Wii

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Donkey Kong Country Returns

by Andy Goergen - November 20, 2010, 9:12 pm PST
Total comments: 39

9.5

The iconic mascot makes a triumphant return.

As the third major 2D platformer published by Nintendo in two years, Donkey Kong Country Returns from Retro Studios is a wonderful rejuvenation of a 16-year-old franchise, capping off a larger span of time between its entries than the original Donkey Kong Country shares with its 1981 arcade progenitor.

From the very beginning, DKCR stands out as an imaginative platformer, absolutely crammed to the brim with creative level design and classic Kong imagery.  The game shares a similar jungle setting to the previous Donkey Kong Country titles, but the set pieces that Retro Studios has strung together are among the best seen in any 2D platformer to date.  Moving platforms fall into each other as the foreground and backgrounds come together, with Donkey and Diddy Kong moving  among them with stunning fluidity.  While some of the levels have gimmicks like mine carts or rocket ships, most of the levels rely on rock-solid platforming skills and a mix of patience and fast reflexes.

Retro Studios has used a wide palette in making the art for the game, with a predictable but very well-executed art style.  A few stages really stand out, showing our heroes and villains as silhouetted figures against a cloud of smoke or a blazing sunset.  Retro shows an uncanny ability to create a living, breathing world without creating too much distraction from the task at hand.  Likewise, the music feels largely reminiscent of the previous games in the franchise, with some new remixes of classic songs.  Although nothing in the soundscape particularly stands out, the music lends to the exceptional atmosphere the game presents to players.

The game offers two control options: NES-style or Wii Remote and Nunchuk.  Although NES-style seems like the obvious choice for a side-scrolling platformer, the Remote and Nunchuk controls work just as well and are in some cases actually preferable.  The analog stick provides ample precision for the slightly slippery Kong.  Unlike in the first Donkey Kong Country, where it sometimes feel as if you hover over the scenery as you navigate the stages, in DKCR, Donkey Kong feels very much a part of what is around him, especially in  sections where you climb on grassy surfaces and leap vertically from wall to wall.  For the first time I can remember, Donkey Kong really feels like an ape.

The motion controls, required for the frequently-used ground pound and roll moves, are easily the game's weakest element.  A rolling jump requires both a shake of the Remote and a button press, a combination that requires some getting used to.  There were enough buttons on the controller to cover another control mechanic, so it seems as if the motion control was tacked on.  It doesn't add much to the general appeal of the game, except when you are required to pound away for five to ten seconds on an enemy or obstacle.  Even then, it only feels fun when using the Remote and Nunchuk option.  Shaking the controller while holding it NES-style is just plain awkward.

The basic game has eight worlds, each with around seven to eight stages.  Each of these stages has several collectables, including K-O-N-G letters, which make their return from the original Donkey Kong Country.  After collecting all of the letters from each stage in each world, an additional stage will unlock.  Completing all of these bonus stages and the main eight worlds reveals a new ninth world called The Golden Temple.  In addition, players can unlock art and music galleries by collecting  hidden puzzle pieces.  Representing the letters, puzzle pieces, and a time-attack mode, each stage in the game has three separate medals that can be earned. All of these are optional, meaning that there is a wealth of content to explore even after finishing up the initial campaign.  The time-attack mode, which will award you either a bronze, silver, or gold medal depending on your fastest time per stage, will definitely have players pulling their hair out trying to shave another few seconds off their best time.

The challenge in the game is worth noting; at its peak difficulty it is among the hardest 2D platformers I've ever played. The bonus unlockable stages in particular are very difficult, but do a good job of not making players feel cheated.  The difficulty really begins to ramp up in the sixth world, and the final Volcano world is a real challenge in the best possible way.

Diddy Kong acts as more of a power-up than an actual companion during the single-player game, giving the player an additional two pieces of health and a slight hover ability. When the game is played in two-player mode, Diddy finally finds his feet.  Diddy gets to use his peanut popgun and hover pack, while Donkey Kong plays the same as in single-player mode.  The two players normally won't interact with each other, but Diddy can hop on Donkey's back and ride him as in the single-player game, and the two players share the same pool of lives.  Keeping track of two players is a bit more difficult, but it's a lot of fun to navigate the beautiful landscapes with a friend.

Retro Studios has shown an uncanny ability to reinvent Nintendo franchises and adapt to a challenge.  In this case, they've shown real talent in the arena of the 2D platformer.  Donkey Kong Country Returns is hands-down one of the best Nintendo titles this year, and a real delight to fans of the Donkey Kong Country franchise.

Summary

Pros
  • Fantastic level design through and through
  • Plenty of things to collect and unlock
  • Stunning visuals and a consistent frame rate
Cons
  • Motion control feels like an afterthought and is not much fun

Talkback

Mop it upNovember 21, 2010

I haven't read the review except for the score and pros/cons list since I plan to buy the game anyway, so this question might be answered in the text: If this game didn't force motion controls, would it have gotten a 10?

I didn't explicitly say as much in the review, but that's a fair guess.

Killer_Man_JaroTom Malina, Associate Editor (Europe)November 21, 2010

Some people obviously take to the NES-style controls differently. I have read other reviews that expressed a preference for them over the Remote and Nunchuk option. I'll have to see what works for me.

Anyway, thank you for reaffirming this game's overall greatness. I was going to get this anyway, of course, but still, it's always nice to hear. Although if the difficulty is as such, getting someone to play co-op with me might be out of the question. A lot of people I've played New Super Mario Bros. Wii have had a hard time, and that's clearly a more easygoing platformer.

Yep, NSMB Wii is a tough game for non-gamers. But will DKCR appeal to non-gamers more due to its aesthetic? Those adorable monkeys.

ThomasONovember 21, 2010

In terms of difficulty, where is it relative to SMB2J or Yoshi's Island DS?

KDR_11kNovember 21, 2010

Quote from: NWR_Lindy

Yep, NSMB Wii is a tough game for non-gamers. But will DKCR appeal to non-gamers more due to its aesthetic? Those adorable monkeys.

Mario is a human, he's instantly approachable and even non-gamers know who Mario is (he's one of the most well known characters on the planet, in gaming he's second only to Pac-Man). I don't think an ape (don't call him a monkey!) has as much appeal.

jam6212November 21, 2010

Out of every piece of information and every review I've read, nobody says anything about bonus levels. Those were a huge part of the original three DKCs. Does DKCR have bonus levels too, or has the emphasis just been placed on collecting K-O-N-G letters and the like?

jimwood27November 21, 2010

there are definitely bonus levels.  you unlock them by collecting the KONG letters in the levels

jam6212November 21, 2010

Quote from: jimwood27

there are definitely bonus levels.  you unlock them by collecting the KONG letters in the levels

Right, I get that there are extra levels, but I'm talking about the little bonus levels. You know, like "find the coin" or "collect the stars". Those bonus levels.

There are tons of bonus levels as well... mostly they're like the "collect all of the bananas in X seconds using blast barrels."

I would say that this game isn't great for multiplayer with inexperienced players because of its difficulty -- stick to Kirby.  It's definitely in the SMB2J/YIDS realm in the later levels.

Did anyone notice that last month's Nintendo Power (that reviewed DKCR) came with an NES controller cling for the Wii Remote? I'm surprised they didn't do that way back for New SMBW given the sheer number of first-party software that's come out since that have NES controls.

I plan on either getting this game for my birfday or Christmas, and I'm super excited.

greybrickNathan Mustafa, Staff AlumnusNovember 21, 2010

Quote from: Halbred

Did anyone notice that last month's Nintendo Power (that reviewed DKCR) came with an NES controller cling for the Wii Remote? I'm surprised they didn't do that way back for New SMBW given the sheer number of first-party software that's come out since that have NES controls.

I plan on either getting this game for my birfday or Christmas, and I'm super excited.

I've also got a birthday close to Christmas, basically I need to decide if I want this or GT5 first.

Aren't GT games mind-numbingly boring?

Retro DeckadesNovember 22, 2010

Quote from: MegaByte

There are tons of bonus levels as well... mostly they're like the "collect all of the bananas in X seconds using blast barrels."

Don't know if this has been mentioned or not, but you still must seek out these hidden areas if you want to 100% the game, because you have to complete the challenges in order to receive puzzle pieces. There are about two hidden areas per level.

Quote from: Halbred

Aren't GT games mind-numbingly boring?

I've never played one, but that's always been my perception, too. I've never felt the least bit enticed to play one. Is it an acquired taste? I always thought instead of playing a driving sim you could, you know, go for a drive. I suppose the illusion of speed has something to do with it.

Shorty McNostrilNovember 22, 2010

While I'm a Forza man myself, I do find them quite enjoyable. I still very fondly remember the first time I took the Veyron over 400kph. The thrill I felt was awesome.

Kytim89November 22, 2010

I would really like to see Retro Studios take on Star Fox, so is the quality of this game good enough to warrant them develpment duties of another Star Fox?

broodwarsNovember 22, 2010

Quote from: Kytim89

I would really like to see Retro Studios take on Star Fox, so is the quality of this game good enough to warrant them develpment duties of another Star Fox?

Hmm...I dunno if Retro has the experience to do a Star Fox (though I'd be onboard if they did), but yeah this game is awesome.  They're more than welcome to do a DKCR 2 if they want.

Quote from: broodwars

Quote from: Kytim89

I would really like to see Retro Studios take on Star Fox, so is the quality of this game good enough to warrant them develpment duties of another Star Fox?

Hmm...I dunno if Retro has the experience to do a Star Fox (though I'd be onboard if they did), but yeah this game is awesome.  They're more than welcome to do a DKCR 2 if they want.

I wouldn't have thought they had the experience to do Donkey Kong Country, but they managed to hit that one out of the park. I'd still rather they get to do their own IP, but if they're doing another Nintendo IP I certainly hope it's Star Fox.

Mop it upNovember 22, 2010

Quote from: greybrick

Quote from: Halbred

Did anyone notice that last month's Nintendo Power (that reviewed DKCR) came with an NES controller cling for the Wii Remote? I'm surprised they didn't do that way back for New SMBW given the sheer number of first-party software that's come out since that have NES controls.

I plan on either getting this game for my birfday or Christmas, and I'm super excited.

I've also got a birthday close to Christmas, basically I need to decide if I want this or GT5 first.

Add me to the list of December birthdays. Unlike you guys though, those cheapskates never buy me birthday presents! I'm not sure if I'll be getting this game soon because I've got a pretty long list of Wii games I want, and I still need to finish up Donkey Kong Country 3 anyway.

greybrickNathan Mustafa, Staff AlumnusNovember 22, 2010

Quote from: Halbred

Aren't GT games mind-numbingly boring?

Not for me, but I guess its fine if you go ahead and write them off like that.

greybrickNathan Mustafa, Staff AlumnusNovember 22, 2010

Quote from: Mop

Quote from: greybrick

Quote from: Halbred

Did anyone notice that last month's Nintendo Power (that reviewed DKCR) came with an NES controller cling for the Wii Remote? I'm surprised they didn't do that way back for New SMBW given the sheer number of first-party software that's come out since that have NES controls.

I plan on either getting this game for my birfday or Christmas, and I'm super excited.

I've also got a birthday close to Christmas, basically I need to decide if I want this or GT5 first.

Add me to the list of December birthdays. Unlike you guys though, those cheapskates never buy me birthday presents! I'm not sure if I'll be getting this game soon because I've got a pretty long list of Wii games I want, and I still need to finish up Donkey Kong Country 3 anyway.

I'm actually an early January birthday, and yes, I am well acquainted with the "combo gift." Most of the time it is just a regular gift hyped up to combo levels.

Hey man. I played GT3 and Tourist Trophy. I fell asleep at the wheel. Sorry.

TJ SpykeNovember 22, 2010

Sim racing games are boring to me, the only reason I even played any of Forza Motorsport 2 (which was part of a combo pack I bought to get Marvel: Ultimate Alliance) was for the easier trophies like finish a lap without taking damage (which is easy when you drive like 10MPH and stay out of the way).

KDR, I would argue that Mario is slightly more well-known than Pac-Man nowadays.

brood, remember that technically Metroid Prime was Retro Studios' first game, I have no doubt they could make a great Star Fox game.

KDR_11kNovember 22, 2010

Quote from: TJ

KDR, I would argue that Mario is slightly more well-known than Pac-Man nowadays.

AFAIK the statistics actually show Pac-Man is more famous.

I am not feeling DKCR at all. I just spent about an hour getting angry at various levels in the second and third areas -- it gets absurdly difficult very quickly, and it's hard to believe that curve will continue to increase. Some of the jumps would be less frustrating if I could roll with confidence and precise timing, but others are just nasty with enemy placement, degrading platforms, etc. There is a fine line between challenge and annoyance, and DKCR is already crossing that line routinely. I want to keep playing and experience more of the level designs, but this is really not much fun.

"Super Meat Boy is the hardest game I've ever played. DKCR will be a jolly stroll after this" - Jonathan Metts

;)

Except for a few cases, I don't think the game is cheap in its design, especially when compared to most NES-era games. It is really frustrating that they chose not to make a proper control scheme available, especially for such a game (I was actually considering hacking up a controller to play this properly, but the Gecko patch will do).  The thing with DKCR that is a bit different than most platformers is that it actively forces you to keep moving in a high percentage of levels; you don't get much downtime.  This is particularly true in later levels, but I think the ingenuity actually increases later in the game.  There are certainly problem areas (such as those amazingly inventive world names, the blow mechanic, etc.), but I thought they hit the right level of challenge -- refreshing, really, and the attention to environmental integration is nearly unmatched.  I really started having fun in World 4 (I love minecart levels).

I am looking forward to more minecart, rocket, and Rambi levels. My breaking point of frustration came towards the end of World 2, when you have to move across that series of crumbling platforms with the sun enemies hovering left and right. It would be a fair challenge to time your jumps and avoid those enemies, except that you can't wait for the right moment because your platform is falling away. The pace of this section seems designed for a character that moves much faster than DK (you can't really use the roll here because of the enemies).

Quote from: MegaByte

"Super Meat Boy is the hardest game I've ever played. DKCR will be a jolly stroll after this" - Jonathan Metts

I was assuming that DKCR would be just as tightly designed and have super-tight controls like SMB. Technical aspects being equal, DKCR would indeed be a lot easier than SMB.

Ian SaneDecember 06, 2010

I only got this a few days ago for my birthday.  Been busy so I've only gotten through the first world thus far.  I like it but it is quite hard.  I don't think I did any levels in the first try and this is only the first world.  In the original DKC I didn't start having a tough time until the second world at least.  When you're busting out minecart levels in world 1, you're not fooling around.

So far the game has been fun and it's gorgeous.  I'm impressed with a Wii game's graphics.  This pretty much never happens.  It seems very much like Nintendo of Japan no longer even tries to make their games look nice, they're content with the bare minimum.  But Retro has some pride in those visuals and this game looks great!  Good Feel also makes pretty games.  And I've also noticed that Donkey Kong Country converts to 2.5D graphics a lot better than Mario does.  The old rendered graphics had a 3D look anyway so this looks like a natural progression of that.

The big con however is the controls.  Why am I ALWAYS right about that?  It's like every time Nintendo shows off some game at E3 with stupid waggle controls and I'm all "I don't know about this" and I am right every single time.  IT ALWAYS HURTS THE GAME!  STOP DOING THIS STUPID BROKEN CONTROLS BULLSHIT!  The rubes who are impressed by stupid motion controls suck too much to succeed at this game anyway!  They wouldn't get past the first barrel shooter level.  I don't even attempt to roll.  Early on I saw a group of enemies in a row, figured it would be an ideal time to roll through them, and died because it didn't recognize my shake so I stupidly walked right into them.  Ever do that with normal controls?  Ever play a game where you try to jump on an enemy, you push the button, and the guy just stands there while the enemy hits him?  Back in the days before waggle that was a sign of a horrible junk ass game.  You NEVER saw that kind of sloppy bullshit in a Nintendo game.  Nintendo games were tight.  And the most annoying thing is that in DKC the grab, run, roll and ground pound were all performed with the same button.  There was no reason to introduce a third button and thus be "forced" to use waggle in the first place.

I associate Nintendo with shit controls these days.  Every time it's like there is some good game hidden away behind a frustrating broken control scheme.  Can I even consider these to be good games?  I would never cut any slack for shit controls with any other developer.  Normally shit controls = shit game.  You can live with poor graphics, poor sound and poor story but controls are too important to gameplay.  A game with irresponsive controls is pretty much the same thing as a game full of bugs.

I typically never buy remakes of games I already own but I would gladly rebuy numerious first party Wii games if they supported the Classic Controller.  MegaByte, what is this Gecko patch you speak of?  Is it some sort of hack?  Map shake to a button and you fix like 90% of Nintendo's Wii titles.

The Gecko patch is something that you apply when loading the game through Gecko OS via the Homebrew Channel. It hacks the game to let you play the game with the Classic Controller, with the waggle mapped to a button. Nick DiMola posted more in-depth info about it in the DKCR thread in Console Discussion.

Quote from: Jonnyboy117

I was assuming that DKCR would be just as tightly designed and have super-tight controls like SMB. Technical aspects being equal, DKCR would indeed be a lot easier than SMB.

Yeah, I just remember laughing at the image of "jolly stroll."  For better or worse, I think they were trying to emulate the original's controls, which were slippery... I always figured it was intentionally so to try to give the feeling of controlling a lumbering ape (I always preferred playing with Diddy, which isn't possible in this game's single player).

Quote from: MegaByte

(I always preferred playing with Diddy, which isn't possible in this game's single player).

Actually, I think there's a Gecko code that lets you do that as well. I remember seeing something about it while trying to figure out the CC code.

Shorty McNostrilDecember 08, 2010

I don't know if anyone has mentioned this, but something I have found is that you can't chain your rolls together. In the originals you would keep rolling if you took out bad guys along the way. I try to do that in this game and I end up getting through the first 2 in a line and walk straight into the 3rd one. Or am I doing it wrong?

broodwarsDecember 08, 2010

Quote from: Shorty

I don't know if anyone has mentioned this, but something I have found is that you can't chain your rolls together. In the originals you would keep rolling if you took out bad guys along the way. I try to do that in this game and I end up getting through the first 2 in a line and walk straight into the 3rd one. Or am I doing it wrong?

If you have Diddy, you can continuously roll.

I played some of the first world in Nintendo World Store last week and my interest in this game went from "must have" to "maybe I'll just borrow it from someone..."

The motion controls, more than any other motion controls I've been privy to, feel like crap. Mapping DK's roll to a motion didn't make much sense to me in the beginning, and now makes even less sense as I'm trying to be precise and collect items. I feel the only way I could enjoy this game is just by ignoring all of the collectibles. I also dislike the looseness of the characters.

Maybe I'm just generally predisposed to not like Donkey Kong Country games. I replayed DKC earlier this year and thought it was pretty awful in terms of just about everything.

broodwarsDecember 09, 2010

I wonder how many people that are having problems with the motion control are trying to shake the remote horizontally instead of vertically.  I also found the motion controls to be abysmal early on, but found them manageable once I figured out that shaking vertically up-to-down worked 99.9% of the time.

I think one of the big problems is the relation of running and rolling motions.  You have to run for a split second before rolling, and that's not very intuitive, especially if you're used to the old games, and is exacerbated by the delay time (however slight) it takes for a motion to trigger action.  Basically, the game forces the player to compensate for it, and that is a big no-no.

The delay time was my problem. The roll would always happen when I shook the remote, but it would be about half a second later than I wanted it to be, which kept getting me killed.

NinGurl69 *hugglesJanuary 05, 2011

I wonder how many "experienced" gamers here figured out in the first 30 SECONDS OF PLAY that the roll was triggered by a single, fair, downward tug.  DOWN.

Not a desperate "up and down" like a good Thursday night.  I just can't believe some of (most of) these comments.

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Wii

Game Profile

Donkey Kong Country Returns Box Art

Genre Action
Developer Retro Studios
Players1 - 2
Controllers

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+
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