"Take your stinking Super Guide and stick it where the sun don't shine, you checkpoint bastard!"
These are words of joy. I'm serious.
I have just failed in another attempt to conquer Bombs Away - level 4.3 in Donkey Kong Country Returns - and was asked whether I wanted Nintendo's selfplaying help system to aid me. I refuse any kind of assistance and jump back into the mine kart once again. I enjoy a good challenge.
This time around things go better. I hunch down to avoid razor sharp icicles, jump across gaps and stomp moles. When I reach the goal and let out a triumphant howl that wakes up the girlfriend. My neighbour's girlfriend that is.
Already at the first few steps in Donkey Kong Country Returns the retro butterflies fills my stomach and before the end of the first level I'm hooked. Kong is king, and he brings brilliant platform levels, lush jungles and the best theme ever.
I rarely had a dull moment in the well designed levels of Donkey Kong Country. When Retro Studios takes on the series they bring out the same joy of exploration. In what other game do you get to kick the crap out of crabs one second in the bonus room of a pirate ship and the next crush giant boulders from the back of a rhinoceros? Donkey Kong Country Returns is often very challenging, like when I'm piloting rocket-powered barrels. Challenging in a good way.
I'm enjoying the co-operative mode the most. We're both laughing as we realise that we can jump in and out of the background and use platforms that were previously just background graphics for gameplay. Many of the levels require both monkeys to advance further, like when we stand on two tree stumps and Donkey hits the on Diddy is standing on and send him flying. When you play Solo, Diddy is still helping out; your jumps become longer, thanks to his invaluable jetpack.
Just like in the old 16-bit adventure there's a ton of secrets to sniff out. Dedicated collectors can get many extra hours from the game, hunting down bananas, coins, puzzle pieces and letters that spell out K-O-N.G. To find, and reach, everything is hard but luckily there's a parror with a nose (beak?) for finding puzzle pieces. A visit to the charmingly grumpy Cranky Kong's store can also help you, since he sells balloons (extra lives) and keys that will open up new parts of the worlds for you.
You might have already seen screenshots and trailers from the game, in which case you know that Donkey Kong Country Returns looks great. Good graphics, lots of colour and well animated. The world map is just as filled with life, if not even more so, than the one in New Super Mario Brothers; waterfalls, chewing meat eating plants and bobbing monkey head-statues. The levels themselves feel just as alive, and there tends to be a lot happening at the same time on the screen. Donkey Kong is thrown out of canons into rows of bananas, with heavy jungles in the background and weird chicken-like enemies walking by. It's almost easy to forget that you're not playing on a HD-console.
The camera in Donkey Kong Country Returns zooms in and out depending on the situation, and luckily it is done in a smooth and logical way. With countless enemies, bonuses and obstacles moving around at the same time, this good overview is a must.
Especially during the intensive confrontations with the game's bosses. I'm not going to spoil too much in advance, but I can at least mention a memorable fight against three colourful crabs who attack me with their claws in some form of weird dance. You'll need to time your jumps, and use your brain, to defeat the dancing trio and the fight is both comical and challenging. Which goes for the rest of the game's bosses, by the way.
There's only one banana that Retro Studios slip on - the controls. It's not 100%, and it's - surprise, surprise - the need to wave the Wiimote around that's the problem. You either play holding it horizontally or together with the nunchuck. There's no support for a classic controller or a Gamecube-controller. Sure, the basic response is there and that's really good. But it's the special moves, like ground pouncing or rolls, that demand that you wave the Wiimote; the game can easily misinterpret what you are trying to do, and the waving does get old pretty fast. This part of the game could have used more work, or a different approach. Waving can work if you apply just the right amount. Just look at the way Super Mario Galaxy, and its sequel, did it.
Either way, it's great to see old Kong back in action and Retro Studios have done a great job bringing the classic primate back to life. The 8/10 is a strong one, and once again we have proof that 2D-platformers aren't just dusty retro games - in this case it's modern.