Our previous look at Donkey Kong Country Returns featured only a small selection of levels, demonstrating some of the new tricks at your disposal, but at a recent event, we were fortunate enough to get a much bigger look at the brand-new world Donkey and Diddy inhabit. First, we took some time to get reacquainted with the controls. There are actually two control methods available in Donkey Kong Country Returns. You can select the nunchuk and Wii remote combination or just use the sideways Wii remote configuration used in games like Kirby's Epic Yarn.
Most of Donkey Kong's moves should be immediately familiar to fans of previous Donkey Kong Country games. He has a regular jump that he can use to cross gaps, as well as a ground pound where he slaps his mighty ape palms to the ground, which can either stun enemies or cause them to flop over on their backs. It also can open hidden areas and trigger switches that cause additional platforms or items to appear from the background. Additionally, DK has a roll move that's not only useful for extending his jumps beyond his normal range, but can also be used against enemies. If you have both Donkey and Diddy at your disposal, then you can perform an even stronger rolling move where Diddy rides Donkey Kong like he's some sort of hairy barrel. This roll is very useful later in the game when it's the only attack in your arsenal capable of knocking down one of the larger bosses in the game. Also, when Diddy is safely attached to Donkey Kong, the two can hover after a jump thanks to Diddy's coconut rocket pack, but you still have to be quick about your jumps because the hover lasts for only a few seconds. And finally, Donkey Kong can blow air onto objects, such as dandelions, or even onto enemies engulfed in fire to cool them down.
We got to play around in five areas in Donkey Kong Country Returns--the jungle, beach, ruins, forest, and caves. Each of these areas contains several levels where the theme factors into what types of obstacles Donkey and Diddy Kong face. The jungle zone--the game's starting area--gives a good introduction to the types of enemies you'll face over the course of the game and the platforming involved, but the following area--the beach--really opens up the gameplay and shows how the environment plays a big role. For example, in the beach area, there's a level where Donkey Kong has to move across the sand while a succession of enormous waves bombard the shore. The only way to do this is to stand behind walls (some of which eventually break under the weight of the waves) or to crouch behind stones that are just large enough to shelter Donkey and Diddy from the swells. Likewise, another beach level features an angry octopus that slaps his spiked tentacles into your path. You have to watch out for them not only while you're running, but while you're climbing on designated patches of vegetation as well.
The beach levels deliver the first taste of the rocket barrel sections of the game. At certain points in a level, Diddy and Donkey have to jump into a barrel that propels itself across the level, and the only way you can control it is by rapidly pressing a button to give it some more juice, lifting it higher into the sky. If you don’t press anything, then it drops steadily to the ground. Moreover, not only are you trying not to crash, but you have to do so while avoiding airborne enemies or projectiles being fired by ships in the background. It's more difficult than it sounds, particularly in later levels when there are more enemies and other things to avoid.
Other dangers await in Donkey Kong Country Returns. In the ruins, Donkey and Diddy have to work their way across crumbling platforms and spiked pits. In certain levels, the duo can enlist the help of Rambi the Rhino, who can not only plow through enemies with relative ease, but he can also smash through walls to find hidden areas and even walk across and destroy the aforementioned spikes. Meanwhile the forest area levels have their own set of pitfalls, such as a series of hippos propped delicately on a series of poles. If you jump on these hippos repeatedly, then you slowly drive the pole down before it (and the hippo) careens into the pit. Finally, in many of the cave area levels, you have to carefully navigate a series of gigantic flora and fauna as they bounce you from platform to platform.
Needless to say, the game will put your platforming skills to the test. In fact, It's early on in the beach area is where it becomes pretty clear that Donkey Kong Country Returns seems like it's going to offer a healthy challenge. There were quite a few sections where we died a few times--particularly an area where a ship is continually bombarding the shore with cannonballs--before figuring out the proper timing to move on. Indeed, even the few boss battles involve more than just stomping on some creature's head. Sometimes they require a specific technique and timing that aren't apparent off the bat. Still, it doesn't seem like you're ever in danger of losing all of your lives, because the game gives you plenty of opportunities to find extra life balloons or purchase them from Kranky Kong (you can also purchase keys to open previous locked levels), but the challenge remains nonetheless. Plus, most of the taxing aspects of the original game remain in Donkey Kong Country Returns, including mine cart levels as well as the ever-so-popular barrel blast sections where you have to carefully time your movement from one barrel to the next to avoid certain death.
With that in mind, a feature of cooperative play suddenly makes more sense. While two players can separately play as Donkey Kong or Diddy Kong, you can actually make Diddy cling onto Donkey Kong (as he does in the single-player game) if you're coming across a part where one player can't quite keep in step with the other. At any rate, we're excited to see what other challenges await when Donkey Kong Country Returns comes out on November 21.