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Donkey Kong Country Returns

by Aaron Kaluszka - September 22, 2010, 10:09 am PDT
Total comments: 22

This game is bananas.

I had a chance to play Donkey Kong Country Returns at Nintendo's offices earlier this week, traversing a selected set of stages from the game's first three worlds, Jungle, Beach, and Ruins.  In many ways, DKCR is the antithesis of Kirby's Epic Yarn; it offers players plenty of ways to die, and some stages almost have more pits than platforms.

DKCR readily captures the vibes from previous Donkey Kong Country games, particularly the first, and also Donkey Kong 64.  Specifically, the game features region settings similar to the first game, including its alliterative level names, but its goofy humor is more akin to more recent games.  However, there is much new to the game as well.  For starters, there are no Kremlings in the game, which instead features an all-new array of zany enemies controlled by a band of Tikis.  One especially ridiculous-looking one was a deranged chicken on stilts.

The game takes cues from the original all the way down to the slipperiness of control.  The difference is that there is an even greater focus on platforms, presenting many opportunities to basically trip to your doom.  At E3, I found the motion controls unintuitive, making the game harder to control than it should be.  Nothing has changed since then, though other, unspecified control schemes are promised for the final version.  While shaking the controllers makes sense for the ground pound, rolling is more of a hassle and imprecise when needing it to quickly get out of sticky situations.  The flame-extinguishing blowing mechanic (hold down plus shake) suffers from similar problems.  Another new feature is the ability to cling to grass-covered walls and ceilings while pressing B.

You can switch between single and multiplayer before starting each level.  Each character retains their moves from the original, but Diddy also has his jet pack and peanut pop-gun from DK64.  In single player, the combination of DK and Diddy effectively gives you four hit points, two for each simian.  One benefit of two-player mode is that Diddy can shoot his peanut gun while riding on DK's back; the jet pack control is thankfully relegated to DK averting a coordination disaster.  Diddy's shower of peanuts, coupled with DK's attacks make a great combat pair, however platforming is a lot easier with the jet pack, and using this means that one player basically gives up control for a time.  The other downside of two-player is that each character has only two hits, and the game is out to kill you if you don't do it yourself first.  Lives are shared, so each players' death take away a life, and dying together negates two.  If the two players get too far away from one another, one is automatically transported to the other after a short time limit.

While the game is primarily 2D, areas sometimes spilt into multiple planes like levels found in Virtual Boy Wario Land.  Each level has a lot going on in both the foreground and background -- many things animated, and the stages show a lot of variation in presentation.  One level takes place at sunset, and all you can see are silouettes (and the red DK's tie and Diddy's hat, kind of like the characters in Feel the Magic XY/XX).  This was a very cool effect, which also forced a bit of a strategy change -- enemies and hidden items became less obvious.  Another stage featured a giant squid in the background, which destroyed platforms in the foreground (as if there weren't enough that collapse by themselves) or otherwise tried to attack the protagonists.  The ever-popular mine cart stages are back as well.  The characters in the game are expressive, and here, Diddy looks pretty funny trying to hold his hat down.  I heard new renditions of many songs from the first game, each with their own jazzy twist.

Blast barrels have returned in a big way.  The series staple forms arrays in both 2D and 3D that must be navigated carefully.  At the end of one stage, a multi-faced monkey totem spun around.  Waiting in a blast barrel, I had to time a launch carefully to land within the open mouth of the totem, eventually finishing the level once all of the faces were destroyed.

Animal buddies make a return as well.  I only got to see Rambi, who can charge through just about anything, including spikes and boulders.  He has two weaknesses -- fire, which conveniently appears on the stage with Rambi, and falling.  If two players are both riding Rambi, either character can take control at any time.  However, if Diddy is riding on DK, who is also riding on Rambi, then only DK can drive.

There are tons of hidden items. Most plants can be pounded or blown on, revealing bananas, banana coins, or sometimes more substantial items.  Each level has hidden puzzle pieces, the KONG letters, and a myriad of coins, but exactly what they are used for has not yet been revealed.  There are also many hidden bonus rooms (another series requirement), as well as alternate paths.  For example, in one stage, blowing on a windmill reveals a new area in the background.

Though it's made by Retro and not Rare, Donkey Kong Country Returns lives up to its name -- it feels very much like a new Donkey Kong Country, and the attention to detail is notable.  DKCR offers up a fun, classic-styled 2D platformer that isn't afraid to be a little challenging, while simultaneously allowing for two players of differing skill level.  The game launches in North America on November 21.

Talkback

jimwood27September 22, 2010

I am not sure what it is but I am super pumped for this game.  I have only played about 5 minutes of the original DKC (and none of the sequels) so it's not nostalgia.  Retro makes great games and I love me some 2D platforming.  Should I get on the Virtual Console to play the others before this?

Ian SaneSeptember 22, 2010

That sharing of lives will be hard to adapt for a DKC vet.  In the original games each player was effectively a hit.  You didn't lose a life provided at least one guy was still alive.  I'm not saying this new method is bad, just that there will be a learning curve to get used to it.  My brothers and I play the DKC games a lot.

Let's hope the unspecified control schemes promised for the final version include Classic Controller support.  As much as I'm interested in this game the waggle controls really turn me off.  DKC has smooth and accurate controls and I won't tolerate anything less.  At least they're discussing other control methods and not going the Other M route where the creator is adamant that his questionable control scheme is the only option period.

If you haven't played the DKC games then, YES, download them on the VC.  They're must play titles for any fan of Mario-style platforming.  DKC3 however is easily the weakest and I would only recommend it if you absolutely loved the other two.

I really want to use the spider buddy again.

FZeroBoyoSeptember 22, 2010

Nice to see that the game looks quite fun and that they're not just relying on nostalgia. Definitely getting this in a few months when it comes out.  ;D

broodwarsSeptember 22, 2010

Out of curiosity, does the version of DKC on the VC have that glitch fixed that prevents you from entering one of the later secret areas if you missed it the first time you played that stage?  That glitched really irritated me back in the day because it prevented me from getting 100%.

I don't believe that was a glitch -- there was an alternate way to get to that secret area.

broodwarsSeptember 22, 2010

Quote from: MegaByte

I don't believe that was a glitch -- there was an alternate way to get to that secret area.


Hmm...all I remember about it is that you could only enter it by smashing through a wall (maybe with a barrel), but that wall would only smash your first run through the level.  After that, you'd just run into solid wall.

I will remain skeptical about this game until we have confirmation that standard controls (probably on the Classic Controller) are going to be available. Waggle has no place in this kind of exacting 2D platform gameplay. It was not only distracting but counterproductive in the E3 demo. I understand that Nintendo may want to highlight motion controls as part of their marketing strategy to families, but some of us would like to play the game without accidentally rolling into pits because the motion trigger doesn't register at the right moment.

broodwarsSeptember 22, 2010

Quote from: Jonnyboy117

I understand that Nintendo may want to highlight motion controls as part of their marketing strategy to families, but some of us would like to play the game without accidentally rolling into pits because the motion trigger doesn't register at the right moment.


Indeed, that was my main problem with Galaxy and Galaxy 2: deaths caused by motion control commands that didn't work at the worst times when I really needed them.  I really want to play this game with my CC Pro.

Ian SaneSeptember 22, 2010

Quote:

I will remain skeptical about this game until we have confirmation that standard controls (probably on the Classic Controller) are going to be available. Waggle has no place in this kind of exacting 2D platform gameplay. It was not only distracting but counterproductive in the E3 demo. I understand that Nintendo may want to highlight motion controls as part of their marketing strategy to families, but some of us would like to play the game without accidentally rolling into pits because the motion trigger doesn't register at the right moment.


It is rather ironic.  Nintendo wants to sell us on the merits of motion control so they shove it into every game they make to demonstrate its advantages and "prove" that it is the new standard of videogame controls.  However it has had the opposite effect.  Due to control issues the forced usage makes motion controls look ill suited for use in "real" games and the fact that the casual titles are the only games that actually use the concept well has associated motion controls with casual gaming.  This perception is clearly demonstrated by Move and Kinect which are very much casual focused.

When Nintendo announces any game these days I wince at the thought of what broken controls will be featured in it.  To me motion controls = broken controls.  The thing is it is because of waggle that I feel this way.  If Nintendo had included the Classic Controller with every Wii and only used motion control when it actually adds something to the game then I might look at it in a much more favourable light.  The attempt to sell me on the concept by forcing me to use it whether it fits or not has turned me off on the concept altogether.  The touchscreen on the DS has suffered a similar fate for the same reason.

The thing is if you have a truly great concept then you don't have to force it on anyone.  The very act of forcing its use reveals a lack of confidence in the concept to succeed on its own merits.  I think the Wii and Wii Sports would have been equally as successful if the CC and the remote were both packaged with the Wii.  Forcing motion control into the role of the "new standard" has held it up to harsher scrutiny and exposed its weaknesses.  If they just made the CC the normal controller and promoted the remote as this cool feature that could be used in ANY Wii game because it comes standard with every console then there would be no issue at all.  It would just be a cool feature and not a flawed standard.  Motion control is in over its head because Nintendo shoehorned it into a role it was not suited for.

Mop it upSeptember 22, 2010

Quote from: broodwars

Out of curiosity, does the version of DKC on the VC have that glitch fixed that prevents you from entering one of the later secret areas if you missed it the first time you played that stage?  That glitched really irritated me back in the day because it prevented me from getting 100%.

I looked it up, and I found nothing about any such glitch.

Quote from: Ian

DKC3 however is easily the weakest and I would only recommend it if you absolutely loved the other two.

Other than the lame design of Kiddy Kong, I really don't see what's so weak about Donkey Kong Country 3. I feel the first game is the weakest due to most of the secrets being random leaps of faith.

MagicCow64September 22, 2010

Hark! Anyone remember me from back in the day? Probably not.

Anyhow, that Donkey Kong Country thing about the most secret room is NOT a glitch.

You had one chance, on that one industrial level, to purposefully choose all single bananas in a barrel matching secret room. IF you for some reason did that, a barrel would drop instead of a banana, which you could then use to break through the wall of the bonus room, into a super secret bonus room, which was the only way to get 100%. This only worked on the first try, but this was intentional.

Sounds ridiculous? It was! The only way you could possibly know about that was if your were a Nintendo Power subscriber and they sent you the promotional VHS tape in the mail that included the secret of how to get 100%. It was a marketing gimmick.

That was a ridiculous bonus room -- I ended up 100%'ing twice after having difficulty getting into that room and thinking that there was a glitch, but in fact you can do it later as long as you're using Diddy and jump and slide down the wall; I have two 101% game saves to prove it.

vuduSeptember 23, 2010

Quote from: MagicCow64

Hark! Anyone remember me from back in the day? Probably not.

How could we remember you--you registered for the forums today.  ;)

Thanks for the interesting info!

Ian SaneSeptember 23, 2010

Quote:

Other than the lame design of Kiddy Kong, I really don't see what's so weak about Donkey Kong Country 3. I feel the first game is the weakest due to most of the secrets being random leaps of faith.


It's hard to really define but it just seems a bit off in comparison to the other two.  It's probably the specifics of the level design.  I believe a different team at Rare worked on it.  One thing I didn't care for is that a lot of the levels had barrels that turned you into the animal friends.  You rarely rode them.  The music was also worse and there was a more baby oriented design with Kiddy and the baby elephant.  It's hard to explain but I really like the first two a lot more than the third.

I liked the secrets in DKC 1 because they seemed optional.  There was no need to collect coins to unlock levels or anything, it was just secrets that gave you lives and bananas and such.  They seemed to serve a legitimate purpose like secret 1-UPs in a Mario game.  DKC 2 started the Rare trend of collecting arbitrary doodads.

To clarify, I think you can smartly incorporate motion controls into 2D platformers. Both NSMBWii and Kirby use tilt controls for certain mechanics. I also like the pointer stuff in both Galaxy games. What I don't like is shaking the controller when a button press would be just as good -- the very definition of "waggle" -- and that's what Retro is doing in DKC Returns.

Killer_Man_JaroTom Malina, Associate Editor (Europe)September 23, 2010

Oh man, I love that silhouette style on the sunset level - makes me think of the old iPod adverts. Although I will say that while it's great that there are remixes of old DKC tunes, I hope Kenji Yamamoto has some new material planned as well.

There's new music too, though not as much as old stuff in the levels I played.

LittleIrvesSeptember 24, 2010

I was initially hesitant about this game after its E3 reveal, wishing that the then-rumored Retro Studios Donkey Kong was going to be some modern take on the original arcade game.  I liked DKC back in the day, but my nostalgia for the series doesn't run as deep as for other Nintendo franchises.  But.  The more I see about the game, the more I'm getting amped.  Or, at least a high level of curiosity.  The motion control worries me a tad, too, but I have to believe a standard way to control will be available.  At the very least, I think the game looks pretty outstanding.  I'll take beautiful art design and crisp animation over plasticine "realistic" character models and worlds any day.

Ian SaneSeptember 27, 2010

Quote:

There's new music too, though not as much as old stuff in the levels I played.


I would actually prefer an entirely new soundtrack.  Too many games try to appeal to nostalgia by having lots of song remixs.  You see it in level design as well.  There are all sorts of "wink-winks" to earlier games.  What I think the idea here should be is that you're making DKC4 and pretend it's 1997.  Then this game would have to succeed on it's own merits.  I didn't like NSMB that much and the reason why is it relied to much on referencing the original SMB.  It relied on the audience having not played a game like that for a while and getting a nostalgic kick out of it.  I loved NSMB Wii however as it was more like a new Mario 2D title.  It wasn't just some retro-themed title it was like Super Mario Bros 5.  That's what I really want to see here.  Assume we haven't had over ten years in between and that this is just the next DKC game.

E3 Hype Train EngineerSeptember 27, 2010

Quote from: Ian


I would actually prefer an entirely new soundtrack.  Too many games try to appeal to nostalgia by having lots of song remixs.  You see it in level design as well.  There are all sorts of "wink-winks" to earlier games.  What I think the idea here should be is that you're making DKC4 and pretend it's 1997. 

Bolded for truth, even though it'll never happen  :(

It's the Hollywoodization of gaming. Oh, they're making a Star Trek movie? I liked that TV show 40 years ago, I will automatically want to see it even though all the actors and writers are dead. Same situation here.

In this case, I wish that if it's going to mimic old games, mimic the original more than the later games.  The first game had really immersive, serious environments, and the series since then has gotten progressively silly and absurd.  This game tones that down a bit, but it's still more cartoony (AKA googly-eyes Rare) than the first.

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Donkey Kong Country Returns Box Art

Genre Action
Developer Retro Studios
Players1 - 2

Worldwide Releases

na: Donkey Kong Country Returns
Release Nov 21, 2010
PublisherNintendo
RatingEveryone
jpn: Donkey Kong Returns
Release Dec 09, 2010
PublisherNintendo
RatingAll Ages
eu: Donkey Kong Country Returns
Release Dec 03, 2010
PublisherNintendo
Rating3+
aus: Donkey Kong Country Returns
Release Dec 02, 2010
PublisherNintendo
RatingGeneral
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