Donkey Kong Country Returns - Through the eyes of a 90's gamer

Donkey Kong's latest adventure
Donkey Kong's latest adventure | Source

What happens when you take a tried and true formula, shake it up, spice it up and place it in a current generation video game console? Damn good games, if you ask me! In 2009 we saw the release of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and most of us nostalgic old-schoolers were completely elated. Our prayers had been heard and an all new sidescrolling Mario adventure had appeared! But it wasn't just the presentation and the game mechanics that made us embrace this new game.

It was the gameplay. It was the challenge.

90's gamers like me didn't crave the fancy graphics or enhanced controls (though we appreciate them). We wanted unforgiving difficulty. We wanted the adrenaline rush of bottomless pits, falling thwomps and cruel bouncing turtle shells, all happening at once, threatening to stop you, and the sense of glory of conquering them all and finishing a level. Those of us who got tough by playing Contra, Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden got satisfied with this new Mario.

After the ending credits rolled on the screen, we wondered if we would soon see another game like this, a true gift, a true homage to our generation.

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It turns out we would!

A year later in december 2010 Nintendo, through the remarkable Retro Studios, followed the same formula with Donkey Kong Country Returns. Most of the staples from the DKC series made it here and were put to good use. Some people complained about the absence of certain characters or features from past games (mostly the K. Rool gang and the animal pals), but personally, I didn't feel they were necessary.

The one thing the sure didn't forget to bring back was the difficulty. The game poses a challenge right from the very first stages and gradually increases it until you don't know for sure if you will be able to tackle the next level. But the genius part here is that you always can. The game is good at teaching you tricks along the way, so that the next time you find yourself in a sticky situation, you will instinctively know how to react, and it's very rewarding to pull off all these stunts.

For instance, there is a stage where our ape friends find themselves on a beach that is being relentlessly sieged by cannonfire. At first, the are a few cannon balls that you must dodge, but their number gradually increases and by the end of the stage you find yourself frantically running for your life. But since the game already showed you how to deal with this particular hazard, you understand how you're supposed to do it.

And that's basically why I love this game. It's hard, but it's rewarding. I get frustrated every time I get stuck in a level, but I can't seem to stop trying to beat it. And the satisfaction I get from getting to the end of the level and getting all the K-O-N-G letters and the puzzle pieces makes it hard for me to put down the controller.

It has different kinds of levels that bring variety to the gameplay, avoiding being repetitive, although some were better than others. I didn't care much for the rocket barrel levels, where you needed either jedi reflexes or a lot of patience and good memory.

The one aspect of this game that truly annoyed me was the Super Guide 'feature', In a nutshell, when you lost a large number of lives in a level, an option would appear that let you give up and have a computer controlled character play through the level for you. I couldn't help but feeling insulted. "Are you implying that I can't finish this level on my own? That I need you to tell me how it's done?" I understand how some players will use this tool in order to leave that extra hard place and keep on playing. But I wish there was a way to turn it off.

Barrels of fun!
Barrels of fun!

Another thing that bothers me with these new games is the lives system. Back in day, lives where a big deal. You had usually 3 or 5 of them, a couple continues if you were lucky, and that was it. You had to be careful or the game was over. And they meant it! Now lives are just a number showing you how many times you've tried to complete a level, or how many balloons you've acquired. You're never really going to run out, and in the rare case that you do, it doesn't really set you back much. It detracts something from the experience, and especially from the feeling of getting a 1UP. It's just no longer an achievement.

Wrapping up

Being a Wii owner, it's sad that I have to pass up on great titles for other consoles (at least I've got a gaming PC now :D ), but also a great relief that we do get jewels like this from Nintendo every now and then. Also, unlike some hit games for XBox and Playstation (God of War or Halo), I can play this game in front of my entire family without any problems with violence or language.

I had a great time playing this game. Most of the new features were welcome additions, and all of its old-school elements were a joy to re-live. Besides from New Super Mario, I haven't had an adventure like this in a long time.

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