It’s been sixteen years since the release of Rareware’s Donkey Kong Country on the SNES, and today it still stands as a shining example of how to make a delightful, addictive platforming game. With Nintendo keen to cater more heavily to its hardcore elite fanbase, few sequels could be a better indication of its intent than Donkey Kong Country Returns.
developer Retro Studios decided that it wanted to bring back the 1990s jungle classic to the Wii, which was no doubt a huge risk given the number of gamers that still fondly remember Rare’s glory days on past Nintendo platforms. Getting this wrong would have been nothing short of unforgivable.
But it’s fair to say that Retro has done everything required of it and more, creating a contemporary platforming adventure that contains a deep understanding and respect of the original games. Pixel-perfect platforming madness is coupled with a graphical presentation that looks like the CG covers of the SNES games brought to life.
The game’s premise is as simple as you’d expect from a retro classic. Donkey Kong (and Diddy Kong) are enjoying life on their peaceful island until a nearby volcano erupts and spews out a collective of instrument-shaped enemies known as the Tikis. With the power to brainwash local wildlife with their music, the evil Tikis manage to nick off with DK’s stash of bananas. As you do. Naturally, this ticks off the mighty gorilla to the point where he embarks on a noble adventure to punch their floating heads in.
From the opening level to the very last world, everything about this game’s design simply screams 1990s Nintendo. Even moving DK left to right using the Wii Remote and Nunchuk combination almost feels like you’re using a SNES pad instead. Jumping on top of enemy crabs, birds and possessed bongo drums makes you bounce and curl up into a large hairy ball, while leaping into barrels will shoot you from one side of the screen to another.
While a lot of things are in keeping with the original Donkey Kong Country
adds a few new elements of its own design to make for an updated experience. DK now has the ability to clutch onto grassy surfaces, which can allow player to travel across ceilings, rotating platforms and anything else besides.
Motion control has been cleverly designed into the control system too - shake the Wii Remote and Nunchuk to make the hairy fella ground pound, and shake the Remote while moving to roll into enemies.
It’s moves like these that help make up the DNA of Donkey Kong Country Returns
’ level design, with ground pounding necessary to destroy blocks underneath you, open new and secret pathways and even dynamically transforming existing routes. One moment you’re traipsing along a sandy beach, the next you’ve slammed next to a cannon that destroys a pirate ship in the horizon and shapes it in such a way for you to cross.