Developer: Monster Games Inc. / Publisher: Nintendo / Played On: 3DS / Price: $34.99 / ESRB: Everyone
Donkey Kong Country Returns for the Wii proved that the veteran Nintendo mascot wasn’t resting on his laurels: the big ape has plenty more adventures to go on and countless bananas to recover. Beautiful visuals, spot-on platforming, a wonderful variety of levels, and Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong at the helm once again made the Wii title an instant classic.
Barrel blast ahead to 2013 and we have Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D: a port of the game to the Nintendo 3DS. Amazingly, the 3DS version converts everything the original game had to offer, as well as adding a handful of exclusive new levels to challenge the heartiest of DK lovers. Unfortunately with this transition, Returns 3D manages to also retain some of the flaws of the first game and creates its own faults in the process.
On the surface, Returns and Returns 3D are the same game: you control Donkey Kong as he ventures out into eight worlds to defeat the evil Tiki’s that have stolen his bananas. The gameplay is a throwback to the Donkey Kong Country games of yore: collecting K-O-N-G letters, transporting via exploding barrels, and rolling into enemies makes you think you’re playing the Super Nintendo all over again. Even the soundtrack is from yesteryear, sampling and remixing the original trilogy of SNES games’ excellent catalog of music. A two player mode is also available, which lets one player control DK while the other takes over the much more versatile Diddy Kong, complete with his jet pack for easier platforming. These are all qualities that made the Wii version loved by old and new gamers alike, and they’re the same qualities that make the 3DS version just as praiseworthy.
Returns 3D has a near perfect blend of challenging and forgiveness. There were many sections in the late levels that I died on countless times, either mistiming my jump or being killed by an enemy. But the game is so generous with extra lives and mid-level checkpoints that I was never worried about completely failing. On top of that, if you fail one particular section enough times, you can activate the Super Guide to have the computer take over for you and show you how to complete the section you’re struggling with. I found the difficulty to be just right, achieving a proper mix of hair-pulling frustration and euphoric satisfaction upon completion.
The amount of variety from between levels keeps you interested in what happens next. One stage has you trekking through a lush forest while the next has you careening through a mineshaft dodging supersonic bats, only to enter the next stage where you’re constantly flying through the air with Diddy’s jet pack. The variation of gameplay keeps the entire experience fresh and makes the game all kinds of fun.
Replayability is high with Returns 3D. Aside from the game’s normal eight worlds with seven or eight stages in each, there are hidden stages you can only unlock if you find all the K-O-N-G letters in each zone. Completing all of these special levels unlocks the 3DS exclusive suite of stages that are easily the most challenging in the entire game. If that’s not enough, beating these stages rewards you with a harder version of the main game, which strips you of Diddy Kong and reverses each level. Beyond that, there are unlockable goodies to seek out, like concept art, music, and more that you can discover by finding hidden puzzle pieces scattered throughout the game. Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D practically begs you to replay the game over and over again, with some much content it’s bursting from the tiny 3DS screen.
As I said before, on the surface the two games appear to be the same. It’s when you pull back the sheen of nostalgia that you start to notice some of the shortcomings.
The biggest change in the shift from Wii to 3DS is the controls. Obviously the 3DS can’t preserve the Wii’s motion control scheme, so Returns 3D incorporates precise button inputs for movement, jumping, and attacking. It might take some time getting used to the tie-wearing ape’s jumps, but once you do you’re zipping through levels and hopping over chasms like you did on the SNES.
That is if you can get the timing right.
The 3DS does an admirable job handling the game’s controls, but I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that the timing of the jumps and, more so, the landings were a bit off. Nudging DK while he’s bouncing off a tire, dodging spiky enemies and flaming foes, to successfully land on the next platform becomes a daunting task because you never feel fully in control. The circle pad is great for responding to simple movements, but to me it felt inadequate to handle the concise taps to alter your position mid-flight. There is an option to switch to using the d-pad instead, but this offers little to diffuse the overarching issue.
The visuals don’t help the situation much either. Returns 3D recreates every level from the Wii version, down to the last pixel (which is quite a feat for the handheld), but in so doing the game’s background is sometimes hard to distinguish from the foreground. There were more than a few cases where I thought I was jumping onto a ledge only to plummet to my death. This is particularly apparent when the stage has you jump from the foreground of the level to the background: the wider, further back shots make it difficult to tell what you’re doing (though they are admittedly the best use of 3D the game creates). I know this is a platformer with some non-forgiving levels, but making a mistake because the visuals were hard to differentiate is lame no matter which way you look at it.
Don’t let these points limit you from experiencing this game though. Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is still a wonderfully entertaining title with plenty of highlights. Gamers who have yet to play through the mascot’s rebirth will be astounded by the bright visuals, various gameplay mechanics, and replayability, assuring the game remains happily in your 3DS system. If you’ve played the original version on the Wii there isn’t much here to allure you back to the jungle, so only diehard DK fans need apply.
+ Crazy high replay value
+ Various gameplay changes keep the entire game entertaining
- Difficulty differentiating between foreground and background lead to many cheap deaths