Release Date: May 24, 2013
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Monster Games, Retro Studios (Original)
If you have ever owned a Nintendo Wii in the last three years, then the odds are you’ve probably put that puppy to use and played Retro’s fantastic Donkey Kong Country Returns at some point in your gaming career. The sights and sounds of Donkey Kong’s world were still as vibrant as ever in the Kongs’ latest banana-filled outing, and Retro did an amazing job of taking the reins of Rare’s legacy with the old Donkey Kong Country games on the Super Nintendo, and boosting the core concepts into what will undoubtedly be one of the most impressive platformers of the decade. In fact, they did such a great job with the reimagining of the old SNES greats, that many people in the gaming community have begun giving Retro the highly-honored designation of “the new Rare.” But while Retro is currently toiling away at their still yet-to-be-announced Wii U debut, it’s time to see how Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D manages the jump (or barrel blast) onto the handheld screen.
So what’s different about the 3DS port as opposed to the original Wii version? Well for one thing, a new difficulty mode has been added to makes things just a little bit easier for newcomers to the series. As a sidescrolling platformer, Donkey Kong Country Returns is an incredibly difficult game, regardless of your experience in the genre. The new difficulty mode gives you a permanent extra health heart and some additional items to buy in Cranky Kong’s store, but nothing about the actual gameplay itself is changed. It may not seem like much, but trust me when I say that those extra hearts will definitely come in handy. Luckily, for players like me who are up to the challenge, you can opt to complete the game in its original mode, just as Donkey and Diddy Kong had intended.
In addition to the easier difficulty mode and slew of helpful items, there are actually 9 new levels that are exclusive to the 3DS version of the game: however, instead of crafting a completely new world, each one of these bonus levels is simply just another romp through every one of the previous world themes that we’ve seen before, like Jungle, Ruins, and Beach, and so that was a little disappointing for someone like me who was expecting a totally new and unfamiliar playground to romp through. But other than that, the overall experience between the Wii and 3DS is generally the same. While Donkey Kong Country Returns is an absolutely fantastic game itself (the Wii version would have easily scored above a 9/10 from me), I am going to be a little nitpicky here in my review of this port, because it does manage to slip on a few banana peels along the way.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the Wii game, Donkey Kong Country Returns features a heavy emphasis on platforming through different layers of each environment. For instance, on one stage you might jump into a barrel to shoot out and land on a platform in the distant background. The screen will remain fixed on the foreground while you control the Kongs in the distance (sort of like how it’s handled in Mutant Mudds). It also doesn’t help that the relatively small screen of the Nintendo 3DS makes Donkey Kong look like a tiny brown spec in the jungle half of the time. Because of this, the use of 3D in the game becomes an immediate problem, as the different depths and scopes used to compensate for these perspective changes are pushed to the extreme. I noticed this right away on the main title menu, when the game’s logo appeared up close in the foreground, while the island in the background looked incredibly far away and deeply inset on another, very noticeable layer.
I remember reading that the 3DS version of Donkey Kong Country Returns is locked at 30 FPS, unlike the extremely quick and smooth Wii version. I’m not really a stickler for system specs such as this, but I still think it’s important to mention, as some gamers will inevitably notice it. What DOES bother me about the port, however, is how the controls become a bit clunky in their translation from the seamless Wii experience. My biggest complaint has to do with making Donkey Kong roll and run, which is an important mechanic to any sort of long-term success in the game. On the Wii, all you had to do was shake your Wii Remote to roll, and off Donkey Kong would go. Here everything just feels incredibly unresponsive, and there were countless times where I missed a big jump because Donkey Kong had stopped running, or Diddy’s jetpack initiated when I intended to just jump off an enemy’s head. Considering how important it is to be able to roll, and then flawlessly go into a fast-paced bound, I can’t even imagine how Nintendo expects anyone to complete the game’s demanding time trials on this platform.
But even so, there’s no denying how much fun it is to have a full Wii game right in the palm of your hands, and Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D proves to be the perfect game to play on the go, or in quick bursts in between peeling your stash of bananas (if only the game would stop asking me if I wanted to take a break from playing every dang 30 minutes!). With tons of creative and incredibly challenging stages to barrel through, and even more collectibles and extra mirror modes to find, Retro might even have released their Wii U debut by the time you reach that elusive 200% completion mark. You can even take advantage of the game’s 2 Player co-op mode, but you’ll need two game cartridges over a local Wi-Fi connection, and the game sadly doesn’t make use of any online matchmaking when things get a little bit too harrowing in those jungles.
So in the end, if you own a Nintendo 3DS or just prefer collecting bananas on the go, then Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is still an essential title to add to your handheld collection. If you also have a Wii, then the 2010 home console release of Donkey Kong Country Returns remains the definitive version of this already-classic in sidescroller platform gaming. But despite its minor flaws in the translation to handheld controls and use of 3D perspectives, platform games in the 2010s simply don’t get much better than this.
Story – 8/10
Graphics – 7/10
Gameplay – 8/10
Sound – 10/10
Multiplayer – 7/10
Replayability – 10/10