Donkey Kong's return to 2D platforming is an unmitigated success.
So, what's new about the game then? Well game features aside Donkey Kong has a totally new set of villains to battle against (presumably because Rare own the copyright to the Kremlins). While some people will lament the lack of Kremlins the game does well without them. The story this time revolves around a group of Tiki masks called the Tiki Tak Tribe. The tribe themselves brainwash the animals of DK Island in to stealing Donkey Kong's banana horde, so Donkey Kong, along with his trusty side kick Diddy, again set out to retrieve them. No awards for originality, but 2D platform games don't need great stories to succeed.
Of all the Kong tribe from the last games, the only one which makes an appearance this time around is Cranky Kong. At the beginning of the game you do see other Kong's, but Cranky is the only one who plays a more active role throughout the adventure (he runs a shop which sells items that can aide Donkey Kong).
Gameplay wise the game stays true to the previous titles in the series, but the technological enhancements between the Super NES and the Wii mean that Retro Studio's could now do things that would have been impossible before. You can't play as Diddy Kong is the single player (although he is acquired in barrels, and when you have him he lets Donkey double jump) but this doesn't really subtract anything from the game. You still get traditional jungle levels, canon barrels, mine carts, swinging vines and the collectible K.O.N.G tokens, but all this is mixed up with a bunch of new tweaks to the formula. For a start there are more collectibles this time around. As well as the K.O.N.G tokens you also have hidden jigsaw pieces in each level, adding more incentive to collect and also adding to the games replay-ability factor. There's also new type of levels where you ride rocket barrels, avoiding enemies. Also, as well as the afore mentioned features, Donkey Kong Country Returns also adds more new features. This time around you also get a time attack mode, where you have to beat levels in the shortest amount of time. This isn't anything new to platform games, but it adds to the experience so this doesn't really matter. Also the game includes the Super Guide feature, which also appeared in New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Super Mario Galaxy 2, for all those new comers that get stuck at a tricky point (which'll be often as the game can be menacingly difficult in certain areas, especially if you try and collect everything). Also Rambi makes a return, mostly in my opinion for nostalgic reasons, but hey it's still nice to see him.
The game has two control schemes, and Donkey Kong also this time around has more moves. You can hold the Wii Remote either sideways (replicating more the feel of his classic titles) or you can use it with the Nunchuk. The game feels great whichever way you play, and each of Donkey Kong's new moves are used by motion. For instance Donkey Kong can ground pound when stood still, and this is done by shaking either the pointer when sideways or by shaking both the pointer and Nunchuk together. He can also blow things (like dandelions, wind mills or enemies on fire) and this is done by crouching and shaking. Also executing a roll is as simple as shaking the remote[s] whilst moving sideways. Apart from on the rare occasion the controls feel fluid and fine. You shouldn't have a problem adapting to the new way of playing.
The game also has a two player mode too, which is nice if you want to play with a friend. Also it's nice because in two player mode the second player gets to play as Diddy. But the two player in Donkey Kong Country Returns in handled differently to how it was in New Super Mario Bros. Wii. While the multiplayer modes available in New Super Mario Bros. Wii revolve around generally larking about whilst trying to get to the end of levels, in Donkey Kong Country Returns you actually have to work together to complete the levels. Using Diddy Kong to aide Donkey Kong through long jumps is necessary, so team play is the order of the day in this title.
Visually Donkey Kong Country doesn't push any boundaries, nor is it the best looking game on the Wii, but this doesn't matter as it's a perfect example of why game play is the most important part of a video game. But it is still nice to look at. Musically the game is better. The soundtrack is fantastic. It isn't as great as Super Mario Galaxy 2's soundtrack (mainly because it isn't orchestral), but it really adds to the feel of the game with many jungle-orientated themes. One of the best video game soundtracks of the year.
Donkey Kong Country Returns is a great return to 2D platforming for Nintendo's oldest character. Many view 2D platformers today as out dated, but when they show a level of precision and quality as high as Donkey Kong Country Returns does you can't help but love them. In my opinion it's better then New Super Mario Bros. Wii, no doubt. But as well as this it's also one of the greatest 2D platformers since the 16-bit era. This game comes highly recommended.
Review by: James Widdowson