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LTTP: Donkey Kong Country Returns

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LTTP or ‘late to the party’ pieces are opportunities for me to catch up and write about games I missed out on the first time around. They may contain spoilers.

I actually started Donkey Kong Country Returns over three years ago. My brother and I were taking turns finishing levels like when we were kids with Donkey Kong Country and its sequels. We enjoyed the Super Nintendo trilogy very much and have fond memories of our times with those game. I even recall my mother being impressed with the visuals at the time.

When I heard Nintendo and Retro Studios were releasing a new Donkey Kong Country game, I was ecstatic. “Finally!” I thought to myself. “Nintendo is revisiting one my favorite properties”. But as excited as I was, this game did not hold our attention for long. We made it half way through the game before we collectively lost interest and drifted away from it.

Was it because it was on the Wii? Some of my issues with the game does stem from the fact that it was released on that platform. Unfortunately it wasn’t just one issue that eroded interest, it was myriad of decisions that rubbed me the wrong way. Some of my disagreements with the game was because of my nostalgia but others were objectively grating.

In between the time I started and finished Donkey Kong Country Returns, I finished one of the greatest 2D platformers I have ever played in Rayman: Origins. I was in agreement with many of the decisions Ubisoft made in that game; they did everything right. I didn’t feel the same with Donkey Kong Country Returns.

I took issue with how Retro Studios handled collectibles. Firstly, there was too much of it. Secondly, having to interact with each an every background element just to see if it was a puzzle piece was tedious. I felt like I was driving in a car but was forced to stop every 20 feet to smell the roses. This constant stop and go wasn’t appealing in the slightest. I would have preferred it if they asked me to collect every banana instead. Taking the occasional detour is fine; I’m in favor of cleverly hidden secrets. Just don’t make me check every nook and cranny.

Platformers have been around for a long time and because of that fact, there’s only one cardinal rule that they should never violate: the controls. I can forgive floaty jumps and other character control shortcomings in a game like LittleBigPlanet but in one that demands precision like Donkey Kong Country Returns. It was a mistake to force the barrel roll and other functions to the motion controls. It would work 90% of the time but whenever it does fail, it’s incredibly irritating. Donkey Kong already needs a bit of momentum to get going which continued to trip me up throughout the game, I didn’t need that added layer of frustration.

Both Rayman: Origins and Donkey Kong Country returns shared similarities in its level distribution. They both had their share throwback game types and they’re both fond of Limbo’s silhouette style. I wasn’t a big fan of the shooter levels in Rayman: Origins but they were fun compared to the rocket barrel levels featured in this game. I hated most of those rocket barrel levels because I hate memorizing entire level layouts in order to win. It would also take just a tad too long to get back into a level after a death. Why did Donkey Kong have to float down from a red balloon? Why did I have to watch him do it every time? When frustrations mount, these tiny annoyances were amplified.

I couldn’t look pass those issues I mentioned. For every enjoyable level, there was something just a around the corner to impede my enjoyment. But I think the game’s biggest fault lies with the fact that it didn’t standout in my mind. I didn’t find that one thing that grabbed me. The music to be tame despite its familiarity. And the enemy designs were not as memorable as Rare’s crocodiles.

I really wanted to recapture my childhood appreciation for Donkey Kong through Donkey Kong Country Returns. Were my expectations too high? Or perhaps Retro Studios simply didn’t make the game I was looking for. I don’t know the answer to that now but I will likely draw a conclusion after playing the sequel, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.

Worth a Try

Ratings Guide

For more information on Donkey Kong Country Returns, visit the official website.

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