It can be a long time between drinks when it comes to quality games worth playing on the Wii, and more often than not it is a Nintendo first-party title that gets Wii owners turning on their consoles again. The long list of colourful Nintendo characters and IPs always somehow manage to freshen their appeal, usually without making dealbreaking changes to the classic formula, and Donkey Kong Country Returns is one game that will regenerate interest in the Donkey Kong series for old and new fans alike.
It has taken over a decade for Donkey Kong Country to Return since its original release for SNES in 1994. The original game was a commercial and critical success, later releasing on GameBoy Color, GameBoy Advance, and subsequently to Virtual Console.
Once again, Donkey Kong’s stash of bananas (what else?) have been stolen by a band of Tikis known as the Tiki Tak Tribe. Donkey Kong, with Diddy Kong in tow, set out to defeat the Tiki Tak Tribe and restore justice. I figure you’d have guessed that though.
The essence of Donkey Kong Country doesn’t deviate from the original formula – at the heart of this game is a very well designed predominantly 2D-platformer, housing varied and interesting challenges. Controls are extremely responsive and therefore satisfying, and the game physics are top class as we have come to expect from Nintendo games in the genre.
The environments and graphics of the game are luscious and gorgeous, and while not classed as "HD" due to the output resolution limitations of the Wii, you would hardly give a damn given how great this game looks. On the odd occasion there is a slight hint of a slow down in frame rate, but nothing that detracts from enjoyment of the game. The load times aren’t spectacular bad, but they are a little annoyance, especially as in order to progress to subsequent levels you need to return to (and load) the game map, then select (and load) the next level.
This is a wonderfully rewarding single player game, but also delivers a rich 2-player true co-operative experience. Diddy Kong is normally carried on the back of Donkey Kong when played alone, with Diddy and DK combining at times to perform number of special moves. But a second human player can drop in or out at any time between levels and completely change the nature of many of the game levels.
In the co-operative mode both characters are controlled independently. While DK plays the power game, dismissing enemies with ease, Diddy Kong is far more nimble and can more readily reach some hard to get to places, aided by his trusty jet pack which allows him to carry more distance when jumping.
During tricky points of the game, it is sometimes best that these gaming underlings lose any control over the game, and DK can grab Diddy Kong and carry him in tow, essentially returning to a single player mode until such time as Diddy Kong can be safely released to wreak havoc. This is sometimes a required strategy as DK needs access to Diddy Kong’s jet pack to access some areas. While atop DK, the player controller Diddy Kong is given the impression of retaining some control though – Diddy Kong can use his peanut popgun while riding on DK to stun enemies.
If either player loses a life, a press of a button uses up a balloon (the in-game currency for "credits") to spawn the player back. Only if both player die simultaneously (or you run out of balloons) do you have to restart at a checkpoint.
This is co-op "done right". It never feels like a tacked-on feature, and both players. By its nature, co-operative play, can either help or hinder game progress. However the frustration of a weaker player doing the "wrong" thing is hugely counterbalanced by the enjoyment of being able to play together with someone that might not otherwise be able to enjoy the game.
It may just be the introduction a novice player needs to give them to confidence to try out the game for themselves. If they get stuck (and they will as the difficulty ramps up), the Nintendo Super Guide makes a return. If you repeated die in a section of the game, the Super Guide offers to complete the level for you (showing you how it is done). Collectibles are forfeited and an indicator shows that you’ve used the Super Guide on the level map, but it will allow you to proceed through the rest of the game without feeling like you’ve wasted $130 to play only a few levels of those on offer.
Level progression is via a World Map that is functionally identical to all recent Super Mario Bros. games. There are a decent number of levels in the game, though it won’t take long for platforming veterans to reach the game’s final curtain. Replay value lies in going back to each level to collect K-O-N-G letters, as well as a number of hidden puzzle pieces in each level. Aside from the collector’s bonuses, completing a level opens up the time trial mode where the goal is to reach the level end as quickly as possible to obtain a gold, silver, or bronze medal. The times required to collect a gold medal can be extremely difficult (I’ll readily admit that I don’t think I’m up to a gold medal standard), but anyone that is good enough may be disappointed to learn that there are no online leaderboards to compare times. Co-op play is not available online either – sadly this is not surprising coming from the console that got left behind by online gaming this generation.
Forgiving the games few faults is easy given the charm and polish that is so often delivered by Nintendo first-party games. Fans of platformers are unlikely to be disappointed by the game, even if they are upset to find that there are no underwater levels in the game, or that Kremlings have also been left out. What is important is that Donkey Kong Country Returns to deliver a solid gameplay experience that can be enjoyed alone or with any number of friends. You shouldn’t hesitate to give your Wii a new lease of life with a bit of Donkey Kong.