|Dev: Retro Studios|
|Release: November 21, 2010|
|Screen Resolution: 480p||Mild Cartoon Violence|
by Andrew Groen
July 8, 2010 - Among the greatest surprises at this year's E3 was Nintendo's announcement of a brand new installment in the cherished Donkey Kong Country series. Donkey Kong Country Returns is being billed as a total revival of the franchise that they hope will return Donkey Kong to the pantheon of Nintendo superstars. Though he has been dormant lately, Donkey Kong still has the potential to win over crowds and excite the gaming masses.
To take on this monumental task, Nintendo has tapped one its finest studios, Retro Studios. Retro has been working with Nintendo since 2003, and nearly all of their games have received rave critical reviews. They are most well known for their amazing reboot of the stagnating Metroid series back in 2003, Metroid Prime.
Don't worry though, the new Donkey Kong Country won't be a new first-person Mirror's Edge styled platformer (although that would probably be amazing.) Instead Retro is sticking to the roots of the Donkey Kong series and wants to build on the already amazing formula Rare built all those years ago.
I was a bit doubtful of this series reboot when I first stepped up to the kiosk housing the demo for DKC Returns, but my concerns were allayed almost immediately. I haven't historically been much of a DK fan, but I realized that 15 seconds after starting the preview demo I was smiling from ear to ear.
The greatest asset of this new game is that Retro possesses a startlingly clear understanding of what makes the series fun, and how to leverage that for their own purposes. It's not that complicated though. You start with a gorilla wearing a tie. I'm sorry, but what isn't fun about that? Retro consistently leverages the inherent strengths of the Donkey Kong brand to keep this iteration a fun, and more importantly, faithful installment in the series. Retro has never really produced a fun, happy-go-lucky game before. All the Metroid Prime games are moody, lonely, and sparse with any type of personality. However, they've come out of their shell this time around to show us how fun they can be.
DKC Returns plays in a manner instantly recognizable to anybody who played the games decades ago, but obviously with some twists. It's still a 2D side-scrolling platformer, and it's still unforgiving in its difficulty. Maybe the game is just lacking some polish in the platforming action, but we died several times in just a few minutes while playing the demo. Everything requires a lot of precision, and maybe even a touch of memorization. You simply travel from left to right in a tough quest to stave off death and collect as many bananas as you possibly can before reaching the end.
The opening of the demo featured Donkey Kong causing a major ruckus inside of his house and finally bursting through the door and into the upcoming level. Every moment is lavished with personality like this, and DK is a constantly amusing protagonist. But he's not alone on this mission. Diddy Kong is back too, and aims to help Donkey Kong on his mission. Diddy is used primarily as a jump boost, and he also carries a jet pack that Donkey Kong can use to reach new heights.
The major new addition to this game is the full usage of the 2.5D environments. No longer is Donkey Kong restrained to just platforming in the foreground. There are also points where he can be catapulted to far away platforms in the distance. The level then proceeds as normal, except with DK in the background smashing and collecting bananas.
The background area isn't just used as an extra depth layer for platforming though. It can also play an integral role in the level. Nintendo has shown demos of levels that include far away pirate ships firing salvos of cannon balls at Donkey Kong as he runs along.
DKC Returns has played a huge role in the boost of hardcore approval Nintendo received after E3. Of course, their big news was the arrival of the 3DS, but it was the announcement of new installments of old franchises that has really won over the devoted.
The first of these franchises was obviously The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, but I think Kirby: Epic Yarn, and Donkey Kong Country Returns will prove to be equally important in Nintendo's quest to keep the hardcore audience entertained. This trio of games bears a large responsibility though. If they fail to enchant hardcore Wii owners, then Nintendo could see a widespread disillusionment with long-time fans of its console.
Whether it's fair or not, Donkey Kong may have a fairly large weight rested squarely on its shoulders. However, based on what we've seen so far, and Retro's outstanding track record, we're pretty sure Donkey Kong will come through in the clutch.
CCC Freelance Writer