If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Hey there punks, Heavy D here with another review for you!
In my last post (Sonic Speed Light Show: A Review of Sonic Colors, check it out please!!!) I mentioned that there is a mild case of Wii neglect here on Spill. Like I said before, it's not anybody's fault in particular. Most of the highly anticipated games are on the 360 or the PS3 so they're going to get the lion's share of the attention. As much as I love my PS3, the Wii had some cool exclusives last year and it is unfortunate they did not receive much attention. I'm going to do my part in the fight against Wii neglect and give you the skinny on another recent Nintendo exclusive, Donkey Kong Country Returns.
The game's title begs the question: where the hell has Donkey Kong been? Apparently, he's had a full schedule with spinoffs and Mario sports games for the past five years. Despite the character's popularity, there hasn't been a traditional Donkey Kong platformer since 2005's Jungle Beat on the Gamecube. In the third year of the Wii's life, Nintendo has decided to bring their prime primate out of retirement with this game. The apparent M.O. of game companies these days is to return to the glory days. There's Megaman 9 & 10, New Super Mario Brothers, Kirby's Epic Yarn, the list goes on for a while. All of these games are modeled after earlier classic titles, and this one is no different. I mean, the game was made by a company called Retro Studios. Their intentions with this game should be pretty obvious. DKC Returns closely follows the path set by the 3 Donkey Kong Country games on the SNES, as it is a traditional sidescroller. Let's examine the various features of the game and see if the old formula still makes quality brew.
Presentation: In the 1990's, a major selling point of the DKC games was their advanced look. By using pre-rendered 3D graphics and the "advanced computer modeling" compression technique to blow away the competition, Nintendo made of the best-looking titles on any system. While DKC Returns isn't going to make Sony or Microsoft wet themselves in fear, it is still a nice package of eye candy. Much like New Super Mario Bros Wii, DKC Returns takes the blueprint of the stages from the past and gives them a vibrant new look. Each of the eight worlds has a different theme and Retro Studios showed careful attention to all of them. In the volcano, the lava is viscous and flowing; in the ruins, the structures are aged and dilapidated. The various areas of the game are quite colorful and have a unique, cartoony feel about them. From the back to the front and everywhere in between, the game is vivid and bursting with color and detail.
My favorite stage in the game places DK and Diddy in a factory full of smog. Until you find the fan to blow away the pollution, everything in the stage is in silouette except for DK's tie and Diddy's clothes. The result is a creative and cool effect that shows how innovative the design team was with this game. It's like looking at the cool stills from The Spirit before you watched it and wanted to chew on rusty nails to ease the pain.
Gameplay: The original DKC's manual stated that "the controller functions...are basic,so you can concentrate on enjoying the game's graphics, sound and gameplay, rather than trying to remember which button does a spin jump or backward-double-combination flip!" Once again, precedent carries through to the present. The game's controls are designed to make the process of performing any action as simple as breathing. Players can choose between the nunchuck-Wiimote combination or holding the Wiimote sideways and using it like an NES controller. I personally prefer the former because some of the essential moves require motion controls and I found the "drumming" action was faster than moving my arms up and down while holding the Wiimote. Either way, control is not an issue with DKC Returns, and that's a good thing.
Let it be known that this game is not for the weak-willed and impatient. This game can get frustratingly difficult at some points. While the traditional running and jumping levels of classic platforming make up most the game, don't expect to get to the end of the game on auto-pilot. Each level has different challenges and tweaks to make them more interesting and fun. The mine cart rides make several appearances and you'll need to rely on some of your animal pals to finish your journey to the exit barrel. While there are plenty of throwbacks to the SNES stages, a new gimmick has been invented to keep you pulling your hair. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the rocket barrel.
When you see this little bastard in a level, pray to your respective gods because these are some of the most taxing stages in the entire game. It seems simple at first, just ascend and descend while grabbing bananas and other collectibles. However, when the paths narrow and the screen fills up with enemies and obstacles, you'll understand the cruelty of these stages. Don't be deceived by their brutal nature though, because the rocket barrel parts are incredibly fun. That thought holds for DKC Returns as a whole. Despite the maddening difficulty of some of stages, nothing ever reaches the level of "impossible." Sometimes, you'll need to walk away and come back later, but there's no reason to rage quit DKC Returns.
Should you choose to go above and beyond the main quest, there are three extra objectives to achieve in every stage. Skilled players will have a blast collecting the letter tablets (they spell KONG), finding all of the hidden puzzle pieces, and earning gold medals for each level's time trial. The rewards for doing all this extra work included bonus stages, image galleries, a set of dioramas, and a hidden world. The game keeps track of your completion percentage, so you'll be pushing yourself to do it all. The extra challenges definitely add to an already pleasurable gaming experience.If you've played the old games, you'll be right at home here. If you haven't, prepare for some vexing and rewarding times.
With that said, there are some gameplay issues that hold this title back from perfection. The mutiplayer of DKC Returns is a lot like New Super Mario Bros. Wii in that when one person dies, they must float to the other and touch them to get back in the game. The problem with this mechanic is that unlike New Super Mario Bros, DK and Diddy share lives instead of having individual counters. If you're playing this game with someone who sucks, you're going to be bleeding lives at a hemophilic rate, so get ready to make nice with the game over screen.
NOTE: The game is not this slow, it runs very well. I don't know why this video is so delayed.
Another problem comes with the enemies of this game. DKC Returns throws out the usual suspects, the crocodile nuisances known as the Kremling Krew, and replaces them with a gang of musical miscreants called the Tiki Tak Tribe, a group of animated evil tikis who use music to hypnotize the inhabitants of DK Isle. The Tiki leaders are all based on musical instruments and play their variation of the Tiki spell song to enslave the creatures of the world they control.
The bosses of the game are varied and tricky for the most part, but the regular tikis, the ones you'll be interacting with most often, are quite dull. They all look similar, use the same tactics to attack, and are usually defeated with a simple bop on the noggin. Even worse, palette swaps of the non-tiki enemies appear as early as the second world. A different color and one extra hit does not a new warrior make. If you're like me, you'll quickly grow tired of seeing the same enemies over and over. I am fine with the decision to create a new group of antagonists, I just wish the new group didn't become an old group within the same game.
Sound: DKC Returns has an varied set of tracks for you to listen to while you battle the Tikis. A lot of the songs are the SNES tunes with changes in rhythm, tempo, and instrumentation. This helps to preserve the original feel of the game while noting the differences. Of course, there are plenty of new tracks to keep the game fresh for players. My favorite song is unfortunately the rocket barrel theme. Why unfortunately? Well, I never get to hear more than 30 seconds of it because I die so often, damn it.
I do love this rocking tune, but that's about it. I can't say there are very many tracks that are catchy or memorable beyond the first couple seconds. Nintendo didn't hire any studio musicians for this one, relying on machines to mimic the sounds of instruments. Call me a music snob, but the machines just don't carry the weight of the real deal this time. In a game where the enemies use music to conquer the island, I'd imagine that the soundtrack would be dynamic. Instead, the best I can say is the music is "appropriate." Each level's theme fits the environment of the stage, but most of them are pretty forgettable. While your ears will never bleed, you're not going to jam out to many songs from DKC Returns.
This isn't a dialogue-heavy title. In fact I'm pretty sure there are any words uttered in the entire game. Instead, there are a lot of sounds to keep the game exciting. Whether it's the rumble of the mine cart running down the screechy rails or the thunderous blast of your rocket barrel exploding for the BILLIONTH time, the sounds of this game are varied and utilized incredibly well.
Conclusion: DKC Returns is a solid platformer that fits very well among the Wii's library. It's a fun romp through the jungle on your own and gets even better with a (skilled) buddy. The game clocks in at about 20-25 hours and there's enough to do to satisfy novices and war-scarred veterans of gaming. It's certainly not as revolutionary as the original was back in the 90's, but that's the point. It's a return to a time of simple, yet entertaining gameplay. DKC Returns is a boon to your Wii library, so go pick this one up and have a great time. Welcome back, Kong.
Rating: Full Price!