I received my very first video game console, a Super Nintendo, on Christmas in 1993. That day I also received three games: Super Mario World, Super Mario All-Stars, and Donkey Kong Country. As some of my first experiences with video games, they have all become some of my favorites from that era of gaming. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the Super Mario series evolve for seventeen years. I have also experienced the rise and fall of Donkey Kong Country.
Needless to say, when Nintendo announced that Retro Studios was developing a new Donkey Kong Country after years of ridiculous spin-offs I was extremely pleased. After playing through the completed game, I can say that this is without a doubt the best Donkey Kong game ever released.
Fun and Challenging
Today, many video games fall into one of two categories. The game is either extremely fun, but fairly easy or a great challenge that gets frustrating if you play for too long at once. Both approaches leave me less than satisfied with many games. Excessively easy games leave me wanting more and I often simply stop playing the frustrating games.
An easy solution to the problem is difficulty levels. A better solution is to balance “fun” and “challenging” so that the game is fun regardless of how well you are doing. Donkey Kong Country Returns is one of those games.
This game is extremely challenging. You are going to die a lot. You’re going to die so much that the shops in the game only offer four different items: 3 extra lives, 5 extra lives, 7 extra lives, and keys to unlock secret levels. Even though I died at least a hundred times in my play through (and received a handful of game overs), I never once quit playing because I was tired of dying. Often, I found myself laughing at how I died rather than throwing the controller. In other words, this game is fun even when you are losing.
Not Too Old; Not Too New
It’s no secret that this game is building on the series that Rare established in the 90’s. The game is full of features that will remind you of the earlier games (assuming you have played them). Diddy Kong is back. Cranky Kong is back. You’re going to ride Rambi the rhinoceros and smash everything in your path. The KONG letters are hidden in every stage, and you’re going to find hidden bonus rooms full of bananas and coins.
However, not everything you remember was carried over to this new game. The fact that they are gone does not make the game any worse. The rest of the Kong family is gone. I didn’t see a single mention of Dixie, Candy, Funky, or any of the others. The Kremlings are also gone. They have been replaced with a group of evil Tikis.
A lot of the music used are updated versions of the classic tunes. The sounds are familiar as well. You’ll hear Diddy Kong inside the barrel as you approach and the classic “death tune” will play every time you die. As a fan of the original games, it was extremely satisfying to hear the familiar music after so many years. It really makes the game even more satisfying than it already was.
Traditional Platforming, Perfected
Donkey Kong Country Returns is one of the best platformers of this gaming generation. If you have any interest in the genre at all, you need to play this game. The game doesn’t have any special features or gimmicks to set it apart from the other series in the genre. This game is pure traditional platforming at its very best.
Don’t get me wrong, the stages are full of original and fun ideas. You aren’t going to be thinking you’ve done all of this before. Donkey Kong Country Returns relies entirely on the phenomenal stage design and traditional platforming abilities to be great.
Sometimes, revivals of old game franchises just aren’t worth the wait. Donkey Kong Country Returns was worth the wait.