Ape Close and Personal
Nintendo’s premier primates are finally back where they belong in the long- awaited Donkey Kong
Click here for Donkey Kong Country Returns Walkthrough (Wii)
After a week spent running, jumping, rolling, and smashing through Donkey Kong Country Returns, it’s hard for us to believe that the folks at Retro Studios haven’t been making platformers for years. If it weren’t for the game’s stunning production values—from gorgeous graphics to spot-on controls to amazing audio, it would have nothing in common with the developer’s only previous works, the Metroid Prime trilogy. But somehow, Retro’s debut platformer is so good that it makes a monkey out of the original Donkey Kong Country.
Speaking of the Super NES classic, longtime fans will remember that DKC was a revolution when it first brought prerendered CG graphics to the console in 1994. The game built a world around Nintendo’s iconic ape and, for a time, carried the flag for the platforming genre while Mario took a break. For a generation of gamers, this was the definitive Nintendo experience. Two sequels followed, but with the switch to the polygonal Donkey Kong 64 for Nintendo 64, the classic Donkey Kong Country formula was set aside. However, on November 21-16 years to the day since the release of the original Donkey Kong Country—that classic DKC gameplay will return at last.
THE BOYS ARE BACK & THE APE EVOLVES
Although Donkey Kong Country Returns doesn’t aim to break any new graphical ground, it offers up plenty of platforming goodness that pays homage to—and even surpasses—the Super NES trilogy. Fans of the series will feel right at home bouncing off bad guys, blasting from barrel to barrel, searching for secrets, riding rhinos and mine carts, and dying over and over. (The game honors the legendary difficulty level of its predecessors, so be ready for a challenge.) The series’s famously catchy, jazzy tunes are also back, and are sure to keep you smiling and your toes tapping, even when repeatedly losing your mine cart down the same bottomless pit.
But Donkey Kong Country Returns is so much more than a simple redo of the past games. What impresses us most is the incredible attention to detail evident in each level. There is a tremendous amount of gameplay variety to keep things feeling fresh, and lots of big scripted events that give the game an epic, cinematic feel. For example, a giant screen- filling octopus hunts Donkey Kong through an entire level, surprising the player with changing attack strategies. In another instance, a pirate ship fires at Donkey Kong through much of a stage. And there are frequent times when hitting the right trigger can reshape an entire area, causing large parts of the environment to crumble or rise from the ground. From world to world, Donkey Kong Country Returns delivers a spectacle.
Another big improvement is the addition of co-op multiplayer. Whereas Donkey Kong’s little buddy Diddy Kong previously just tagged along, essentially offering an on-the-spot extra life, now two players can guide both simians through the entire game. Teaming up works almost exactly as it does in New Super Mario Bros. Wiiwhen one player loses a life, he floats back onscreen in a balloon- lifted barrel that his partner must smash to set him free. Shaking the Wii Remote controller nudges the barrel closer to the active ape and both players pull from the same pool of extra lives. If one player is left behind and is offscreen for a few seconds, he’s zipped to his partner’s side. Keeping both characters in view can be tricky at times, such as when swinging from vine to vine, so playing with a pal can make the game a tad harder. But because the team can continue through a level so long as both players don’t die simultaneously, the difficulty balances out.