Review: Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D
Alongside Super Mario Galaxy, Donkey Kong Country Returns is one of the most highly regarded games in the Wii library and Retro Studios is giving it a second lease of life on Nintendo’s 3DS. Adding some new levels into the mix and toning down the challenge with a brand new mode that could make this portable revision the definitive Donkey Kong experience.
The game has lost very little, if anything, in its transition from console to handheld; the impressive production value remains and the entertaining cutscenes that further the story are just as captivating as they were in 2010.
The story is the standard Donkey Kong affair, seeing our primate protagonist’s banana stash being stolen by a myriad of hypnotised animals, providing the MacGuffin that gets Donkey and Diddy back into the action and barrel blasting through a number of colourful environments in an attempt to reclaim their favourite fruit.
The controls have made the perfect transition, eschewing the gimmicky and unintuitive motion controls of the original in favour of the more traditional SNES layout introduced by Rare in 1994’s Donkey Kong Country.
It is interesting to note that Diddy Kong has been relegated from playable character to glorified jetpack. Freeing Diddy from his barrel prison no longer rewards you with the ability to play as Donkey Kong’s more agile sidekick, but simply sees him jump on Donkey Kong’s back to provide him with some welcome propulsion in the form of a jetpack to help him reach areas that were previously inaccessible. However, delve into the player co-op mode and two players can jump, roll and barrel blast their way through levels together, stripping DK of his jetpack power-up, but giving you the added benefit of an ally to share in the inevitable failure and heartbreak that is bound to occur throughout this immensely challenging adventure.
Retro Studios have treated us to some of the most creative level design of any side-scrolling platformer of recent memory. The various worlds are beautifully designed and varied, seeing you go from a lush jungle to a dark cave whilst stopping off at fiery volcano. Every time you find a favourite level, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D throws something even more creative and memorable at you; whether Donkey and Diddy are silhouetted in darkness, hurtling down a rickety track in the series’ iconic mine carts, or you’re barrel blasting from foreground to background in a mechanic that really shines when combined with the 3DS’ stereoscopic 3D effect, the level design really is the star of the show here.
The difficulty of Donkey Country Returns is not to be understated; you will fail and fail often, but every time you do it never feels unjust or a result of faulty gameplay mechanics – it’s the level design that gets you – so smashing that barrel at the end of each section can be an immensely satisfying experience. For those unwilling to test their skills at the highest level, the inclusion of the ‘New Mode’ softens the difficulty slightly, giving you an extra heart and additional items (such as a balloon to carry you to safety when about to fall into the abyss) that make it a far more accessible experience for younger gamers and people that don’t quite feel like launching their 3DS through a train window on their daily commute. Alternatively, too many deaths will introduce Super Kong, a character that introduces a kind of autopilot feature that will complete areas on your behalf if the challenge proves to be too much.
Retro Studios have also introduced eight entirely new levels that are exclusive to this 3DS release of the game, and while it may not be enough to entice owners of the Wii version to spend their hard-earned cash on a near identical experience, it should certainly provide extra incentive for newcomers and die-hard Donkey Kong fans alike.
If there’s anything to hold against this 3D revamp, it’s that some of the visual fidelity has taken a hit in the process of slimming down for the 3DS. The resolution isn’t nearly as high, so some character models can appear a little jagged at times and the reduced frame rate hinders the fluidity of the platforming, which could be quite jarring to fans of the original, but that’s to be expected on a device of this size.
Nitpicks aside, Donkey Kong Country returns is an outstanding portable adventure that is every bit the platforming marvel that we remember. The tweaked difficulty and eight new levels are welcome additions, and while it’s not quite as visually impressive as it was on the Wii, the exceptional gameplay and level design remains intact. When it comes to portable platformers, this one is the pick of the bunch.