Most of my formative time as a gamer happened during the twilight years of the 16-bit era, so while I’ve always had a fondness for the NES Mario games, Rare’s Donkey Kong Country platformers are what I remember best. After a somewhat disappointing N64 adventure sequel and years of languishing in bongo drum experimentation and lackluster racing titles, DK is getting back to his SNES platforming roots in the aptly titled Donkey Kong Country Returns
. And Retro Studios, the geniuses behind the Metroid Prime trilogy, are the people masterminding DK’s return to form. Could I be happier with the results? Probably not.
Upon gearing up for a jaunt through the Jungle Hijinks level, I discovered that old-school platforming doesn’t necessarily mean restrictive old-school controls. Much to my relief, Retro is just fine with using the good old Wii remote and Nunchuk, even though you can play with just the Wiimote if you really want to. NES-style sideways Wiimote might work fine for New Super Mario Bros, but it left something to be desired in Metroid Other M. Unlike some retrogaming fans I don’t consider the NES pad to be the final word in game control…after all, the Wiimote and Nunchuk let you do some cool things, like drum your hands to do DK’s signature ground pound.
Upon smashing some bricks into the ground, I knew I was home. Retro has nailed the aesthetics—music, graphics, even the animations are all spot-on accurate to the original, and now finally in true 3D graphics. This is classic DK Country, updated with the best elements Nintendo field tested in New Super Mario Bros.
Once again the best way to play this game is in co-op, but the relative easiness from New Super is gone, as are most of the annoyances. DK and Diddy don’t bounce off of each other at inopportune times and can’t pick each other up either, so you won’t accidentally grab and hurl your partner to an untimely death while trying to snag an item. However, a knocked-out partner will respawn in a floating balloon-suspended barrel and can move closer to their buddy by shaking the controls, much like the bubbles in New Super.
Diddy can also jump on DK’s back and provide fire support with his peanut cannon, which is a good way for inexperienced players to enjoy the game without dumbing down the whole level to an easier difficulty. Speaking of difficulty, this game is no pushover—from the small taste I got I can say it’s easily as challenging as the original DK trilogy on the SNES. You only get two hit points and health is very scarce. The precision jumps in Rickety Rails, the obligatory mine cart level, cost me and Chad at least ten lives.
Luckily it’s all classic DK Country between the additions, so if you’re having trouble you’ll still instinctively know what to do. Need extra 1-ups? Grab the floating letters until you complete a full K-O-N-G. Likewise, the barrel-blast sequences are back with just as many bananas to grab and tricky timing/alignment shots in between. This time, though, don’t be surprised if the barrels blast you into the background for some extra platforming and puzzling—DK Country Returns takes its 2.5D nature to heart, and is possibly the purest example of the new-retro platformer I’ve seen to date.