Friday, September 17, 2010

Donkey Kong Country Returns: A Video Game Revival



Retro Studios have their task cut for them- the Texan video game developers, who shot to fame in the early 2000′s following their masterful revival of Nintendo’s sci fi space trotting series, Metroid, with the expertly crafted first person adventure, the paradigm shifting Metroid Prime, are now in charge of the revival of yet another beloved Nintendo series, yet one that’s very different from Metroid in every way imaginable. The Donkey Kong series is arguably amongst Nintendo’s most iconic, with the titular protagonist having entered popular lexicon, and the series coming to be synonymous with a major technological leap in gaming. In the Super Nintendo days, Donkey Kong was Nintendo’s last bastion that proved that 2D gaming was indeed relevant in a day when the onslaught of 3D gaming was becoming increasingly severe. The game went on to become one of the highest selling of all time, and Donkey Kong became one of Nintendo’s hottest properties, with the SNES and N64 sequels that were every bit as iconic.
To this day, people remember the original games fondly- everything from the graphics to the characters to the epic soundtrack have become firmly ingrained in every gamer’s consciousness. To take on the task of reviving such a series, then, is a task that would deter most developers- the chances of burning one’s fingers, and of tarnishing the brand equity, both of the franchise in question as well as the developer, are too great. And yet, Retro seems to be plowing on full steam ahead, as the game creeps towards its November release date. So far, what we’ve shown seems to be nothing more than a delicate update to the beloved formula of the SNES original- by all means, a good idea, and yet Retro runs the risk of treading ground that might be too familiar for veterans, and of sticking to a formula that is irrelevant by nineteen years of obsolescence. On the other hand, they tinker with the formula too much, and they run the risk of alienating the original fanbase.
It’s like walking on a bed of coals at the edge of a precipice. How will Donkey Kong Country Returns turn out?
BLAST FROM THE PAST
Here’s the debut trailer for Donkey Kong Country Returns, via IGN.com.
Looks great, doesn’t it? That’s because Retro has carefully and almost lovingly recreated the Super Nintendo original. Watch:
Barring the almost expected improvement in graphics that you would expect after a hiatus that was nearly a decade and a long, the two games seem to be identical. Unlike with Metroid Prime, where Retro breathed life into an old franchise by approaching it from an altogether diferent perspective, which initially angered many fans, this time, Retro seems to be playing it safe. Not that that’s a bad thing at all, mnd you. The original Donkey Kong Country is still not dated in any sense- the graphics and the sounds expectedly hold up, and the gameplay is as tight and whimsical as it ever was.
BORDERING ON BEING A REHASH?
However, with the game being so apparently familiar to its predecessors that it looks more like an update rather than a sequel, it’s almost natural to be slightly cynical- is this a quick rehash, a cash in on Nintendo’s part to shut the ever moaning hardcore gamer up? But that doesn’t seem like- as legions of Metroid Prime fans will attest to, Retro is possibly Nintendo’s most talented developer- why waste them on such an insignificant side project?
It’s obvious then, that Nintendo intends for this to be a major game. Obviously, then, there’s more to it than meets the eye, something that neither Nintendo nor Retro are letting on just yet.
Donkey Kong is a very important franchise. It represents one of Nintendo’s most lucrative brands, right behind Mario and Pokemon. Obviously, they’re not gonna mess this up. A sense of deja vu may pervade the entire experience, but a rehash this will not be.
SO, WHAT’S DIFFERENT THIS TIME AROUND?
Of course, this is Nintendo- they simply won’t stand for stagnation, and it is obvious that there has to be something in Donkey Kong Country returns that indicates the time span that separates it from its SNES progenitors. So far, we know of no major changes that may be worth mentioning- okay, so we know for sure there are no Kremlings this time around, with Tikis acting as primary antagonists instead. The inclusion of any of the Kong family except for Diddy, or of the animal buddies is up in the air too.
One major difference we know of is the fact that Didy will be playable this time around not like the SNES originals, where the same player had to control one after the other, but rather in a two player co-op experience, something like New Super Mario Bros Wii, which also makes infinitely more sense, if I may say so. Each character feels sufficiently different, so that Donkey Kong will have his own lumbering weight, while Diddy has a jetpack that enables him to negotiate long chasms, resulting in extremely different and distinctly unique platforming controls for both of them.
Of course, we have no idea how the final game will turn out. It might be a complete retreading of the SNES games- in which case, it’s likely that gamers’ nostalgia will make them impervious to this game’s fault, if there are any. However, as is most likely when you have a developer like Retro and a publisher like Nintendo, this game will be something else entirely, a landmark title that sets the standard for 2D sidescrolling platforming for years to come. And we only have to wait a couple more months before we find out.


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