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Review: Gorillas gone wild in Donkey Kong Country Returns

Donkey Kong is one angry gorilla. He's always stomping about, pounding the ground and beating his chest.

In Donkey Kong Country Returns, he's got good reason to be throwing a tantrum. Elephant and Giraffe, entranced by the music of some evil Tikis, have made off with his stash of bananas. Donkey Kong is immune to the siren song, and after beating a Tiki into submission, sets out to get his bananas back.

The tie-wearing ape's grandfather is also angry. The ancestral Donkey Kong appeared as an antagonist to Mario in Nintendo's 1981 arcade game Donkey Kong, standing at the top of the screen, stomping and throwing barrels at the plumber trying to rescue the princess.

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The platform genre has come a long way since then. Games are presented in a combination of 2D and 3D graphics and levels have transformed from static, single-screen experiences into more extensive, side-scrolling stages.

It's a genre in which Nintendo has always excelled, and Donkey Kong Country Returns, developed by Retro Studios for the Wii, is as consistent and polished as platformer fans are expecting.

In the role of Donkey Kong, gamers run and jump through a variety of environments all set on Donkey Kong Island. The larger world is displayed like a map, with paths from one level to another, and from one section of the island to another. Those paths appear as players complete levels; some are unlocked with keys purchased from the store.

Accompanying Donkey Kong on his quest is his nephew, Diddy Kong, who rides on his uncle's back. Diddy wears a jet pack that let's him hover and fly and which, when activated, enables the pair to descend slowly. Squawks the parrot and Rambi the rhinoceros also make appearances. Donkey Kong rides Rambi, who can break through rock walls and flatten enemies that get in his way, and Squawks points out puzzle pieces that are hidden in the environments.

  • The Goods Platform: Wii The good: Colourful and upbeat; good use of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk; varied level design. The bad: Soft movement controls; difficulty may frustrate some players. The verdict: Consistent and entertaining, Donkey Kong Country Returns is exactly what you’d expect – and most fans want – from a Nintendo platformer.

As with all Nintendo games, collecting such items is critical. In addition to picking up bananas – get 100 and players are granted an extra life, represented here by red balloons – banana coins are currency for the store, and concealed in each level are four letters – K, O, N and G – that are the pinnacle for collectors. Exactly what the puzzle pieces unlock is best left for you to discover.

Controlling Donkey Kong requires the use of both the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. The thumbstick on the Nunchuk moves Donkey Kong and the A button on the Remote makes him jump. He can climb by grasping grass growing from walls and ceilings, an action triggered with the Z button on the Nunchuk.

Shaking both controllers like they you're playing a drum executes a "ground pound," which stuns enemies, breaks rock obstacles and can uncover hidden areas.

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My one complaint about the controls is that Donkey Kong's movement wasn't as responsive as I'd like. Donkey Kong doesn't immediately switch directions, but skids a bit, as if his inertia made it difficult for him to reverse. It's an acceptable design decision, but in a game where the slightest movement can lead to failure, it's a source of frustration.

Donkey Kong Country Returns includes a number of features that were introduced in other Nintendo platform games as a way to make them more accessible to larger, less hardcore audiences. Co-operative play allows for novice and skilled gamers to play together. And after dying multiple times in any level, players are given the option to let Super Kong complete the stage for them, although players don't collect items this way.

These features are necessary, frankly, because Donkey Kong Country Returns is difficult. Even skilled platform players will have to play some levels multiple times to pass it, let alone collect all the coins, puzzle pieces and letters.

But these games are constructed to be replayed, over and over. Even after you've passed a level by making it to the end, you'll be running through it again to collect hidden items you may have missed. You can also tackle it in Time Attack mode, with the objective being to get past the obstacles and to the end as quickly as possible. Rapid run-throughs earn gold, silver or bronze medals.

Thankfully, the levels are designed well enough that you won't get bored by them too quickly, although you will get frustrated. It's all part of the game.

Donkey Kong Country Returns is both competent and commendable. By sticking to tried-and-true platform game principles, developed over years of testing and practice, Nintendo gives gamers good reason to become the gorilla.

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