When Donkey Kong Country Returns arrives for the Nintendo Wii later this year, it looks like we can count on the developers doing right by the original Country trilogy. The development team at Retro Studios played through each game in the series (plus Donkey Kong 64, it seems) as work commenced and they're aiming to keep the original spirit of Country intact in Returns. Kombo was able to get a few choice words with Retro's Bryan Walker about just what we can expect in the final adventure based on the previous titles in the series.
One of the things they noticed was how challenging the games were, and this was very much something they wanted to recapture for the new game. Kombo's own Mike Rougeau died about five times throughout the course of the five minute demo, and assures everyone it was nothing to do with any lack of gaming skill on his part. The game has simply returned to being an old-school unforgiving platformer which demands precision. One example of this is a mine cart level that demands absolutely perfect timing with very little room for error. Jumping from one mine cart to another as the previous one falls into an abyss is the sort of thing gamers were doing twenty years ago. How will modern gamers respond to it?
The music in the game, according to Walker, is the work of Kenji Yamamoto, who previously worked on Metroid Prime with the studio. The team are deliberately working with all the past Donkey Kong themes to keep the soundtrack very reminiscent of the rest of the series. The original Donkey Kong Country games, as well as Banjo-Kazooie, were cited as strong influences on the soundtrack.
Walker also talked a little about the controls. The demo uses a Nunchuk and Wii Remote combo. The Wii Remote's pointer facility is only used on the map screen, and Walker explained that the team understood most players preferred an analog stick for most functions. He also mentioned that in the final game, players will be have the option to remove the Nunchuk altogether and play with the Wii Remote on its side for true "classic" gameplay. There are a few "shaking" controls throughout the game, too, which cannot be removed. This presumably means that using the Classic Controller won't be an option.
Take it from one who knows firsthand: Returns is not easy. While clearing the demo's jungle level was monkey's play, the pirate level (heavily based on elements from the second Country game, Diddy's Kong Quest) is darn difficult and I wasn't able to clear it. Given a little practice I know I could complete it, but I found it to be strange that I was playing a Donkey Kong Country title in which I did not know what was going to come next. It was an odd feeling, but I actually enjoyed it. At last I'll have a whole new Country to explore.