It’s time to finally go to one of Nintendo’s most classic franchises. DK even started before Mario which is pretty impressive. I got to play most of the old games so it’s cool to see the Country series return. I never really played the music games for the GC, but they are barely even referenced here so I’m confident that they won’t be missed. I ended up getting Tropical Freeze shortly after this one so it’ll be cool to see how it stacks up. I can safely say that Country Returns is a fun game and it’s easy to see that it’s another AAA title from Nintendo.
The plot is that a mysterious being made of wood has shown up to take over the world. It mind controls all of the nearby animals and forces them to start stealing all of the bananas in the area. That’s diabolical if you ask me! They try to control DK, but it apparently doesn’t work on him. This may be a subtle shot at DK’s intelligence since he really looks…not too smart the whole time. Ah well, whatever works right? DK must stop these guys since they are insulting the bananas with their cruel schemes!
There are 8 main worlds. There is also a 9th, but to get to that one you’ll need a lot of collectibles. That’s good for the replay value though. There are puzzle pieces and 4 Letters to grab in every level. Obtaining them all will require you to master all of the levels and show the world that you are a DK pro. Even without this, the main game should take you a reasonable amount of hours. If you beat every world in an hour, then that’s around 8 which is pretty good. Even if it’s a little less than that, it’s much better than Star Fox Zero’s <4 hour play time or Into The Nexus 3 hours.
The game is reasonably difficult as well. I don't think I would say that it is quite as tough as Super Mario World, but it's been ages since I played that game so it's possible that it would be a lot easier nowadays. The gameplay is divided into a few different segments. You have the traditional platforming levels where you jump and dodge obstacles to get to the end. Where DK differs from Mario and the others is that you can roll into opponents to deal damage and you can shatter objects by slapping the floor. You'll grab onto vines to swing around and there are just many more elements than a traditional Mario game. It's made to be more complex and you have to consider a lot of variables.
A great deal of the level is interactive as well with most bushes and other suspicious objects containing bananas and golden coins for you to grab. Some of them are just trolls, but you should check them all out. Gold coins in particular are very valuable in the game. Other parts of the level will see you head into a mining cart. One hit will destroy you so you have to jump with great precision. There's also a blue cart which only appears twice in the whole game. It's slightly different as when you jump, you actually leave the cart. Thus, you have to jump and keep moving to fall into the cart again since it will speed ahead of you afterwards. It's a little easier in co-op since you effectively have two chances to survive this way. There is even a whole boss battle modeled after this style. Surprisingly I don't think there were any under water levels. No worries, Tropical Freeze fixed that.
The soundtrack isn't very lively or memorable for the most part, but I really like the villain jingle. Whenever their theme plays, you know that things are about to get real. It's a little cheesy/corny, but it's catchy and that's what counts. It is even used as the final boss theme which is pretty surreal. I can certainly say that I wasn't really expecting it when it occurred. The graphics are pretty solid. They're not amazing, but the character designs look sharp. It's fun to see a modern DK and there is something novel about seeing any Nintendo character on the big screen. Mario, Link, Kirby, DK, the games never look outright spectacular in the cutscenes despite the gameplay being super crisp, but just seeing them is really cool. Maybe it's because their series don't tend to have a lot of cutscenes, but it is more satisfying than seeing another franchise appear fully animated.
When it comes to 2D side scrollers, Mario's still got the edge over everyone. He's just impossible to beat. I'd probably give Sonic 2nd place although I mainly like it for the boss battles. The actual platforming can be a little tricky at times. Kirby would probably be third because I love cheesing levels. If we just talk about pure gameplay, Kirby even beats Sonic. Then I'd put in DK. It feels like Mario, but the extra complexities do slow it down a bit. If you count one shot games that had side scrolling like Klonoa then the list can get quite long so lets stick to Nintendo for now. I'll merge Yoshi with Mario since they're so similar. DK may be the lowest on this chart, but that just goes to show how tough the competition is. Plus, Nintendo owns 90% of those series which is equally impressive.
Really one of the best things about the game is how much content it has and how fun the levels are. It's a very high quality title that you can play for hours without getting tired. The plot may not be amazing, but the gameplay is sharp and that's really what you're looking for in a title like this. I didn't get to play the Gold Pyramid world since you need to do a lot of bonus stuff for that, but perhaps someday. It's really good to have DK finally return to the home console and maybe we'll get a game for the Switch at some point.
I don't really have any negatives with the game either. The levels all have a check point or sometimes multiple ones. If you die, you can always respawn close by. You can buy extra lives with the medals that you collect and the medals keep replenishing so getting them isn't an issue. The levels are challenging, but not unfair the way that Mario and the Lost Levels was or Mighty No 9. The levels are made to be difficult, but balanced. You'll get the hang of them with practice since the levels themselves never actually change. It's just really good game design.
Overall, Donkey Kong Country Returns is definitely a fun game. I can see why DK fans were so thrilled when it finally came back. The title does a good job of bringing back all of the classic DK elements that fans were expecting. It may have had less barrel launching than I was expecting, but I don't mind since the actual platforming is really the fun part for the game. You can get the game for a pretty good price nowadays so I'd highly recommend it. There is a lot to do here after all and the level variety is excellent. You also won't be forgetting the main jingle of the game anytime soon either. It's simply too awesome and catchy. Now, it's time to check out Tropical Freeze! So far, I'd actually say that it's easier than Returns, but I've only conquered 2 worlds so far. There's still plenty of adventure left!