Given my status as a rampant Nintendo fanboy, you’d think I’d have talked about Donkey Kong Country Returns by now, right? I haven’t even so much as mentioned it since the time it was shown at E3, and the game’s been out, what, over two weeks now in the UK? Well, truth is, I only got my copy on Monday! My brother preordered his but even then thanks to the terrific weather we’re currently having pretty much all postage has been delayed quite badly, so it took a week to arrive even after its release date. Awesome.
The first thing to be asked when talking about a Donkey Kong Country game is this – is it challenging enough to make you utter increasingly-creative expletives? Yes. Yes it is. Is that a good thing? You bet your bananas it is. It’s very relieving to play a game with proper kick-you-in-the-face challenge again. Returns basically takes the tough-as-nails level design of the original trilogy, turns it up several notches, and moulds it into a curveball and expects you to get it on the first shot. This is also why I should be banned from making analogies when I have had barely any sleep. Basically, it’s tough!
But tough strictly in the level design: all the extraneous nastiness such as needing to pay cash money just to save your file, or losing all your extra lives and coins whenever you load your save, or the inability to go to a different world without reaching Funky Kong’s jet rides… that’s all gone. The game is a fair bit kinder outside of the stages, as you can buy extra lives whenever you want, you can buy extra hearts (heck, each Kong has two hit points instead of one!), and if you suck badly enough, you can let the computer just finish the level for you. You could argue that they should’ve kept it strictly old-school and made the game slap you around the face every five seconds just because it can, but let’s face it, when’s the last time a game really punished you for getting a game over, or made a big deal of restricting you from saving your file? There’s old-fashioned, and then there’s obsolete. Yeah, I’m going to miss it, but unless a majority of the gaming market suddenly devolves back into what they were like during the 80s and early 90s, I can’t imagine any game using those kinds of tactics again. And I admit I’m not exactly complaining. Have I told you about the time I was stuck for at least three months on the ice world of the first Donkey Kong Country, because I couldn’t leave the world and I barely had enough lives to reach a save point? It’s a funny story.
But yes, Donkey Kong Country Returns. Fantastic game! And it is a beautiful game! It seems a lot of new retro-style instalments don’t feel too obliged to be overly dynamic in their visuals. Mega Man 9 and 10 are still NES-style (though I wouldn’t want a dynamic-looking Mega Man game, to be frank), New Super Mario Bros. Wii looks good but was still strictly flat, it never felt like anything but a video game level. And the less said about Sonic 4‘s rather uninspired visuals, the better (okay, they’re not that bad, but like the rest of the game, not much to write home about either). Returns is a fully 3D game from the environments to the characters, and it really brings those levels to life. Barrels frequently blast you into the foreground or background, switches will interact with scenery in the far distance, and the whole world just feels alive. It is admittedly rather extraneous, and quite often they could’ve ditched those details entirely, but it lends the game so much personality and vibrancy that I think it adds a huge amount to the game’s visual charm. Also, who knew Kenji Yamamoto could do David Wise’s music justice?
What I probably love most about the game so far is the sheer amount of stuff to do. There’s still the four KONG letters to get in each stage, as well as puzzle pieces that unlock music and concept art in the extras menu. There’s time trials for each and every stage, and believe me, I’d dare say this is the first time trial in a game that’s really pushed my expertise to the max – I haven’t yet managed to beat the gold record in any stage, but you must have to have the mapping and timing of the entire stage laid out in your mind, as there’s been a couple of instances where I’m mere seconds away from beating it. And although I have not beaten the game yet, there’s an extra challenge mode where you play the game again without Diddy Kong (who lends you his jetpack), and with only one heart. That sounds pretty awesome.
You know, I was actually hoping I wouldn’t gush about the game so keenly when I haven’t even beaten it yet, but here I am. I know I shouldn’t really be comparing the two, but I just can’t help but feel this is what New Super Mario Bros. Wii should’ve been, at least in the “stuff you can do” department. Let’s face it, after you complete the game and get the Star Coins, that’s it, you’ve done everything. You have all those coins, but you can’t actually use them for anything of worth – you can’t buy extra levels or different characters or new challenges or anything outside of boring-ass videos. It does at least have a relatively user-friendly unofficial level editing tool, but Donkey Kong Country Returns feels like it knows how to give itself some proper replay value. All NSMB has is just its multi-player (which, admittedly, is still pretty rad).
I was also hoping I wouldn’t end up going on a rant about how New Super Mario Bros. Wii is a bit inferior to Returns, either, but here we are.
Saw Return of the Living Dead like a week ago (I’ve kind of held off uploading this blog entry!). It’s a great watch! It’s horrific, it’s monstrous, it’s positively pessimistic with no glimpse of hope at all for anyone involved, and yet it’s a hoot to watch. What I love the almost light-hearted farcical nature of it; in the film’s universe, Dawn of the Dead was based off real events, but they changed enough details in the ‘adaptation’ to make it legally sound, so characters refer to it a number of times when discussing the undead threat. Problem is, the movie changed how they actually killed the beasts, meaning nobody has any idea how to destroy them. You’ve got two inept workers and their boss trying to dispose of a manic yellowed corpse, getting into slapstick antics trying to pin the thing down long enough to drive a pickaxe through its head. Then when that doesn’t work, they chop its head off, resulting in a headless manic yellowed corpse running about, and even when they think they’ve taken care of it by cremating it into ashes, that only makes the situation a hundred times worse. It’s totally grim, but that whole sequence is almost like something from a Laurel & Hardy film.
It’s got plenty of hilarious setpieces when you’ve got five punks and a no-nonsense business owner trying to keep this zombie apocalypse very hush-hush so he won’t get taken to court over it, but what really shines are the zombies themselves. Not just shuffling, droning, undead masses, they’re basically just savage mobs who have enough smarts to vocalise their desire for brains, phone in more victims to be eaten, and operate heavy machinery. And the only apparent means of stopping them are by stuffing them in army-quality industrial barrels. Not exactly the most convenient threat in the world to take care of. If I may be nitpicky (when am I never?), it’s not exactly clear what produces more zombies. People who have their brains eaten are dead and stay dead (so the two punks we quite explicitly see munched upon stay dead for the remainder of the film), but zombies who have their brains damaged function just fine. However, the naked punk girl and at least one police officer come back as flesh eating mofos, with no obvious signs of being ravaged by the claws of the undead. What, do zombies just exchange some dead-reviving juices with them or something? And if so, why would they want to? After all, generating more zombies means less brains to go around.
I admit I was a little dubious of watching it as it feels like I’ve watched nothing but horror movies all year, but I was very glad I saw it. Should I check out the sequel? I get the impression they all kind of blow, which doesn’t surprise me, but I’m hardly a man of good taste.
No doodle today, partly because of laziness, but mostly because of this.
I can see why no one’s made a 100% rip of Mario Clash when this is the terrifying crap they have to look at.