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E3 2010: The Return Of Donkey Kong Country Returns Strikes Back

Yes, the reveal of Kid Icarus: Uprising was mindblowing and the art style for Kirby's Epic Yarn blew me away, but if you want to know the one moment at the Nintendo E3 Media Briefing that made my spine tingle, it was the moment that this music faded up and I realized what was about to appear on the big screen. The original Donkey Kong Country trilogy was one of the high points of the Super NES's golden age, and with the departure of Rareware from the Nintendo family of properties, it seems as though nobody quite knew what to do with the franchise (and, by extension, the character) in a way that lived up to his past triumphs. Leave it to Retro Studios (of Metroid Prime fame) to bring the big guy back and, at first play, get things absolutely right. I had the chance to take two of the game's demo levels for a test hop 'n bop at E3's West Hall.

This incarnation of Donkey Kong action has been missing for far too long, so after all this time away, can the same magic of 1994-1996 be recaptured? Based on what I played, the answer is yes. Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong proceed through 3D-rendered 2D-sidescrolling levels (Kombo's Lucas DeWoody and I — both long-time DKC aficionados — played the jungle and pirate stages) while gathering bananas, bopping enemies, and collecting prize tokens. All of the old moves such as DK's ground pound and Diddy's cartwheel roll are back, plus there are new tricks such as Diddy's jetpack imported from Donkey Kong 64. The two characters can even team-up for combo attacks; consider how Diddy can hop on DK during the latter's roll attack to keep him rolling further than normally possible. Blast barrels are back, too. Speaking of blast barrels, they have a new trick as well. Remember Virtual Boy Wario Land in which special platforms could spring Wario into a second layer of action at the back of the display? Certain blast barrels here are aimed at the back of the screen, allowing DK and Diddy to access another half of the level.

Donkey Kong Country Returns

If you're worried that Nintendo and Retro Studios have shoehorned motion-control gimmicks where they don't belong, you can relax. While the E3 demo required us to use the Wii remote and nunchuk's shaking abilities to perform the ground pound and other such things, we're told that the final version allows players to use the Wii remote in its sideways Nintendo Entertainment System configuration with minimal shaking required. To be honest, however, I didn't find the shaking all that bothersome. How it'll hold up over several dozen levels instead of just two remains to be seen, of course. We'll find out for sure when the game launches later this year. I, for one, cannot wait.