Donkey Kong Country Returns: Can it recapture fans?

The aped crusader slides again

It looks like Wii owners will have something to beat their chests about this Christmas. Retro Studios' Donkey Kong Country re-imagining is every bit as bananas as you'd expect.

Although the generic world themes don't exactly leap off the screen at you (Beach, Ruins, Jungle), the levels themselves are supremely inventive and there's never a dull moment.

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The pick of the bunch so far is 'Stormy Shore', which sees DK at his barmy best. Barmy, but not balmy; this nautical nightmare of a stage has our favourite apes hopping frantically from swaying boat to swaying boat, few of which are appreciably bigger than one of DK's lumbering feet.

Sound easy? Then consider that all this while, you're being shadowed by an enormous octopus in the background that periodically reaches into the action to take a swipe at DK, wiping out any platforms that cross his path.

Despite occurring fairly early on in the game, it's clear that it wastes no time in getting as tough as a frozen banana. Many monkeys were lost at sea during our playtest session.

Other levels were modern takes on old-school DK challenges. 'Button Bash' takes the classic barrel-to-barrel aerial stunt show to new levels of absurdity - at the stage's climax, you have to propel the duo into the mouth of a rotating monkey statue.

Mistime your jump and DK will land snout-first into a pile of rubble, knocking him another rung down the evolutionary ladder.

Elsewhere, it wouldn't be a DKC game without mine carts, and level 1-6 obliges with a timing test which isn't so bad if you just want to get to the end, but is absolutely brutal if you're intending to collect all the jigsaw pieces littered across the track.

Finally, Rambi's back! The loveable-ish rhino is uncovered box-fresh in a level called 'Totem Topple', which is a speedrun by necessity - if Rambi doesn't trot through the level at a quick enough pace, he won't gather the momentum needed to butt his way through the destructible blocks which block the gangways ahead of you.

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Although it's thematically very faithful to the old Donkey Kong Country games, we were impressed by the extent to which Retro Studios have managed to stamp their own authority on the series.

Donkey Kong might not have an invite to Mario's 25th anniversary party, but in DKC Returns, he has his own celebration of all things retro, and it's the place to be on Wii this winter.

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