Version tested Wii
Times is 'ard, as we're so often reminded. The newspapers are full of stories about how eight-year-olds will soon be charged 15p per times table learned, while Ireland may be forced to solve its financial crisis by auctioning off Enya. Not even being told we've got to pay for the wedding of the seventh richest young millionaire in Britain is enough to cheer us up.
But here's something which might do the trick: Donkey Kong Country Returns. This isn't a HD remake or a franchise reboot or whatever the heck a redux is. It's simply a new instalment in a classic series.
It's so reminiscent of the original titles you can almost forget this credit crunch nonsense ever happened, and pretend you still live in a world where going to the shops on Sunday is a novelty, saying "Psyche!" is acceptable and a long and successful career lies ahead for Chaka Demus & Pliers. The illusion would be complete if Cranky Kong didn't look so much like Vince Cable.
Just like all the old games, Donkey Kong Country Returns features a forgettable storyline revolving around the theft of some fruit. (The old plots have blurred into one in my mind, though apparently they were different. Wikipedia notes that DKC2: Diddy Kong's Quest was "less cheery and more darkly themed" than its predecessor, which must have been seriously cheery, considering DKC2 was about a monkey being held to ransom by a pirate crocodile for some bananas.)
This time the bananas have been stolen by members of the Tiki Tak tribe, weird floating masks which appear to have been stolen themselves from the Crash Bandicoot games. Your mission is to retrieve the bananas, avoiding death at the hands of giant orange spiders, bright pink vultures, animated bongo drums and so on along the way.
You play as Donkey Kong. As usual Diddy can be found hiding in barrels dotted around each level, and smashing them open will free him up to hop on Donkey's back.
You can't switch between the two characters with a button-press, as in previous games, but having Diddy on board is handy as he doubles Donkey's default number of health hearts to four. Plus, he's equipped with a jetpack which enables Donkey to remain in the air for a little longer when he jumps. This is a lifesaver during trickier platforming sections.
The movement mechanics are instantly familiar and perfectly tuned. Donkey's jumps have just the right amount of floatiness and his animations are as fluid as they ever were. However, he's now got some new moves. Giving the Wii remote a swift waggle makes Donkey hammer his fists on the ground, which reveals hidden secrets and stuns enemies. It's a neat addition.
The same can't be said of Donkey's barrel roll or blowing action. If you're using a remote on its own, held sideways, pulling these off involves holding down a direction on the d-pad while you waggle. This isn't too difficult, but it feels awkward and interrupts the flow of the gameplay.