It stinks when someone steals your bananas. Especially if you happen to be an ape whose initials are D.K. And that, in a nutshell—or in a banana skin, I should say—is the token plot in Donkey Kong Country Returns.
The latest old-school scrolling platformer to star Nintendo's famous ape (an homage to 1994's Donkey Kong Country for the Super Nintendo) finds Mr. Kong and his youthful sidekick, Diddy Kong, squaring off against a hoard of tropical, mask-like musical miscreants known as the Tiki Tak Tribe.
Erupting from Donkey Kong Island's central volcano, these pesky, magical meanies hypnotize the island's animals and compel the woozy beasts to steal Donkey Kong's beloved hoard of bananas. Which quickly prompts our hero to go bananas … and then go after those dastardly, thieving Tiki Taks.
No Country for Old Monkeys
In a gaming world where bloody, gory, profane and sex-saturated games garner most of the attention and the lion's share of sales, it's delightfully refreshing to play through a game as simple and old-fashioned as this. I hadn't played a Donkey Kong title since shortly after the franchise's inception in the early '80s—Donkey Kong Jr. for the ColecoVision in my early teens, if you must know. But thanks to the Wii's intuitive gaming controls, I had that ol' monkey running and jumping past obstacles and bopping Tiki Taks on the head in no time.
Players can opt for one of two control schemes. You can go old-school, holding the Wii Remote horizontally and working on your left thumb's calluses. Or you can go newfangled and opt for a combination of that controller plus the Wii Nunchuck. In single-player mode, Donkey Kong is sometimes joined by Diddy, who rides shotgun and enhances the big guy's abilities. In the two-player game, the pair are separated. Either way, though, your goal is the same: Nab bananas, balloons, puzzle pieces and the letters K-O-N-G, among other things, while avoiding, bopping or "ground pounding" the many enemies that try to impede your progress. (Ground pounding involves vigorously shaking the controllers up and down, which creates an earthquake-like effect that can disorient foes.)
Some levels Kong traverses on foot. Others find him rocketing around in a mine cart or a rocket-propelled barrel. A rhino friend named Rambi even offers Kong an exhilarating rumble through the jungle at one point. The game progresses from the forest to a gear-filled factory-esque level to a volcano. Throughout, crabs, bats, a big mole, a chicken and all manner of other jungle denizens—not to mention the Tiki Taks—take their best shots as Donkey and Diddy make their way to the final showdown with the final boss: Tiki Tong.
All in all, it's beautifully rendered platforming fun that increasingly demands your full attention if you hope to keep progressing and liberate all those pilfered bananas.
Tangling With Tiki Tong
The Tiki Taks are obviously imbued with a kind of animating magic. Sort of like those pesky Pac-Man ghosts are. OK, maybe there's a bit more to it here than that, but the game doesn't make much of the source of the magic, other than suggesting it emanates from the idol-like Tiki Tong, who resides in heart of the island's volcano.
As for the game's "violence," there's plenty of it—such as it is. Is it violence when you shoot at the twisty-turny worm in Centipede? Or when the Tetris blocks come crashing down? Those kinds of comparisons are what make it hard to think of Kong throwing barrels at baddies or bonking them on the head as violence. Certainly it's not the kind of violence that can do any real damage to minds and hearts—even young minds and hearts.
Mostly it just feels like a throwback to a simpler time, when digital contests were less about bloody realism and more about the satisfaction of successfully navigating a series of obstacles en route to your ultimate goal.
In this case, bananas.