Donkey Kong Country Returns (Wii) Review

By Rudy Lavaux 16.03.2011 11

Review for Donkey Kong Country Returns on Wii

Donkey Kong is one of the oldest video game icons out there. He has seen many appearances, on various machines and in multiple video game genres, over the years and will actually turn 30 this year! The last time we saw him in a side-view platformer was in Donkey Kong Jungle Beat for the GameCube, playable both with the DK Bongos or a Gamecube controller, and later re-released for Wii in 2009 in the New Play Control! line. After being announced at E3 2010, just a few months before release, the gorilla-in-a-tie stomped back to the Wii with a new entry into the series that made him a playable character in 1994: Donkey Kong Country on the Super Nintendo. Let's find out if Retro Studios pulled off the task of making a game as outstanding as the original trilogy, and see how much it sticks to its original formula.

The story is not extensive: the Kongs' banana hoard is stolen again by the Tikis. Enraged, Donkey and Diddy venture out on a trip to the top of their island, battling the Tiki Tak Tribe along the way, to engage in combat with Tiki Tong, lord of the Tikis. The trip sure won't be easy, with lots of different hurdles to deal with...

Thankfully, our two heroes have a nice moveset they can take advantage of, though this time, Diddy Kong can only be incarnated in the two player co-op mode. As DK runs, he can jump or grab things by just pressing a button, he can shake the ground by shaking the controller, blow on things by ducking and shaking at the same time, and roll by shaking while moving left or right. When Diddy is with him, riding atop his back, he can hover by holding down the jump button while in midair, and any hits taken will only drain Diddy's life gauge. When Diddy's life is empty, he gets ‘lost’ and Donkey Kong is left alone again - until he finds his partner crammed inside a DK barrel.

Screenshot for Donkey Kong Country Returns on Wii

There are two control setups for Donkey Kong Country Returns: the Wii Remote on its side, NES-style, or the Remote and Nunchuk duo. Being a game that imitates the style of the 16-bit games, while taking it to the next level, it would be nice to be able to choose a control scheme that mimics the old gameplay, even more so when the difficulty makes the game more likely to appeal primarily to veteran players who liked the original trilogy, but sadly this the Classic Controller is not supported. Making Donkey Kong ‘blow’ by waggling the Wii Remote doesn't make much sense either. None of that reduces the fun, though, as everything still controls just fine. The Nunchuk and Wii Remote combination proves to be a bit superior, though, as shaking the Remote while controlling Donkey Kong with its tiny D-pad doesn't allow for the same level of accuracy.

In the co-op mode, two players can control Donkey and Diddy Kong separately. While both play very similarly, the noticeable differences are that Diddy can fire peanuts with his gun - a move never available in solo mode - and can always hover with his jet-pack, bereaving Donkey of the ability. To compensate, Donkey can return to his arcade roots and hurl barrels farther than his younger sidekick. At any moment the two can reunite and player one can control things just as in solo mode; for example, if one player is having a difficult time, the two can be combined together and the more experienced player can progress past a tough area before the players separate once more. This two player option isn't as fun as the one in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but it's a nice addition. However beating the whole game in co-op will prove an even harder challenge, so you may be better off choosing a fellow veteran gamer to accompany you. This is not a casual friendly game by any means, unlike New Super Mario Bros. Wii.

Each level has a bunch of items that can be collected. There are the K.O.N.G letters which unlock bonus levels if they are gathered in every level of a region, which are absent of K.O.N.G. collectables but can get very frustrating; they’re the game’s biggest challenges. There are also a variable amount of puzzle pieces scattered in each level, which will unlock features in the Bonus section when you find them all in a level. These include dioramas, music and artwork galleries. Each level also opens a Time Attack mode once you beat it. Depending on your time, you are awarded a gold, silver, bronze, or no medal, which unlock bonuses in the gallery.

Screenshot for Donkey Kong Country Returns on Wii

The most prominent aspect of Donkey Kong Country Returns is its difficulty. The levels can get really challenging, and this gets more and more apparent as the player progresses through the game - so much so that it even gets frustrating at times. Retro Studios clearly listened to Cranky Kong, who used to complain all the time in the original Donkey Kong Country about how games were a lot harder when he was younger. Speaking of whom, Cranky plays the role of a shopkeeper this time around. The banana coins collected in the levels will let the player buy items such as extra lives and temporary invincibility potions which can be brought into the levels. Extra heart containers will add an additional heart to the life gauge and will last for as long as Donkey Kong remains in the same level, or until he beats it. Cranky also sells Squawks the parrot, who serves as an alarm that warns the player by squawking when a puzzle piece (or a bonus room holding one) is nearby, and a key to each world that opens up an alternate route to the boss, along with a few levels that are otherwise inaccessible.

A funny thing to note is that the progression through the game is actually more reminiscent of Yoshi's Island than any other Donkey Kong game. The bonus level that unlocks in each world once you have collected the necessary items in that world’s regular levels, the items that can be gathered and used to ease the task, and the world map music variations with different instruments for each region all recall that other Super NES classic.

For the easily frustrated players, the Super Guide from Super Mario Galaxy 2 is back too. After losing eight times in a level, the pigs marking the check points will start waving a flag to indicate that the Super Guide is now available for use. By pressing the + button when stood by a check point, the Super Guide summons Super Kong, a blue and white variation of DK, to help the player by playing in their stead. You can interrupt the auto-play at any moment and start controlling Super Kong, or let him play the whole level from start to finish for you. However, any item Super Kong collects can't be retained, and he will purposefully avoid letters and puzzle pieces when you let him play, so obviously that trick cannot be used to complete everything in the game. If a level is cleared with any help of the Super Guide, it will unlock the path to the next level but the dot marking its location on the world map will remain red instead of turning blue, and the Time Attack mode for that level will remain locked.

Screenshot for Donkey Kong Country Returns on Wii

Donkey Kong Country Returns is gorgeous - it doesn't make heavy use of fancy software shaders like the Super Mario Galaxy games, but it really doesn't need to. Lush colours are everywhere, and the environments can be seen moving and reacting to Donkey Kong's blowing and shaking, making the whole scenery more vivid. There might be a bit too much of the same type of levels coming in waves though, such as three mine cart levels grouped together, or three barrel blast themed levels in a row. There's always a small twist to keep things from looking exactly the same, but spreading them a bit more would have been a better design choice. The themes used aren't anything revolutionary. Jungle, forest, caves, ruins, factory... It's actually very similar to the original Donkey Kong Country, except the levels themselves don't feel as repetitive because of the switch to real-time 3D graphics instead of tile-based 2D. The music is also close to the original Donkey Kong Country, consisting of remastered versions of past tracks and completely new compositions which blend nicely with the rest of the soundtrack - it sounds awesome and completely like a Donkey Kong Country title from beginning to end. Some of the tribal music even reminds of some tracks from Retro’s earlier title Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. The characters don't have a massive amount of voice work, but those present do the job of conveying their expressions just fine.

The main source of inspiration for Donkey Kong Country Returns seems to be the first Donkey Kong Country. The world exploration feels very linear, contrary to the freedom afforded to players in Donkey Kong Country 3. There isn't much distraction to be found away from the main platform aspect of the game either: no mini-games, no trading quests, no hidden items to collect on the map...mostly just plain platforming, like the first episode, with a bit of item collecting added on top. Rambi the Rhino is the only animal to return from Donkey Kong’s illustrious riding past; further comebacks or additions could have mixed things up well. Unlike Donkey Kong Country, where most bonus level were unique, Donkey Kong Country Returns rehashes the same ten or so bonus levels during the entire game, with the only difference that the platforms seem to be moving faster every time. More variation would have been a plus.

Screenshot for Donkey Kong Country Returns on Wii

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

Donkey Kong Country Returns’ issues would probably not even be noticed were it the first game in the series. While it may leave some of the most hardcore fans of the series slightly disappointed that there is no expansion on Donkey Kong Country 3’s formula, instead heading back to the simpler times of the original, it remains one of the best 2D platform games on Wii. It looks and sounds wonderful, it feels great when you play it, it's tons of fun and full of surprises. Retro Studios’ first attempt at a 2D platformer - and one of the genre’s most beloved series - is remarkable. Perhaps they can put their new experience to use to deliver a sequel which focuses on addressing the issues found here: more variety, more animal buddies, and Classic Controller compatibility.






2D Platformer



C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10 (19 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


I'm not one to nitpick at scores, but a 10 for sound? and a 9 overall?

The music is miles behind in quality, compared to the originals from Rareware. It's completely dull and forgettable.

Then there's the issues with the pointless motion controls, which should have been assigned to buttons and would have been far more responsive (which is needed in a game like this). They are in no way "solid", I'd call them weak.

Sorry if I sound harsh, but the game could have been so much more, in my opinion.

On a side-note, greatly written review.

( Edited 16.03.2011 17:45 by Marzy )

I love this game! It's just a great 2D platformer, like the good ol' days! I have been dying a lot (in co-op mode), but I prefer that to an easy walk through.

Good review, although I would agree that a 10 for sound is a bit too generous. I haven't had any problems with the Wii-mote controls though (that's not to say I wouldn't prefer the option to use the Cube controller though!).

( Edited 16.03.2011 18:58 by Cheesing it up )

The controls had their iffy moments for me. It's obviously a lot easier to precisely time your long jumps at the exact point you want by using a button. The shake to roll felt completely needless. I didn't expect it at all when I started playing. It was fine for the most part, but when it came to dangerous jumps that required precise timing, it didn't always work out.

Lack of an option for classic control was crazy.

I was a bit letdown by the music in some parts. A bit too plain. The same went for the levels. Not as much variety. Lots of jungle. No snow or water levels really let it down.

I understand it was more of a new take on the series, kinda like New Super Mario Bros, but the DKC games are probably my fave of all time, and I thought this would finally be my DKC4.

DKCR wasn't quite that, but it was still a hell of a fun game. It certainly provided a good challenge, but the bosses and enemies were lame.

I have to agree with Marzy on the music, DKR lacks the catchy tracks that you hum along to.

3DS Code 2578-3122-0744

Here are some of my thoughts on the game:

Personally, I didn't have any problem with the controls. It took a while to get used to them in the beginning, especially the roll, but after I got everything down the controls were second nature and I had no problem with them at all. I did occasional accidental rolls when I got mad and started going nuts with my Wiimote while playing though. Smilie

Graphics, I agree. They're very vibrant and extremely detailed. There's just so much stuff going on in the background or foreground that doesn't even do anything for the level itself but it's still there. That's some attention to detail right there! Smilie

The music, while great, just misses those catchy tunes that you remember well after playing. There were some standout soundtracks though, like the one for the flying barrel levels or the one for that music level. I'd give it a solid 9 overall.

The gameplay itself is THE highlight of the game for me. It's classic sidescrolling platforming with a difficulty level that will really test your skills and often times kick your ass. I've completed everything except for the time trials and the mirror mode because I don't have that much time and more importantly, I'm not insane enough. Those two things are almost masochist level if you ask me. Smilie

Speaking about the extra stuff, here's where I have to disagree with the review. The amount of replay value in this game is INSANE, it easily rivals or even surpasses Super Mario Galaxy 2 in terms of extra challenges to complete. You have over 50 levels + bonus levels, KONG letters and puzzles pieces to collect, time trials and once you've gotten all the collectibles even a hardcore mirror mode. So yeah, that's really a ton of stuff to do. I doubt that I would have completed that all by now if I kept playing since mid January. Smilie Should easily deserve a 9 in Value, if not a 10.

Bottom line: Excellent revival of the DKC series that once again shows how awesome Retro is. Makes me wonder what they're up to right now...

Our member of the week

Marzy said:
I'm not one to nitpick at scores, but a 10 for sound? and a 9 overall?

The music is miles behind in quality, compared to the originals from Rareware. It's completely dull and forgettable.

Then there's the issues with the pointless motion controls, which should have been assigned to buttons and would have been far more responsive (which is needed in a game like this). They are in no way "solid", I'd call them weak.

Sorry if I sound harsh, but the game could have been so much more, in my opinion.

On a side-note, greatly written review.

Well I didn't have as many issues as you did with the motion controls then. Like I said, some of them deal forced and would have been better assigned to buttons, but it's not as if they didn't work the way they are done. They work well like this but they just feel a bit less comfortable to certain people. I never had a single moment were I couldn't pull off a certain move because of the motion controls, so to me, blaming motion controls isn't fair and preferring buttons over motion is just a question of taste, and irrelevant with the quality of the title. But the option should have been made available to suit the greater number of players, that much is unquestionable.

The music is also a question of taste. And considering it's comprised of 50% of remixes from the original... I disagree, the new tracks aren't that bad. And the original also had some immemorial tracks IMHO. I just remember those fondly because I played the original to death over the last 15 years. And I'm pretty sure that if people kept playing DKCR for the next 15 years like they did with DKC, they'll remember the music fondly because it'll be tied to an experience that's memorable on the whole.

I hesitated for a moment between a 8 and a 9 for the overall experience, I admit, because of my expectations from a DKC. But I chose to judge it for what it is, and not "as a DKC". And if you let the game stand on its own, and compared to what we've had in terms of 2D platformers in recent years, it's a darn good one ! I'm a nostalgic guy, but sometimes, in order to appreciate the new games for what they're worth, I like to put most of the memories aside, to avoid them hazing my judgement. Nostalgia isn't always the best thing to have to be able to judge the new things IMHO. But yeah, maybe I rushed my 10 for the sound, but a 9 would have been deserved. That's my opinion.

Cubed3 Limited Staff :: Review and Feature Writer

Then our opinions are just very far apart on this game.

I'd like someone to recommend me some good tracks from the game, because I honestly can't remember any of the music. Even with the remixes, I'd rather listen to David Wise's and Eveline Fischer's superior versions.

The controls is a problem and it is very fair to blame them. Why they didn't add Gamecube and Classic Controller support is beyond me. If it's a question of taste, does that mean Nintendo only made this game to appeal to people who only like motion controls? The accessibility should have been there, especially since most of the people playing it were fans of the originals.

( Edited 17.03.2011 07:58 by Marzy )

Our member of the week

Marzy said:
The controls is a problem and it is very fair to blame them. Why they didn't add Gamecube and Classic Controller support is beyond me. If it's a question of taste, does that mean Nintendo only made this game to appeal to people who only like motion controls?

They're a problem for you, but they weren't for me, that's all. But I still agree 100% with the fact that they should have included the option of classic controls. I can see the idea coming from Nintendo themselves though, just like they forced Team Ninja to use only the Wiimote on its side for Metroid : Other M, while they wanted to use the Nunchuk add-on, which would have made for much better controls in that one.

Marzy said:
The accessibility should have been there, especially since most of the people playing it were fans of the originals.

I totally agree with that. Bad decision on their part.

( Edited 17.03.2011 08:14 by Kafei2006 )

Cubed3 Limited Staff :: Review and Feature Writer

Very, very good game indeed! I've been playing this here and there with my little sister when she drops by my place and we've had a blast.

Good review and decent game, though not my favourite Donkey Kong game to date (defo prefer DKC2/3 and Donkey Kong Land II). I agree with sound not being the best of the bunch, and level design not being as varied as it could have been.

That said, it's definitely a Country Donkey Kong, that's for sure. Not suite DKC4, more like DKC Extra. Different, but the same in many ways. I just wish it were, as some say, more accessible - it's tough from the outset and the curve is far too steep imo.

Definitely a better job than Sonic the Hedgehog 4 *shudder*

Cubed3 Admin/Founder & Designer

I don't get why people had problems with the motion controls. I died from rolling off a platform maybe 3 or 4 times. I don't know, maybe it's the way people are holding the remotes. Usually, I hold the nunchuk with my left hand, tilted about 45 degrees to the right, and the wiimote with my right handed, tilted about 45 degrees to the right. I didn't mean to hold them this way, it just felt natural. Also, whenever there's a point where I have to ground pound, or blow the ground, then I take the controllers and slightly make them perpendicular to the tv. It's effective and efficient. My one problem with control in this game, though, was the rhino(rambi I think). It wouldn't dash when I wanted to and his stages were the most frustrating.

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