[DKC Returns Logo]

[What amazing graphics!]

System: Nintendo Wii
Publisher: Nintendo
Designer: Retro Studios
Release Date: November 2010
Genre: Action/Platformer
Players: 1 or 2
Save Feature? Can tikis use mind-control powers? (...the answer is Yes) ;)

What a pleasant surprise it was to find a brand new DKC game on store shelves back in 2010! Featuring lush, detailed graphics, classic DKC music, and intuitive Wiimote & Nunchuk controls/gameplay, Donkey Kong Country Returns was quite the retro revival indeed.

Overview: As anyone who has read even one of my Super NES DKC reviews knows, I am a huge fan of the Donkey Kong Country franchise! I honestly felt that all three SNES games were wonderful games in their own right with DKC 2 taking the crown as the best game of the trilogy. With that background information in mind, you can imagine my surprise and delight as Nintendo announced in 2010 that a brand new DKC game was coming to the Nintendo Wii console! It wasn’t quite as electric as when Capcom made their Mega Man 9 announcement (I am still picking up a few pieces of my jaw off the floor from that one.) but it was still a very special moment. You have to understand that it had been some 14 years since the final core DKC game (DKC 3 had seen the light of day and with that much time having elapsed, it certainly made you wonder what a state-of-the-art DKC game would like look today.

Well, despite the passing of so much time, the developers of Donkey Kong Country Returns certainly played the classic Super NES trilogy because there are more than a few similarities between the two. The gameplay itself feels a lot like the classic DKC ganes and this is still 2-D goodness all the way (thank goodness Nintendo didn’t try something weird like Capcom making Mega Man X7 a 3-D game). You still jump and roll through enemies, have occasional diversions like the Mine Car and Rocket stages, and face the daunting challenge of finding all of the bonus stages and secret items (known as puzzle pieces in DKC Returns) hidden within Donkey Kong Isle. While not necessary for beating the game, puzzle pieces allow you to unlock artwork, music, and even cool-looking dioramas. And like DKC 2 and 3, there is also a Lost World consisting of ultra-challenging Temple stages as well as unlockable levels that can only be accessed by purchasing keys at Cranky Kong's Shop. For the completionist, finishing this game is probably as difficult as it was back in the Super NES era (although the first DKC game still holds the crown for being the toughest game to find everything in...thanks to that one Oil Can Alley bonus stage).

Lastly, before we delve into the juicy graphics and fun controls in DKC Returns, I do want to point out that DKC Returns is the first game in the series to allow true two-player simultaneous gameplay! While the original DKC trilogy had a two-player option, only one player could actually play the game at any given moment. In DKC Returns, however, Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong can each be controlled by one player giving this game a really special two-player feel it didn't have before. Granted, certain areas of the game are mighty tough with two players (I am thinking about those dreaded Temple stages mainly.) but who am I to complain about such a fun new feature?

[There's a storm a'coming!]

Graphics: If there is one thing you can bank on with any DKC game, it is the game having rich, bold, colorful graphics. Not even 14 years and a completely new development team could keep DKC Returns from featuring lush, diverse visuals. The attention to detail is simply outstanding even for a Wii game and there are even a few easter eggs hidden in the game that old-school fans will appreciate (the classic pixelated Donkey Kong in one particular jungle stage was a nice touch).

As always, the diversity of the game's many worlds stands out. There are lush jungle stages, serene (and not-so-serene) beachside/underwater levels, intuitive sunset/factory stages that feature silhouettes of everything (including Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong), and even a host of fast-paced mine car/rocket stages that thrillseekers will adore! The silhouette stages in particular really stand out because of their originality and clever use within the game. You think that finding bonus stages and elusive puzzle pieces is difficult in a normal stage? Try finding them in a factory environment where all you can see are shadows of everything!

In addition to the wondrous assortment of colors, the various character/enemy/environment animated effects were done very well in this game. One particular stage that I still remember fondly is the one on the beach where you have to hide behind rocks as waves crash upon the shore. That was such a creative idea! Of course, having to dodge that crazy octopus in another water-themed level featured some wild water/platform animated effects of its own. The mine car stages with their various camera angles and impressive sense of speed really stand out as well.

Lastly, one of new features of DKC Returns that I personally loved was the ability to move between the foreground and background. In certain stages/areas, you can literally jump in a barrel and rocket into the background! These small areas would usually consist of more jumping/rolling/bopping platforming action but it also gave the game a unique 2.5-D feel if you will. Mutant Mudds for the Nintendo 3DS would later incorporate this idea and I wouldn't be surprised at all if DKC Returns was its inspiration!

Music: If you enjoyed the music in the original DKC game for the SNES, you will absolutely adore the soundtrack in DKC Returns. I say this because a vast majority of the music in this game consists of remixed themes from the original SNES classic. Jungle Hijinx (the somewhat jazzy remix that plays during Sunset Shore is one of my favorite remixes in the game), Aquatic Ambiance, Mine Car Madness, Vine Valley, Fear Factory (the Music Madness stage theme is outstanding), and a host of "minor" themes like the overworld theme and Cranky Kong's Shop all make an appearance in DKC Returns. Some of these tunes sound almost identical to the SNES game too.

While this classic music is wonderful to hear for a second time, I do feel that it brings down the DKC Returns soundtrack a notch simply because there are way too many remixes and not enough fresh content. Before playing this game for a second time recently (my initial playthrough was some 4+ years ago), I honestly couldn't remember much of the music and now I know why! Not only are most of the tracks simple remixes but the new tunes that the game does have are honestly quite forgettable. Nothing strikes me as bad per se but none of the new tracks jump out at me either. At least the music in this game is very appropriate and creates a fun atmosphere...I'll give it that.

Play Control: While the core gameplay remains the same, the Wiimote motion controls brought a fresh, new element to DKC Returns. After all, what can be more satisfying than swinging the Wiimote/Nunchuk combination like a madman and causing Donkey Kong to destroy anything (and just about anyone) in his path? I enjoyed other facets of the controls like holding the B button to hang from vines/moss overhead or simply holding down on the Nunchuk and waving the Wiimote to scatter Dandelion blossoms or blow out candles to reveal secret items! The controls are both fun to use and quite intuitive at the same time which is a winning combination indeed.

With that being said, however, I still feel that the controls are not nearly as crisp as their SNES counterparts. Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong both feel more…”floaty” than usual and their jumping abilities don’t seem to be quite as good. Rolling with DK now requires that you shake the Wiimote which can cause some unwanted results like falling off a platform by accidentally executing the move (easy to do if you aren't careful). I miss executing Diddy’s cartwheel/jump over a chasm as well. To summarize, the controls in this game are very good...just not as good as the SNES trilogy.

[It's here!!!]

Challenge: Despite DKC Returns not being developed by Rare (like the SNES trilogy), you would hardly know it with the secret temple stages and even a few of the bosses putting up quite the fight! I certainly wouldn’t put DKC Returns up with the pantheon of challenging games but this game is still pretty hardcore for being a 2010 release. The early worlds/stages are relatively tame and it is incredibly easy to build up your lives (I maxed out at 99 lives on World 4 I believe.) but as you progress through the game, you will start to see what gamers mean when they talk about the old DKC games being “Nintendo Hard.” As I mentioned above, reach the final stages and give the secret temple stages a try and you will discover what being “Nintendo Hard” is all about! This is especially the case with two players. Despite this game being an absolute blast with two players, it can truly be a detriment at times...especially during those nasty temple stages. For example, if you jump on an enemy but leave your partner behind, it will cause him/her to lose a live! Add in a stage with nearly zero margin for error along with Donkey Kong no longer having Diddy Kong's jet pack save move and you can see how daunting it can be to jump at the same time and make the same moves in midair with ledges, crystalline spikes, and classic DK-imaged blocks smashing you into banana mush. Hardcore gamers will embrace the challenge though. ;)

And like with the classic DKC games, DKC Returns has a lot of replay value thanks to its seemingly endless supply of secrets/bonuses in addition to the length of the game itself (this is a HUGE video game).

Storyline: Where oh where did the Kremlings go??? Despite this game being heavily and I mean heavily influenced by DKC 1 for the SNES, you actually face a completely different breed of enemy in DKC Returns. At least there aren't any crazy kidnappings though. Like usual, Donkey Kong, Diddy Kong, and the rest of the Kong gang have been loving life on Donkey Kong Isle and have lived in relative peace since their SNES adventures. Well, that all changes one afternoon when the mysterious Tikis (obviously inspired by African culture) arrive on the island and discover Donkey Kong's legendary banana horde. Why mystical beings with brainwashing powers desire bananas is beyond me but it is in the script, okay?! All you need to know is that the Tikis' mind tricks allow them to control just about anything and have their "minions" do their bidding for them (since most of them are not great fighters, apparently). However, the Kongs are completely unaffected by such complex tricks (since the Kongs are quite simple and want nothing more than peace and bananas I assume) and are able to fight back! Thus another banana-saving operation begins.

Although some of the game's movies/boss battles were cute and elicited quite a few laughs and chuckles from yours truly, the Tikis were just okay as villains go. I would have actually loved to have seen the Kremlings and King K. Rool make a return appearance but for some reason, Nintendo didn’t oblige. Overall, this story and the atmosphere that it created within the game is still good but at the same time, it could have been so much more.

[A wild ride!]

Funfactor: Despite its originality mostly coming in spurts and the game probably borrowing a bit too much from the SNES classic, Nintendo mostly succeeded with Donkey Kong Country Returns because this game really is a blast to play! While the one player mode is enjoyable enough, this game really cooks if you have a skilled second player along for the ride. The multi-player mode gives this game a whole new element and there is just something special about truly playing a DKC game with a friend. The controls and gameplay are very similar to the SNES games and yet come across as intuitive at the same time. I think that Nintendo tried to find the right balance between nostalgia and next-gen gaming and they seemed to come out pretty well in the end.

Negatives: Despite possessing some truly great qualities such as outstanding graphics and fun, intuitive gameplay, DKC Returns does have its fair share of flaws. Originality is somewhat lacking in terms of stage themes (How many jungle-themed stages with the same "Jungle Hijinxs" music are there?) and the DKC 1 remixed soundtrack, while pleasant to the ears and nostalgic beyond belief, might actually have prevented this game from being as memorable and "its own game" as the original DKC trilogy. A better balance between the old and new would have been advised for sure. The so-so story certainly is not a bad one but at the same time, it doesn't really stick with you like the classic games (the Kremlings were simply the perfect villains). I will admit that several of the cut-scenes in DKC Returns are very, very funny, however.

It is truly ironic that there is so much to discuss in terms of negatives because DKC Returns really is a fantastic video game. It just lacks in a few areas I have already touched on along with some of the intangibles like the hip/cool personalities of the Kongs and the memorable atmosphere that just permeates the SNES trilogy. Maybe the original series has simply spoiled me. In any case, DKC Returns is a great game despite a few gripes here and there.

[New-school...meet the old-school.]

Ratings: Graphics: 5.0* Music: 4.1 (very nice music...just lacks originality) Play Control: 4.1 Challenge: 4.7 Storyline: 3.5 Funfactor: 4.7 Overall Score: 26.1 out of 30.0 Overall Rating: Silver Stud!

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Last Updated: April 9, 2015
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