The Glorious (?) Re-Ape-earing: my Thoughts on Donkey Kong Country Returns

09 Dec

Hey folks, Rappy here. Remember the gaming of the 1990s? I sure do! Some people had their Sonic the Hedgehogs or their Super Mario RPGs or what have you, but my bread and butter of my youthful days of gaming in the ’90s was Donkey Kong Country and its sequels. As such, even though I usually stick to RPGs and sometimes other books or movies, I knew that as soon as I saw that Donkey Kong Country would be returning after so long I knew I’d have to get it and exposit all about it. Well, after several days of playing through a good chunk of the game, what are my personal thoughts on the title? Well, you will find out in this blog post! Also, warning, below the title bar there lurk spoilers. If you don’t want to be spoiled about the game…run, run away to another post of this blog, but not away from the blog period because then I’d be lonely and…bah, let’s just get on with it.

The plot of Donkey Kong Country is very simple: bananas get pilfered, Donkey Kong gets pissed, bad guys get trounced as you rumble your way across the island. It’s pretty much the DK equivalent of “Princess Peach got captured!” by now, so you shouldn’t really expect otherwise. There is a slight difference this time around, though; instead of the usual crocodilian culprits, the Kremlings, this time DK’s banana horde has been stolen by the Tiki Taks, animated tikis with the power to mind control creatures to do their bidding through their magical music. As such, you won’t see any Kremling troops patrolling the island, and will instead be facing down various types of tiki and their magically-manipulated minions.

The first thing anyone tends to look to for in a game is…well…gameplay, of course. DKCR doesn’t disappoint here, with pretty smooth handling controls and the option of either decking your Wiimote with its nunchuk and playing that way or simply sliding your controller sideways and playing it old school SNES style (if you didn’t guess, the latter is my favored method of playing). Shaking the Wiimote allows you to do the classic Ground Pound maneuver, roll into enemies, and, blow wind to depuff dandelions and uproot certain plants (as well as work with certain puzzle elements), and like in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, these actions work pretty well most of the time, with few slipups on the controller’s part. There’s also a lot of jumping, climbing, clinging, and swinging to be done in these levels, as well as the good old barrel direction puzzles and those manic mine carts, so expect a lot of classic platforming fun. My only complaint about the gameplay from a control standpoint is…the rocket barrel. Ugh, the rocket barrel, you jerking, haulting, “press 2 repeatedly!” little monster… I even prefer the annoying rocket from Donkey Kong Country 3 over the DKCR’s  rocket barrel. Thankfully, if you find a mechanic you really suck at, you can take up the offer of the “Super Guide”. Like the mechanic of the very same name from New Super Mario Bros. Wii, the Super Guide has the AI play the level out for you and technically finishes it (although you don’t earn any K-O-N-G letters or puzzle pieces…more on the latter later), this time taking the form of “Super Kong”, who is basically that white-furred palette swap of DK from Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

Past the controls, I suppose the next important thing would be the aesthetics. Well, first off, the music’s pretty damn good. Of course, being mostly remixes of Donkey Kong Country songs (and some Donkey Kong Country 2 music, as well, or at least I think so; I’m pretty sure I heard some beats from the DKC2 Lost World song “Primal Rave” in one DKCR tune). These are all rather well-done remixes of the original game’s music and bring a great air of nostalgia to the new title as a whole. As for level design aesthetics, well…where do I even begin? They’re gorgeous, to say the least, ranging from tropical jungles and sunlight beaches to smog-choked factories and volcanic lava fields. My personal favorite from a visual standpoint would be the levels of World 6 (essentially the snowy peaks of the original game, now thawed out by the volcanic eruption tied to the Tiki Taks), where you are in a land of orange sandstone littered with fossils and rock carvings of various prehistoric fauna including ammonites and tyrannosaurs, a gloomy purple sky sometimes broken up by ruins, skeletons, cliffs, and volcanoes showing through in the background. Especially worthy of note in said world is the level Clifftop Climb, a level that starts you out in tar pool-covered wasteland and brings you upward through ruins, golden clouds with rays of sun streaking through them, and eventually to the summit of the level, with a view of the surrounding mountains in the background. Also worthy of note is the World 1 level where you find yourself overlooking the sea at sunset, the foreground matte black (save for a few things, including the eyes of random bush-mimicking enemies that appear only in this level and DK’s signature tie) and the background this stunning palette of various oranges.

The map screens are also rather pretty, owing their design in large part to the map system of Super Mario Bros. Wii, but if you’re gonna copy, copy from something good, I guess. The world is, as I said, divided into eight levels, mostly derived from the original Donkey Kong Country: Jungle and Beach for your first two (essentially the world Kongo Jungle Split into two), then Ruins and Cave for your next pair (basically a split of the two aspects of the original world 2, Monkey Mines) before moving on to Forest (an analogue to Vine Valley), Cliffs (a thawed-out Gorilla Glacier), Factory (the world Kremkroc Industries., Inc, without the Kremling connotations), and Volcano (which sits at the top of the island, where Chimp Caverns was once located before the eruption). As for the enemy designs…ehhh. I’m very ambivalent for the most part on the rogues gallery we see in the latest Donkey Kong Country installment. After three games with them, the Kremlings become rather ingrained in your memory, and I imagine it’d take more than one game to get me to warm up to the Tiki Tak Tribe and its myriad of tiki enemies. Similarly, while rats, vultures, and bees may not exactly be exciting to some, I got rather used to creatures like the Sneeks, Neckys, and Zingers, and their replacements of frogs, ruffle-feathered carrion parrots, and buzzsaw tikis don’t exactly inspire me, nor do the Golbat and Monty Mole lookalikes you’ll find in World 4, or the snakes and Piranha Plant-like enemies in World 5. Once again, World 6 delivers my favorite on this front, with its primordial wasteland being populated by undead fossil dinosaurs now freed from their icy prison by the warming climate.

The bosses are similarly varied, going from pirate crabs to an eccentric flying string of cherries known as Mangoruby. I will note that I am amused by the fact that in the locations where you would fight the similar bosses Very Gnawty and Really Gnawty in the original game, they kept a twin boss dichotomy; this time, the two are the banana-munching rhino-lizard-toad-things Mugly and Thugly. For your supporting cast past Donkey and Diddy, you have…Cranky Kong and Rambi the Rhino. No Candy or Funky Kong (or any of the later members such as Swanky or Dixie, for that matter), and while the animal buddy Squawks the Parrot is technically in this game, he is simply a buyable item that acts as an treasure indicator on the bottom left corner of the screen, becoming more focused and squawking when you near an item, and then fading away as you get farther away from it. Oh yes, you can buy items in this game. No longer content to sell you hints or skin you out of wins at Swanky’s carnival, Cranky Kong has opened up a shop where you can spend your copious banana coins for an extra heart (oh yes, DK and Diddy now have two hearts rather than “one hit and you’re dead”, I forgot to mention that), the aforementioned Squawks the Item Hounding Icon, an invincibility “banana potion” (I’d like to think this is a nod to DK64, but I have no clue), a large gold key to unlock levels off the beaten path, or extra lives. Speaking of banana coins, they are pretty much the only collectible besides puzzle pieces (which, if this wasn’t the first non-Rare Donkey Kong Country, I would say was a Banjo Kazooie reference), which don’t do much besides unlock art and “dioramas” in the Extras part of the menu (or is that truly all they do? I’ll let you find out yourself… 😛 ).

All in all, this isn’t quite what I was expecting from a new Donkey Kong Country. I mean, I knew Rare wasn’t gonna make it, and it wouldn’t be my younger self’s vision of “Donkey Kong Country 4” (which would have been badass, I might add…at least in my mind, since it was my mind’s creation and all. If I had half the mind and support, I’d actually show revisions of said childhood ideas, but that’d be silly to do, right?), but still, there’s just something about it… I guess you could say that it seems somewhat like New Super Mario Bros. Wii with Donkey Kong replacing Mario, which is mostly due to the very similar mechanics used in both. Still, in spite of these little nostalgic miffs and the somewhat Mario-esque feel to it, I will still say this is still a Donkey Kong Country game, and it’s a decent buy. If you like this type of platformer or are a fan of Donkey Kong, I’d pick this game up if you get the chance.

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Posted by on December 9, 2010 in Gaming


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