Monday, 1 August 2011

Donkey Kong Country Returns

Lowdown: An imaginative 2D platform game for the Wii.
I was there when the Game & Watch consoles first came out during the early eighties. I had a few of them and exchanged many with friends, but my favorite was always Donkey Kong – the original one, played across two screens. Those were the days!
Actually, compared with today’s technology those weren’t the days at all. A few years ago, we played Donkey Kong to the death on our DS. With our recent acquisition of a Wii console we thought we’d give our gorilla of choice a try on the big screen through Donkey Kong Country Returns (DKCR).
You may have thought the 2D platform video game is dead, eclipsed by the technology that allows the likes of first person shooters et al. Nintendo would beg to differ, and they plea their case very well with DKCR. In front of us is a brilliantly designed game that packs so much fun and originality in it you would never question the death of the 2D platform genre again!
The plot has these mysterious African drum like demons coming off a volcano and hypnotizing the jungle into submission. They can’t control our gorilla and his little mate, though, which gives us the opportunity to become gorillas as we jump across jungle hurdles and shake the Wii controller to create our own rumble in the jungle effects. Originality comes mainly from the occasional innovation, such as riding rhino, being shot from a cannon or flying a rocker; extra originality comes from being able to utilize Donkey Kong’s little gorilla friend’s jetpack while on single player mode. The cooperative two player mode allows the two differently sized gorillas to be played separately with similar effective powers. Things are so imaginatively rich and carefully designed you don’t even realize DKCR is a 2D platform game, a format that otherwise had its heydays decades ago.
Yes, there are similar games to DKCR around, most notably Little Big Planet and its sequel on the PS3. However, as a veteran Little Big Planet player I can attest the PS3 game cannot compete with the technically inferior Wii game when it comes to originality and sheer enjoyment; Little Big Planet’s only genuine advantage is in its customization and personalization options, as well as the ability to play user generated contents from the Internet.
Still, the number of worlds our Donkey Kong heroes have to traverse in their quest to free their jungle is extensive. Given the uniqueness of each level (I like the one that takes place during sunset in particular, rendering everything as silhouettes) I would say there is good replay value with DKCG.
By far the biggest issue I have had with DKCG is its non forgiving, tough nature. For a start, make too many little mistakes or one big mistake and you’ll have to restart from the last check point; in my book these checkpoints are rather too far apart. More importantly, there are no difficulty level adjustments, and I found that as I progressed through the levels I got stuck on certain challenges more and more often. I’ll admit to it: I am not the world’s greatest video games player in terms of skill, but that is exactly why I appreciate games that adjust their difficulty to my skills so much more. Sadly, DKCR is not a game that can boast such capabilities. What it does offer is help clearing out levels on which you die too much (six times in a row or so) by taking control, turning Donkey Kong into gray, and finishing the level for you. Thus you can progress instead of getting eternally stuck; however, that artificial progression does nothing to improve your satisfaction with the game.
The sheer toughness of DKCR could be placed entirely on the player’s shoulders to grapple with. As in, each time you die it is clearly your fault for doing something wrong. Still, are we here to feel guilty for our sins or are we here to have fun, Nintendo?
Don’t get me wrong. Fun we had, and plenty of it. As with Super Mario Galaxy 2, Nintendo can clearly create worlds this house’s toddler finds immensely more appealing than anything he has ever seen on the PS3 over the years. His emotional attachment levels to these games is unparalleled, and speaks volumes in explaining how the low tech Wii managed to dominate the console market for as long as it did/does.
Overall: Spectacularly imaginative, but sadly also mildly frustrating. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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