If the Super Mario Galaxy games are the magnum opuses of the Big N's favorite mustachioed plumber, then Nintendo's Donkey Kong Country Returns is the big simian's chance to a grab a little limelight for himself. This remake of the 1994 Super Nintendo Entertainment System classic is a platform-fest for the ages.
Tops on DK's monkey-do list: Chasing tiki gods and battling jungle beasts while swinging, leaping and beating the ground to get back his stolen banana hoard (and a host of other power-ups). But it's not just the game's amazingly colorful graphics that'll send your jaw dropping to the floor. It's the way the game cleverly incorporates and repackages platform-game standbys to make everything old seem fresh and new again. Between sudden shifts from foreground to background (shades of Super Paper Mario), surprising changes in the environment and heart-pounding mine-cart and barrel-riding levels, the proceedings never feel overripe.
And unlike the Super Mario Galaxy games, the multiplayer option here involves actual gameplay, not just scooping up stars and popping enemies anonymously from the sidelines. Player two gets to control young Diddy Kong, whose rocket pack is essential to collecting some of the game's nefariously harder-to-reach puzzle pieces, letters and gold coins. You can use his super-jump abilities as part of the single-player package as well, but be warned: Coordinating two players' movements through some of the more difficult jumping sections may lead to a major banana split of frustration -- and a lot of balloons/extra lives burned.
Patience and careful planning, not leaps of wild abandon, are what's required to navigate some of the more deviously constructed levels -- I'm looking specifically at you, volcano- and pirate-themed worlds. It is actually possible to swing and climb your way through all eight worlds -- especially once your DK has bit the big banana a few too many times. Then the game stops and Cranky Kong shows you how to do it.
But to accomplish that and collect every single puzzle piece, every K-O-N-G, thereby unlocking secret levels and other bonus content? Only the most seriously skilled gamer chimps need apply.
Donkey Kong Country Returns is just the latest proof (see also: Kirby's Epic Yarn) that unlike 1980s-era horror flicks, some things can be updated with grace and style for a mod audience. Think this means we're ready for an update on Yoshi's Safari? Bring it on, Nintendo. Bring it on.