Genre: Platformer
Year: 2010
Developed by: Retro Studios
Published by: Nintendo
Platforms: Wii, 3DS
Feeling Like: Banana split

You’ll eventually find out how much I love the Donkey Kong Country games on the SNES. When I heard the series was making a comeback, helmed by Retro Studios, I lost my mind. I didn’t care what it looked like or that it was slightly different from the original classics, I was getting another side-scrolling, 2-dimensional platformer starring my favorite simian. Slamming enemies, collecting bananas and riding mine carts? Sign me up.

What I also got was an abundance of creativity, some control changes I wasn’t wild about and possibly the most difficult Donkey Kong Country game to date. If your reflexes aren’t honed and you’re not ready to suffer some merciless challenges, stay away. Especially when it comes to the Time Trials.

No chance I was staying away. (Except from the Time Trials, I’m not a masochist).

I’ll get the bad out of the way first – it deserved better hardware. The Wii was a revolutionary, but underpowered system. As a result, games like Donkey Kong Country Returns haven’t aged well, visually. It’s not in high definition, character models aren’t super detailed and it just doesn’t look as sharp as it should. Still, it’s incredibly beautiful at times and never once did I think I was playing an ugly game. If anything, it just reinforces my desire to see another Donkey Kong Country made with current hardware in mind. I have to give Retro props – the silhouette stages look amazing.

I also didn’t love my time when JP and I played co-operatively. I know previous games were co-op, but I just prefer to play this type of game solo. Trying to get a handle on levels while constantly passing the baton was mildly frustrating, though finally beating a tough level together did erase some of the irrtation.

The controls also left a bit to be desired. Shaking the Wiimote to roll never felt right. Much like in my Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze entry, I lamented the controller I was forced to use. I really just want to be able to use the SNES controller (or the Switch pro controller) to guide Donkey and Diddy through their trials. My own fault, as you can get both games on the Switch now. I guarantee if I ever purchase these two games again and replay them as desired, they’d each jump 50 spots on the 500.

The complaints continue! Not enough animal buddies. They were a huge part of my enjoyment of the previous Donkey Kong Countries and you really only get Rambi here and he doesn’t feel as powerful as he originally did.

I also felt the bonus rooms were a bit lazy and they all looked the same. Considering how much of a part secret challenges and mini-games are to the DKC DNA, this felt like a cop out.

For a game I have this high, I sure am complaining a lot. I assure you, these are just nitpicks. The core experience is stellar. The level design is nearly peerless. The minecart and rocket levels were fanatically difficult, but short enough that they weren’t torturous. I wanted to replay a level every single time we missed a single collectible and that’s because Donkey Kong Country Returns is so fundamentally fun to play.

I haven’t even mentioned the soundtrack yet. Shame on me.

If there’s one variable that every Donkey Kong Country shares, it’s that the music is phenomenal. Unforgettable. My favorites were, naturally, remixes of previous melodies but that doesn’t matter to me. A great song is a great song. “Fear Factory” may be my favorite, although it does take a minute to really get rolling. The end credits theme makes a triumphant return! The Tiki Tong Battle theme is really weird, but I always dug it. Finally, “Life in the Mines” gets a terrific modern update. That section starting at 0:27 is magical.

The amount of content is bewildering and I wimped out before completely conquering everything. Like any good game, the more I write and reminisce, the more I want to go back to the jungle, eat some bananas and slide my way to capturing that elusive banana.

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