on March 9, 2011
I was fortunate enough to have an SNES when the first Donkey Kong Country hit stores in 1994. That game changed everything in the console war between Nintendo and Sega, and the graphics alone blew everyone's mind. Essentially, DKC was a Super Mario World clone, but my god did it have style. 5 animal friends, 101 hidden bonus stages, hands down the best soundtrack I've heard in a game, and it was just plain fun. DKC2 was just as strong, but DKC3 lost a lot of people, myself included. Since then, the poor gorilla was stuck with bongo games on the GameCube, which were fun and all, but not the DKC that many were hoping for. Retro Studios revives another franchise, and does great things once again. And while I really, really wanted to give this game 5 stars, a couple of big cons that stuck through the whole game held it back. Still, this is one of the best platformers I've -ever- played, and I have nothing but high hopes for an improved sequel.
The story is simple- Donkey Kong's beloved bananas have been stolen once again, but not by the Kremlings this time. No, it's a bunch of little tiki masks with magical powers. As you progress through the game, you'll find out that somehow the bananas power the tikis, and they want to make more and more of them...hence why they took so many freakin' bananas. Donkey Kong isn't too keen on his banana stash being stolen again, so he and his buddy Diddy go out once more to make things right in the jungle. DKCR is a platformer just like the previous entries, meaning you'll do a lot of running and jumping, bouncing on enemies, collecting items and discovering secret areas while taking out some pretty nasty bosses.
First things first, Retro really did a heck of a job here. From the minute Donkey Kong clobbered a tiki and jumped out of his tree house, and that classic track kicked in, I felt like I was 9 years old in 1994 again. And don't get me wrong- I'm not one of those people who thinks that something's good just because it makes me nostalgic, but everything felt so right at first. Very rarely do I stop and enjoy the scenery and level design in games anymore, or kamikaze myself and jump off ledges to find a secret area, but my old way of playing games was revived with DKCR. They took the first DKC for the foundation of this game, but have truly made a new game, not just a remake. The art direction is a sight to behold, especially the levels where you just see Donkey Kong as a silhouette, with his red tie being the only other color. Gameplay is classic DKC, right down to collecting the KONG letters and extra life balloons, and succeeding or failing in bonus stages. Stages range from the jungle, beach, rocky cliffs, a volcano, and more. There are just the right amount of levels in each world, as well as a secret level for each one if you get all the KONG letters in every stage. This is something that drove me to collect everything, knowing that getting all the letters was necessary for entering a secret area after you beat the game. In addition to this, there are puzzle pieces in every level, and if you collect them all in one stage, it opens some bonus artwork on the main menu to look at.
Now, a ton of people have complained about how hard this game is. I won't deny it- I probably died over 400 times by the time I beat the game. Like New Super Mario Bros, DKCR is very generous with extra lives. You can even buy them from Cranky Kong with the of banana coins you find. But where this is much different from New Super Mario Bros is that the levels are actually tough. This game does not hold your hand once, and if you think you've reached a dead end, you're going to have to sit there and think about how to advance until you get it. Techniques like rolling off a ledge, then jumping in mid-air, were big in the original games, and very useful here too. Veterans of the older games won't have as much of a problem with some of the trickier areas here, but there are some other levels I'll mention in a minute that will. The boss battles weren't that tough, but sometimes it's hard to get the timing just right without dying a few times. If you scoffed at them giving Donkey and Diddy an extra hit each, rather than dying with one hit each, playing a couple stages in the cliff world will slap some sense into you, and you'll be thanking the heavens when you find an extra heart or DK barrel...or a checkpoint. Yes, this game did get hard in some places, but it seemed like the difficulty wasn't consistent. There'd be times when I'd breeze through 6 stages in a row, hit a tough one where I'd die 30 times, then I'd moonwalk my way through some more. And if all else fails, you can bite the bullet and let the checkpoint pig do the work, and he'll have a white Donkey Kong clear the stage for you. You can still advance to the next stage, but the one you needed help with will remain red on the map screen, and all the power ups you got won't count. I never used this option because of that very reason, but I can see why they put it in here. But I'll tell you, beating a tough level, or even quick area where fast paced platforming went on, I felt accomplished, and was happy. Usually when I get past a hard level in a game these days, I think nothing of it and move on. Here? As frustrated as I might've gotten at times, I felt like I was getting the hang of things.
As for what keeps the game from getting 5 stars, I'll bring up the obvious first- waggle. There's absolutely no reason why I should have to shake the Wii remote for DK to do a simple roll attack. NO REASON. In the old games, it was a push of the Y button, and DK would roll, or Diddy would cartwheel. Here, you have to shake the controller, and playing with the Classic isn't an option. One of the reasons I died so many times in a stage would be because of this, and I kept wishing that there were a Classic feature, or way to just program the roll attack to one of the buttons that wasn't used for anything else. Imagine having to shake the controller to make Mario shoot fireballs. Yeah, it wouldn't be fun would it? Fortunately, you can do most of the attacks with barrels or jumping on enemies or with Diddy's rocket pack, but when you have to roll off a ledge and then jump for an extra boost, it'll drive you crazy. Shaking the controller for slamming on the ground is fine, and fun since it makes sense, but not for a main attack. Next, the lack of animal buddies. Rambi's here, and so is Squawks (to an extent), but that's it. No Clapper, Winky, Espresso, Enguarde, Squitter, Rattly, etc. Don't get me wrong- riding Rambi and smashing through everything is way more fun here than it was in the first DKC, but I would've liked some more variety, or even more chances to use him rather than like 5 times. Co-op play is pretty bad too, and the less said about that, the better. If you're playing with a friend, just take turns when you die. It'll be less stressful. I also don't like the fact that the only way to play as Diddy Kong on his own is with a second person playing. If you're playing by yourself, you're stuck with Donkey. Finally, the main thing most people hate- the mine cart and Rocket Barrel stages. I actually didn't mind the mine cart ones until near the end, when you could only make a jump if you jumped off your current rail at the absolute last second, but it did get tricky later on. The Rocket Barrel stages are just cruel, and I made the mistake of joking to myself 'watch, the last boss is just a Rocket Barrel stage'. As it turned out, that's how you GET to the boss in the final level, and is a part of the level too. Ugh. Just when you get the hang of these stages, it'll throw a curve ball, and you'll have to watch out for things coming up behind you, not just in front. Oh, and my final complaint? No underwater levels at all. Not one. What gives?
Visually, the game is beautiful, and maintains the classic Donkey Kong Country look. There's nearly no slowdown until the last 5 stages, and they have some creative animations in here. The music is just as good, though for a diehard fan of the first DKC's soundtrack, it's a mixed bag. Some of the tracks from that game (and the sequels) are here, and redone...and they sound really good. But the rest of the tracks aren't very memorable, and I wish they would've just had a totally new soundtrack, and tried to make it great.
In the end, I enjoyed this game from start to finish, and it never left my Wii. I was determined to get everything in it, and felt great when all was said and done. The difficulty isn't as bad as say...getting an S rank in Ikaruga or clearing the last level of Metal Slug 3 with one life, but it's pretty high, if only because of those crazy Rocket Barrel stages. Any platformer fan, or anyone who wants to feel like a kid again playing the first DKC, I wholeheartedly recommend this. It's one of those rare games I can say that I didn't mind paying full price for, and will keep playing months/years later down the road.