Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Best of the 2010: Donkey Kong Country Returns

In honor of the year winding down I've decided to recap on some of my favorite games of the 2010. I'm not going to do a top 10 list per se, as I find it futile to rank such diverse offerings, but would rather dedicate a short blog post to each game that really meant something to me this year. So today we'll start with...

Donkey Kong Country Returns.

I wasn't that excited for this one initially. My memory of Donkey Kong Country is foggy at best, having only rented it when it came out a decade and a half ago. I remember liking it at the time, but given my age it didn't take a lot to impress me. Prior to DKCR coming out, I'd assumed that the series was mostly known for its graphics, not gameplay. There was nothing I could gather from trailers or my time with it at trade shows that made me think DKCR was anything more than nostalgia for nostalgia's sake and that a recreation of our early childhood memories wouldn't hold up in the modern era.

Still, My girlfriend was a big fan of the series, though, so for that reason alone I decided to take the plunge and check it out.

And boy am I glad I did! Initially, it didn't do anything to change my preconceived notions. There was nothing particularly innovative about jumping, swinging, shooting out of barrels, etc... But what I hadn't expected was just how fun it would be. Controls are tight and responsive, levels are lush and gorgeous, and the cute animals are genuinely cute. Like really, really cute. The way Diddy runs over a rolling Donkey Kong still fills me with delight every time I see it.

It's also plain exciting. There's a real momentum to some of these sequences as the levels crumble behind you as you desperately try to acquire the hard to reach KONG letter. It's definitely challenging, but rarely frustrating with frequent checkpoints and a liberal dose of lives.

Co-op was fun too. It's not perfect and you'll hemorrhage lives this way, but they're not hard to replenish. Playing through the campaign with my girlfriend was seriously one of the highlights of the year for me in gaming.

Once we'd completed it I asked her what she thought. She said she liked it, but was a bigger fan of the older games. My memory is too rusty to accurately compare, but I'll say that it effectively captured the feeling I got when I was 12 and a 2D platformer needn't be innovative or deep for it to be just about the best thing ever.


And for record keeping purposes, here's some stuff I've written over the past few months:

Defying Design: Dead Lines Rising. On how time limits can enhance or hinder an experience. Looking specifically at Dead Rising: Case Zero and Majora's Mask.

Defying Design: Cloak & Dagger. A look at competitive stealth-based multiplayer.

Defying Design: New Moon. On what makes a good reboot. Looking specifically at Castlevania and Silent Hill.

Defying Design: Gaming up the Wrong Tree. Analyses of games that misdirect the player from their true goal.

Defying Design: You Bet Your Life. A look at the role of luck in action game.

Defying Design: The Buddy System. How co-op has evolved in 2D platformers over the past few years.

Defying Design: Epic Mickey's Epic... Failure? How choice works, and does't work in Epic Mickey.
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