Donkey Kong Country Returns was one of the few highlights towards the end of the Wii’s life cycle. Capturing what made the original so memorable without having the developer responsible was definitely a challenge, but one that Retro Studios managed to achieve. Now, the title is getting a second life on Nintendo’s handheld with some minor changes that make all the difference. Those that skipped out on the original version definitely need to check out Monster Games’ magnificent port.
The biggest change to this version is the removal of motion controls. One of the most frustrating features about the original game was that simple mechanics were assigned to waggle. This made the already challenging levels that much harder. Now, all of the controls are mapped to the face buttons, and even the bottom screen is only for using items. This feels like a platformer from the glory days of the Super NES.
Instead of having to waggle the controller to perform actions such as blowing, it is now designated to the X/Y button. The same goes for grabbing vines and barrels, which is attached to the triggers. Monster Games could have added in gimmick control (the 3DS does have a microphone) and lessened the experience, but instead have opted to make this version feel like the classic side-scroller it was meant to be.
The other major change comes in a new mode, designed to aid players who found the original a little too challenging. Entitled “New Mode” ,this alternative way of playing grants a permanent extra heart to the life bar as well as more items in Cranky Kong’s shop. These items allow extra damage in the minecart and rocket levels, which can cut down on some of the frustration. The original mode is still present, so purists need not worry about a lack of difficulty, but this new mode really goes a long way to making the game more accessible.
There are a ton of reasons to keep playing the game as well. On top of its lengthy campaign, there are also collectibles such as secrets that unlock new content. Collecting all of the K-O-N-G letters in each stage opens up an entire new set of levels to play through, one of which has players building a monkey mech. Cranky also sells keys to unlock new levels, and each stage also has a bonus area to find. Puzzle pieces can also be collected, and the quintessential art gallery needs to be filled. Combine that with challenges and time trials, and obtaining 200% of DKC Returns 3D is quite the endeavor.
All of this works because of excellent design. Each stage is challenging and different. Enemies constantly require new tactics, and the actual layout of each area is unique and enjoyable. There were rarely times that I groaned at a section; instead I found myself wanting to master and collect everything. I adore the instant retry button after each stage, like it’s taunting me to do better.
Visually, the game is spectacular. The look and feel of the original games shines bright on the 3DS. This is what I remember the SNES games looking like, and it is amazing what the developers have managed to squeeze out of Nintendo’s handheld. The 3D effect is also pretty good, giving players a sense of depth to every stage. Music is engrossing, as I heard myself humming the classic DKC theme as it popped up. There is little about the presentation here that fans will not adore. I also like that the game separates each of the two difficulty modes with its own save file.
There is little I can say about DKC Returns 3D that isn’t positive. The mentality of “just one more level” plagued me throughout my entire time with the game. I also felt compelled to go back and attempt to collect everything just because of how much fun it is to play. If you loved the original series, or even the Wii reboot, this iteration is a must own. It continues to showcase the stellar library found on Nintendo’s handheld of titles you simply cannot get anywhere else. I cannot recommend it enough, and if you own a 3DS, this is a must have title.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.