Continuing the onslaught of rebooted gems from the past, Nintendo's one-two holiday season punch began withand finishes with Donkey Kong Country Returns for the Wii.
Even though we found Epic Yarn to be a bit simplistic, it was still engaging enough to justify a playthrough. Does Donkey Kong Country offer the same amount of appeal? Or is this one franchise that should have stayed dormant?
Lately it seems Nintendo has released more of a time machine than a game console, with its recent titles taking us back 15 years or so, reliving our childhoods spent playing Super Nintendo and the like. The latest of this bunch is Donkey Kong Country Returns, the re-imagined follow-up to one of the Super Nintendo's most successful and iconic franchises.
If you didn't feel challenged in Kirby's Epic Yarn, Donkey Kong Country Returns will immediately fill that void. While we praised Epic Yarn for its success in conventional 2D platforming, DKC Returns innovates within the genre, giving us new ways to play. We really can't stress the difficulty enough here; the game is definitely not for the easily frustrated.
There are plenty of familiar details fans of the series will identify with: collecting K-O-N-G letters, hidden areas, bonus levels, and more. Also, Diddy Kong is around again for the adventure, and he'll take a vital role in your banana-recovery quest.
In terms of gameplay, DKC Returns controls excellently, just as if we were playing the original. That said, there are certainly new additions to the usual mine cart and jungle setting we were treated to the first go-around.
We were a bit skeptical about all of these rebooted series popping up on the Wii this year, but Donkey Kong Country Returns only re-emphasizes the level of effort and details these games have received. The Wii may not have a lot going for it these days, but classic Nintendo franchise fans both old and new are certainly in great shape.
Nintendo's crystal-clear strategy this holiday season has been: retro is good. The formula worked for 2009's New Super Mario Bros. Wii, which is one of the Wii's all-time top-selling titles, and recent releases such as Metroid: Other M and Kirby: Epic Yarn only reinforce the trend. I was a little skeptical of Donkey Kong Country Returns for this very reason, simply because it's more of that same comforting Nintendo blanket. Rather than push Wii gaming forward into the future, recent games seem to be heading back into the warm embrace of the past.
That's all theoretical, though. DKC Returns is, even to a bah-humbug gamer such as myself, a flat-out excellently made game. In fact, it's probably the most successful new-generation platformer made in years. That's not to say I'm not getting fed up with the trend, regardless. Pitch-perfect fast-paced gameplay and frustratingly challenging tasks throw me straight back to my 16-bit teenage days, embellished here with plenty of Pixar-esque 3D graphics, but I miss the risks Nintendo used to take when they moved Mario and Zelda to 3D on the N64, or Metroid on the GameCube.
Donkey Kong Country Returns is an excellent holiday buy, but I hope it doesn't encourage Nintendo to become ever-more complacent. Gaming needs more risks, not more comfort food. This holiday has become a poster child for the predictability of the video game industry, from a new Call of Duty down to the requisite rehashes of last year's Rock Band and Guitar Hero titles. I guess I'm accepting the truth: this season, more than any I can remember, is a season of sequels.