For mature gamers such as myself, Donkey Kong Country holds a treasured place; the game that started a memorable Indian summer for arguably the greatest console ever made, the SNES.
With the Wii's reputation for quirky and innovative gameplay under new threat from Microsoft's Kinect, could this be the game that rekindles affection for the format?
Considering the fact that 16 years have passed since the release of the original, Donkey Kong Country Returns could have been mapped out in the mid 90s (albeit with the later addition of motion control). It's all about conquering each of an initial eight lushly-coloured worlds, gathering bananas for health and hidden extras, and grabbing puzzle pieces or letter icons for bonuses. Graphically, it's about as pin sharp and colourful as we've seen on the Wii but the formulaic early gameplay does rely too much on nostalgia for its appeal. Occasionally, you may be shot into the screen to access a hidden area, but compared to the way Sonic Colours seamlessly blends 2D and 3D action, it is slightly underwhelming.
However, once you get through a few levels – particularly to the fondly remembered mine-cart sections – level design improves significantly. Each new terrain (including factories, treetops and, of course, jungles) brings its own vivid detail and natural enemies, including the boss battles, which are as big, boldly coloured and as fiendishly unpredictable as they always seemed to be.
It's also as rock hard to play as the original, although you can enlist Diddy Kong's help (by hitting a DK barrel) or ask a buddy to play him. But the main reason for the difficulty is having to restart every level from the beginning if you lose a life. Personally, I find this a sneaky way of making the game seem artificially challenging, but there are plenty of fans for this less-forgiving approach, so it's horses for courses.
Equally divisive will be the interface – which can either be played using Wiimote and Nunchuck together or a sideways-held Wiimote. Both work well enough until you get to specific points that require shaking the controller while moving at speed (for instance stunning enemies or rolling across pits) where control definitely suffers. Practice makes perfect, of course, but I'd rather games were fair as well as tough.
So no, it's not perfect and it probably won't catch the imagination in the same way that the original did . But DKCR is a colourful, creative romp with one of Nintendo's oldest creations, and with all the hidden levels, bosses and treats thrown in, you'll still be playing it after Christmas.
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