Retro Studios' latest Donkey Kong game may not be exactly what every follower of the studio was hoping for, but you can rest assured that it's at least what Donkey Kong fans were after: more Donkey Kong.
Quite a lot more, by the looks of it, and although innovation seems fairly thin on the ground, the shift to an HD platform has given good old DK a lovely pelt, while the designers of his challenging gauntlets have lost none of their enthusiasm for minecarts, exploding barrels and enemies who drop into the world just itching to be bonked on the head by a passing gorilla.
What's changed? Well, there's a new threat in the shape of some invading viking cutie-pies, who take the form of tusk-helmeted walruses and penguins and have sent Donkey Kong on an impromptu tour of the nearby archipelago before he returns home to save the day. Then there's the option to play as Dixie Kong instead of Diddy Kong -- a double-jump instead of a jetpack -- and there are promises that a fourth playable character will be joining the action too. You can swim once more -- a feature that was absent from Donkey Kong Country Returns -- and you can also switch the action between the big TV and the Wii U screen when you're shoved out of the living room because Storage Hunters is starting and Pape Bear is going to drop a few Gs over something very mysterious that's lurking under a tarp in a garage in West Hollywood.
Beyond that, there's a new focus on plucking stuff out of the ground -- a buried lever might lower a nearby platform, while a sproutling could be attached to a collectable -- and the game also feels a little kinder for newcomers. The green safety balloons from the 3DS instalment of Retro's first Donkey Kong game are back, allowing you one missed jump before you're sent plummeting to your doom, and the E3 build featured three hearts per character, even if some of the screenshots show only two.
Elsewhere it's undeniably business as usual, but business at least seems to move at a jaunty pace. Beyond the new pelt, Donkey Kong's world is looking dandy, with rubber plants swaying in the breeze, glorious sunset lighting, and a more dynamic camera that can't wait to circle the action as you ping from one barrel to the next, or shift around you on climbing sections. The first few levels revealed so far have a distinct Catch-22 junker vibe to them, with levels built from lumps of old aircraft and rusting cargo crates in which you duck beneath flaming propellers and bust out of the occasional fuselage, while a later environment suggests the kind of wind-blown mesas and tin-roofed shacks of a Yosemite Sam cartoon.
Wherever you look, the landscape is vivid, organic and defiantly indelicate, and it's dynamic, too. Almost every platform you encounter is either swinging, shaking or rigged to collapse, and there's a constant interplay between the foreground and the background, as a pounding of the sand underfoot sinks viking longboats gathered in a distant harbour, or an idle tug on a tuft of grass sends a beanstalk shooting out of the ground behind you.
The animation's wonderful, particularly in boss fights, one of which sees you facing off against a giant circus seal who slips and slides about in what appears to be a skate park half-pipe, and the whole thing moves at a tremendous clip. What the series lacks in terms of puzzles and alternate routes it makes up for with sheer headlong force of will as you rattle along, ducking spikes, grabbing onto tufts of grass and leaping from one crumbling track to the next in your juddering cart.
Even though the difficulty appears to have been reined in somewhat -- this is a notoriously tricky thing to gauge in an E3 build of course -- there are clear signs of glinting malevolence already visible in even these early stages. Donkey Kong's looking relatively comfortable here, in other words -- although with the likes of Rayman moving in on his precision platforming territory, he may need a lot more than a confident sweep of new stages and some fresh fur rendering tech to make him stand out in the crowd.
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