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‘Call of Duty WWII’ – Once More Unto the Beach, as Activision Takes the Series Back to Basics

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Call of Duty has always had a special place in my heart. Unfortunately, it’s one that has been unoccupied for many years. Over the course of the last decade — two gaming generations — and ten main series entries, this venerable franchise, once adored by fans for its re-imagining of some of the most tragic and triumphant events of the Second World War, became little more than a frat boy gadget-fest where K/D ratio is king, and to the gulag with everything else. That’s not a value judgment; it’s just a fact that the target demographic shifted, and the series was altered accordingly. The beauty of the game industry is that there’s something for everyone, from casual mobile gamers like my very own mother, all the way up to the twitchiest of 360 no-scopers.

Each successive Call of Duty title has seemingly competed against the last for the most outrageous kill streak, the most bombastic missions, and most convoluted plot, so I can understand why Activision and the various development studios responsible for the series made the decision to change it so drastically. In an FPS market that was and largely still is dominated by only two intellectual properties (Battlefield and Call of Duty) something had to be done in order to differentiate the franchises. It was, for all intents and purposes, a prudent decision — one that proved far more profitable than the accountants at Activision probably ever imagined.

Since the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare in 2007, the series has grown to be one of the most commercially successful that has ever existed, and is largely responsible for Activision being in the prominent industry position that it presently enjoys. Old school fans such as myself may have fallen by the wayside over the years, left in the dust and mud to bleed out, but the new formula attracted and retained a larger audience (and more money) than ever before. Whatever the series may have gained from its transformation, it also lost something: its heart. For better and for worse, the Second World War, even seventy-two years after it concluded with the razing of Berlin and the nuclear obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, remains alongside World War One as one of the most momentous conflicts of the last century. The lessons etched in blood onto the pages of history that such conflicts serve to teach us as a species should never be forgotten, and yet relentless, hawkish lobbying from those who have forgotten the meaning of “lest we forget” constantly threaten to make history repeat itself.

Thankfully, with the campaign of Call of Duty: WWII, Sledgehammer Studios have taken the series back to its roots to serve as a reminder of not only what made the series so good in the first place, but also of exactly how much mankind suffered during what could arguably be considered the last “good” war. Or at least, the last war fought for entirely good reasons.

The inclusion of campaign modes in first-person shooters is largely viewed as an anachronism by most gamers and by the industry itself; at best they’re considered a holdover to cater to the tastes of older gamers, like me, and at worst they’re viewed as a waste of resources that could be better spent on more multiplayer content. However, as EA DICE realized too late when they released Star Wars Battlefront without a single player campaign in 2015, there is still significant consumer demand for them. The demand is so great in fact that I suspect that EA was all but forced to include just such a campaign mode in the upcoming sequel, or else face the near complete abandonment of the freshly rebooted series.

No matter how desperately the big publishers would like to scrap any commitment to single-player narratives in order to facilitate a “games as service” market where individual titles are designed to be perpetually monetized to ensure maximum profits for the least actual effort, it’s obvious that gamers aren’t willing to surrender on this matter. Not yet, at least. Realizing how important single player campaigns are to a significant proportion of players, Glen Schofield and his writing/design team were keen not to make the same mistake. An inordinate amount of careful planning and research went into the creation of the campaign in Call of Duty WW2, and the results are plain for all to see. Not only have Sledgehammer Studios managed to recapture some of the essence of what made the first three games so popular, but they have also reaffirmed why these single player elements are so fundamental to the genre.

At roughly six hours long, the campaign of Call of Duty: WWII is no more substantial than those found in most of the previous games, but even in such a short space of time it manages to tell a heartfelt and heartbreaking story of sacrifice and survival, whilst simultaneously not skimping on Hollywood spectacle. Centered around the experiences of Ronald “Red” Daniels, a soldier in the 16th Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division of the United States Army, the campaign takes players from the blasted beaches of Normandy on D-Day, through the frost-bitten forests of the Belgian-German border, and all the way to the fortified banks of the river Rhine. As the front line advances, Daniels’ squad participates in several major battles of the war, including the Battle of Aachen, the liberation of Paris, and the Battle of the Bulge.

There are eleven campaign chapters that take place from June 1944 up to March 1945, each of which has its own individual structure that acts to complement and reinforce the dynamics of the overall narrative. For example, ‘The Battle of the Bulge’ mission begins with players delivering a crate of ammunition to a fellow soldier further up the defensive line, but rapidly deteriorates into a pitched battle beneath the boughs of the snow-smothered forest, culminating in a vicious standoff between infantry emplacements and an armored column as Nazi soldiers pour out of the smoke and mist like monsters from an ancient legend. The peaks and troughs of this mission, among others that have a similar internal escalation of action, all help to add much needed variation to the pace of the campaign. They make it so that each mission is as enjoyable whether played in isolation, or as considered a part of the greater whole.

The obligatory tank and aircraft sections are self-contained components of various missions, and allow players to see how their actions in the trenches and foxholes are but tiny parts of a conflict taking place across a much larger theater of war. These sections, underpinned by a superb Holst-inspired score provided by William Roget II, never fail to get the adrenaline pumping. There’s an infiltration mission with players bluffing their way into a foreboding Nazi barracks in the heart of occupied Paris that evokes the spirit of Agent Carter on more than one occasion, and is arguably the most interesting sequence of the entire game. If the focus had been placed entirely on stunning set piece moments (the explosive derailment of an armored train springs immediately to mind) then the underlying themes of the campaign may have been lost beneath the constant barrage of bullets and bombs.

As the campaign advances, Daniels and his squad are forced to endure personal losses that make them question the likelihood of their survival, as well as facing up to the psychological and emotional impact that the constant threat of imminent death has on them as soldiers and as men. Although the members of the “greatest generation” are largely considered to be heroes by default, what the campaign here shows us is that they weren’t. The horrors they had to endure on a daily basis, and the fact that any of them even survived to return home at all, made them heroic. The ensemble cast does a sterling job of conveying the realities of warfare without ever becoming overly maudlin or jingoistic, and at no point did I ever feel like I was playing through a recruitment pitch for the US military — a factor of more recent entries in the series that I have always considered abhorrent by its very nature.

On the whole however, the campaign suffers from what I like to think of as a form of “Netflix Syndrome” with regards to its content. It tries to cover so much ground over such a short space of time in order to conform to the established format that, whilst in a general sense it hits all the right notes and goes out of its way to offer players a more grounded, recognizable, and ultimately more human glimpse at the nature of war, it’s never really given the chance to expand on its themes or characters.

The pacing is well-managed not just in individual missions, but also across the campaign as a whole. Excellent as it is, it still feels very by-the-numbers and could have done so much more to showcase the true effects of war. That said, the epilogue has to be one of the most outstanding sequences to be found in any game of this type produced in recent years. In the aftermath of the war, Daniels and his squad set out to search for one of their number who was captured in an earlier mission. As they begin to sweep work camps in the surrounding area, they — and by extension the player — are forced to confront the true horror of war, and indeed the inhumanity that men can demonstrate when given free rein. It’s a very short segment, but offers an invaluable and harrowing peek behind that particular curtain.

As for multiplayer, there’s obviously plenty of that, and it’s all the standard Call of Duty fare. I was hoping that a return to World War II would promote a more considered and measured approach to multiplayer combat, but unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth. It’s still aimed almost exclusively at those who have regular energy drink transfusions and have played nothing other than Call of Duty for the last ten years. There’s little to no explanation of anything in either the regular multiplayer or the fan favorite Nazi Zombie mode which deters newcomers like me right the from the start. The matchmaking seems slightly absurd, with low-ranking players thrown in alongside gamers who already have invested hours in the game. I can only imagine this was done to expose new players to the fancy equipment that higher-ranked players have unlocked to boost sales of loot boxes. That might make sense from a business point of view, but from the perspective of someone like me it just makes one not bother, as you essentially become a points pinata for those who don’t even need it.

Don’t get me wrong — I can see the quality. There is a broad range of weapons, attachments, and various cosmetic options to personalize your soldier. Progression does feel tangible and rewarding, the map design and overall level of presentation for the multiplayer elements is just as impressive as that present in the campaign. If this is your sort of thing, then you’ll doubtless get endless hours of entertainment out of it. With the exception of War mode, which pits Allies against Axis in a objective-based struggle for map control, it doesn’t do anything new, however, and just feels like more of the same. On top of that, the intrusive loot boxes seem specifically designed to exert passive psychological pressure on players in a way that stops being simply obnoxious and becomes aggressive panhandling. Multiplayer veterans will no doubt find more than enough here to keep them occupied, but I couldn’t help but feel that the experience rapidly grew stale, and found myself wishing that the developers had taken cues from more co-operative shooters such as Overwatch.

So, is Call of Duty WWII actually any good? Yes, undoubtedly. Could it have been better? Of course. However, it’s important to note that Sledgehammer Studios have taken the series, (for this entry at least) back to the very basics, and as such the developers can no longer depend on the gadgets, gizmos, and gimmicks that made even gamers who play nothing but these titles turn away from the franchise. It does suffer from a reliance on quick time events and A-to-B-to-C gameplay, but going back to what made the series so great to begin with, even on such an elementary level, gives Activision a chance to encourage fans who may have given up on the series to return, all while offering the long term fans a taste of something relatively fresh. Call of Duty: WWII may not be the absolute victory that some were hoping for, but at least its release will not be a day that lives in infamy.

Chris is a Cambridge, UK based freelance writer and reviewer. A graduate of English Literature from Goldsmiths College in London he has been composing poetry and prose for most of his life. More than partial to real ale/craft beer and a general fan of sci-fi and fantasy. He first started gaming on a borrowed Mega Drive as a child and has been a passionate enthusiast of the hobby and art form ever since. Never afraid to speak his mind he always aims to tell the unvarnished truth about a game. Favourite genres: RPGs, action adventure and MMOs. Least favourite genre: anything EA Sports related (they're the same games every year!)

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Game Reviews

‘Bee Simulator’ Review: Pleasantly Droning On

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Unless a typical bee’s day involves a lot of clunky wasp fights, high-speed chases, and dancing for directions, it’s doubtful many players will walk away from Bee Simulator feeling like they’ve really been given a glimpse into the apian way of life. Sure, there’s plenty of the typical pollen collecting and human annoying here, but odd tasks like hauling glowing mushrooms for ants, helping baby squirrels find their mom, and stinging some little brat who’s stomping all your flowers (hopefully he doesn’t have an allergy) are also on the agenda. That’s not exactly keepin’ it real, but regardless, the variety is actually more simple and less silly than it sounds; it turns out that even doing weird bee stuff quickly becomes repetitive. Still, this family-friendly look at a bug’s life is bolstered by a sincere love of nature, as well as some smooth flight mechanics and a surprisingly large open world for younger gamers to explore.

Bee Simulator beetle

Set in a Central Park-like expanse, Bee Simulator definitely takes on a more edutainment vibe right off the bat (Goat Simulator this ain’t) with a prologue that offers up some info on the ecological importance of bees to the planet. That protective attitude is a constant throughout the game’s short campaign and side quests, as the well-being of these hive heroes is constantly under threat by those goonish wasps, the bitter cold of winter, and of course, oblivious humans. Players take control of a newly hatched worker bee (sorry, drone lovers) who dreams of a role more important than being relegated to merely buzzing by flowers, and consequently sets out to save the day. However, these crises are portrayed in the thinnest terms possible, resolved quickly, and summarily forgotten, leaving little of narrative interest.

So then, it’s up to the gameplay to keep players engaged, and in this area Bee Simulator is a bit of a mixed bag. On the good side, flying works really well, and gives a nice sense of scale to being a little bee in the great, big world. Winging it close to the ground offers a zippy sense of speed, as flowers and blades of grass rush by in colorful streaks. A rise in elevation makes travel seem slower, but provides a fantastic view of the park, showcasing a lakeside boathouse,a zoo filled with exotic creatures, as well as various restaurants, playgrounds, picnics, pedestrians, and street vendors scattered about. Precision is rarely a must outside chases that require threading through glowing rings (a tired flying sim staple) or navigating nooks and crannies, but the multi-axis controls are pretty much up to the task, and make getting around a pleasure.

Bee Simulator zebras

However, that sense of flowing freedom doesn’t quite apply to the limited list of other activities. Though the world is large, the amount of different ways to interact with it is very small, revolving around a few basic concepts: fighting, racing, dancing, retrieving, and collecting. And with the exception of the latter, these actions can only be performed at specifically marked spots that initiate the challenge; most of Bee Simulator exists purely for the view. It’s somewhat understandable in its predictability — how many different things can a bee actually do, after all? — but the gameplay is still a bit disappointing in its shallowness. Fighting plays out like a turn-based rhythm mini-game, those aforementioned races follow uninspired routes, dancing is simply a short bout of Simon, and collecting pollen employs a ‘bee vision’ that does nothing more than verify that players know their colors.

It’s very basic stuff that can’t really sustain motivation for those used to more creativity. The roughly 3-hour campaign seems to support this idea; Bee Simulator knows it doesn’t have much going on for veteran gamers. However, as a visual playground for younger kids to fly around in, free from any real danger, there is something a bit magical about the world presented. There are loads of little vignettes to happen upon, such as a family BBQ, a small amusement park, and a bustling kitchen. What exactly are those lonely row-boaters thinking about out on the lake by themselves? Where is the flower lady going in such a hurry? Discovering new places — like a lush, sprawling terrarium — creates the impression of a massive world with plenty going on regardless of whether the player sees it or not, and can serve to spark the imagination.

Bee Simulator garden

In addition to racking up that pollen for the winter, info on various flora and fauna can also be be collected and stored in the hive’s library, where 3-D models can also be purchased with ‘knowledge’ points earned through completing quests. These texts detail some interesting facts about brave bees and their relation to the environment, and can definitely be a fun teaching tool for wee gamers.

Grizzled fans of the open-world genre may want to buzz clear, however, as well as those hoping for some zaniness. Though Bee Simulator offers some solid soaring in an attractive environment, it’s a sincere, straightforward attempt to promote bee kind that doesn’t offer much more than a relaxing atmosphere and repetitive actions.

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‘Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order’: The Force is Strong in this One

A new hope…

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Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order Review

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is one of the more propulsive and joyous games released this year. The latest from Respawn Entertainment (the creators of Titanfall and Apex Legends) is sure to satisfy fans who have impatiently waited almost a decade for a single-player action-adventure Star Wars game, and one that is actually good. In fact, Fallen Order is better than good— it’s great and worthy of standing side by side with the best Star Wars games ever made. Save for an incredibly bland protagonist, Fallen Order delivers what any fan could hope for.  

We’ve been waiting a long time for a good single-player Star Wars game and thankfully Respawn has come through with a narrative-driven adventure that calls to mind the best of Uncharted, Tomb Raider, Dark Souls and even God of War while also embedding itself in official universe canon. If that isn’t enough, Jedi: Fallen Order drops you into Metroidvania style environments and features incredibly tough boss battles and a skill tree that lets you unlock tons of new abilities by accumulating experience and skill points. Jedi: Fallen Order is an ambitious game, to say the least. It features the fast-paced action the developers have become famous for and while the result isn’t groundbreaking (nor original), it’s a solid space opera spectacle with enough nostalgia to overpower even the most jaded gamer.

Star Wars: Jedi: Fallen Order Review

Order 66

The story takes place sometime between Star Wars: A New Hope and Episode III, when most of the Jedi Order are either dead or missing in action. You assume control of Cal Kestis, a promising young Padawan in the Republic who following the events of Order 66 (which resulted in the deaths of thousands of Jedi) was forced to abandon his training and seek a solitary life on the planet Bracca. In order to survive Darth Sidious’s purge of the Jedi Order, Cal removed himself from the Force, concealed his identity, and took on a job working for the Empire. Unfortunately for him, a squad of professional Jedi hunters led by Second Sister have tracked him down, leaving him with little choice but to fight back.

The Story is Canon

Fallen Order kicks off with a powerful and emotional sequence as Cal decides to risk his own life and try to save his friend. In doing so, Cal reveals himself to the Empire, setting in motion a cat-and-mouse chase that sees him team up with former Jedi Master Cere Junda and a Latero pilot named Greez Dritus. Armed with Jedi powers, a lightsaber and the trusty aid of BD1 (a droid designed to assist with exploration in remote and dangerous locations), Cal blasts his way through hyperspace discovering ancient tombs, freeing Wookie slaves, hijacking an AT-AT and basically fighting the Imperial Army.

Jedi: Fallen Order is a step forward for the franchise – an exhilarating ride, filled with exciting battles, non-stop action, soaring emotions, and performances that can be described as legitimately good, rather than just good, for a video game. It’s also a rousing introduction to new characters who will likely carry this world forward (I expect a sequel or two). There’s seriously a solid story here and one that adheres to the spirit and tone of the Star Wars universe. The supporting players, for example, are all great. Cal’s droid, BD-1, is particularly captivating, and the game does an admirable job of building up Cal’s friendship with the droid in both the cinematic cutscenes and in the actual gameplay.

Story-wise, BD-1 is crucial to the plot since the droid is entrusted to guide Cal on a dangerous mission assigned by Master Cordova who left behind a list of the missing Jedi children who he believes will one day restore the Jedi Order and defeat the evil Empire. Without BD, there is no adventure. With the help of the droid, however, Cal is able to travel to various planets and discover and unlock important messages and clues left behind by Cordova. Aside from guiding Cal across various planets, BD-1 also serves several support functions in gameplay. He can function as a zipline, hack certain droid enemies, unlock doors, project holographic maps and even provide Cal with “stims” that allow him to heal himself during combat— something you definitely need since a number of gameplay mechanics are lifted from the Soulsborne genre; in other words, the game can be hard.

Truth be told, the first few hours of Fallen Order are a bit generic as players are slowly introduced to the world, but it doesn’t take long before the game starts to shine thanks to the relationships Cal forms with his colleagues who he meets along the way. Jedi: Fallen Order is a story of rebellion and finding hope, but it’s also a story of friendship and braving adversity and the game really excels by investing in the interpersonal dynamics of its entire cast, and not just the good guys but the villains as well. BD-1 is without a doubt the scene-stealer as he certainly adds some much-needed levity to the journey, but every character serves an important role (big or small) in moving the story forward. Of the entire cast, I have to make mention of Actress Debra Wilson who does a superb job in her motion-capture performance as Cere, a warrior who is wounded and haunted by her past. She is the moral center and becomes Cal’s mentor as they desperately try and survive in a world that seems entirely devoid of any hope. As the plot unfolds, Cere relives her darkest moments and confronts the mistakes of her past. In these scenes, Debra Wilson shines so brightly, you’d be forgiven for thinking she deserves an Oscar.

Jedi: Fallen Order is a fun, polished space odyssey that embraces the appeal of the Star Wars universe.

Given that Respawn Entertainment worked closely with Lucasfilm, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Jedi: Fallen Order is officially part of the Star Wars lore. And despite operating in the shadow of the immensely popular series, it understands this and hardwires that understanding into its own DNA. And like the best Star Wars games, it borrows ideas from the films (and other reading material) while inserting flashbacks to flesh out the heroes and the conflict at hand. It certainly helps that the latest game in the canon explores new characters and new corners of the galaxy while remaining faithful to the core themes of the franchise and even if some of these storylines seem recycled from past stories, the new additions and the central mystery keeps the story engaging from start to finish. And while this story is much smaller in scale than the blockbuster movies, Jedi: Fallen Order raises the stakes in every chapter thanks to the omnipresent threat of the Inquisitors hunting Cal, who always seem like they’re one step away from closing in on the kill. And if you know anything about the future of the Star Wars universe, you know that Cal’s future isn’t looking too bright. All in all, the team at Respawn did an incredible job of exploring and expanding the universe of Star Wars, especially considering the dark time in which this story takes place.

Star Wars: Jedi: Fallen Order Cast

It’s clear when playing Fallen Order that the team was interested in creating a more nuanced, character-driven tale and in order to achieve that goal, they carefully crafted a story that weaves the player’s actions and interactions into Cal’s evolving journey. What we have here is a coming of age tale which sees Cal growing as a person while strengthening his relationship with the Force. Unfortunately, Cal Kestis is also somewhat of a dull protagonist. Sure, he has a tragic past (who doesn’t in this universe) but he’s also a blank slate, predictable and devoid of layers. Given that the story takes place after the Great Jedi Purge, you’d figure the writers could have used that trauma to create a far more complex character and inject Cal with a bit more life— a bit more personality— and/or a bit more fight; instead, he’s just a quiet, brooding loner. In the end, it feels like a missed opportunity, especially since actor Cameron Monaghan, who plays both the younger and older Cal, delivers the best performance he could with the writing he was given. It’s not a deal-breaker by any stretch of the imagination but Cal is surprisingly the only disappointing factor of the game.

Exploration

Jedi: Fallen Order’s best quality is exploration. What at first seems like a standard linear experience quickly reveals itself to be so much more. Levels are immense with plenty of shortcuts to unlock and puzzles to solve— and to help you navigate, Cal is given a handy 3D map that highlights which areas you can and cannot yet pass. Much of the game is spent exploring and it helps that each planet feels distinct and features various set pieces that liven up the proceedings. Although you do spend some time backtracking through these environments, it never becomes tedious as most areas are filled with tons of secrets such as new outfits for Cal to wear and additional stim canisters, which become valuable when facing off against a dangerous foe. As the level design quickly opens up, Cal gains new abilities that allow him to run along walls, jump higher and push and pull large objects that help him navigate through the treacherous ground.

Second Sister Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Jedi: Fallen Order Kicked My Ass

The combat in Fallen Order which has frequently been compared to Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is easily the biggest surprise. Fighting relies heavily on blocking and carefully timed parries and the decision to make combat more focused on defensive strategy heightens the spectacle as well as the flow and pacing of the game. Jedi: Fallen Order requires patience and relies less on mindlessly button spamming and more on strategic mastery. You have to look at your surroundings, understand your enemies and identify their strengths and weaknesses. It’s all about timing, and exchanging lightsaber blows during riveting boss encounters is incredibly satisfying. And it’s not just with the boss battles either; even encounters with regular stormtroopers and alien creatures take precision and care, each battle becoming a ballet of blocks and dodges as you patiently wait for an opening to attack so you can inflict more damage. Playing in the Jedi Master mode is tough and I do mean tough. Jedi Grandmaster seems downright impossible, at least for me. You’ll die. And then you’ll die again; rinse and repeat. And did I mention that when you do die, you lose whatever XP you’ve gathered toward skill points and have to return to defeat whoever killed you in order to reclaim it. Fans of the Dark Souls series will love it; for the rest of us, you can always dial down the difficulty setting because unlike those From Software games, you do have a choice over which difficulty you want to play. Whether you’re an action game veteran or a casual Star Wars fan, the game has four difficulty modes that should accommodate everyone. That said, if you’re familiar with action games, I highly recommend Jedi Master for your first run; Story Mode and Jedi Knight are too easy and don’t provide enough of a challenge.

Jedi: Fallen Order may not receive points for originality, but Fallen Order is still one of the most entertaining games of the year.

Jedi: Fallen Order feels like a direct response by EA to its fans who’ve been very vocal about their disappointment with the company’s previous Star Wars games. Or maybe EA was just trying to please Disney who has made it clear they have no issue in parting ways with collaborators who don’t deliver quality products. Whatever the case, EA was wise to hand over the license to Respawn Entertainment who’ve proven they have a real talent for making spectacular single-player action/adventure games. In spite of some minor performance issues, Fallen Order does exactly what it set out to do. Not only does it feel like a genuine Star Wars game but it pumps new energy and life into the franchise in a way that both resurrects old pleasures and points in promising new directions. Fallen Order is great. Not groundbreaking. But one of the very best games of 2019 and one of the best Star Wars games ever made.

Jedi: Fallen Order re-awoke my love of Star Wars video games and turned my inner fanboy into my outer fanboy. Here’s hoping they make a sequel.

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Game Reviews

‘Donkey Kong Country’ – Still as Difficult, Demanding and Amazing to This Day

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Donkey Kong Country

Donkey Kong Country: 25 Years Later

Back in 1994, Nintendo was struggling with their 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System, which wasn’t selling as well as they’d hoped it would. With the release of the Saturn and Playstation on the horizon, the Super Nintendo needed a visually impressive and original title to reinforce its market dominance. After three years of intense competition and heated rivalries, Nintendo desperately needed a hit that could prove the Super NES could output graphics on the same level as the forthcoming 32-bit consoles. They teamed up with Rare to produce Donkey Kong Country, a Mario-style platformer, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Donkey Kong Country is a game held in high regard and with reason. Monumental! Monstrous! Magnificent! Use any term you want, there’s no denying how important this game was for Nintendo and Rare. The graphics for the time were above and beyond anything anyone would imagine possible for the 16-bit system. For a two-dimensional side-scroller, Donkey Kong Country conveys a three-dimensional sense of dept. The characters are fluidly animated and the rich tropical environments make use of every visual effect in the Super NES’s armory. Each stage has its own theme, forcing players to swim underwater, navigate through a misty swamp, swing from vines, or transport DK using a set of barrels (cannons) to advance. And let’s not forget the mine cart stages where you ride on rails and use your quick reflexes to successfully reach the end. Every level has little nooks and crannies too, hiding secret areas and passageways that lead to bonus games where you can earn bananas and balloons, which you can trade in for additional lives. And in Donkey Kong Country, you’re not alone; your simian sidekick Diddy tags along for the adventure. You control one character at a time, and each has his own unique strengths. Donkey Kong can dispatch larger enemies with his giant fists, while Diddy can jump a little higher than his bulky cousin. It isn’t the most original platforming feature, but it works. The two heroes can also rely on various animal friends to help guide them through their adventure. Predating Super Mario World: Yoshi’s Island, Diddy and DK can also ride on the backs of Rambi the Rhino, Winky the Frog, Enguarde the Swordfish and more!

What’s really impressive about Donkey Kong Country is how it has withstood the passage of time. In 1994, Donkey Kong Country’s visuals were spectacular with its rendered 3D models, lively character animations, detailed backgrounds, and a lush jungle setting, and while some would argue the game is dated, in my eyes it still looks great to this day. Kong has heart, and he’s willing to show it in a game made with wit, excitement and moments of visionary beauty. Meanwhile, the soundtrack by David Wise is guaranteed to win listener’s over. Practically every piece on the soundtrack exudes a certain lyricism that has become a staple of Rare’s games – from its upbeat tropical introduction to the unforgettable climax which secures its place as one of the Super Nintendo’s most memorable boss fights. The result is an apt accompaniment to the colorful characters, tropical landscape, and tomfoolery that proceeds.

What really stands out the most about Donkey Kong Country after all of these years is just how challenging this game is.

But what really stands out the most after all of these years is just how challenging this game is. Donkey Kong Country is a platformer you can only finish through persistence and with a lot of patience. Right from the start, you’re in for one hell of a ride. In fact, some of the hardest levels come early on. There are constant pitfalls and Donkey Kong can only take a single hit before he loses a life. If your companion Diddy is following you he will take over but then if he takes a single hit you lose a life and it’s back to the start of a level. Needless to say, the game is unforgiving and requires quick reflexes and precise pattern memorization to continue. This game requires so much fine precision that it will definitely appeal to hardcore platforming veterans looking for a challenge and those that do are in for one hundred eighty minutes of mesmerization, astonishment, thrills, chills, spills, kills and ills. The only real downfall of Donkey Kong Country is the boss battles. Yes, Donkey Kong Country gave us some memorable villains such as Dumb Drum (a giant Oil Drum that spawns enemies after it hits the floor), and The Kremling King (who is responsible for stealing Donkey Kong’s Banana Hoard), but these enemies have very basic attack patterns and far too easy to defeat.

It’s one of the rare, great works of art that stands up endlessly despite repeated playthroughs, each time revealing something new.

Donkey Kong Country

Along with its two SNES sequels, Donkey Kong Country is one of the defining platformers for the SNES. The game looks great and sounds great and the platforming, while incredibly difficult, is still very fun. Rare did the unexpected by recasting a classic Nintendo villain as the titular hero and it paid off in spades. It’s one of the rare, great works of art that stands up endlessly despite repeated playthroughs, each time revealing something new.

The beauty of the original is that there’s more to it than the oversized gorilla. Donkey Kong Country is truly amazing!

– Ricky D

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