Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D (3DS) Review

Donkey Kong is a character who has graced many Nintendo consoles in the past, either as the star of his own game or as a supporting character in other games for fans to play or cheer.  His last big outing was on his own was Donkey Kong Country Returns for the Wii.  It was a great game that challenged the most diehard of platform fans.  Well, Nintendo knows when it has a good thing, so they have re-released the title for the 3DS.  Although the core game remains, they have made some changes to make this re-release worth looking at closely, not only for those that have never played the game, but also for those that played through the original.

For those who have played it on the Wii you can skip on down to the next paragraph.  For those who are new to Donkey Kong Country Returns here’s the premise of the game.  Like all apes out there, bananas are the main food in Donkey Kong’s diet, unfortunately these bananas are being stolen by other animals who reside in the jungle, and the big ape is none too happy about it.  The animals who are committing the thievery have been hypnotized by some mischievous Tiki spirits, so not only is Donkey Kong on a mission to get his bananas back, but he also must help beat these evil Tiki sprits to leave the other animals alone.  Sure, it’s not the most plausible story, but hey, it’s a game about an acrobatic ape getting his bananas back, so what did you expect?

There is no doubt that this game is a platform experience through and through, as you run, jump, ground-pound, and traverse the various levels.  As you do you’ll dodge or jump on an assortment of enemies, figure out how to reach various areas, and of course gather up all the collectibles you can.  Collectibles are bananas (100 = 1 extra man), coins (spendable at Cranky Kong’s store), and letters to form the word KONG.  It’s a fairly large game that will challenge your platforming skills.  There is a lot to do and this game will no doubt keep you busy for a while.

The original Donkey Kong Country Returns on the Wii was challenging to say the least.  There were more than a few ‘controller-throwing’ moments in that game that definitely tested my patience back then, and these moments are in the 3DS version as well.  It is a true port of the original game released over two years ago.  I have to admit I was worried about the difficulty of the Wii game being ported over as the 3DS is owned by many younger or casual gamers that may not be accustomed to the “hardcore” nature of the game; however, Nintendo has recognized this fact and there are two modes of play offered.  The first is “Original Mode” which retains the games difficulty level.  The second mode is simply titled “New Mode” and it offers up some aspects to make the game a little, and I do stress little, easier.

Should you choose to play the game in New Mode, you’ll find the game retains its core gameplay, but you are given some “tools” to help you in your efforts.  An additional heart is added to your health (three as a opposed to two), and you have access to special items that you can buy to help stay alive.  You can equip up to three of these items where as in the Original Mode you can only equip one.  These items range from a balloon that will save you from falling or a crash guard that will save you when you hit an item in a mine cart or rocket level.  These items are useful, but be forewarned they are a one-time use item in any particular level and you have to purchase them at the Cranky Kong’s store.

Of note, should you die enough times in either the Original or New Mode, Super Kong makes an appearance.  This silver ape is akin to Super Luigi in Mario Bros. Wii U where he shows you the route and tricks of the trade for the specific level you are struggling with.  The main difference though is that Super Kong will finish the level for you allowing you to advance, but you don’t get to keep any of the items he collects.

Another key addition to the 3DS version of the game is the control scheme moves from the Wii Remote/Nunchuk combo.  In the Wii game you had to shake the controller to get Donkey Kong to perform various moves (e.g. ground-pound).  In the 3DS version the controls have shifted to the buttons, and this makes for a more traditional experience.  I have to say that I fully enjoyed this aspect as the game seemed to take me back to the days of playing the Rare developed Donkey Kong games that were released on the SNES.  Playing with the traditional buttons versus the motion controls utilized in the Wii version was more intuitive too and seems geared for the 3DS audience.

Nintendo made sure to add another key gameplay feature to the 3DS version of this game, and it is something fans of the Wii version should enjoy.   There is a whole new section in the game that adds a bunch of new levels.  Yep, there is NEW content for those who played the original.  These new levels blend in with the rest of the game well and many will enjoy them all as they continue to test one’s gaming skills.  If you are wondering how you can access them, you only need to play through the game in its entirety or purchase a special orb from Cranky Kong’s store.  Regardless of how you access these new levels, you’ll be in for a challenge as they can be hard to master.

Donkey Kong Country Returns on the 3DS also offers up a bit more to extend your gameplay experience.  Once you finish the full game you open up a “Mirror Mode” which you can play.  It offers up even a tougher challenge then the main game.  The other thing to note is that there is a local multiplayer cooperative mode where one player is Donkey Kong and the other player is Diddy Kong.  In order to do play this mode you’ll need two copies of the game.  Unfortunately at the time of writing this review I did not know anyone else who had this game, so I was unable to try this out.  Should I get the chance to do this I may update this review if it affects the game one way or another.

Visually speaking the game is solid on the 3DS, but there are some notable differences.  Recently I moved the Wii to our children’s playroom and they have been playing some older games, and one of them is Donkey Kong Country Returns.  This has given me a great reference point for the look of the 3DS game versus the Wii game.  As with the console version, the 3DS’s levels are well designed and maintain the creativity that the game is known for.  From jungles, to mines, to the beaches of the island, each level looks different and you won’t find any two the same.  I am always amazed with some of Nintendo’s platforming levels, and this game is no different.  Animations are also fairly fluid, but you’ll hit the odd bout of slowdown now and then.  It’s not a deal breaker, but noticeable nonetheless.  The biggest difference between the two versions that I noticed was that the colours in the 3DS version did not jump off the screen the way they do in the Wii version, they feel somewhat muted.  Don’t get me wrong, it looks good, but it just didn’t have the bright and vibrant feel of the bigger home console version.  It was also harder to see things at times on the small 3DS screen versus a TV.

Of course the 3DS is capable of 3D images, and I have to say that I was impressed with the level of depth that was offered when playing in 3D.  Each level took on a different life when played in 3D as things in the background truly looked like they were back in distance, while those in the foreground took prevalence.  One such instance had a level where giant waves came toward the beach, and you had to stand behind something in order not to get washed away.  As the wave hit the beach, and the item you stand behind, the water would literally jump off the screen.  It was pretty neat to see and just one instance of good 3D usage.

As for the game’s sound, the highlight is the soundtrack.  Donkey Kong Country Returns includes music from older Donkey Games and remixes the tracks as well as adds some new tunes.  I have to say that I was fairly impressed as the each track suits each level and you won’t find yourself wanting to turn the music off.  As for the sound effects, well what can you say about a game that has an ape battling evil Tiki spritis and hypnotized animals?  DK himself sounds like an ape, Diddy Kong sounds like a monkey with a jet pack, and the sound of water running, wind blowing, cannons firing, and mine carts on a track all sound like they should…in a video game that is.

Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is a solid platformer, there is no doubt about that, but it is a port of the original Wii game which is a good game too.  With solid visuals and sound, some new levels, a new control scheme, and a new mode to help manage the original game’s difficulty, there is not much to go wrong; however, it can be hard to see things on the smaller 3DS screen (as opposed to a TV) and you will hit a few framerate issues now and then too.   In the end this 3DS port is a solid game and both fans of the original and those new to the game will enjoy all that this portable version has to offer.

The Good


The Bad