I’m not sure if we ever needed to return to Donkey Kong Country. The original series is so firmly a product of the Super Nintendo era, with its shiny, Toy Story look that is unique to Rareware, and pretty bad collision detection for a 2D platformer, I would have been okay with having rose-colored memories about my trips with DK, Diddy, and the rest of the forgotten gang.
But Retro Studios, apparently bored with resurrecting Metroid moneybags every few years, was tasked with bringing back the old gorilla in Donkey Kong Country Returns. Surprisingly, this was not another 3D incarnation that Retro seemed to excel at (Remember DK64? No? Good.), but a pretty straight enhancement of the originals. The world was still 2D, but with a bit more depth, and all the old standbys were there: bananas and letters to collect, barrels to get shot out of, and obnoxious boss battles.
Released in 2010, Donkey Kong Country Returns has already earned a prestigious 10 from Jonathan Ramundi, and while I would have written a review no matter how much I agreed or disagreed, I have a rather differing opinion about the game.
In case you hadn't noticed, in the last couple of years, the Nintendo Wii has been subject to the revival of a number of key franchises in the company's portfolio; franchises that have either strayed far from their humble beginnings or simply haven't been seen in many years, if not both. The beloved Donkey Kong franchise is the latest to follow this trend—in the footsteps of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Kirby's Epic Yarn, and even, to some extent, Metroid: Other M—with its newest incarnation, Donkey Kong Country Returns. Interestingly, the game's developer, Retro Studios, is the same company responsible for the reimagination of another classic Nintendo franchise, in the form of the Metroid Prime saga. However, this time—as mentioned—the company was tasked with bringing a series back to its roots, rather than taking it (quite literally) to another dimension. It's been 13 years since we've seen the Kong family in 2D platforming fashion. In fact, the game's titular character hasn't been played in this form since Donkey Kong Land for the Gameboy back in 1995. Well, as the name suggests, he makes a return in DKCR. And what a triumphant return it is.
I previously wrote a first hour review of the game, and now, after spending much more time with it (and considering Retro's history with Metroid), I'm of the opinion that Retro should be given full responsibility over all major Nintendo IPs henceforth. This game is—and I'm trying really hard not to oversell it—perfect. Okay, well, maybe not perfect, but about as close as you can get. I kind of had trouble writing a review because of this. I didn't know exactly how to convey the sheer brilliance of this game, but, at the same time, I know words can only go so far. Only after playing will you understand why everyone's going ape over this—and hopefully, if nothing else, this review will get you to do so.
Announcing the 2010 Game of the Year Awards from the First Hour! We published over 60 full reviews this year, tripling our output from last year. Of course, our writing staff has grown quite a bit also. I personally beat 30 games, undoubtedly making 2010 my most productive video gaming year ever. We also played over 55 first hours, keeping up a steady pace of one a week. We have not been lacking for great games or content this year.
This isn't your normal Game of the Year awards, we cover everything from older game of the year to worst first hour, so keep scrolling all the way to the bottom! If anything, our game of the year picks are the least interesting decisions. The writers here also don't vote on the categories, instead, everyone is welcome to submit their picks as their own definitive decision.
I've been on a puzzle kick lately. I attribute that to playing the 60 hour epic Infinite Space and having to take just as many hours coming down from that high. What I love about the Nintendo DS is its instant on/off and games like Harvest Moon: Frantic Farming or Picross 3D are perfect for jumping in and out quickly. Next up on my list of puzzlers to try was Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem!, the fourth game in the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series that began on the Game Boy Advance.
I actually thought that this was the second Mario vs. Donkey Kong game, believing that the DSiWare game, Minis March Again, was the first. Surprise surprise, there were two previous: Mario vs. Donkey Kong on the GBA and March of the Minis on the DS. I think I missed out on all these due to me not reading Nintendo Power for a few years, how else do you hear about these curious yet under-the-radar kind of games?
Mini-Land Mayhem pits, just like the name says, Mario against Donkey Kong in an epic struggle to rescue Pauline, Mario's original crush. Mario doesn't feel like getting his hands dirty though (being a plumber and all), so he sends a bunch of robot mini Marios to do his bidding. But they're dumb, like Lemmings, and simply walk in a straight line until they hit something and then turn around. They'll climb the first ladder they run into or trod up stairs, but that's about it.
Can Nintendo really publish four titles with this basic premise in the span of just six years? (haha, of course they can, they're Nintendo) Here's my full review of my first experience with the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series in Mini-Land Mayhem.
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...
One of the more common complaints you'll hear from Nintendo ex-fans is
that the Big N hasn't made any new franchises in a very long time. For
evidence, critics often point to Super Smash Bros. Brawl,
the game that has become a showcase for iconic Nintendo characters past
and present, and correctly note that none of the game's playable
characters are from a franchise created after 2001's Pikmin.
You'd think the one game that celebrates the whole history of
Nintendo's creations would put some recent stars at the forefront, and
yet there are none.
There's a point to be made there, but I don't think it's that Nintendo isn't creating new experiences. Nintendo has been delivering unique titles all along, but skinning them with familiar faces in an effort to grab the mass-market that buys based on brand name alone. It's a practice that probably went into full swing after the amazing success of Super Mario Kart, a racing game that could have been released with the image of any other combat-focused racer and nobody would have ever thought to liken it to the Super Mario series. Nintendo found a way to make the racing formula mesh with a beloved franchise and exploited the mustached plumber's image for instant brand recognition on a whole new product. It wasn't long before every Nintendo character became a pitchman: the ever-adaptable Kirby was a given, and other Mario-verse mascots like Yoshi and Wario weren't stretches either, but even seemingly untouchable characters like Samus and Link are now lending their images to genres that only vaguely fit into their traditional roles.
Enter DK: King of Swing on the Game Boy Advance in 2005. The game could be categorized as a platformer, but the focus on running and jumping had shifted to climbing and swinging, using the system's shoulder buttons. King of Swing received enough positive reviews and sales to spawn a sequel, DK: Jungle Climber, for the Nintendo DS in 2007. Like many hardcore gamers, this game launched well under my radar, but I recently gave the game a shot. Is the stigma of a spinoff warranted, or will I see something new underneath the same old monkey business?
Like scampering down the stairs on Christmas morning, the excited search for a steady video feed before E3 conferences is filled with anticipation. The annual summer happening is one of the few times on the gaming industry's calendar when we can look forward to some surprise delights from the many publishers playing the role of Santa Claus in business suits. Simply put, it's the industry's biggest event in the year.
As such, the editors of The First Hour tried to guess what unexpected pleasures would manifest at the event. Some were sure bets, like Microsoft showing off Halo: Reach. Others were more risky, like F-Zero hitting the 3DS at launch. And some were planted firmly outside the realm of possibility, with Shenmue 3 topping that list as always.
When all was said and done, The First Hour hit a few out of the park...but mostly struck out.
The question at the beginning of E3 always seems to be, "Who's going to win this year?" The gaming community eagerly watches the big press conferences for showstopping announcements and game demonstrations, looking to see which company will have the edge for the next twelve months. E3 2010 featured five big press conferences in its first two days: Microsoft, EA, and Ubisoft on Monday, and Nintendo and Sony on Tuesday. So much has happened in the past 48 hours that I think it's important to take a moment and recap each company's showing. I've definitely missed a few announcements and details in this quick-and-dirty summary, but I think I hit all the major points.
Today's my birthday so I thought I'd build my ego up a bit and tell the world how I was once featured in Nintendo Power magazine. No, I wasn't one of those dopey kids holding his Game Boy in a ziploc bag in front of Niagara Falls (though I did submit one just like that, sad). And no, I never had the pleasure of winning one of their contests to be featured as a background extra on the show Seaquest DSV (worst contest ever?).
No, I won an Arena Challenge. I was featured on their high score list. There was my name, in lights and on glossy paper: Greg Noe.
Everyone, quickly grab Nintendo Power issue number 85 page 93 and read on...
Diddy Kong Racing was Rare's answer to Mario Kart 64, which had come out earlier that year. Of course, no one had actually asked for another kart racer on the Nintendo 64, but Rare saw it as an opportunity to start the marketing machine for their future franchises, namely Banjo-Kazooie and Conker (yes, that Conker). They also packed in a bunch of other lame, no-name racers to fill the void - and thus, Diddy Kong Racing was born. The first hour of racers is typically much like the rest of the game, race, race, and race some more. So this will be very indicative on how Diddy Kong Racing (and its DS remake) fares as direct competition to Mario Kart.
Before I even start the main game, I notice a few things: it has been a few years since I've held the Nintendo 64 controller and this thing sure feels weird. It's very light and plasticky, and of course the three prong design definitely makes it one of the oddest looking around. It's also not terribly comfortable compared to more recent controllers, and even the SNES before it. Anyways, on with the first hour of Diddy Kong Racing.