Donkey Kong Country Returns

Donkey Kong Country Returns
Donkey Kong Country Returns Cover
Platforms Wii
Genre Banana Grabbing Platformer
MtAMinutes to Action 2
Keep Playing? Yes
Buy from Amazon

If you were to ask me what game I was most excited for following the events of E3 2010, my answer, without a doubt, would have been Donkey Kong Country Returns. It's announcement marked the return of one of my favourite platforming franchises of my youth—and something I hadn't experienced in years. In the E3 trailer, I noticed the hairy ape brought back all of his signature abilities, plus a couple of new tricks. I saw old friends Diddy and—in later trailers—Rambi make a return. I saw vine swinging, barrel blasting, and mine carting. I saw banana grabbing, KONG letter finding, plus new items to collect. In fact, after seeing what I saw, to say I was excited would've been an understatement; I was overwhelmed with anxious anticipation; I couldn't wait to get my hairy paws on this game.

And now, the day was finally here; November 21, 2010. I woke up bright and early, refreshed, and ready for a full day of barrel blasting, ground pounding, tiki crushing fun. I set out and purchased the game at a local EB Games outlet about one minute after opening. I was their first customer. I rushed home, popped open the case, threw the disc into the Wii, and fired it up—all the while singing the DK Rap in my excitement (I wish I was joking).

The game features two control options–Wiimote plus nunchuck, and classic Wiimote. I choose the classic style and begin my session...

Minute by Minute

(minutes are in bold)

00 – I’m staring at the start menu, ready to go. ‘New Game’, ‘1 Player’, and it’s on like Donkey Kong (sorry, had to say it). The opening cinematic is nothing new to me; I’ve seen it before in one of the game’s trailers.

It shows a volcano in the centre of a tropical island erupting and releasing a gang of tiki creatures who were imprisoned in the magma. The tikis descend upon the forest and begin hypnotizing the local wildlife, forcing them to gather every banana in sight (for some reason), including DK’s massive banana horde. Diddy sees this and chases after the thieves, while our tie-wearing ape is confronted by one of the tikis, who tries hypnotizing him. DK simply smiles back; seems he’s immune to the spell.

02 – Now I’m in control. The game instructs me to shake the Wiimote. As I do, DK’s house shakes back and forth violently before the uninvited tiki is sent flying through the door with a mean right hook. DK emerges from his hut, and the real game begins.

I get used to the controls a bit, using a tire to bounce up into DK’s hut and snag a balloon (life), before moving on. I figure out how to roll, blow, ground pound, and grab.

03 – Shortly down the path, a pig pops up on the sidelines and tells me how to use the blow technique on a dandelion. I ignore it, thinking it’s telling me to roll to take out a nearby bird enemy. I do and move on. A little ways further, the pig pops up again and tells me to use the ground pound on a stone block. Doing so reveals a hidden banana bunch.

I refrain from destroying the next block and use it as a platform to get up to a tree where the first KONG letter awaits.

Continuing along the tree tops, back the way I came, earns me my first coin. All the while, I can’t help but wonder why the pig hasn’t been hypnotized, or what it’s even doing on a tropical island in the first place.

04 – I head back to the stone block I spared earlier. Smashing it reveals a banana (I’ll be sure to smash all of them as I go so as not to miss anything).

I come face to face with my first tiki enemy. Jumping on its head easily dispatches it.

I then stop and stare—like a moron—at some strange tiki statues in the background, who awaken, and crush me. There goes a heart...

05 – I find my first puzzle piece in another stone block, and my second in a plant shortly after. That’s 2 of 9 in this level.

I pound a stone platform which flips and sends me underground, and just touch an approaching enemy as I jump back out. A balloon pops, and I’m sent back to the start of the level. That wasn’t very smart.

Donkey Kong Country Returns Airship

06 – This time I blow on the first dandelion and others I didn’t notice before, revealing more hidden coins and puzzle pieces. I’m suddenly humbled.

Killing three enemies in a row by bouncing on their heads earns me a coin; something else I missed before. Also, it seems the ground pound can be used to stun enemies as well. Interesting.

07 – I come upon some inflatable frog enemies and a spring flower which I use to trampoline between two statues spewing bananas out of their mouths.

I come upon the ‘O’ floating above a pit, but instead of shaking the Wiimote to roll and jump across the gap, my SNES DK instincts take over and I push the ‘1’ button instead, falling to my death. Back to the start again. Luckily I grabbed a balloon just before dying.

09 – I grab the balloon again, and my first 100 bananas. Despite all the dying lives aren’t in short supply.

I grab the ‘O’ and reach a checkpoint.

The pig pops up yet again and tells me how to grab a barrel. I grab a DK barrel, toss it at an enemy, and now Diddy’s on my back. Awesome! I play around a bit with the controls and continue.

10 – I come upon a large, special platform, and I can guess what comes next... The pig tells me to pound it. Doing so erects a stone structure in the background. A barrel appears along with it. I jump in and fire myself to the background, collecting several goodies there, including the ‘N’.

I jump into another barrel which sends my flying along an aerial path between several “auto” barrels and I’m back on the midground. I pick my jaw off the floor and continue.

11 – I find a bonus stage with several coins, a balloon, and tons of bananas. Collecting everything reveals a puzzle piece, which I grab to send me back. I feel pretty good about my accomplishment. I try to go back into the bonus stage, but as I suspected, it’s impossible.

Blowing on some strange propeller-like flowers reveals a coin. I then come upon a special barrel with a symbol that changes intermittently. I break it and gain a balloon, ending the level.

I found all the KONG letters, but only 5 of 9 puzzle pieces. Where the heck could those other four have been? I guess I’ll have to come back later.

I’m taken to the world map, and a path opens to the next level.

12 – This level introduces the “cling” mechanic. I push and hold the ‘1’ button to swing along a grassy ceiling over a pit of spikes. I use this technique again on a rotating wheel with the same grassy surface.

I find a puzzle piece in an area hidden behind the jungle landscape. I’m beginning to understand the various ways Retro’s hidden these precious treasures, and what it will take to find them all.

14 – Turns out I can use the ground pound technique while clinging. I use it to reveal a coin.

A hidden barrel sends me to the background once again for some more goodies. I’m really digging these parts—and the music so far; it’s great.

17 – More grassy surfaces and wheels before coming upon something new: spinning bladed disc-like things among a bunch of spring flowers. I’m slightly nervous, but with plenty of health, I dive right in, grabbing the last letter before finishing the level.

Seriously, where are all these puzzle pieces? Only 3 of 7 this time. I’m probably moving too fast and missing the obvious...

18 – Two paths open on the map this time; one to the third level, the other to Kranky’s hut. Let’s see how the old ape is doing...

“It’s about time you visited your frail, old grandpa! Give me some of those shiny banana coins, and you can pick through my old things.”

19 – I look at all the options and opt for the “Map Key”, which costs 20 coins. With some parting words of wisdom from Kranky, I head back to the map. The key unlocks a path, but it looks like I’ll need to beat the next level to gain access to it. So, let’s get to it...

20 – The level begins with a barrel blasting section more reminiscent to what’s found in the original DK games than what I’ve experience so far. I'm loving it; barrel blasting was one of my favorite things about the original DKC.

21 – Holy crap—it’s Rambi! I find him in a crate underground, then smash through a stone wall and hop into a barrel, blasting us back to the main path.

23 – I easily stampede my way through the level, including a tricky tree top section, before reaching the end, but not before using Rambi to smash into a hidden area with enough bananas to give me an extra balloon (and a puzzle piece).

Good ol' Rambi. Guess he wasn't affected by the nasty tiki spell also.

24 – I head to the recently unlocked level first. Sweet! It’s the famous silhouette level from the E3 trailer. It’s even prettier in person.

Enemies hidden in some leafy vegetation almost ambush me as I move along. Get it? Am-bush!? Whatever...

25 – Lining up some rock formations in the background in the shape of a banana rewards you with tons of coins and bananas. Cool.

28 – I missed a hidden path near the level's end that I’ll have to go back for. No complaints here, that level was awesome.

Donkey Kong Country Returns Sunset

29 – The next level I choose is called “Crazy Cart”. I take a wild guess at what I can expect to see here.

30 – I find the first mine cart after failing a bonus level thanks to the slip of a thumb. I cart along before accidentally jumping into a wall. I’m dead; back to start. That’s okay, I missed a bunch of things, and I can take a second crack at that bonus stage, hopefully.

31 – I fail the bonus stage again. My over-caution navigating the moving platforms caused me to run out of time. Whatever, let’s see if I can do better with the mine carts this time around.

Nope—I missed most of the items again. I’m not sure I understand how to jump higher after bouncing off enemies; assuming that’s what I need to do.

32 – I die shortly after hitting the checkpoint thanks to a flaming tiki head.

34 – After several more failed attempts, I finally complete the level. I’ll definitely need to improve my mine cart skills if I hope to beat this game.

35 – The next level is indicated by a star shape on the map instead of a standard circle. I’m assuming this is a boss. I’ll head there later; I want to complete all the levels first.

36 – The level starts with a great barrel blasting action. I navigate it flawlessly and join up with Diddy.

37 – Bonus level time again. I pass, and add another puzzle piece to my collection. I hit a checkpoint and continue on to more barrel blasting.

This time the barrels are set up at interesting angles and depths in the background. I don’t fare as well this time and make the mistake of rushing. This results in my death, but at least I get a second shot at those missed items.

39 – I was too slow near the end of my barrel run and some statues fall on me. Let’s try one more time...

40 – No problems this time, but I die shortly after failing to shoot myself into a mouth of a statue. I assumed it would open for me. Wrong. Apparently you have to time it. You win again, Retro.

Luckily, I’ve plenty of lives left. There’s even a balloon along the barrel blasting section I can keep grabbing, so no worries.

41 – Success! I bust the special barrel, gain a coin, and finish the level.

42 – Boss time. I enter a coliseum-like arena and a cinematic plays. The Kong’s are now up against some ugly creature helping itself to a portion of their banana horde. It’s being controlled by a tiki.

Now the fun begins; I jump on its back several times, wounding it. Not too hard so far.

43 – The beast roars loudly and changes colours in its rage. I wet myself a little, but continue fighting. I hurt it some more, and it begins raging even harder. Now it’s really pissed. I’m at full health though, so I’m not worried.

44 – The beast falls in an overly-dramatic, comedic death sequence. The tiki controlling him (the one from before) appears in a daze. I run up to him and open up a barrel of whoop-ass by shaking the Wiimote.

“World Clear! – Music Gallery Updated!”

Seems I got a 22-hit combo on that tiki scum. Definitely going to try and beat that record for the next one. Next world, please.

45 – I put on some sunscreen, because I’m headed to the beach. I instantly recognize the intro to the first level from the E3 trailer.

46 – After killing some crabs, and opening a treasure chest, I find a hidden barrel which takes me to a shipwreck in the background. It’s a bonus level.

47 – I dispatch the two crab enemies by first jumping on their heads, then rolling on them to reveal a puzzle piece. I’m blasted back to the main path, and the shipwreck crumbles.

48 – I come upon a special platform to pound, doing so summons a giant whale that spews bananas from its blowhole. I grab as many bananas as I can before a timer runs out, and move on.

49 – A mistimed jump results in death by drowning. Still got plenty of lives left though, in fact I’m gaining more than I’m losing so far.

52 – Shortly after passing the part where I last died, I navigate a couple of platforms arranged like a scale; if one goes up, the other goes down. It takes me a couple of tries, but eventually I grab the ‘O’ they were meant for and use them to continue on.

I come upon a platform with barrels tied underneath it. I pound it into the ocean and it slowly begins floating along.

53 – I’ve reached land—and the checkpoint—without any problems. I find my fourth puzzle piece in a nearby treasure chest (only one more to go).

Next, I come upon a cannon. A ground pound causes it to fire, knocking down a piece of a shipwreck and giving me access to a bonus level. Time to get that last puzzle piece...


Donkey Kong Country Returns Beach

54 – I hop along some pieces of ship wreck, avoiding sharks, to a bridge whose planks are being kicked upwards by crashing waves. Some flip to reveal hidden spikes—which hurt me before I notice them.

I question my kills (or lack thereof) as I lose Diddy and my life trying to grab all the items above. Man, I suck. Whatever, I want that last puzzle piece, dammit!

55 – Nailed it. Now let’s try that spiky bridge section again...

56 – No problems this time; I grabbed every item.

57 – After dodging more shark bites and jumping between hanging platforms, I come to the end of the level. I nail the DK symbol and shake the Wiimote to get as high a combo rating as possible. I get 8 hits and a balloon, which grants me 8 more lives.

The level is done, and I’ve collected all the puzzle pieces and Kong letters. Finally! The game tells me I unlocked an image in the gallery.

58 – The next level begins with a puzzle piece behind a wooden wall that I can’t break; maybe Rambi can... I leave it behind and come upon a DK barrel. Ah, now I get it. I break the wall with it and grab the level’s first puzzle piece.

I come up to a new enemy. Flying squids with spiral shell helmets being shot out of a cannon. That’s the scariest freaking thing I’ve ever seen...

I fire another cannon into a wooden pillar which grants me access to a treasure chest balancing on top while crushing a crab at the same time. I gain 4 coins.

59 – While examining a propeller plant, I lose Diddy along with my life thanks to a series of squid cannons, one of which is firing a new version of squid that can’t be jumped on. I wish I knew that before. It’s even scarier than the last version; its shell has spikes and is electrified.

60 – I find a puzzle piece I missed before and successfully navigate the section where I previously died. I’m ready to continue on, but alas, my hour’s up, and it’s time to write my thoughts. But not before satisfying this sudden craving for bananas...

First Hour Summary 

Minutes to Action: 2

What I liked: Just about everything. I found not a single flaw during my first hour of gameplay. I think the graphics are gorgeous; the soundtrack and sound effects amazing; the level design incredible; the gameplay fun and (very) challenging... What more can I say? I will say that I absolutely loved the ingenious use of the foreground and background during gameplay, especially when you interact with it directly. It was during these moments especially when my jaw could be found on the floor; otherwise, my entire session was played with a huge grin on my face.

What I didn't like: I guess if I had to pick one thing I don't like, it would be the lack of Classic Controller support. But, even then, I can't really complain, because it forced me to choose the classic Wiimote configuration which, after playing with extensively, I could see as being superior to assigning button presses to every move. It works incredibly well. (See, even the "bad" notes turned out to be good)

Would I keep playing? Hell yes! I barely scratched the surface and this game has me begging for more. I can't wait to see what's in store for our dynamic duo in their quest to take out the evil tiki troupe.

Would I keep playing... Please—after jotting down my first hour, I went back, started a new file, and played for an additional three. I couldn't help but to keep playing.

It's safe to say that if you're a fan of the platforming genre or, at the very least, Donkey Kong Country, you likely won't be disappointed with this. But, if you're still skeptical, keep an eye out for my full review coming sometime in the not-too-distant future.