Videogame Verdict: ‘Donkey Kong Country Returns’ Review

‘Donkey Kong Country Returns’ is one of the most anticipated games of the year, and at the top of every Wii owner’s list, but does it hold up to the legacy of the Super Nintendo Classic?

One of my favorite Super Nintendo games way back in the day was 1994’s ‘Donkey Kong Country’. It was absolutely brilliant. It was challenging enough to keep me playing for hours, but fair enough that I could beat it eventually.

‘Donkey Kong Country Returns’ is like a wonderful love letter to the original. When it works, it takes me right back to those days when I was twelve-years-old, sitting in my pajamas late at night or early in the morning, playing with the sound off so that there was no chance of waking anyone up.

When it doesn’t work – and there are more than a few times – it’s one of the most frustrating games I’ve ever played. It’s a mixture of pleasure and pain that leaves me feeling hurt and confused.

There’s not much story in ‘Donkey Kong Country Returns’, thankfully. After a short and skippable cut-scene, you jump right into the action. The enemies consist mainly of drums, perhaps as revenge for ‘Donkey Konga‘.

If you’ve played the original ‘Donkey Kong Country’, you’ve got just about all the knowledge you need. Collect bananas, stomp on enemies, advance through the level.

The look of the game is fantastic. It’s widescreen, and makes great use of the extra screen width by adding entertaining visuals to both the foreground and background. The design stays fairly true to the original, though the characters are cleaned up significantly.

The silhouette levels in particular are stunning, and really show off just what a great art team can do. There’s plenty of background action, and the amount of detail that’s still present in this form is surprising.

Sadly, I have to throw down the caveat that it looks good “for a Wii game.” Sure, it looks beautiful, but it doesn’t look anywhere near as good as it could on a proper high definition system. If the game had been made for the 360 or the PS3, it would look that much more impressive.

The controls for ‘Donkey Kong Country Returns’ are, for the most part, very good. The analog stick on the Nunchuck controls movement, the A button allows you to jump and the B button grabs onto things. Since it’s a Wii game, there has to be motion control. That’s where we get to one of the most frustrating design decisions in the game.

For some reason, the folks at Nintendo decided that it would be a good idea to make the player shake a controller to roll. It doesn’t sound like much, but since rolling is an essential move for getting through the game, it becomes a pain very quickly.

Tying a move that needs to be executed precisely to a motion controller makes the game that much harder to play, which is the wrong way to increase difficulty. Rather than fighting the enemies, I felt like I was fighting the control scheme during many of the levels.

The level design of the game – again, with a few big exceptions – is incredibly well done. I ran into a lot of levels that I found difficult, but I was able to get through them with enough tries. Going back and repeating those levels, I find them much easier, which is a clear sign of a great difficulty curve.

I played through the game cooperatively with my friend Joel, who I played through the original with. Unlike the original, ‘Donkey Kong Country Returns’ has really excellent co-op, with a far enough zoom to accommodate both players and some cool mechanics that let one player control both Diddy and Donkey Kong.

The problem is that some levels are just so much easier to play without a second player. They’re built around a single player and it shows. Sometimes, the best option is just to have Diddy jump on DK’s back and let one person navigate the stage.

Mine cart levels are frustrating as always, but thanks to the secret level unlock option, you’re able to take an alternate path to get to the boss. If the main path isn’t working out for you, the alternate levels are a great way to go.

In general, the stages are a lot of fun. When we died, it was almost always because we did something wrong and not because the game was flawed in some way. Except, that is, for the rocket barrel levels.

Ever seen a two or three year old boy get bit by a cat that he was just trying to pet? He’s confused and betrayed. He doesn’t understand, because all he understands is that when you pet cats, the cats are supposed to respond by purring. In his mind, that’s how the world works.

That’s how I feel after playing the god-awful rocket barrel levels. I’m just trying to play the game, and I have no idea why I’m being punished for doing that It’s like the designers of ‘Donkey Kong Country’ decided that they hate players and designed a few levels just to drive us insane.

When in a rocket barrel, you don’t get to control your movement from side to side. You do get to control the vertical movement, but you have to do so by tapping or holding the A button, which keeps you airborne. It doesn’t sound that bad, but I’ve had very few experiences as anger-inspiring as the last few rocket barrel levels.

I’ve seen people complain about the length of the game, but I find that to be a flawed point of criticism. ‘Donkey Kong Country Returns’ is old-school. The length of the game depends entirely on how good you are, and how willing you are to go back and find the secrets. We got six to eight hours out of a single play-through, and that’s without finishing all the levels, collecting all the puzzle pieces and K-O-N-G letters.

All in all, I found ‘Donkey Kong Country Returns’ to be an excellent game with little pieces of horrible mixed in. It’s like eating at a five star restaurant while getting dumped, or winning a million dollars and getting punched in the face. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether the good outweighs the bad, but for me it definitely does.

Rating: ★★★★☆
Buy it on Amazon


  1. Lahrs

    You touched on both of my main issues with the game, needless motion control and the rocket barrel levels, and I rank them in that order as far as how much it bothers me.

    I am not fond of the rocket levels, but I don’t hate them. To me they are a frustrating button masher and I died many times because I didn’t time my presses precisely. There is a difference between precision jumping in a side scroller and precision button mashing through an entire level.

    My biggest complaint, as always with the Wii, is the motion control. It isn’t needed, and does more harm than good. I do not feel like I am playing a revolutionary way of gaming, I feel frustrated in the lack of precise control, as there is need for precision jumping from time to time. The roll jump is made difficult only because of poor controls, not because the action itself is hard to pull off.

    Despite the negatives, I too am enjoying the game and as the original Donkey Kong Country is one of my favorite games, I am pleased with my purchase.

  2. Patrick A Crone

    As far as the SD graphics of the Wii, take solace in the fact that once Nintendo sells another 15 million units, actually 13.5 after black friday, they will be rolling out a successor to the Wii. So far the SD graphics haven’t bothered me much. In fact, most first party games push the Wii’s capabilities pretty far. My biggest gripe is 3rd party games. Most of them look like PS2 games with motion controls added to them.

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