PAX impressions / Donkey Kong Country Returns

I think my age group has finally taken over the videogame industry, as it seems to be the mid 90’s all over again. New NBA Jam, new Mortal Kombat, new(ish) Duke Nukem, and a new Donkey Kong Country. One of the more puzzling announcements from E3 was Metroid Prime developer Retro Studios being well into development on Donkey Kong Country Returns, which is about as un-Metroid Prime as one can get.

Just as the NBA Jam guys obviously played themselves a ton of NBA Jam, it’s clear from the level I played that the guys at Retro locked themselves in a room with a Super Nintendo and a copy of Donkey Kong Country for two months and paid close attention to what made DKC so great. There were three levels to try out, but once the Nintendo rep informed me that one of the levels was a mine-cart level, I knew the proper choice to make.

They have added a couple of interesting things to the mix, specifically a trick DK learned from Super Smash Bros. Thrusting the Wiimote and nunchuk up and down allows Donkey Kong to slam the ground under him, thus stunning nearby enemies and smashing wooden crates. There’s also platforms where slamming them down changes the backgrounds and opens up a new area a la Paper Mario. These features are cool, but the meat & potatoes is still pure Donkey Kong Country. Memorizing those mine cart paths and precisely timing your jumps sent me right back to 1994.

Donkey Kong still looks the same he always has since Rare’s iconic re-design, but the incredibly bright and cheerful graphics make for one great looking Wii game. The transforming of the environments mentioned prior are filled with great looking explosions, and the game runs at a silky smooth 60FPS. The biggest change to the core game is DK’s ability to take two hits before death instead of one, which made me hope for a harder difficulty setting that returns to the original’s one hit deaths.

So Donkey Kong Country Returns is totally Donkey Kong Country, which is fine by me. The game has its detractors, and if you’re one of them, Retro Studios isn’t going to change your mind. It’s really this simple: if you like Donkey Kong Country, then you’re probably going to really dig Donkey Kong Country Returns this November.