Sometimes, revisiting the past is not a good idea. Not that long ago, I picked up Gran Turismo, a game that I had completely gushed over when it was first released. But playing it again now, I found myself getting bored and frustrated. the game certainly hadn’t changed, but rather I think that my gaming tastes had matured, leaving me expecting more. I have found the same when it comes to the recently released collections of classic games, or even worse, the re-imaginings of classic titles. Gaming has moved on, for me at least, and revisiting the gaming habits of my past mostly leaves me disappointed.
I say mostly because there is an exception to every rule and I am quite pleased when something comes along and proves this particular rule wrong. Back in 1994, when I was a proud SNES owner, Donkey Kong Country was released. I vividly remember travelling to a nearby large town and seeing the posters and cardboard cut-outs in the window of the Electronics Boutique where I bought my copy, such is the impact that this game had on my life. It was, in my mind, the last of the decent 2D platformers in a time when 2D platforming was king. Then everything went all 3D and I found myself moving onto the PC and discovering the joys of strategy and FPS games. To be honest, I think it was the last platform game that really held my interest.
When Donkey Kong Country Returns was announced, I viewed the news with treppidation. Of course I wanted to play the game as soon as possible, but I was also very aware that I may come away disappointed. Could I once again spend hours of my life in the company of a giant ape that has a passion for bananas?
Hell yeah! From the moment that I heard the music, it was like being transported back in time. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of changes to the game that make it suited to the current console, but the heart of the game was still there, beating just as strongly and to a strange jungle rhythm. Just as my tastes in gaming had matured, so had the games. I almost wept.
A bunch of weird creatures have come along and hypnotised the jungle creatures, making them steal all of the bananas. Donkey Kong is not having this and so heads out on his quest to reclaim the bananas and give the creatures a damn good talking to, of sorts. Thus begins the adventure that will have Donkey, and of course Diddy, working their way through jungles, ruins, underground caverns and more. Once Diddy is found in one of the special barrels located within the levels, he jumps on Donkey’s back, giving extra health and a handy jetpack allowing Donkey to jump further. Diddy can also be controlled by a second player, should that be your wish.
So, you head through the levels, collecting bananas, coins and letters to make up the word “KONG”, fighting various creatures and making it safely to the end. At the end of each area, you will come across a boss battle that will test your skills. They mostly require the player to spot the weakness and then exploit it, but each boss increases with difficulty. Which can also be said for the levels themselves. DKCR is not an easy game by any means and players planning on collecting all of the goodies and finding all of the secret areas will certainly have their work cut out for them.
Players can use the WiiMote and Nunchuk or just the WiiMote held sideways. Whichever way you want to play, there are a few new moves that have been added to take advantage of the motion control. Shaking the controls will have Donkey bang on the ground, temporarily stunning any nearby enemies or unlocking new areas. Shake while holding down and Donkey will blow dandelions or strange propeller plants to find goodies, or shake whilst pressing left or right will put Donkey into a roll. Whilst some new moves are welcome, the shaking whilst moving is open to misinterpretation, sometimes resulting in a rather frustrating loss of life.
The game looks simply stunning, easily one of the best looking games on the Wii at this time. Everything is finished with such detail and it is all brightly coloured, looking exactly how it should. An often decisive factor in platform games is the way the main character moves and I am happy to say that Donkey moves with expert precision, offering just the right amount of momentum to deal with tr5oublesome platform jumping without too many mistakes.
But it is not all platforming that the player has to deal with. Littered throughout the game in such a way as to offer variety when it is needed, are the minecart and rocket barrel levels. Moving of their own accord and at high speed, the player has no choice but to think quickly, avoid hazards and collect as much as they can whilst hoping to reach the end in one piece. these diversions offer much more twitchy gameplay, with the chance to plan ahead completely gone.
As with the original, players are rewarded for their hard work. The game is difficult and may seem unfair at times, but with each playthrough of a particular level, the player becomes more acquainted with the layout and will have more of a chance to grab the collectibles and reap the rewards.
It has been 16 years coming and while other franchises may have developed and matured, not always successfully, I am glad that it has taken this long for Donkey Kong Country to return. The game still commands my attention and offers everything that a platformer should. Picking up a copy of this game should be a necessity for all Wii owners.