One of the latest titles to feature the tie-wearing gorilla, Donkey Kong, is a 3DS port of the WIi game, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D. The handheld version of this game comes packed with a barrel full of new features and items, but are they enough to get us back into the swing of things with Donkey Kong and company?
I've actually never had the chance to play the original Wii version of the game, so I went into this title with no expectations, save one: being a child of the '90s and having grown up with the Donkey Kong Country games for the Super Nintendo Entertainment system, I thought that I was in for an experience akin to the ones from my childhood. I ended up being somewhat wrong. Was I disappointed? Maybe a little bit. Was I pleasantly surprised by what I found instead? Eh. Perhaps. The game tasks you with defeating a new breed of bad guys called the Tiki Tak Tribe, which are a bunch of evil tiki masks that use an instrumental motif. You'll trek through the eight different areas on the island to hunt down bosses named Kalimba, the Maraca Triplets, Gong, Banjo, Panflute, Xylophone, Accordion, and Tiki Tong, the Big Bad. Your adventures will take you through the jungle, beaches, ruins, caves, and more, all while collecting bananas, banana coins, and puzzle pieces.
It's pretty standard fare for a platformer starring a Nintendo character and is every bit as enjoyable as one. They've even added new features for the 3DS that makes it that much easier for for players who have trouble maneuvering DK around the levels. For starters, the biggest one is New Mode, a difficulty setting that gives you an extra heart and access to items that make your play experience easier. Some of these new items include Green Balloons save you from falling into pits, portable DK Barrels that let you summon Diddy Kong at any time, and a Crash Guard that protects you from collisions while in vehicles. While these items do a lot to help you, they are by no means game-breaking. You'll still have quite a challenge getting through some of the levels, especially the ones that require expert timing and quick reflexes. An example would be world 2-7, "Tidal Terror." This level features waves that rush toward the foreground every few seconds, threatening to wash Donkey Kong into the briny deep. If you're not careful and make it to protective walls in time, you'll be swept away again and again.
Many of the levels in DKCR3D have been tricked out to utilize the 3D effects on the 3DS, allowing you to travel between planes in the foreground and the background. It feels a little gimmicky and doesn't add all that much to the platforming fun (unless it involves shooting yourself out of barrels), but it doesn't really take much away from the experience either. In fact, they remind me of Virtual Boy Wario Land. And nothing should remind me of Virtual Boy Wario Land. Nothing. You'll jump, slam, blow, roll, and grab your way across these levels without much effort, except for the few special stages, like Tidal Terror, that require just a bit more timing and finesse. Unfortunately, Donkey Kong is a top-heavy character whose platforming prowess has degraded over the years. The controls don't feel as sharp as they used to be on the Rare games and there's way too much sliding for my taste, especially in a platformer where precision is key. This is even more problematic when you're trying to defeat enemies with speed, since performing DK's roll attack takes quite a bit of start-up.
Sluggish controls and sliding apes aside, most of the levels can be fun to navigate. You can even hop on everyone's favorite rhino, Rambi, in order to burst your way through obstacles. The music in the background retains the same, signature Donkey Kong soundtrack, which is always fantastic. But this game could use some more Stickerbrush Symphony. Just sayin'. The graphics themselves look pretty similar to the Wii version's, except for the whole 3D thing. The 3D effects really did nothing to add to the experience, but it's a prerequisite for any title that lands on Nintendo's little handheld console. Some of the effects can be cool, such as the introductory fly-throughs at the beginning of stages, but they're largely forgettable.
But for the hardcore platforming/Donkey Kong/Nintendo fan, there will be a lot of challenges to conquer. There are plenty of hidden items to discover, such as puzzle pieces and banana coins that are used to buy items from Cranky Kong, along with tests of skill littered throughout every level. Hidden barrels will take you to secret rooms in which you'll be tasked with collecting a set of bananas within a time limit, adding an extra incentive to go back and root through previously-explored levels. All told, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is a solid title with some not-so-solid controls. The game is by no means unplayable, but you'll often find yourself getting frustrated with the controls and wishing for the classic Donkey Kong games. The Tikis aren't as memorable as the Kremlings and King K. Rool, but their defeat provides a serviceable impetus for hopping across the island and braving all kinds of danger. I mean, those bananas aren't going to save themselves, right? So if you're really a die-hard DK fan who missed out on getting to play Donkey Kong Country Returns, then you'll want to pick this up. If you've already played through the Wii version, then the new additions to the 3DS port aren't worth it. But if you're just someone looking for a must-have game for your 3DS, DKCR3D just won't fit the bill. It's fun, sure, but its problems have me waiting for the time when the true Donkey Kong Country returns.
This review is based on a retail copy of Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D.