer, DKR is visually stunning. The characters and surroundings are well rendered and animated beautifully. Each level shows great depth, with Donkey Kong regularly interacting with the background, especially when finding bonus levels and flying through barrels. Additionally, while all the levels are themed the same i.e. Jungle levels are in a jungle, Ruins levels are in ruins, each level still manages to be different and brings something unique to the table. The locked level in the jungle is a perfect example. It is based at sunset, with everything in the level being silhouetted against a orange beach motif, creating a level that looks like a children’s version of Sin City.
Within each zone there are a range of standard levels along with movement/vehicular levels, requiring DK to ride something such as a barrel plane, mine cart or exploding cannon-like barrels. These levels bring another element of fun to the game, providing creative challenges to prevent platformer monotony.
Another reason DKR beats monotony is because it is quite challenging; not only with the need to find puzzle pieces and the KONG letters, but also just in general game play. I found myself playing each zone for about three hours trying to find hidden areas and collect each letter and puzzle piece, only to be left empty handed.
Once DK reaches the third zone, even late in the second zone, it is not uncommon to have to kill a number of enemies in order jump high enough to reach certain pieces; even incorporating Diddy Kong’s jet pack at times. The bosses are also increasingly hard to defeat, often requiring many lives to take them out in order to figure out the trick to their demise.
The controls are quite simple with users given the option to play with just the controller or with the nunchuck adaptor. I found it easier to play with the nunchuck as the joystick/shoulder button combination was less foreign to me. By shaking the remotes (much like playing the drums) DK performs special moves such as a roll, gentle blow or ground pound.
It’s hard to find reasons to fault DKR. Playing the game is fun, challenging and rewarding; however it is annoying to keep dying for stupid reasons such as trying to get that elusive golden K and falling into a ravine or being killed by a ridiculous sand crab or bush. While these issues are most likely noob related, the repetitive nature of the game due to the need to collect the KONG letters and puzzle pieces can be frustrating. Additionally the music in some levels is annoying, which funnily enough can be unlocked as you defeat each boss and complete the various levels.
The only other annoying factor of this game is when you die repeatedly (only because you are trying to get a reward and not because you suck) the little pig at the checkpoint asks if you want assistance to continue playing. At first I was insulted but then realised it’s a game for children so if they are struggling they might need help. That said I’m 28 and the only help I want from a pig is to make my meals taste delicious.
Donkey Kong’s grand-dad, Cranky Kong. He owns a shop and gives you obvious hints when you buy things like extra lives, invulnerability potion or the key to locked levels. His rants are a little juvenile but so is the Wii. There’s nothing wrong with old Cranky Kong, he’s just not pretty.
9.0/10 – Donkey Kong Country Returns is a challenging platformer that does its legacy proud. Not only is it entertaining, by choosing to collect all the items ensures hours of additional game play not found in many of today’s games. True to the original SNES series in all aspects of gaming, DKR is one of only a handful of games that makes the Wii worthwhile.