Sunday, January 16, 2011

Donkey Kong Country Returns (Wii)

Play Time: 1hr 15min
2 Player

History with the Franchise:
I was exactly the right age to have been the target audience for DK Country when it came out, and I remember playing it a lot. I always liked it and I even owned the soundtrack, but other than that, I don't remember a lot about it.. other than the animals that you rode for sections of gameplay, and shooting out of barrels. I also played Diddy Kong racing for 8 hours straight once when I was home sick from school in the 7th grade, and I remember finding it extremely frustrating, but continuing to play. :)

What Happened:
Issam and I played 2 player, with me as DK. We played through the first world (Jungle), and quit after defeating the first boss (who took us like.. 5-6 tries to beat)

What I Liked:
Visuals. I don't need to say too much - just look at stills and images from this game. They're awesome. Every animation oozes personality, and weight is handled extremely well. Also, there's a level that you can pay to unlock, which is neat, since the whole level is in silhouette. This works very well. I almost wonder if the animators just wanted to show off how everything they animated had great silhouettes. ;)

Weight. As mentioned above, the animations convey weight very well, but this is also because of how it is handled in terms of input. I think they struck a really nice balance between making DK seem heavy by making him slower to change directions etc, but responsive enough that you always feel in control of him.

Presentation. Overall, everything was just presented really well. The level map was cool looking and interesting, menus were fun, level intros and outros were polished. Each time I entered a level, there was a slightly different intro in terms of what I saw when the camera panned into starting position. In one case, there was a funny looking giraffe, in another case, I could see some puzzle pieces that I could then go and pick up. The outros are fun as well - the sort of 300-esque slow motion punch (slow motion punches may be a bit overdone, but it's because they're cool) - which gives you an opportunity for a bonus by moving your wiimote and nunchuk at the correct time. Really small touches that add up and show that a high level of care was put into this game - everything is intended to amuse me in some way.

Cinematics. The intro cinematic was handled really well. (Also, a note as an animator, the whole story was told with no dialogue ;) ) I liked how the hypnosis was handled with swirling lines and music notes. It was just very well done and clever. The intro for the Jungle boss was done well also - he was a lovable character, although we had to fight him (understanding that all of the animals we're beating up are hypnotized).

Difficulty. For the most part, I thought it was a good blend of being difficult without being frustrating (some exceptions, see below). We both died a fair number of times in each level, but I never felt that we had to go back so far that it was a huge inconvenience.

Barrels. We came across a couple of sections which were the standard DK barrel timing mechanic - you shoot from one barrel into another, and now either your barrel is moving side to side, and you need to line up with something, or there are obstacles/goodies circling the next barrel and you need to time yourself to get them. I think it is the variety of setups in these sections which makes them so fun. I might go from a barrel which shoots me automatically, to one where my barrel switches between 3 positions and I need to choose the right one, and then in the next I need to wait until the large, Thwomp-esque moving obstacle is in a safe position, etc.

Mine Carts. In one level there was a section where you rode on a mine cart, which I feel was handled extremely well. It was the same as every other platformer with this type of mechanic - you had to jump to avoid things directly in your path (like flaming enemies) or jump to reach puzzle pieces or bananas, or your track was about to run out, so you needed to hop to a different track. I think the reason it sticks out to me is because in the end, there is a brief section where the camera comes in closer to your characters - so you can't see as much track in front of you, and tension is briefly increased - and then it comes back out, and you go down a huge, steep incline, which I think presents one or two more obstacles, and then the end of the level. Because of the increase in tension, from the pull in, and then the incline, this moment feels extremely dramatic.

What I Didn't Like:
Some Collision Issues. There were a number of times when I was positive that I could make a jump and I couldn't. That's always frustrating. I suspect that the art was making edges less clear to me when I was trying to think quickly.

Jungle Boss Fight. We took forever trying to beat this guy! ...which is funny since once we figured it out, it was fairly simple. I personally had a lot of issues the first 2-3 times we tried to beat him, where I was positive that I was clear to jump over him and I ended up in his mouth (collision??). Then we found out after a few tries that when he's in one state, if you jump on his back, he immediately charges (so if I'm DK and I'm in front of him, and Diddy nails him, I'm instantly hit). I don't think we ever really figured out the pattern of which state he was in when this happened. I think overall we took 5-6 tries.

Placement of Checkpoints. Ok, really this was only an issue once - which was in the barrel level. There is a section which is your first long period of continuously shooting yourself out of barrels, which is a fun section, but your check point is before it, and it's got a bunch of new things in it, so you die a lot. You're learning about barrel timing, so it's easy to mess up a few times before you get it right. Also, towards the end, there's a part where columns fall on your barrel if you don't shoot out of them right away -- there's no way to know this is going to happen until it's happened to you once (which kills you) and it's towards the end! Now you have to do the whole section over again...

Motivation. We beat the first world, but I don't feel like we accomplished anything. It's not like the story moved forward, or even like we were given an indication that we were one step closer to reaching an ultimate destination. I beat up the bad guy that hypnotized the rhino (?) we were fighting, but was he even a special, boss-type bad guy? How many worlds are there? I think I personally require a way to measure my progress in a game or I have a hard time feeling like I'm getting anywhere.

Stuff I'm Not Sure About:
Items. You can buy items in game and use them, but as we learned quickly, they only last for one level. First we were confused that they weren't automatically equipped, then when the next level started, we were confused that we didn't see them anymore, and thought we had to equip them again. Then we figured out that they were only intended for one level. It was just a bit confusing. The choice of items is pretty cool though - you can have an extra heart, different numbers of balloons (revives your fallen partner) something to make you invincible for a burst, and a parrot that squawks when you're near a puzzle pieces.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:
Ultimately, this is a fun game, but it's still just a platformer - and by the 'just' I mean that there isn't anything to it besides the gameplay. It's a fun game to pass the time with, but nothing is really pushing me to come back for more.

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