sunnuntai 12. kesäkuuta 2016

REVIEW - Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D

GENRE(S): Platformer
DEVELOPER(S): Monster Games
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo
RELEASE DATE: May 24, 2013

Note: All screenshots are from the original Wii version of the game. If Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is played in Original Mode, superficial differences between the games are minimal.

There seriously can't be a better title to start off this new Mario & Donkey Kong marathon than a game called Donkey Kong Country Returns. The very original Donkey Kong Country from 1994 was the most important key reason why I truly wanted to have my own SNES system in the first place. When Donkey Kong Country Returns was first announced in 2009 or so, history repeated itself; for the first time, I thought about getting a Wii. Stubborn and hostile as I was towards Nintendo at the time, and as broke as a man could be, I never really gave it a second thought. Even when the game was finally released and Retro Studios got showered with all forms of godly praise for bringing back what Rare was once forced to abandon, I refrained from actually reading any of those positive reviews. Then, I got myself a 3DS, and it was then I really noticed, that Donkey Kong Country Returns had been ported to the handheld some time ago. I went to great lengths to find this game; good games for the 3DS (as well as the original DS) are surprisingly hard to find. I did find the game, though, and went at it like a hawk - I felt all of those old emotions come over me like a tidal wave. Sadly, those emotions include severe anger and deep frustration. No Donkey Kong Country game has ever been this full of those moments when you seriously want to kill someone. Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D has some breathtakingly great moments - but it is not everything I ever hoped from this return.

Return of the swing

An ancient tribe of malicious Tikis is woken from their deep sleep by the eruption of their home volcano. They set off after the greatest treasure of Kong Island - Donkey Kong's famous banana hoard - hypnotizing the animals of the island to do their bidding. After years of peace, Donkey and Diddy Kong - who are both immune to the mass hypnosis - journey forth through the perils of Kong Island to reach the volcano and banish the creatures for good.

Donkey Kong Country Returns (3D) is very much like a blast from the past, made with those who grew up with the original trilogy firmly in mind, but at the same time, it draws influence from more recent 2D platformers, especially in constantly breaking the 2D mold of the game with amazing 3D effects and multi-layered level designs. The original Donkey Kong Country trilogy was simply a marvel to behold. Rare's technology and design was something never seen before. In this day and age, the sort of jaw-dropping moments such as seeing the intro to Donkey Kong Country for the first time can no longer be experienced. Graphics, as such, have reached a standard very few even try to break nowadays. They're no longer Donkey Kong Country's greatest draw. Now it's all about the level design. And man, Donkey Kong Country Returns is one hell of a ride; there's some slightly revamped old stuff in there, and a lot of new stuff. All of which is not that fun to play. Let's focus on the part which is, though.

The backgrounds are not what they seem.
Donkey Kong Country Returns could might as well be called Donkey Kong Country Rebooted - it's very clear that this game was made by different people than the original trilogy, and it's fully understandable that Nintendo wants to really own this series again. It was more or less Rare's property back in the day, which probably made it very hard for this series to return after they were bought out by Microsoft. However, David Wise's original music remains, heavily remixed by a tight-knit group of Japanese composers. Most of it sounds pretty damn awesome, and once you reach the Factory world, you might want to turn up the volume to max; avid fans of the original Donkey Kong Country know that theme damn well. The music plays a surprisingly important key role in building up the game, 'cause it WILL feel weird at first. All of the classic enemies are completely ousted from the fray, DK has some strange new abilities (and he seems to have lost the ability to swim), Rambi and Squawks are the only returning animal buddies, and single players will have to live with the fact that they're going to play as the ever-so-bulky DK all along the way. Diddy - who's now DK's nephew instead of his best friend - is an irreplaceable companion as always, but he plays out very differently from before.

Monkeys in Hell

Diddy travels piggyback and boosts your jumps with his jetpack; he also brings in two extra hearts of health (three, if you're playing the 3DS' New Mode). As long as the easy-going, hang-loose platformer schtick goes on, he feels like a small, useless bonus, but rest assured, the game isn't like that for very long at all and soon Diddy becomes irreplaceable. So irreplaceable, that I would almost make a claim that some levels are simply impossible to complete without Diddy's help. I know it's not the truth, but it's pretty damn close, frustratingly so. The levels do have fair checkpoints, but a little too often reaching a checkpoint means you're cut off from perhaps the only DK barrel in the whole level, whereas in most situations in the old games, a DK barrel was placed right next to a checkpoint. The returning Cranky - my man! - has a shop from where you can buy some helpful items for your reserves kind of like in Super Mario Bros. 3, but if you leave a level in midway to pick some item you find yourself in desperate need of, you'll have to start that level all over again, and the collectables you've already gathered from that level go back to zero; just so happens that those collectables are very often the main reason for your constant failures to complete the level.

The climbing mechanic's actually quite nice. Too bad any of
that nice didn't rub off on some even more important
Coins are needed for shopping at Cranky's, obviously - his items are actually so cheap that you will never run out of lives to live out in this game, assuming you're not one serious speedrunner. Jigsaw pieces are littered all over the levels, some hidden in plain sight, some in secret passageways, and some in traditional bonus levels - which you'll have to complete, and in one try, to make 'em count for the 100%. Bananas are for the exact same purpose they ever were, but then come the KONG letters. If you collect every single KONG letter in all levels of a single world, you'll get to try a "Lost World"-type of bonus level, which of course is one hellish piece of work. There's also a whole world of bonus levels waiting to be visited after the completion of the game, which is the actual "Lost World". If that's not hard enough for you, and you manage to complete the hellholes of this God-forsaken place, you'll be rewarded with a hard mode, with all levels unlocked, with alternative design for you to "enjoy". Donkey Kong Country Returns is, for all intents and purposes, the hardest game in all of the series. Yes, even harder than Diddy's Kong Quest, and by far. However...

If you're not too judgemental towards yourself, you can always use a Super Guide. The Super Guide mode activates every time you die eight times in a single level, and offers you a chance to automatically complete the level by watching Super Kong do it. Your most severe penance for this is not finding any collectables from that level. As long as these bypasses have existed in video games - the original Wii version of this game might be one of the first - I have heavily criticized them, but seeing what sort of trainwrecks await you in the last couple of worlds, I'm all in for the option.

Rockets set my eyes in red glare

The game is at its absolute worst - in all senses of the description - during mine cart rides, which make their extremely notable return from the old games, and the new types of vehicular levels, where you'll be using a rocket-fueled barrel to navigate through tight passages, in both horizontal and vertical levels. I'm amazed I didn't mention this before, but the controls, at least in this version of the game, are not perfect. So many moves are mapped to one single button, that it's very easy to make mistakes when the game's tempo reaches 200 for every single level. The analog disc is so damn sensitive, and no, there's no option to use the digital pad for precision moves. In most of the rocket barrel levels, there's just one button for you to use: the button to fly upwards, which you'll be needing to keep balance as middle of the level as possible. That is until the hazards from all over the place set in. Then you're up shit creek. It's as simple as that. The rocket moves extremely weird; often, it feels like it ascends and descends on its own. Yep, as you might've guessed, these levels are one-hit kills. I fucking hate these levels. Just when you think you've been through the worst and there are no more of these coming, they fall like snow in February. Even the final boss fight of the game starts with a rocket barrel sequence, as I already guessed hacking through the level which I think was meant to be sold as the final one, judging by its sky-high difficulty. (And one level which I totally Super Guided, with no remorse.)

This is bullshit, bullshit, BULLSHIT! ...And I don't like it.
Two more serious flaws remain, and these are also gameplay issues that get worse as time and levels go by. Like I said, there are many moves assigned to a single button (Y), and of course one of them is the ability to dash. Well, let's say DISability. One of the basic core elements of just about any platformer ever made is complete fluff in this here game. After starting up the dash with a roll, DK takes a few running steps, and returns to a speed just barely above his walking speed until you roll again. Most levels that mandate the involvement of Rambi are even worse; these levels require a consistently fast speed, and Rambi can only dash when you tap the Y button at well-timed key points to slap his ass (literally) to make him take a few running steps. Having Diddy along doesn't help Rambi with running jumps at all, since he's too heavy for Diddy's jetpack to carry anywhere beyond his normal jumping distance. In short, the game borders on impossible to keep up with, the tempo gets that damn crazy after the first couple of worlds.

Then, the final flaw - trial and error. There's a lot of that involved here, again many thanks to the tempo, but there's also a graphical issue, which blurs the line between a static background object and a solid obstacle a bit too often. Playing the game with the 3D graphics set to minimum helps a little, but not much in the more difficult levels where there's much happening as it is, all kinds of shit's flying all over the place, and you're fully focused on mere survival like in the rocket barrel levels. Once again, a short version: Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is the hardest game in the franchise, but all of its difficulty does not stem from the proper place.


Although it makes you feel quite homicidal, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D has a sweet purpose behind it. I would very much like to try the original game, 'cause I believe a lot of the issues I had with this experience come from the fact that it's a hectic, non-stop platformer on a handheld system, and my eyes and hands are both 32 years old. I'll have to see how Tropical Freeze checks out, and if it supports this theory at all. Anyway, this is a good game. Not quite what I expected after almost 20 years, but it has lots of entertaining moments and a great atmosphere.


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