Review: Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D

DonkeyKongCountryReturns3D

When Donkey Kong Country Returns landed with a simian-sized thump on the Nintendo Wii in 2010, it was more than just another blast of ‘80s flavored nostalgia form the Big N Vault. It was a gauntlet tossed in the direction of hardcore Nintendo fans who’d probably had their fill of Wii Fit and a skyscraper-sized pile of casual fare. DK and Diddy were the cartoon frontmen, sure, but this adventure was hard—like as in strangle-yourself-with-the-nunchuk-cord hard. Newbies-need-not-apply hard. The legendary difficulty was (and is) one of the reasons the game ranks among the Wii library’s best.

The brutal learning curve is just as steep and slippery now that DK and his diminutive pal have made the jump to the Nintendo 3DS. All the hallmarks you remember have made the 3DS transition without so much as a banana-peel slip: Mine carts whizzing through darkened caves at Mach 5. Treacherous volcano levels and gigantic cartoon bosses. Awesome unlockable silhouette levels. Minigames at every secret hidden turn, with copious piles of potassium-rich bananas just waiting to be grabbed. There’s also an entirely new 8-level world to explore, giving DK Country vets another reason to strap on their monkey neckties and dive back into the jungle.

The biggest shift here is the addition of something called New Mode, a sop for the folks who weren’t likely to get past the original Wii game’s initial levels. Instead of only two hearts to navigate his dangerous banana recovery mission, DK now starts with three, and jumps up to a whopping six the second he smashes one of the copious Diddy Kong barrels and adds his jetpack-sporting sidekick to the adventure. Swing by Cranky Kong’s emporium of power-ups before tackling a level and you’ll discover even more boosts await, from bonus life-saving balloons to power-ups that let your mine cart and rocket barrel survive an inopportune crash or two. It’s even possible to buy your way into the Golden Temple at the end of the game without having grabbed all the collectible puzzle pieces and K-O-N-G tiles on every level. Deal with it, completists. You can always play Classic Mode.

In this sense, Diddy and DK perpetuate a Nintendo trend launched earlier this year with Fire Emblem: Awakening—populist versions of games that let the players decide how tough they want things to be. It’s a welcome way to expand a game’s audience without making skilled players feel like their favorite pastime has been rendered as dumb as an ape. And yet even with all of New Mode’s possible crutches and assists—die enough times and you can even ask the game to play through the level for you so you can keep going to later levels–DK Country Returns is hardly a banana-flavored cake walk. Timing is as critical and the pace as often unforgiving as it ever was. Even with a pile of Cranky Kong specials packed in your inventory, you’ll be burning through life-balloons at a healthy clip.

Co-op play was a big draw for the Wii version, and a local version’s available here, too, but it’s not nearly as intuitive, especially if you’re trying to advance smoothly and better your level times. Unless you’re playing with the world’s most patient best friend, you’re far better served swinging single-player.

There are points where the 3DS screen feels a little too small to contain the cartoon-colored action, especially when the barrel-cannons blast our simian hero deep into the 3D background and he seems about as small as an ant crashing a toy-sized jungle picnic. There are also points where the speed of the side-scrolling clashes with the 3D features, and you may find yourself bungling a jump or two as your eyes struggle to adjust. Neither of these things are deal-breakers, and neither should prevent you from adding this one to your 3DS library.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Full-on port of one of the Wii’s most entertaining/challenging games
+ New Mode opens up a difficult game to the casual crowd
+ 3DS controls way more intuitive than waggling a nunchuk

Cons:
– Sometimes, the screen’s a little too small to contain the action
– 3D effects sometimes blur key details

Game Info:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Monster Games
Release Date: 5/24/2013
Genre: Side-Scrolling Platformer
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-2 (local co-op)
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.