Donkey Kong. Marioâ€™s arch nemesis, and, most likely, the first of Nintendoâ€™s flagship characters to burst from the imagination of Shigeru Miyamoto. The fun-loving, red-tie wearing (if you know where to get one, let me know) bundle of fun has been quite busy of late - his puzzle outings with Mario in Mario vs. Donkey Kong are also causing a lot of well-deserved buzz on Nintendoâ€™s flip-screen handheld. With that resurgence of public awareness, itâ€™s the perfect time for the return of the primate to the side-scrolling platformer genre.
Retro Studios, the people behind the legendarily brilliant re-imagining of the Metroid franchise (with their Metroid Prime series) have been handed the reins to the furry barrel-tosser. Rather than go down the Metroid route and re-invent the franchise, Retro have elected to instead update the phenomenally successful (and extremely good) Donkey Kong Country side-scrollers.
In a nutshell (or a barrel, perhaps), the gist of it is pretty straight forward - itâ€™s a side-scrolling platformer. Take control of Donkey or Diddy (switching between them at will or playing both simultaneously in co-operative multiplayer) and defeat the beguilingly treacherous levels. Platforms move around and bad guys are everywhere you might look; you might think this gives the enemies the advantage, and it does... massively. However, youâ€™re not completely without your own abilities with which you can offset some of the challenge.
DK and Diddy both have their own unique suite of moves, as well as a set of identical moves you can use regardless of your selected character. Diddy, for example, can hover for a short time with his jetpack while DK can do a rolling barrel attack. You can even combine the two, with Diddy riding Donkey, allowing the person playing Donkey to hover like Diddy. Itâ€™s useful stuff, but of course youâ€™ll need to have a second player handy.
You can control either character with either the Wii Remote or a remote / nunchuk combo - thereâ€™s no support for classic or gamecube controllers, unfortunately. The bulk of the controls are traditional, although the motion-sensing capabilities of Nintendoâ€™s controllers are leveraged fairly often to power a few moves in the game. The motion sensing is solid and itâ€™s far from repetitive, however the specific move youâ€™re trying to pull off (typically, pounding the ground to flip a crab or some other timing-critical move) will sometimes leave you wishing for a more precise control - like a button. Thereâ€™s no ability to reconfigure the controls either.
Levels are populated with a number of powerups, from the basic banana (collect to earn an extra life), coins (to purchase stuff between levels), puzzle pieces and letters of the word â€śKongâ€ť for the truly adventurous completionist. Between levels, you can use the aforementioned coins to purchase extra lives (in the form of balloons), an extra unit of health (meaning you can take three hits instead of two), temporary invulnerability or a little parrot that helps you find puzzle pieces. These extras are a cool, if limited addition; they last just one level and must be â€śequippedâ€ť via a cumbersome interface (itâ€™s less awkward in singleplayer).
There are a lot of levels - after several hours gameplay, we were just a few percent through the game. This longevity is helped in no small amount by the ludicrous challenge that the gameplay represents. The difficulty is very clearly set at the level we might have expected some time ago - rather than the soccer-mom friendly level that you might anticipate when playing Nintendoâ€™s mass-market Wii console. If youâ€™re looking for a challenging, relatively old-school platform experience, this is exactly what you want.
Visually, itâ€™s exactly what youâ€™d expect - the Donkey Kong Country vistas lovingly brought to life in three dimensions. Everything is so perfectly extruded itâ€™s almost disappointing because itâ€™s exactly as youâ€™d imagine it would be - which is no mean feat. DK, Diddy and all of the characters you remember from the earlier games look great, move well and have all the polish and attention paid to them youâ€™d expect from the masters at Retro. Levels leverage the third dimension from time to time, blasting your character(s) forward or back as appropriate to keep things interesting and justify the use of polygons in the first place.
Levels are fun to play, with a good variety of play mechanics and ever escalating challenge that keeps you pushing for a ridiculously large improvement in your skillbase, only to find an even harder chunk of gameplay around the corner. If youâ€™re stocked up on perseverance and love top-shelf platforming games, look no further. If, on the other hand, youâ€™re looking for an experience thatâ€™s tuned for modern tastes - this might be a bit frustrating. Itâ€™s also somewhat disappointing to have a lack of traditional controller options in what, at the end of the day, is largely similar in play style to the original games which worked just fine on a d-pad.