You really have to hand it to the team behind Donkey Kong Country 4: The Kongs Return. Not only have they created their engine from scratch but everything about the look and feel of the game just screams original SNES!
DKC4 isn’t a rom hack, rather a stand alone game built to feel identical to the original DKC trilogy! Its development as a team project began back in 2011 when Leo_Core shared his work until them, developing the engine. Interesting enough, you can actually go back in time and read the archived conversations on the the DKC Atlas forums that got the team together!
Many artists have contributed to the project since. Sprites from the original game were recreated and reanimated to play just as you remember them. Level textures were also remade and retain a similar vibe to some of the best worlds across the trilogy. Also, all four Kongs are playable! Picking which Kong you want in your party works by picking up the Kong barrel as their sprite is hovering above it. DK still has strength, Diddy has the speed, Dixie can hover and Kiddy… well, Kiddy Kong still creeps me out.
Version 3.0 offers nine original levels to explore. All are themed after older DKC levels like ships, forests, ruins and swamps. Having all four Kongs lets you experience levels in unique ways each play through!
It wouldn’t be a DKC game without the minigames and The Kongs Return keep those coming at you every which way! Similar play styles with new designs rejuvenate each experience and offer a nice gameplay mix up.
Gameplay wise, DKC4 is identical to the original games in every way I could distinguish… except for one thing: the music.
Most of the music feels more inspired by late 90’s keygen software than David Wise. Instead of playing midi files using a soundfont reminiscent of the SNES sound card, mixed down OGG files are used. These do seem to be recordings of midi-like compositions though but the virtual instruments used sound more like N64 instruments or straight up CD quality audio.
The open ring of a hand drum will roll over a staccato melody invigorates me with memories of DK Island Swing. Next level I’m listening to driving synth patterns found in games Perfect Dark or Extreme G with a drum track that might just be using the default electronic drum kit in FL Studios.
Listen, it’s not bad music. — I have the folder of OGGs copied for personal listening. If you’re having fun playing the game, they won’t kill your buzz but you will notice not all of them fit the theme.
So The Kongs Return is the exact style of fan game that I would love to see release their source code to the public! The DKC rom hack scene doesn’t boast the richest toolbox to pull from. Having a replica engine on PC with design tools developers with passion but no programming skills could us would be a game changer. New campaigns and complete gameplay overhauls would run rampant! Any DKC fan could make their own personal level pack without the steepest of learning curves.
The current build, demo 3, is a rather short but potent experience. Its nine levels and last about 60-90 minutes, probably less if you know the DKC mechanics like the back of your hand. That being said, a video hinting at a recent release of demo 4 came out just over a month ago and between now and demo 3’s release, multiple videos showing the progress the team has make were posted!
If you’re looking to play through the Demo 3 build, the official link can be found right here: http://www.mediafire.com/file/9y8zc3yz7ry3xt3/Donkey+Kong+Country+4+The+Kongs+Return+-+Demo+v0.3.rar
The DKC4 The Kongs Return official YouTube channel is here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEX-5V6E1_bIVDCsc5RyQGw
… and lots other DKC fan made content can be found on the DKC Atlas Forum, found here: http://www.dkc-atlas.com/forum/index.php
Big big shouts to engine designers HyperKalango, NecroToad and LeoCore for attempting and succeeding with a large project like this! Also big shouts to the many artists and designers who had a hand in recreating so much content. You guys are making a lot of fans excited with your work!!