With Metroid now in the hands of Team Ninja, Retro Studios, who have been handling the series for close to a decade, was in need of new work. Who would have guessed that the solution would come in the form of reviving a classic series? Since Retro Studios is one of Nintendo's most well-known Western studios, perhaps it is appropriate that Donkey Kong is being handed to them. Maybe it is even more appropriate that the result goes back to Rare's beloved Donkey Kong Country trilogy with Donkey Kong Country Returns, another of Nintendo's many E3 surprises.
The basic gameplay of Donkey Kong Country Returns is identical to that of the first Donkey Kong Country. Only Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong were shown as playable characters, and the game's basic controls, involving the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, felt very familiar very quickly. It's classic 2-D platforming, with wide levels and the occasional pattern-based boss fight. The game offers two-player co-op, like the classic entries, but so far, it doesn't seem to offer either of the sequel-specific characters.
Twists are introduced quickly enough, though none are alien concepts. Diddy's jetpack makes a return, allowing for boosted jumps, while Donkey Kong can now bowl over enemies with a roll. The backgrounds are now regularly part of the gameplay; aside from classic effects, like that pirate ship in the sea firing at you, some of the game's signature cannon barrels can now launch you into a separate background layer (and back), allowing levels to be more complex than ever before. Many classic hallmarks are also back, including new mine cart levels that capture the tradition of some of the most enjoyable levels from past entries.
The plot hasn't changed much. Although classic villain King K. Roll is nowhere to be seen, a group of evil tikis appears to have directly yanked his plan, stealing Donkey Kong's banana hoard for their own nefarious purposes. (It still goes completely unanswered whether the bananas do anything, and with the traditional lack of intelligible voice acting, it doesn't look like this will be answered yet.)
One thing that hasn't changed is the graphics, which are utterly amazing, though no longer pre-rendered for obvious reasons. The animation in the demo gameplay was smooth as silk, and the lush jungles are far more animated than ever before. It's visually richer than almost any other game seen this generation, on any console.
With almost every classic element making a return, sensible upgrades that account for over a decade of change across the industry, and a look that beats almost anything else seen this generation, it is unlikely that anyone will doubt Retro Studios after Donkey Kong Country Returns drops this holiday season.
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