The return of the Kong

Donkey and Diddy make their way to the Wii in “Donkey Kong Country Returns.”


Photo Courtesy Nintendo

The primitive pair goes bananas for monkeyin’ around. Pardon the… apish puns.

by Tony Libera

âÄúDonkey Kong Country ReturnsâÄù



In the 1995 comedy classic âÄúBilly Madison,âÄù Adam Sandler argues that âÄúDonkey Kong,âÄù not âÄúMortal Kombat,âÄù is the best game ever. ItâÄôs a funny line, one that quickly found its way into the pop lexicon, but it also holds a certain amount of truth.

ItâÄôs been 16 years since the release of âÄúDonkey Kong Country,âÄù and video games have improved by leaps and bounds in that time, yet few among them have maintained a fan following like that seminal Super Nintendo platform.

With this in mind, the developers of âÄúDonkey Kong Country ReturnsâÄù have pulled at their roots, drawing on installments past to create a video game where the gameplay and plot are equal parts new and nostalgic. As we turn on the system, David WiseâÄôs âÄúDK JamzâÄù score thumps from the speakers, pulling us back to grade school and setting up the game as a thoroughly sentimental endeavor.

Once again, DonkeyâÄôs coveted banana stockpile has been stolen, this time by a band of nefarious tikis who hypnotize Donkey Kong IslandâÄôs animal populace to do their bidding. Donkey teams up with his olâÄô pal Diddy to retrieve the bananas, collect KONG tiles and find hidden puzzle pieces âĦ for some reason. ItâÄôs goodhearted nonsense, through and through, but thereâÄôs enough of a thread to keep players at least somewhat concerned with DonkeyâÄôs ridiculous plight. Still, itâÄôs the gameplay that compels us to move forward.

âÄúDonkey Kong Country ReturnsâÄù functions like its SNES predecessors: Simple mechanics match up with the basic tasks of jumping over pits, snagging bananas and red balloons, swinging on vines and rolling through enemies. There have been small tweaks to adapt the game to the Wii console and its controllers, but for the most part this game follows classical D-pad logic.

Donkey and Diddy do have a couple new tricks to spice up gameplay: Diddy can piggyback onto Donkey for tag-team action and use his jetpack to propel the duo past foes, but for the most part âÄúDonkey Kong Country ReturnsâÄù revels in the old ways.

Such a strict adherence to stylistic precedents is a double-edged sword. It can elicit a deep sense of nostalgia for fans of previous games, but it also has the potential to feel derivative or, in contrast to the visually extravagant first-person shooters that dominate the market today, just plain stale.

âÄúDonkey Kong Country ReturnsâÄù tiptoes around these potential pitfalls by tweaking the classic 2-D form. Mountain platforms appearing in the background can be accessed on occasion by hopping into those timeless, cannon-esque barrels. The inclusion of z-axis movement is uncomplicated, but novel, giving visual depth and an overarching roundness to DonkeyâÄôs formerly one-way world.

ThereâÄôs little in âÄúDonkey Kong Country ReturnsâÄù that could be considered revolutionary, but thatâÄôs not the goal. Nintendo followed an ancient proverb here âÄî if it ainâÄôt broke, donâÄôt fix it âÄî injecting SNES-styled action with a modern visual update. The game will appeal to fans of the early franchise, but, perhaps more importantly, it will ensure that Donkey KongâÄôs legacy rolls on.