Donkey Kong Country Returns more than just a nostalgic platformer

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      Donkey Kong Country Returns (Nintendo; Wii; rated everyone)

      Donkey Kong Country Returns is a terrific retro platform game, suitable not only as a holiday gift for the kids, but also as an indulgence for old gamers like myself, who grew up on Mario and DK, and fondly remember a time when platformers were kind of tough—and thus rewarding to master.

      Too many retro-inspired games these days, particularly ones based on classic characters, have seemingly been dumbed down to eliminate any risk of frustrating even a single person, or else tailored to tickle gamers’ sense of nostalgia, rather than pose a challenge.

      Donkey Kong Country Returns is potentially a family favourite, too, with a fun co-op mode (player one controls Donkey Kong, and a second may join in as Diddy) not to mention very kid-friendly visuals.

      The question is, how does Mario feel right about now, given that the throne for “best old-style side-scroller” on the Wii now belongs to someone else? A big monkey, no less?

      Yes, Donkey Kong Country Returns is that good. It may not be able to hold a candle to Super Mario Galaxy 2, a 3-D masterpiece which now sets the standard for modern platformers, but in the “retro platformer” sub-genre DKCR is a better, and more challenging game than last year’s New Super Mario Bros.

      Admittedly, I was a little underwhelmed when I first popped in the disc. Things were cute, sure. There was old DK, doing his thing—but the nostalgic pangs came, then began fading quickly.

      But then, DKCR kept getting better and better. Its platform design is superb. Its difficulty ramps up with a curve that feels just right, peaking right when you’re fully warmed up and ready for the tough stuff. Bosses are creative and colorful as well as tricky.

      Controls employ some Wiimote motion (to make Donkey Kong pound things, you shake the controller rather than press a button) and the game allows you to play it new-school, with a Wiimote and Nunchuk, but as it’s a “pure” platformer, I found it best enjoyed with the Wii controller turned sideways, like an old-school control pad.

      Feeling very faithful to the original Donkey Kong Country from 1994, DKCR will make veteran gamers pine for the days when Rare Ltd. was king of the Super NES and N64, developing a string of successful and critically acclaimed titles for Nintendo’s consoles. Retro Studios (of Metroid Prime fame) is now at the reigns, and they’ve done a bang-up job staying true to the spirit of the game Rare built, and have possibly even built a better one.

      Chris Vandergaag is a Vancouver-based freelancer. When he's not gaming, writing, or forwarding links of questionable moral repute, he's asleep.