Donkey Kong Country Returns – first look

Donkey Kong Country: timeless platforming classic that set Rare on the road to super-stardom, or wildly overrated plod-’em-up which only got the attention it did thanks to some pretty, pseudo-3D graphics? It’s a debate that has raged inconclusively for the last 15 years, and this rebirth will give another generation a crack at answering it.

Above: If one of the apes runs out of hearts, he’s whisked away and crammed into a DK barrel farther down the level. Or maybe they do actually die, but there’s an infinite number of Diddy Kongs waiting to be de-barrelled at any given moment. What a ghastly thought

The truth? It’s probably somewhere in the middle. All the 96% scores Donkey Kong Country sucked up upon release look a little ‘enthusiastic’ in the cold light of 2010, but going back to the SNES original now, it’s clear that as a game it still holds up today. So much so that Retro Studios (the same team that turned Samus inside-out for its Metroid Prime Trilogy, remember) has decided to leave the DKC template largely intact. Ironically, given the amount of attention it garnered the first time out, the only thing that’s been drastically overhauled is the visual style. It’s out with the dated wireframe models and in with a softer, more traditional cartoon style.

Above: Diddy Kong’s got a jetpack that allows him to hover in mid-air. Donkey Kong can take advantage of this during a two-player game by latching on and taking control of both characters. What does the player controlling Diddy do during these moments? Have a good cry, probably

Although Donkey Kong Country Returns isn’t the head-turner the original was back in the day, there’s still plenty of visual trickery to tickle your eyes pink – such as swarms of butterflies that swoop in and out of the screen, or a sunset level shot entirely in silhouette. In another section, a barrel launches DK into the background, but this barely fazes the hairy-knuckled one. He simply dusts himself off and continues his quest by running along the distant curvature of the backdrop. A continuation of the SNES series? Yes. But you try asking a Super Nintendo to replicate these aesthetics – it’ll be reaching for its eject button in seconds.

Above:  A textbook example of DKC Returns’ difficulty. This pirate ship lobs bombs at your doorstep with chilling accuracy. Roll, DK, roll!

Above:  Ah, where would DKC be without the mine cart levels? The name ‘Rickity Rails’ suggests that the mines’ maintenance budgets are still a bit stingy

Get past Donkey Kong Country’s shiny new face and you’ll find another more familiar one smiling back at you. The original outing was never the world’s most complicated game - the bits where you had to predict your trajectory of flight from one floating barrel to another were about as taxing as it got. Donkey Kong Country Returns keeps things as simple as they always were – aside from the odd bonus room and a scattering of collectables, there’s nothing to distract you from the monkey work of running from left to right, hopping and bopping everything that crosses your path.

Above:  Barrels come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Expect the full gamut of Wii motion gestures to be explored

Above:  Lovely sunset. Not only are the silhouetted graphics pretty neat, it’s also kinda romantic, don’t you think? No? Oh

The only functionality change of note – and we’re not sure it’s a good one – is the addition of a few motion controls. DK’s rolling motion is now activated by shunting the remote to the side, and certain platforms can be beaten into submission with your ape-hands by shaking the controllers up and down like some kind of enraged primate. These gestures are a little too indulgent and counter-intuitive for our tastes. Shaking to roll in particular was a real pain – it wasn’t quite precise enough for the pixel-perfect platforming that DKC demands of you, and on a few occasions we cartwheeled our way right into a pit o’ spikes. And believe us, we’d never intentionally hurt Diddy Kong…

Above:  Looks like Diddy’s left land-lubber DK high and dry here. Maybe there’s a switch up ahead that’ll let the Donkster re-join the party…?

Speaking of Diddy Kong, he’s the reward for whoever picks up the dreaded second controller (surely remote roulette is the only fair way to decide which of the players suffers this dire fate?). That’s right – it’s another 2D platform game on Wii with a co-operative mode shoehorned into it. Which leads us to wonder exactly where Donkey Kong Country Returns is going to slot into the Wii’s games library. New Super Mario Bros Wii comes from a more distinguished lineage, Wario Land: Shake it! is prettier, and Kirby’s Epic Yarn is fresher and more stimulating. Heck, it might not even be the best 2D Donkey Kong game on the Wii – Jungle Beat is a pretty hard act to follow.

Above: What does DK need that many bananas for, anyway? In our experience, if you buy more than three bananas at any one time, at least one of them’s going brown

Donkey Kong Country Returns is a modest offering with the admirable if unoriginal aim of capturing the magic of a bygone era. And while we’re still a little unsure as to how well it will stand out on the Wii, we must admit we’re looking forward to revisiting the series, if only to settle that 15-year-old debate…

Aug 4, 2010




  • SenatorPepper - August 6, 2010 3:05 p.m.

    Oh, yeah: and Brett said this would never happen. Man, this Bill the Cat is for you: Thhfffffffffffffpppppppppp!
  • SenatorPepper - August 6, 2010 3:05 p.m.

    I thought this was my holy grail: a new DKC. But this looks more like the first DKC sexed up for the current generation. I'll have a total blast playing it, I'm sure, but I'm not sure it's what I was waiting for.
  • Strangleme - August 5, 2010 10:17 p.m.

    This is going to be amazing.
  • Thuperman - August 5, 2010 1:53 p.m.

    Even though i dont have a wii, im still excited for this game because i loved DKC when i was younger, i still have it on SNES and i still play it from time to time, but the only thing that worrys me and im glad im not the only one, is the motion control. Hopefully they can pull it off.
  • shinigamiDude - August 5, 2010 11:17 a.m.

    I just replayed DKC 2 on SNES a few days ago. Can't wait for this one and Kirby's Epic Yarn.
  • Psylockerules - August 5, 2010 9:52 a.m.

    cant wait 4 another nintendo co-op game im so sick of new super mario bros wii looks so purdy
  • Austin_SJ - August 5, 2010 7:18 a.m.

    Do you plant bananas in order to grow banana trees? If yes, I think I know what Donkey Kong's plan is. R-ape.
  • IAmARobotWhoTurnsIntoATruckAndIFindNoLevityInThis - August 5, 2010 6:50 a.m.

    so wait, now you have 2 lives per monkey? THIS IS BULLSHIT!!!!
  • slimjim441 - August 5, 2010 4:45 a.m.

    I'm mostly excited for this game because of Retro Studios. The Metroid Primes are some of my favorite video games of all time (up there with MGS, Zelda, and Mega Man/ [and X] ). Because of them, I almost consider the Primes to be a separate series apart from the original Metroid games (and I mean that in a totally good way). It looks more like they're keeping the original gameplay style and original feel of the game (I lose), but Retro Studios is awesome and it's good to see Donkey Kong in a good game again, since he hasn't been in one since DK64. Admit it, you know it's true. Who wants to use bongos as a controller anyway?
  • Phazon117 - August 5, 2010 4:45 a.m.

    Way to be cynics about it, GR.
  • CH3BURASHKA - August 5, 2010 2:34 a.m.

    @Brelston: My thoughts exactly. Obviously, I haven't touched the game, but experience has shown that the best motion control games are the ones that use them in a specific fashion, as opposed to wrist flicks. I can't imagine there won't be Classic controller support, though.
  • Ultimadrago - August 5, 2010 2:16 a.m.

    There is NOTHING wrong with co-op mode. I do not see why people hate it so much these days. Online will never be a proper replacement for another person in the room!! NEVERR!
  • WillisTron - August 5, 2010 1:57 a.m.

    You guys don't sound enthusiastic at all. I'm not going to say the gameplay was revolutionary, because it wasn't - what was amazing about the series was it had an absolutely beautiful atmosphere with some of the most indulging music in the history of games, not to mention very impressive visuals. I for one am stoked for this game, and cannot wait. I do wish the kremlings were in it, but I trust Retro Studios to make it memorable
  • Silvermech - August 5, 2010 1:28 a.m.

    I can't tell if the music is romantic, because there was none playing.
  • CandiedJester - August 5, 2010 1:24 a.m.

    I can't wait! Looks awesome :D. The silhouette graphics do look veryyyy pretty. Romantic, yes, I'd say so.
  • GamesRadarBrettElston - August 5, 2010 12:32 a.m.

    I'm down with everything about this except the motion control. Playing at E3 was less than ideal, but the waggle still seemed tacked on. We can still push buttons y'know.
  • CH3BURASHKA - August 5, 2010 12:03 a.m.

    I've been waiting for a hands-on or a first look since its appearance. I absolutely can't wait for this game - in fact, it will probably be the motivating factor behind me getting a Wii this Xmas. Like any gamer, I'm afraid of change, but so far nothing has been too offending to me. I'm pretty disappointed that there will be no crocs this time around, though. I think it would be incredibly cool if they included a pre-rendered 3D mode that is toggled via a single button, akin to the Monkey Island remakes and the left-to-right shmup game remake for XBLA (blanking on the name).
  • EvidentDead - August 4, 2010 11:51 p.m.

    What is this series without K.Rool or kremlings? A attempt to trick me into buying something I played in my childhood. But without these key enemies that make the first three so unique, It loses all its appeal to me. I really want to like it... but if it doesnt have K.Rool using some broken/cheap attack to eat away at all my hard-earned balloon lives, I cant shell out the clams to get it. Im happy to see that Donkey Kong isnt totally forgotten in time though.
  • 510BrotherPanda - August 4, 2010 11:38 p.m.

    I agree with markshell about the jetpack. Diddy's known for being smaller, faster, and his cartwheel. The jetpack was only supposed to be in DK64. I liked the furrier DK in Jungle Beat better. The sound effects DK makes in the E3 reveal sounded recycled from that. Besides, I'm hoping to be busy with Other M.
  • Felixthecat - August 4, 2010 11:38 p.m.

    Fuck yes, this game will be awesome. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong and dumb.

Showing 1-20 of 24 comments

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