Despite a seemingly out-of-left-field rumor that almost spoiled the surprise, Retro Studio’s upcoming Donkey Kong Country Returns was one of Nintendo’s most applauded revelations at today’s press event.  While the trailer certainly looked fresh and exciting, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good ol’ fashioned hands-on session. Fortunately,  Nintendo was more than happy to provide one on the show floor.

The first thing that jumps out about DKCR is how detailed and colorful the environments are; trees sway, bananas glisten and DK kicks up clods of dirt as he runs.  Both DK and Diddy and their enemies look sharp, and it’s obvious that the guys at Retro took a page from the original DKC design playbook.  Aside from that, something is always going on in the background.  Whales surface from the ocean, stone statues crumble and collapse in your path, and dynamite blows open collapsed caverns.  It’s really a gorgeous game.

The second thing that stands out is how nice the controls feel.  Running and jumping is tight and responsive, and when Diddy is on DK’s back, the latter gets a little floaty boost from the former’s rocket pack.  Waggle controls like pounding the ground and rolling also feel fine, and I never felt like I did something I didn’t mean to and vice versa.

The level design seems nicely balanced and, if the mine cart stage is any indication, DKCR boasts a nice difficulty curve.  Aside from just getting to the end of the stage there are K-O-N-G letter to collect and fiendishly hidden puzzle pieces that do God-knows-what.  Seriously, guys, this game is no joke.

After spending a considerable amount of time on the show floor, DKCR may just be my most anticipated new game for this holiday season.

Donkey Kong Country Returns releases this holiday season, exclusively for the Nintendo Wii.

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