Nothing worth going bananas over in 'Donkey Kong Country'

I've handed down quite a few four-star reviews in 2010 because 1) we had a good game year, and 2) I don't review duds unless they're so popular or acclaimed that they demand coverage.

However, today I will give you a glimpse of how I skip mediocre games during a grueling gaming process.

I started the week playing "Gran Turismo 5." This is a race car game, but it's more of a driving simulator than a game.

Ultimately, you can race 1,000 cars on 71 tracks in 26 locales. That's an impressive universe. "Gran Turismo 5" shoots for the realism of the driving experience, thus it should appeal to fans of simulators.

But simulators bore me. At the start, I was forced to drive 40 mph in a regular car, and that's too slow for my taste. In car games, I want immediate superpowers, such as rockets to fire at rivals, or turbo at the very least.

I even drove using a great $100 add-on, a Logitech Driving Force GT steering wheel-with-gas pedal device, which made the driving feel even more real. But, for me, the game: meh.

My week moved on to "Splatterhouse," an implausibly bloody fantasy-horror game where you put on a mask (not unlike Jim Carrey in "The Mask") then turn into a huge beastly fella who punches, kicks, swords and shoots monsters who ostensibly work for a villain who has kidnapped your special lady, and you want her back.

"Splatterhouse" is somewhat entertaining. But it does suffer from smelling like hundreds of hack-and-slash games that came before it, where you beat the veins out of everybody. In other words: It's fairly well-made, it's just overly familiar to a serious gamer.

So I moved on to "Namco Museum Megamix" for 10 minutes. It seemed so awful, I can barely tell you anything about it, except the first 10 minutes made my soul puke in disgust.

And finally, my week ended with "Donkey Kong Country Returns." You must know who Donkey Kong is by now. He is a big ape. You portray him, running left to right in this "Mario"-esque platform adventure.

As Donkey Kong, you jump atop turtles' heads and kill them a lot. You collect little banana icons in order to win a free replay for every 100 bananas. You can turn into a rolling ball, a la Sonic the Hedgehog. You are helped by little Diddy Kong, sometimes. It is like a zillion Nintendo games of the past, if well-made (except the controls aren't awesomely crisply responsive).

I guess I enjoy "Donkey Kong Country Returns" the most, as would my nephew (I suspect). "Gran Turismo 5" is more impressive for its breadth, visuals and handling. And "Splatterhouse" is comical.

But I didn't play "Gran Turismo 5," "Splatterhouse" or "Namco Museum Megamix" enough hours to assign them with star reviews, due to "bored now."

I am giving "Donkey Kong Country Returns" three stars. But as you can see, my gaming workweek didn't lead to any four-star reviews. Did I mention "meh"?

("Donkey Kong Country Returns" by Nintendo retails for $50 for Wii -- Plays barely fun enough to recommend, to kids mostly. Looks OK. Easy. Rated "E." Three out of four stars.)

Contact Doug Elfman at delfman@ He blogs at


"Super Mario All-Stars" (Nintendo) is a shameless yet brilliant idea. It puts classic "Super Mario" games of the past in one Wii game.

Thus, "All-Stars" comes with the original "Super Mario Bros.," "Super Mario Bros. 2," and "Super Mario Bros. 3," plus "Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels," which once came out in Japan but not in America.

Amazingly, "All-Stars" has been released before -- in 1993 for Super Nintendo! But, of course, this is a Wii build with some enhancements, although it's still going to look pretty grainy.

Nintendo is saying this is a salute to the 25th anniversary of "Super Mario."

"Learn Science" (Dreamcatcher) uses minigames to get you to study certain lessons of light, sound, biology, geography, physics and anatomy.

This is a pretty egghead-y game, so don't expect it to be as big and fun as a first-person shooter.

An example of its methodology: In one mini-game, the screen tells you to arrange mirrors in such a way that a laser beam bounces off them, avoids obstacles, and ends up shining on a stage.

This is from the game makers behind last January's "Learn Chess" and "Learn Geography," and next year's scheduled releases "Learn Math," "Learn Music" and "Learn Words and Numbers."

"Learn Science" retails for $20 for DS. It's rated "E."