Note: this review does not meet my current quality standards and will be superseded in the future. A link to the new review will be provided whenever it arrives.
Donkey Kong Country is one of the most famous names from the 16-bit era, and the trilogy is often cited as the key for the Super Nintendo's victory over the Sega Genesis. The first Donkey Kong Country, released in November 1994, immediately piqued the public's interest with its pre-rendered CGI graphics, which were ground breaking at the time. The title tied with Super Mario Kart as the highest selling stand-alone Super Nintendo game, and the game's two sequels enjoyed similar records. The series was highly acclaimed for its addictive varying gameplay, beautiful atmosphere, David Wise's spectacular music score, and brutal difficulty. Donkey Kong, who until then had only been featured in arcade classics, was now a force to be reckoned with in the game industry along with the rest of the Kong family.
Unfortunately, his success did not last. Rareware, the British developer behind the trilogy, gradually grew in irrelevance after the release of the Nintendo 64's Donkey Kong 64, a title that received a mixed reception within the game community and ultimately did not live up to the Super Nintendo classics. Despite critical successes with Banjo Tooie and Conker's Bad Fur Day, the sales did not match the score numbers. Nintendo realized Rare had become dead weight and sold the company in 2002 to fellow game competitor Microsoft.
While it might have been a wise move financially, it became obvious that Nintendo had no idea what to do with the Kong family now that Rare was out of the picture. As such, Donkey Kong was reduced to starring in spinoff titles such as the Donkey Konga rhythm games and various handheld adventures. An attempt to revive the franchise was made with Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat, which featured the familiar treading of two-dimensional platforming and a beautiful jungle atmosphere. Despite being a great game in it's own right, stubborn Country fans did not accept its new moniker and it did not catch on with gamers thanks to the limiting Bongo control scheme.
Were DK, Diddy Kong, and the rest of their posse doomed to reserve slots in Mario sporting spin-offs for the remainder of mortal time?
NOT ANYMORE, BABY!!!!!
Donkey Kong Country Returns was the bombshell representative for the Wii that year and had fans flying out of their seats, some with tears in their eyes. It turned out that Retro Studios, the designers responsible for the highly acclaimed Metroid Prime trilogy, had been tasked with developing a new entry to the Country series two years earlier, and it was to be finally released that fall.
However, as the dust cleared, many began to question the new management. Having grown bitter over the years with Nintendo seemingly forgetting their favorite franchise, most of the fanbase questioned Retro's decisions with their version of Donkey Kong Country and bitched at every piece of news. Why were underwater levels omitted? Why couldn't they hire David Wise to score the game again? They didn't bring back the Kremlings?!? Worst of all, Diddy Kong was playable only in co-op?!?
Gee, seems like every review I write always has some sort of negative opening. This time however, it's not on my part. I guess everyone but me and my friends were induced into a mass outbreak of amnesia and forgot how amazing the Metroid Prime games were. Aside from the 3DS' selection of titles, Donkey Kong Country Returns was the only game I had absolutely no doubts with, and was 100% guaranteed to be an AAA title. I mean, hey, RETRO STUDIOS was the one behind the title. How could it go wrong?
And having spent two months with the game, I turned out to be right.
Donkey Kong Country has, indeed, returned.
Before I pen the rest of the review, I just want to admit something about my relationship with Donkey Kong Country: I haven't actually played the series much.
Believe it or not, I never grew up with the series. I owned the first Donkey Kong Country, but it was much too hard for a seven year old experienced with three-dimensional titles and unfortunately it became lost several years later before I could give it a proper playthrough. I did own Donkey Kong 64 and it's endless parades of collectathons, but I think we can all agree it wouldn't serve as a proper barometer to test Returns' worthiness of living up to its own name. In any case, I am definitely no Donkey Kong Country guru, but having recently beaten the first Country and spending two months with Returns, I think I can repeat with confidence what I stated in my earlier impressions of the game.
This is a new Donkey Kong Country. Yes, the game still stars Donkey Kong and his pal Diddy. Yes, the game is still in the cherished two-dimensional perspective. Yes, most of your favorite tunes and gameplay mechanics are back. And yes, even the ball busting difficulty has returned. But everything else has been given a complete renovation. Indeed, Retro Studios has taken control of Rare's beloved trilogy, but they took with them only the essentials. Retro has added so much of their fantastic new elements to the game, whether it be the new Tiki enemies, time trials, unlockable artwork/dioramas/new game modes/, rocket barrels, and most importantly, out-of-this-world level design. Donkey Kong Country Returns is not only effective as a reboot of the series, but one that far surpasses the standards of the Super Nintendo classics and wisely applies itself to the standards found today.
Nostalgia be damned, I'm going to be blunt. Returns is better then the original trilogy.
But how so?
Read on to find out.
Donkey Kong Country was always a series rooted in sidescrolling gameplay, and Returns is no exception. It should be noted, however, that Country is a much more different beast then, say, Mario's older adventures. The older Mario games' level designs are beautiful in that despite being trapped in a two dimensional perspective, the mechanics and designs are so subtly diverse that you're able to play them in a bajillion ways, effectively making them timeless. Donkey Kong Country is much more curt in that there's not a lot of freedom, but the fun comes from blasting through the levels at high speeds and memorizing whatever quick-fire obstacles come your way while performing satisfying bouncing combos on your enemies.
Is this great fun? You bet. However, over the years some game publications have called out on this particular design as being outdated, and used it as an excuse to label the series overrated. I will admit I would agree with this...if Retro had borrowed the same system above and used it in Returns. Fact is, it may not have been outdated then, but it certainly is now, and I'd like to think this is the main reason Returns is in a completely different league then in the originals. Despite many key mechanics returning to the game, the level design found in Returns is far and above what Rare had accomplished so long ago and in fact may be the finest example ever created in 2D platforming.
Last year's Super Mario Galaxy 2 (and mostly its predecessor) was an anomaly in three-dimensional level design. The most abstract of ideas sprung out of every crevice, things that were never quite thought possible in video games, and every single one was handled with perfect execution. It was as if it had begun to bend the very fabric of game design to its whim. In case you don't know where I'm going with this, Donkey Kong Country Returns is the two-dimensional version of Galaxy 2. Or should I say, the more bombastic, heart-pounding version.
Just as in the original trilogy, you will find yourself blazing at high speeds across the over 70 levels. Back then, the only real dangers were mistimed jumps and conveniently placed baddies that interrupt your leaps. This time around, however, they are joined with much more obstacles that stand in your way. Pirate ships shower the beaches with bombs, boulders dash down mountain ramps and head towards your general vicinity, a giant octopus will stalk you wherever you go on a stormy night, and molten rock shift and rumble underneath your feet and collide with each other. You are constantly under pressure and have to consistently watch your footing, especially considering that Donkey Kong can only take two hits.
What makes this all work is just where the level takes you. You'll climb on grass, bounce on hippos, jump on swinging mechanical hands, and repeatedly turn on red/blue switches to activate their respective colored platforms. You never really quite know where the game will take you, and each level is a wonder. A particular stunner is the sunset/fog levels, in which DK and Diddy Kong are only visible by their silhouettes, which adds quite a bit of depth in not just aesthetics, but gameplay as well. You'll have a challenging time jumping and searching for secrets in these foggy levels.
In a nod to the original game's mine cart/barrel blasting levels, Returns throws in levels that are centered around a certain gimmick. The big deal here are the rocketbarrels, which upon contact blast off with DK along for the ride. As you collect bananas, you usually find yourself under attack by varying enemy types, such as crab pirates that fire anvils, deranged flying moles and falling crystals, and giant laser spewing bats. These are by far some of the most challenging levels in the game (THE LAVA ONE OH MY GOD) and don't feel like a cheap add-on.
However, it is really the Forest section that really proves just how far video games have come. In one level, you run for dear life from a horde of parasitic munchers while quickly navigating yourself through the maze-like passageway. In another, you blast from barrel to barrel through chomping totem poles and rush through huge, rotting trees. Then the game's shining moments involves DK holding onto grassy, giant decayed logs as they swing in humongous arcs, each one gradually growing in size. Every level in that section had me whooping for joy, and ties with the Caves section (more on that later) as the best part of the game.
And you know what the greatest thing about all this is? No two levels are a direct copy of each other. This was something that the original Donkey Kong Country was guilty of, and not a trace of it can be found here (with the possible exception of the bosses, but even they excel in design). Sure, some may borrow the same motif (The rocketbarrel/silhouette levels), but they all add in their own twists to keep from growing familiar. This is amazing considering that Returns follows a theme for each of its worlds, such as beaches, jungles, temples, and factories, and yet none of them are copied off of each other. That's to be applauded.
Anyone looking to develop a new 2D game in this day and age should look no further then Returns as their role model.
To see the sunset/swinging levels, please check out the videos below:
Of course, it wouldn't be Donkey Kong Country without some familiar elements. No matter how far you stray from a game's original design, certain staples must remain intact or else the feel is lost. What also makes Returns excel so efficiently is that it takes these staples and revitalizes them in a way that don't make them feel antiquated. Of course, this isn't just limited to gameplay.
Yes, before you ask, Donkey Kong's banana horde has once again been stolen. The culprit is not the series enemy King K. Rool and his platoon of Kremlings, but an army of evil Tikis who have hypnotized the island's animal populace into stealing the bananas for them. What for? We don't quite know until later, but nonetheless, Donkey Kong and the other apes are immune to their bewitching powers and set out to reclaim their treasure once again. The story isn't expanded upon with the exception of the pre-boss battle scenes, and makes itself as invisible as possible. A wise choice.
DK's number two, Diddy Kong (depicted on the right), joins the big guy on his latest adventure, though this time more as a peripheral tool. Once again, you'll find him trapped in a barrel and once freed, he'll cling to Donkey Kong's back and provide support, such as giving boosts from his own pair of Rocketbarrels or speeding up Donkey Kong's rolling prowess by comically sprinting on top of his big buddy (useful for avoiding cannon fire!). Diddy will also add some extra hits to the big guy, so you'll want to nab him in order to increase your vitality.
Improvements range from the small to the extreme. For example, those who've played the original might remember how in each level there were four letters scattered around that, once collected, spelled out KONG. Back then, doing so gave you an extra life. In Returns, they serve a difference purpose in rewarding you with a clear mark once you find them in a level. Not only that, but finding them all on each section of the island rewards you with one of the eight Temple stages, designed only for master players.
You'll of course revel in the return of the Barrel Cannons, in which the apes jump into a suspended barrel and engage in a series of blasting into a maze of barrels, which requires quick thinking and timed button presses. In Returns, these barrels provide some jaw-dropping sequences, whether it's rocketing through stone walls, blasting DK through the masts of pirate ships, dodging falling stone towers or launching him into the BACKGROUND, where even more platforming hijinks await you.
Animal buddies, also known as the guys that gave DK and Diddy a lift and pounded on every enemy in sight, aren't as frequent anymore. On the bright side this means we get to fully engage in all of the brilliant level design, but nostalgic fans might feel the opposite. Thankfully, Rambi the Rhinoceruous makes brief comebacks and like before will trample the hell out of anyone in his way. Just look at the way he plows through those spikes!
Just like before, each and every level holds a host of secrets, whether it's secret bonus rooms or extra bananas. This time, you'll make use of Donkey Kong's improved array of moves, all achieved through using the motion on the Wii Remote. Swinging the remote will unleash DK's Hand Slap, which will destroy rock formations and suspicious cracks in the ground. Your reward? Banana Coins, which is the currency used at Cranky Kong's shop, or Puzzle Pieces, which will unlock concept art from the game's development. Holding the 1 Button and shaking the remote while running will make Donkey Roll roll, which once again is an incredibly crucial action and will help you out of many jams.
However, this is all small potatoes compared to what is by far the biggest renovation of the game. Fans of the original will no doubt remember the thrilling mine cart rides of the original, which were filled with broken tracks and lots of jumping. Now it is the video game version of a diabolical roller coaster ride. The cart track will now randomly crumble around you, and giant crystals will fall from the ceiling and fall in front of the hapless DK. In the climax of one level, the end of one track will give away and roll off with Donkey Kong still inside of it! It is all absolutely INSANE and has to be seen to be believed. This alone makes me want a sequel!!
So are all of these perfect? Well, the use of motion control has by far been the biggest negative target of Returns, with many claiming it to be unresponsive or uncomfortable. Personally, I felt that performing rolling by shaking the Wii Remote felt incredibly satisfying and never once had a problem with it. Unfortunately, there were moments where the remote wouldn't catch on to the performing the Hand Slap, which can have major detriments on certain Time Trials (more on that later). Then there's the act of blowing, in which Donkey Kong will lean down and blow out a gust of air, which is used to uncover hidden items underneath flowers, grass, or even propellers. The problem isn't so much that it interrupts the flow of the game, but that it's only an optional feature and doesn't add much to the central game itself.
Thankfully, these are the only minor kinks in these revivals and do not leave a major impact. Almost everyone has been brought back without a scratch and a beautiful homage to the Country games of old. Kudos to Retro!
To see one of the minecart levels in action, please check out this video:
Once a staple in the two-dimensional era, hard games are few and far between these days. Perhaps its a matter of us growing up, but there are some games, such as Ghosts 'n Goblins and F-Zero, that are just as hard as they were back then. Games that can be difficult today mostly fall into two different categories: They either aim to be nigh impossible, or can never distinguish a proper balance between being easy or hard. Only a few games today can pull off difficulty without the game feeling like a chore, most notably Fire Emblem, Professor Layton, and the new Punch Out!.
They are now joined by one more title.
Donkey Kong Country Returns is the hardest Nintendo game I have played since 2003's F-Zero GX. I cannot, and I do mean I CANNOT, recall the last time I have wished strangulation upon the game's creators. It will make you leap out of your chair and stomp on the floor. This game will make you scream at the TOP OF YOUR LUNGS LIKE THIS. It makes you WANTS TO PUNCH THINGS. THIS GAME IS HARD OH MY GOD THIS GAME IS SO HARD
And what is to blame here? The devilish level design, of course! You will make a bad jump. You are going to run into an enemy unintentionally and die. You will scream in horror as, after making a series of awesome acrobatics, get nipped by a bird and die. YOU ARE GOING TO CRASH THAT ROCKETBARREL. YOU ARE GOING TO ZAPPED BY THOSE @#%& JELLY FISH SWEET JESUS I HATE THOSE JELLYFISH THEY POP OUT OF NOWHERE INTERRUPT YOUR JUMPS ANDNEJR RERGHE R)JEB UBYBUBUBUBU NYAYRGHGHARRANAYRRGGHHHHHH
do you see those little bastards DO YOU SEE THOSE FLOATING BASTARDS ABOUT TO ELECTROCUTE OUR HEROES. SWEET LORD I DO NOT WANT TO ENGAGE IN A RAMBLE HOW MUCH I HATE THESE HELLSPAWN. THIS IS THE ONLY GAME ON EARTH THAT HAS MADE ME WISH DEATH ON AN ENTIRE SPECIES. I HATE JEELYLFISHENEBE
I've had my suspension of disbelief nearly crumble with certain previous Nintendo titles, but this is the only one that came to annihilating it entirely. This is the only game I have ever played that made me pause it, walk up to the TV and grip it with my hands and stare deep into the screen and then yell, "WHY THE HELL DID YOU JUST DIE BECAUSE YOU RAN INTO A TOUCAN'S BEAK?!?!?!? IT'S A ****ING TOUCAN! YOU'RE A GIANT GORILLA! YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE THE RULER OF THE JUNGLE!!! YOU'RE DONKEY KONG!!!!!!! AEEEYIIIAAAGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!"
Okay, I didn't actually do that, but I almost did.
The difficulty of the game can range from many different obstacles, whether it's a mistimed jump triggered by the stress of the level or whether you crashed your mine cart. Death will arrive abruptly, and you must stay two steps ahead of the game itself (in other words, memorize the patterns) in order to conquer it. Of course, it is way harder then it sounds, particularly in the Rockebarrel levels because YOU ARE GOING TO CRASH AND YOU WILL REVEL IN YOUR OWN TEARS. SOME OF THEM TOOK ME OVER 50 EFEIJONGKE TRIES MAEMJKEHEGH
Luckily, the Checkpoint Pig makes your woes not as bad as they seem. The jiggling, rotund figure will serve as a checkpoint to your levels, and once activated, that will be the spot DK will respawn at when you lose a life. You remember the Checkpoint Barrels from the original? It's like the same thing.
If the game notices you have died over eight times in a single level, the pig will offer the choice of having Super Kong, a white version of DK that the game controls, beat the level for you. The cool thing about Super Kong is that not only is he useful for the more inexperienced tots, but you can jump in at any time once you feel you're confident enough to clear the level for yourself. However, using Super Kong comes at a cost: Not only will you not gain any of the collectibles in the level, but the the usual mark for completing the level will be replaced by a wooden one, indicating you had to use him to clear the stage. This is of course meant to give those forced to use the character give the level another shot by themselves, and the best thing about the whole deal is that Super Kong is completely optional to those who feel confident enough in their own skills. I, for example, beat every single level in the game without his help.
Unfortunately, there is another tool you can use that anyone can, and will, take advantage of. The game's currency is in the form of Banana Coins, which each level is loaded to the brim with. You can spend these coins at Cranky Kong's store, who will offer you Squawks the Parrot's services in finding puzzle pieces, keys to extra levels, and varying amounts of balloons, which represent extra lives in Donkey Kong Country. There's no stopping anyone who can feel like buying dozens of balloons, and considering the abundant resource of Banana Coins, you'll never run out of cash. This isn't such a big mark against the game, but it does remove the heart-pounding pressure of "WILL I MAKE IT TO THE NEXT SAVE POINT?!!!!????" found in the original games, and softens the impact of Returns' difficulty. Then again, the inclusion of auto-saving after beating each level does remove that pressure, anyway.
But no amount of balloons or Super Kongs will prepare you for the game's hardest ordeal: Time Trials. These sons of Satan time you on how fast you can reach the end of the level. AND THEY ARE NOT EASY. You must make use of every shortcut, no matter how small or how big, whether it's gaining momentum from jumping on an enemy or taking advantage of the Barrel Cannons. You must constantly roll. You HAVE to ROLL. YOU MUST KEEP ROLLING. YOU MUST NOT STOP. SPLIT SECOND DECISIONS CAN DESTROY YOUR CHANCE OF GETTING A GOLD MEDAL. YOU CAN'T MESS AROUND IF YOU DO YOU'RE SCREWED. YOU HAVE TO KEEP MOVING WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT.
SOME OF THESE ARE NIGH IMPOSSIBLE, PARTICULARLY THE BEACH ONES. I DON'T KNOW THE DEVILS WHO ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS, BUT I HAVE TO ASK THEM: WHY IS THAT WHENEVER I CLEAR THE FIRST TWO BEACH LEVELS THAT I'M FIFTEEN SECONDS BEHIND?!?!? I DON'T GET IT! I'M GOING AS FAST I CAN WHY CAN'T I DO THIS NYAARRGHHHHHH
You know something? This isn't even required to BEAT THE GAME. I just get some virtual gold medals to prove that I'm the best at some game. IT'S JUST NOT FAIR. Some form of sick masochistic trait born deep inside of me constantly pushes me past my limits JUST TO OVERCOME THE INANE TRIALS THIS GAME IS FORCING ME TO UNDERGO. WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME O SWEET LORD?!?
GOOD LORD THIS GAME IS HARD.
So despite the display of rage above, is it worth it? Well, the goddamn Jellyfish are one thing, but I'm glad to see Nintendo man up and show young kids today just how brutal games used to be. Despite my anger with the time trials, it's probably the first time in forever that something so challenging has kept me engaged for so long and strangely enough it's a bag of fresh air. In fact, the whole package is the same deal for Nintendo games in general and I'm wondering which of their other games today can take advantage of the difficulty. Zelda, perhaps?
To see how much a gaming hotshot you have to be in order to do the Time Trials, check out the video below!
The soundtrack for the original Donkey Kong Country trilogy, composed by David Wise and Eveline Fischer, has often been lauded as some of the best in video game history. I think the reason for this is not just how rich it sounded on its own, but the way it complimented the CGI setting. Much of it was atmospheric, either focusing on simple percussion (DK Island Swing), soothing waves (Aquatic Ambiance), and even traces of fear (Cave Dweller Concert). Each left an powerful impact, and even as a five year old I remember thinking just how beautiful Aquatic Ambiance was. With the exception of Star Fox, it was far and away beyond anything video game music at the time had ever accomplished. In a way, it felt more real than the graphics ever did.
With this in mind, it's no wonder that most were worried about the musical presentation Returns would give to the world. The songs are the most beloved out of the entire Super Nintendo era, perhaps only challenged by Chrono Trigger and Earthbound. The songs have been remixed and covered hundreds of times on OCRemix and Youtube. Aquatic Ambiance and Stickerbrush Symphony are known to be some of the most beautiful songs in all of gaming (though if you ask me, I don't see what's the big deal about the latter). David Wise himself even contributed to the Donkey Kong Country 2 remix album titled Serious Monkey Business. It's a big deal.
Who wouldn't be worried?
THE SOUNDTRACK TO THIS GAME KICKS ASS!!!!
Metroid Prime composer Kenji Yamamoto returns to yet another Retro project to work on, and has worked his magic to each and every piece. Mr. Yamamoto has accomplished a number of things here with these familiar tunes, and they simply have to be gushed about.
Returning tracks are all from the first Country, and most of your favorites return (let's have a moment of silence for Gangplank Galleon and Cave Dweller Concert...). What has to be said first is that Yamamoto has made numerous versions of most of these pieces and as such there's something for everyone. Didn't like how the jazzy DK Island Swing didn't put much emphasis on the melancholic second half? Don't worry, the next level's music focuses ENTIRELY on that. Not a fan of how he did Mine Cart Madness? Nothing to be afraid of. He's done at least five to six other remixes that blow it out of the water. If one version rubs you the wrong way, there will be another to lift your spirits.
There are several that only receive one remix, but these are the ones that are done so perfectly there's no reason to make more then one. I like what he's done with Aquatic Ambience in particular, which removes some of the mystique from the original but instead employs a form of calming elevator music. Despite not being underwater, it perfectly conveys the atmosphere of the level you're in. Also, this may just be a coincidence, but it plays in the ONLY level that you can relax. (OR NOT. THANK YOU JELLYFISH)
...you know what, I'm going to be blunt here: Some of these are actually better then the originals. It's the truth. For example, Forest Frenzy and Tree Top Rock are far more bouncy then they were originally were, are a joy to listen to (just listen to the beginning of Tree Top!), and will immediately nostalgia bomb any Country fan in attendance. By far the best improvement, however, is the above rendition of Life in the Mines. I'll be honest in saying wasn't that great in the original, which felt rather empty. It is completely the opposite here, and sucked me right in when I started the level. Just stop and listen to when it picks up at 1:11! Tell me that isn't better then the SNES original! I would totally jam to it at concerts.
There are also a plethora of original songs packed in with the revised tunes, and while they don't leave as much of an impact, they serve their purpose well. Luckily there are some standout tunes, such as the upbeat Rocketbarrel theme and the pumping vocals for the lava stages. If only more of them were on par with Wise's classics.
So which soundtrack is better? I still think there's an atmospheric element to the original that Returns didn't quite touch, but there's no denying the quality put into the game we have here. That, and it's clear some songs were far better then they were on the Super Nintendo. It probably concludes at a respectable tie, but if they up the Midi quality or go for an orchestra, I think we'll have a new winner. Bravo, Kenji Yamamoto.
The game's soundtrack is so good that I'll leave some extras here. Listen to them when you have the time.
As noted by my nearly complete gushing over the game, it's clear that we have a guaranteed winner, right?
Much of the fanbase didn't seem to think so before the game's release, and this lead to a rather bitter reception up to the launch date. The ironic thing about this is that while many gamers and the industry itself clamor for change, so much more turn against it and even fear it. Retro made a number of changes to certain classic elements that not everyone was happy with, and I think I've come to the conclusion that most of these are just worthless nostalgic attachments.
For example, the previous series antagonists, the walking crocodile Kremlings, were replaced by the Tikis in Returns. Many mourned the loss of King K. Rool and his minions and felt that they were far superior to the new wooden foes. I'm not really sure what the big deal is. Sure, I love K. Rool too, but the claim that the Tikis have no personality is pure bullcrap. Did you not see the antics of the hypnotized animals they're corrupted? Did you not listen to the raving tune they played while performing said hypnotizing?
In addition, there are few things in life as enjoyable as beating the shit out of these guys by shaking the Wii Remote once you defeat a boss.
Also, tell me this ostrich isn't the most hilarious thing you've ever seen.
Then there's the issue of Diddy Kong, who is only made playable in two player mode. This has lead to what is no doubt the biggest controversy of the game. In the original games, one could simply switch the two characters at the press of a button, whereas here he is only a playable character in the two player co-op mode. It just so happens that Diddy Kong is a very popular character and most prefer to use him over DK despite there being almost no difference in terms of gameplay...in the originals.
There's a very clear reason as to why Retro made this move, as there's is a very wide difference between the two characters in Returns. It's obvious that Diddy's new gadgets provide a much bigger advantage then the barebones mechanics of Donkey Kong, and as such everyone would pick the second banana over DK. One could make the argument that had they not given such tools to Diddy, it'd either still remain the same even if there was no difference in the first place.
But, see, there's this thing called change. And I think that's really what Returns is all about.
What's truly the most beautiful thing about Donkey Kong Country Returns is just how it perfectly melds new and old together and makes it a satisfying purchase in today's modern world. No matter how much one might miss the Kremlings or the "run and jump" gameplay, the fact is that times have changed and changes to certain elements have to be changed in order to refresh every title that comes out. If the Kremlings were back, people would just list off the game as being "same ol', same ol'." If the gameplay was the same, it'd be exactly the same. Not every game takes advantage of this, unfortunately, but it's a vital piece of today's gaming world, and I'm still amazed that most gamers haven't picked up on this.
Returns isn't a rehash of the original Country games, and it doesn't need to be. It is its own entity, bound by only certain key staples and free to move on to everything else. It is still a Country game, but at the same time it's also a new one. You can't really say that about a lot of sequels today, and that's why it's easily one of the best games of 2010.
Retro Studios has done it again. They had successfully revived the Metroid franchise, and now the same treatment has been given to Donkey Kong. For some reason, though, reviving the series is not the most amazing thing they've done here, either. It could be that they've actually made it relevant, or quite possibly crafted the greatest two dimensional video game of our time (Watch out, Super Mario World!), or, hell, just made a really good game.
And that's really what's the most amazing thing about the game. They have succeeded with blazing colors on every single essential here that there's hardly a problem to be found, and even then those nagging bites can be shrugged off instantly. Super Mario Galaxy 2's focus on sheer fun might win out in the end, but Returns' difficulty and simultaneous appeal to all sides makes it a worthy runner-up.
It's clear that Retro has engage in some form of witchcraft in order to make all of their games knockout successes, BUT IT DOESN'T REALLY MATTER. Retro, if you're reading this...MAKE A SEQUEL!!! And after that one, make a new Star Fox! PLLLLLEEAAASSEEEEEE?
Highly, highly recommended.
-Motion controls don't always respond
-Coulda used more Rambi.
-Difficulty is softened by buying balloons
+....BUT IT'S STILL HARD AS HELL OH MY GOD
+Quite possibly the greatest level design in all of 2D gaming.
+Revives all returning game mechanics perfectly to fit the standards of today.
+THE MINE CART LEVELS
+Fantastic soundtrack that does the original justice.
+Did I mention it was really hard?
+Always hands out the proper motivation to complete even its most arduous trials.
+The checkpoint pig
+Look, it's just really really good, alright?