Donkey Kong Country Returns exploded onto the Wii market (as much as a title can explode on a console with a dearth of triple A titles) to shouts of retro-loving joy. Retro Studios had managed to replicate what Rare had created all those years ago, and they did it in style. Three years later and they’ve handed the original over to Monster Games to port to the 3DS, and again, they’ve executed it in style.
I won’t go into the nitty gritty when it comes to how the game is played, and what causes Donkey Kong to traverse eight different locales in what can only be called a completely unbelievable, and irresponsible journey to get some bananas; for that you can simply read Alan’s 2010 review. What I will detail, however, is what sets the 3DS version apart from the original release, and give you reasons to pick one over the other.
First up, the game is running on Nintendo’s beautiful glasses-free 3D system, and when games run on something with tech that fancy you want to enjoy it. While the 3D is turned on, the game looks fantastic, you get a real sense of depth and . . . oh no . . . wait . . . sorry, I . . . just gotta manoeuvre these small platforms aaaand... gah!!
You see, with your typical 2D style platformer, there’s a lot of small precision moves that are quite often the difference between finishing a level and throwing your controller / handheld through a window. With platforming moments so intense it’s almost impossible to keep your hands still, and as soon as you start squirming and sweating you break the 3D illusion, go a little cross-eyed, and fall to your hairy monkey doom.
Mere stages into the game I was moving the 3D slider into an off position, something I haven’t done in any 3DS game since the launch of the system. It’s not to say it doesn’t look good, and if you can keep your hands steadier than me then you’ll likely have no problem. The best thing is, the game still looks great with 3D turned off. In fact, it’s quite eerie how similar to the Wii version Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D looks. At no point did I think I was playing an inferior version, and by the time I had completed half of the game, in 2D nonetheless, I was wishing for a bigger screen, maybe opposite my couch.
For those who don’t own a Wii, and I’m fairly sure that’s a lot of you, this is a perfect chance to play through one of the best platforming games from the last 5 - 10 years. You have the chance to play in Original Mode, which mimics the difficulty found in the Wii version, or start a game with the new and improved “New Mode”.
New Mode gives you access to an extra heart of life, which essentially means you’ll be doing a little less dying and hopefully have a little less frustration. It also allows you to bypass, via new purchasable items, one of the hardest parts of the game purely so you can see the eight new 3DS-only stages. But by all means, collect every K-O-N-G letter on every stage, and then beat the impossible challenge levels instead.
One thing I found odd was that the analog nub was the default control for Donkey Kong. After putting a lot of time into the original Wii version, and usually always choosing the d-pad for platforming, I found the new system a little hard to get used to. If you don’t have the nub pushed perfectly to the right then he won’t go his full speed, and it can be a little frustrating to miss a jump and look down to see your thumb slightly off. Thankfully, control can be changed over to the d-pad in the menu, so whatever play style you prefer it should be accommodated.
Lastly, one of the big calling cards of the Wii version was the two-player coop. There’s so much fun to be had here that it can only be improved if you bring along someone else. The guys and gals at Monster Games have ensured this aspect has stuck around, but it’s local coop only and both of you need a copy. It would have been great to include an option to play along with online friends, but this is the last game you’d want any sort of lag on.
Fans of the original Rare made franchise that haven’t already played the Wii version should pick this up today -- it’s really that good. Those who have already enjoyed the Wii version may want to sit this one out, however. It’d be hard to recommend repurchasing the same game just to experience eight new stages and an easier difficulty level. For everyone else, what we have here is one of the best 2D platformers with a tonne of replayability, now in a portable shell.