One of the most celebrated development houses of all time – Nintendo’s Retro Studios, originally shot to fame for reincarnating the Metroid series into a first-person shooter. The series then grew from strength to strength. Seeing how the developer had a knack for revitalising old franchises, Nintendo put the mantle of the Donkey Kong Country series firmly in their hands. It did not disappoint, but regretfully Donkey Kong Country Returns was only released late into the Wii’s lifespan, being one of the first games to embrace hardcore gameplay mechanics instead of the more casual orientated nature the Wii took in its heyday.
Perhaps wisely then that, with assistance from Retro Studios, another Nintendo owned developer by the name of Monster Games have not only opted to adjust the presentation for the Nintendo 3DS just as it is getting into its stride, but also add a few features to make the difficulty less sadistic. But does Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D slip on one or two banana peels along the way?
After an eruption on DK Island, a group of magic Tiki Statues known as the Tiki Tak Tribe awake from their long slumber. Each one of the members of the tribe is then sent out by their ruler to gather as many bananas as they can, by hypnotising the island inhabitants into doing their bidding. They soon discover however that both Donkey and Diddy Kong are immune to their entrancing hymn, not taking too kindly to the Tikis stealing all his bananas. While it is still okay to mourn the passing of the Kremlings and their boss K.Rool, these new enemies aren’t bad despite their obvious one shot nature, since plot was never the main focus of the SNES era games.
Those who played the Wii version will probably already know just how faithful to Rare’s original vision the levels are in Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D. You have your usual tropes of breezy jungle levels, infuriating mine cart tracks, and culminating volcanic areas. All the while, the game’s presentation of pleasing visuals and nostalgic music remixed help create the illusion that Rare hadn’t left. Retro Studios’ original vision featured relentless hazards, including some instant kill situations. New levels were also added to the 3DS version take on the original spirit of the Wii classic. Controls have also improved, allowing for finer movements, though accidentally barrel rolling to your demise instead of ground pounding is still a real issue.
No compromises either, as the game features two ways for everyone to get to the end. The first is the returning “this level is played for you” functionality, which in a way defeats the point of these old school classic platformers. The second though is far fairer and unique to Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D – Easy mode. If you are finding that two hearts per ape is not enough to get by, you can opt to have three instead. Of course, your health is still replenished via hearts, and extra lives are incredibly easy to come by; but there will come times you’ll be glad you had three hearts. Cranky Kong also has some additional items. There is of course no shame in completing the game on Easy mode, since you’ll have done it yourself, unlike activating Super Mode on a level to watch the AI complete it! That said, only just having a few new courses, 3D, and a more forgiving difficulty mode; make this remake feel a bit light on noteworthy additions for those who played the Wii original.
Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is definitely intended for those who missed out the first time around. It’s astonishing that they not only fit the game with only minor graphical inferiorities, but given the player a better sense of control and more levels. It is far from perfect, as Super Mode is still here taking some of the fun from the game, and there remains that fine line between smashing the ground and rolling off the edge. If you’re in the market for an old-school style platformer that is relentless in its difficulty, but comes with an option to make it slightly fairer, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is most certainly a top banana choice.