I Went Ape Shit Over This Game!

I went ape shit over this game. I really did. But this game kicked my ass. I’ve played a lot of games in my day: hard games, games that basically play themselves and games that were downright unfair (N+ comes to mind), but I haven’t found a game that balanced difficulty and sheer fun like the new Donkey Kong Country Returns for Wii. It brings me back to that perfect balance that was found in the early Mega Man games for NES. There’s something about the way Retro Studios so elegantly designed the levels that keeps you locked into the game even after you’ve died on the same level 20 times or more. I wish I were exaggerating. Instead of getting the urge to throw my controller out the window, I sat impatiently in the brief few seconds it took to respawn, eager to give that challenge another shot.

The game is simple; a group of demonic Tiki’s decide to steal DK’s monstrous stash of bananas, and nothing gets this monkey pissed like someone creeping on his ‘naners. If you’ve played Mario, you can play DK: The 2 button Jumps, and hold the 1 button to run/grab. But here’s where Nintendo comes in with their lovely need to force some kind of waggle into every game. Waggle while you’re standing still and DK will pound the ground, which can be used to pound switches, stun enemies, and discover secrets by destroying objects and plants in your immediate background. Waggle while you’re running and DK rolls forward, the foundation of one of the most critical executions in the game: an anti-gravity roll jump. This propels DK upwards even after falling down a hole. This is also used to narrowly escape enemies, reach new heights, etc., and truth be told, it makes you feel pretty slick while doing so. Lastly, waggle while crouching and DK will blow. Yep, blow.  You can use this to uncover secrets, like blowing out lamps, for example, blowing out flaming enemies, or, like the rest of us, pretend Diddy Kong is giving his ol’ pal Donkey Kong some well-deserved dome action. Luckily, there wasn’t anymore forced waggle then that, and though I’m poking fun at Ninty’s motion-control-or-die track record, it wasn’t enough waggle to give you any kind of reason to stop playing.

Where the game stands head-and-shoulders above the competition, however, is the level design. Retro Studios, the developers of the extraordinary Metroid Prime series, made the decision to leave a lot of the franchise’s baggage behind them. Gone are King K-Rool and his baddies, a lot of the old enemies, and most of DK’s family but Cranky Kong (which might be for the better, though my Funky Kong-obsessed friend might beg to differ), leaving behind an empty palette to decorate all their own. You explore 8 different worlds with anywhere from 5-8 levels, a boss battle, and a hidden “KONG” temple in each. You’ll traverse terrain like the jungles we’ve already come to expect, toxic factories, sunny crab-infested beaches (just like at dive bars in Jersey), treacherous caves, fiery volcanoes, and more. These aren’t just background changes like a most of the games these days; each world constantly finds ways to incorporate its element into outstanding gameplay. For example, in the beach world, you’ll find yourself dodging titanic tidal waves, evading a pursuing tyrannical giant octopus, and even riding a colossal, though selfishly clumsy whale. The cave sequences were some of my favorite in the game, as most of its levels are comprised of adrenaline-fueled mine-cart challenges, where one mistake or mistimed jump can cause your cart to explode time and time again. Levels like these are the ones that easily send your number of deaths into the double digits.

Yeah, youre f**ked.

Throughout each of these pain-staking levels, a few things are required of you: collect all four of the placed “K-O-N-G” letters, collect anywhere from 4-8 cleverly hidden puzzle pieces, and most importantly, survive. Collecting all the KONG letters in an entire world will unlock a nearby hidden temple, and if you have the dexterity to defeat all eight of these temples, you’ll gain access to the final level of the game. I won’t spoil that bizarre surprise ending, you’ve got to get there yourself.  Collect all the puzzle pieces in each level, and you’ll be rewarded with entries in the art gallery and diorama section in the extras menu.
In the early levels, you’ll often be accompanied by the heart-warming, peanut-gun-shooting sidekick, Diddy Kong. Diddy Kong adds a level of sustain to Donkey Kong’s jumps, and adds two more hearts to your overall life. Get hit twice and Diddy Kong’s martyred until you can find another bouncing barrel to bring him back. If you do lose Diddy, most of the time you won’t go long until you find another barrel, right? That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Just when you get accustomed to have that great pal Diddy by your side, Retro rips him from your banana-stained grasp. At one point you’ll notice you’ve gone a few levels with no Diddy at all, and some of the most challenging platforming levels toward the end of the game will have you begging for your red-capped wonder back. Some of these levels, like the cart or rocket levels are completely understandable, but when you encounter some of the pixel perfect platforming segments of the Kong temples, for example, you’ll be sobbing, and wondering why Retro couldn’t have cut you some slack. 20 lives later, you’ll feel like the baddest doode in this crazy Tiki-infested world, and zip through those levels like you’ve spent your whole life playing them.
That’s the beauty of this cruel game. That outstanding feeling you get when you conquer that level that you were sure you’d never get past, or when you oh-so-narrowly escape one of the catastrophic threats chasing you through the rocket-barrel levels. These feelings just aren’t present in most of today’s over-abundance of FPS games. The sense of reward, of pride, of sheer badassitude when you show your friends the level you just beat. It was an secret pleasure of mine to throw my friends into some of the craziest levels of the game just to see how fast they’d throw in the towel. I’m a sick man, I know.

One little slip of the finger and you explode.

Don’t be scared off by my constant warnings of difficulty. The game implements several tools to help you get through the trickiest of spots: Extra heart containers, potions, and bird-helpers to help you find those tricky puzzle pieces. The game also gives you wonderful treasure of trading banana coins for up to 7 lives at a time, so you can stock 20-30 lives and plunge into the newest Kong temple, just to narrowly pass the level just before you’d get a game over. Grabbing a buddy to go through the game co-op will definitely loosen some of the pressure, but be warned: you fall down a pit you’ll lose both lives, not just one. You’ll likely find yourself becoming a regular in Cranky Kong’s Item Shop buying more lives.
The art direction, and intoxicatingly great soundtrack will suck you in almost instantly, and what was most impressive for an experienced gamer like myself, you’ll constantly be finding levels that will literally drop your jaw when shit starts to hit the fan. You’re not often taken a back, let alone marveled by what’s around the next turn. There are also some levels that are so beautifully orchestrated, you’ll actually sit back in awe after (sometimes during) playing it; the music-driven “Music Madness” level in the Factory world was one of my personal favorites.
This game wrecked me, which is probably why I decided to use this game as the first ever Wrecked video game review, and after everything was said and done, I’d proudly give this game 4.5 cheesy poofs out of 5. I think the only thing that I would have like to see differently would have been more unlockables, most notably secret characters as there are none, and I felt the art galleries weren’t nearly compelling enough to get me to grab all those god-forsaken puzzle pieces. But seriously, if you haven’t picked this up yet, please do so, this was undoubtedly my favorite Wii game of 2010, and an exceptional entry from a terrific studio like Retro Studios, who genuinely deserves your hard earned, beer-soaked dollars with this one. Simply marvelous!
Wrecked Rating: 4.5/5

About Ivan Torres
http://isles-band.com More Metal Than Colossus.

One Response to I Went Ape Shit Over This Game!

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