The lights are on
When I was ten years old a mysterious box came in the mail. It was patterned with large jungle leaves and was suspiciously shaped in the form of a VHS tape. Lo and behold, it was a VHS tape. What was on that VHS tape? An inside look at one of the defining games of the SNES era -- Donkey Kong Country.
I was blown away by the "3-D" graphics that were on display and would watch that video on a fairly regular basis despite the guy with long hair who wasn't quite as funny as he thought he was. Needless to say, I was astonished by the game. When I finally was able to get my hands on it, I was even more enthralled. The barrel-blasting, animal-riding, Kremling-hopping gameplay was extremely addicting and the main selling-point (the visuals) did not disappoint.
Fast-forward to the Wii. After a Nintendo 64 game that took a detour into 3-D platforming, plus numerous games in which DK only played a supporting role, we finally have a true successor to the classic DKC games. Retro Studios has done a marvelous job in replicating the satisfying platforming and tone of the originals, while bringing some hardcore originality to the series.
The first thing I noticed was how nice the game looked. I realize that the Wii is not nearly in the same class in terms of graphical horsepower as the other consoles of this generation. However, the art style in DKC:R is leagues ahead of most contemporary games, regardless of the console. The colors are beautiful, the stages are layered with fantastic backgrounds and foregrounds, the animations are top-notch, and there are even artistic flourishes (such as the silhouette levels) that create a diverse and satisfying visual cornucopia. There is not a bland pixel to be found.
The sound is also extraordinary. In the vein of the Mario Galaxy games, the score is evocative of the earlier games, remixing and updating favorite melodies to create an enjoyable atmosphere. It's just nice to not encounter a song that grates or is overly and inappropriately epic. It's just another example of Retro's intelligence when it comes to creating games that are both daringly contemporary and harkening reminders of why we love video games to begin with.
Along those lines, the gameplay is sublime. One thing that was a problem with earlier DKC games was a struggle to flow through a level in the way that Mario could. Problem solved. Retro has taken a cue from Super Meat Boy and created stages that can be incredibly challenging at points, yet are completely within the bounds of accomplishment. What is beautiful is that each stage is created to be played both in an explorative manner and as a speedy run-through. Let me tell you, the time trials in this game can be ridiculously aggravating, yet incredibly rewarding when everything comes together.
If there is anything wrong with the game it is the fact that you must shake the controller to roll. This is a real problem when you are trying to accomplish the time trials, as your arms and hands will be fatigued after a while, seeing as the fastest way through a level will often rely on rolling. In the big scheme of things, this is a minor gripe, but nonetheless can be frustrating. Also, having Diddy is a major bonus to getting through the game, in that he can help DK hover through the air. Without Diddy, Donkey can feel a little bit handicapped. There is a 2-player mode that is fun, but just be aware that 2-player platforming can be an occasionally frustrating experience, as is often the case.
Along with all of this, there is a story straight out of the Brady Bunch with Tiki gods that are creating havoc for no understandable reason. I really wish there were better stories in games of this style, but really the story doesn't matter too much when the gameplay and world are so vibrant and fun. The collectables have returned, with bananas, life balloons, K-O-N-G letters, puzzle pieces, and coinage all making return appearances. While collecting things in games is a relic best left in the late 90's, Retro has streamlined the experience to where it isn't a strictly enforced mechanic, but more of a bonus with appropriate rewards.
I can't recommend this game enough. The Wii may be a fairly disappointing console on the game front, when viewed against the saturated selections that other consoles offer, but you can't say that it isn't home to some of the greatest games ever created. This is one of them.
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