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Review: Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D

27 May 2013

Classic games are called “classic” for a reason. The Donkey Kong Country series were some popular platformers on the Super Nintendo back in the mid to late 90s. They combined unique graphics technology with sharp platforming elements to create some seriously challenging experiences for gamers. Few players will forget the white-knuckle mine cart segments, or the precarious platforms of the iconic forest levels, not to mention the relentless boss fights. They helped breathe some fresh air in to the then crowded platform game scene, giving us some reprieve from the Marios and Sonics of the day.

Rebooting a series as classic and iconic as DKC is no small feat, but Retro Game Studios answered the call and has revived and in some ways even surpassed Rareware’s amazing original series. DonkeyKong Country Returns was originally released on the Nintendo Wii in late 2010. This review is for the new port on the Nintendo 3DS. The port, called Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D, includes all of the content in the original release, as well as some new levels and features.

Trouble in Paradise

Donkey Kong’s secret banana hoard has been stolen (again) by some maniacal tikis instead of the reptilian Kremlins from previous games. You’d think DK would invest in to some kind of security system at this point… Anyway, It’s up to DK and Diddy Kong to traverse their home island to get their bananas back, and kick some tiki ass on the way.

Divided in to eight uniquely themed worlds, DKCR has a fair amount of content. Each world’s theme doesn’t necessarily define the types of levels found within it. For example, the beach world has no underwater levels, but a ton of gauntlet-style stages with tipping ships and rampaging octopi.

New to the 3DS version is the ninth world. Up high in the clouds, each of these levels is a high intensity, supremely difficult challenge themed after each of the other eight worlds. This extra world is unlocked after players collect the four “KONG” letters in each stage and then clear the temple stage of each world. It’s tough, but intensely rewarding.

Bring the Pain

DKC is famed for it’s punishing, but fair difficulty, and DKCR is no different. If anything, it improves on what its predecessors started. The levels are a variety show of technical jumps, bouncing fungi, and exploding barrel cannons. The mine cart levels in particular are a mix of hair-raising jumps, evil obstacles, and extreme technical design. Each level is made with incredible attention to detail and a love for the platform hopping games of yesteryear.

The game does get bogged down a little bit when players have to take on one of the frustratingly tricky and system shattering “rocket barrel” levels. These thankfully rare levels have you attempting to maneuver a rocket through tight gaps and moving obstacles. They control clumsily and are the definition of trial and error. They can be fun, but prepare to die a whole lot when you attempt the late gamefactory levels.

The Difference is in the Details

Donkey Kong controls as you would expect, and responsively jumps, barrel rolls, and stomps like he should. He’ll grab bananas, coins, and red balloons throughout each sprawling level. All while dodging some interesting enemy types. Sadly, none of the classic enemies return from previous games. Thankfully the new enemies fill their old niches just fine. DK will grapple with hypnotized frogs and birds, not to mention the tikis themselves. The tikis fill the role the Kremlings had well enough, but it is unfortunate that their leader is nowhere near as awesomely weird as King K. Rool.

No DKC game is complete without epic boss fights and this game is no exception. Without spoiling anything, each fight is unique and challenging. Even the fights that have you fighting something you’ve fought before play out very differently. Some of them do border on tedium however, as you’ll repeat the same pattern one too many times. That said, none of the fights are rehashes from previous games.

Interestingly enough however, is the way Diddy Kong is handled. In multi-player, which requires two 3DS systems and two copies of the game, player two controls Diddy. In single-player however, Diddy is basically a glorified power-up. You will still break him out of DK barrels spread throughout the levels, but instead of making him a character you can switch to, he rides piggy back on DK, lending his jet-pack to boost the horizontal distance of DK’s jumps. He also doubles DK’s hit points, though he disappears when his life bar runs out. It’s a bit of a bummer that we can’t switch to him whenever, but the new utilization of him works.

New to the 3DS version is an optional “New” mode, which gives DK one extra hit point, and makes a wider variety of items available in the ever charismatic Cranky Kong’s shop. This mode doesn’t make the game too easy, but it makes it a little more digestible to newer players. The game is a steep challenge, especially with the new levels. Any reprieve is welcome. The “mirror” mode from the Wii release returns, effectively mirroring the levels and removing Diddy from the equation entirely.

Musical Magnificence 

If one thing had to be perfect in this re-imagining of DKC, it had to be the music. Thankfully, Retro Studios have really gone above and beyond to deliver a whole bunch of spell-binding reinterpretations of popular themes from the original game. Tracks like “Jungle Hijinks” are brought together with a serious amount of love and respect for the source. Even the arguably most popular theme from the original game, “Aquatic Ambiance” returns for a brief stint in world two. The new music is sparse, but very well done. The music also swells and responds appropriately to the action.

Graphically, the original Wii release looked very good for its day, and most of the visual fidelity has transferred to 3DS with minimal sacrifices. The frame-rate, a steady 60 frames-per second on the Wii, has been reduced to 30, but the difference is negligible. The 3D effect is done to great effect. Simultaneously adding to the depth of each level’s background and helping to put certain objects in to focus. 

Viva la Donkey Kong!

Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is a well-crafted port of an already great game. The new improvements, while not completely necessary, help make the game a bit more approachable to casual players. Retro Studios has done a remarkable job of resurrecting a classic, and in many ways surpassing it. Bring back the classics like this, and video games can still have a bright future.

~ Final Score: 8/10 ~

Review copy purchased by reviewer for 3DS.