E3 Hands-On: Donkey Kong Country Returns, Indeed

It’s an exciting time to be an older Nintendo fan – those of us that grew up with the Mario Bros,  Samus Aran, and the Donkey and Diddy duo are getting the chances to relive our past experiences in wonderfully nostalgic recreations for our sidescrolling favorites. Nintendo most recent retro remake? Donkey Kong Country Returns, from Retro Studios (known for the Metroid Prime series.)  How does it compare?  It looks familiar, and it feels familiar, but some small changes might surprise you.
First of all, the Diddy/Donkey relationship has changed.  In the old days, the player could switch between characters by pressing select, choosing what character to play as lead, and who to play as back up – no more! Today, single player mode is a Donkey Kong only affair – Diddy’s there, and tags along during single player mode, but he’s more like a power-up. Picking up Diddy will score the player a rocket-pack boost, and an extra two hearts.  That’s right, hearts – rather than the SNES game’s one-hit-per-character health system, each character can take two hits, indicated by a heart meter in the upper left.
How does it play? In the short time I had with Donkey Kong Returns, I was impressed.  I was pleased to find the difficulty level on par with how I remember the original title, but not so much in that it was a chore to play.  Various villains need to be taken out with a combination of moves, and the level deign is fun. DK comes equipped with a few new moves, such as Diddy’s Jet-Pack double jump, and a rolling attack.  Combined with a great visual presentation, promising level design, and bananas everywhere, the Donkey Kong Country” title feels right.
At the conference we were presented with a Wii Remote and Nunchuck control scheme – move with the nunchuck analog stick, jump and attack with buttons or by swinging the remote – pretty standard stuff.  My presenter did confirm that a ‘classic’ sideways remote control setup was available, but he was for some reason not allowed to demo this control scheme at the show.  My presenter did go on to say that while Nintendo wants to show the two controller setup right now, he personally prefers the sideways remote setup.
Impressions in short? It looks great, it was fun to play, and it’s got a lot of potential.  Will it awake the kid in me that New Super Mario Bros. did? We’ll have to wait and see, but it’s worth keeping your eye on.