Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D: The Way It Was Meant To Be Played

By Robert Ward . May 22, 2013 . 5:30pm

The original Donkey Kong Country Returns represented a dramatic shift in the Kong world. The atmosphere of their island home changed from gloomy and lonely to bright, lush and bursting with life. Instead of K. Rool’s horde of crocodilian creeps (and a few indigenous barrel throwing orangutans), the antagonists of Donkey Kong Country Returns ranged from the frazzled frogs, mad moles, and berserk birds to the mischievous, banana-loving Tiki-Tak Tribe. Shifts in perspective and depth allowed enemies to come at you not only from the sides, but from the background as well.


Despite the fantastic work Retro Studios did with breathing life back into the series, Donkey Kong Country Returns felt more like a game that was adapted to the Wii. Like Jungle Beat on the Nintendo GameCube, the technology required to fully appreciate the game simply wasn’t there yet—but two years after its release on the Wii, and with some help from Monster Games, Donkey Kong Country Returns has finally found its home on the Nintendo 3DS.


The game revolves around a relatively simple and vaguely familiar plot: One day, whilst loafing around and possibly discovering fire, DK and Diddy’s banana stash is stolen by the mysterious Tiki Tak Tribe, who have “enlisted” (via hypnosis) the help of the island’s animals to transport the Kong’s precious fruit… somewhere. It’s up to DK and Diddy to follow the trail of bananas across Forest and Factory to peel away the secrecy in which the Tiki Tak Tribe is encased.


Last week, I said that Donkey Kong Country Returns has always had “3DNA”. With the addition of the stereoscopic 3D effect, the foreground and background elements take on a new life that just wasn’t there in the Wii version. The result is a more thrilling, more memorable experience that will likely have you finding reasons to go back and play the game time and time again. The Wii version may benefit from having a silky smooth 60 frames-per-second framerate, but it robs the game of how it was truly meant to be played—in stereoscopic 3D.


The 9 worlds of Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D are riddled with cleverly hidden secrets, modest puzzles and occasionally frustrating tricks. In the spirit of its SNES predecessors, discovering these secrets is entirely optional—but nevertheless rewarding. One of the many joys of running around Donkey Kong Island is accidentally stumbling upon a floating barrel or fake wall concealing a jigsaw puzzle piece (collectibles that unlock concept art in the startup menu).


Don’t be fooled, though, as you’ll often find yourself diving off of empty ledges in pursuit of these rewards. When Retro studios designed DKCR, they allowed Donkey Kong to take an additional hit before the player had to restart the level. This wasn’t included to make the game welcoming to new players; it was a direct response to the difficulty of the stages. In other words, they knew that even veteran players would need to be able to take more hits to be successful. In DKCR3D, however, a new compromise is made.


Much like Fire Emblem: Awakening, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D offers two modes of play, aptly dubbed the original mode and new mode. Original mode is simply the direct translation of the Wii version of the game. The new mode, however, allows you to buy new items that limit some of the frustration induced by the game’s more difficult stages.


Tired of being shot out of the sky by a Squeekly’s sonic blasts, or hitting jagged crystals while making a tricky jump out of a mine cart? There’s a potion that’ll let you take the hit without derailing your progress. Need Diddy Kong on the fly to help make a more precise jump? Pick up a few barrels to use at your convenience. Finally, are you tired of just barely missing a vital jump, only to start from a far away checkpoint? Bring some green balloons with you, and ensure your return after an untimely fall—and don’t worry, if you happen to hit a Tiki Buzz on the way up? You’ve got three hearts as DK, and six with Diddy by default.


Speaking of dying, you’ll likely be doing less of it now that the controls have been mapped into a system that does not rely on motion sensors. Now, you simply hit Y to slam the ground (or blow on plants/fans while crouching) or roll while holding a specific direction, the Circle Pad to move, and the shoulder buttons to hold/cling to objects. There’s an alternative control scheme that lets you use the D-pad, but it’s a lot more restrictive. In this mode, Donkey Kong shanties along at a more leisurely pace, which can be troublesome when making quick maneuvers. The X button is saved for grabbing/clinging objects, and the R button is used to slam the ground.  Personally, I prefer the circle pad.


Don’t be worried about New Mode—deaths are always fair in Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D, and the game will cleverly ease you into the basics of platforming before it throws you into nightmarish stages like Muncher Marathon or *shudder* Perilous Passage. The designers will lay an inconspicuous trail of bananas from one ledge or cart to the next in the earlier stages, and by the time you reach the Forest area, these subtle heuristic cues will fade away as you become accustomed to making challenging maneuvers yourself.


The 3DS version of the game also offers local multiplayer, but it requires a second cartridge/downloaded game (plan on buying a bigger SD card if you’re only using the basic one that came packed with your 3DS—it takes 4 gigs to download DKCR3D!). Whether you manage to collect all of the “K” stages with or without a friend, you will still be granted access to the Golden Temple after the game’s climax.


Instead of a single, surrealistic stage—Nintendo has fleshed out World 9 with eight new ones. They’re no Klubba’s Keep in terms of difficulty, though. The new levels, each of which is themed after a particular area on the island, feel more like areas that didn’t make the cut in the final game than ones that were created for the new endgame.


Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D certainly has a brighter perspective on the Kong world, but it never forgets its predecessors. Challenging platforming reminiscent of its SNES brethren makes DKCR3D one of the most challenging sidescrollers that the Big N has pumped out to date. DK’s new cartoonish appearance and lively persona seem to draw directly from his likeness in the underappreciated Jungle Beat. Oh, and remember that Pig from Donkey Kong 64? He’s lost some weight, and he’ll be managing the checkpoints you reach throughout the game.


Food For Thought:


1. There’s been a lot of talk about the game’s lowered framerate (it’s now 30fps instead of 60fps), but the other elements of the game are so fantastic that it’s difficult to find a reason to justify being upset with its presentation. The game still runs just as smooth as its predecessor, even if it sits in its visual shadow.


2. Don’t be afraid to use items, even if you’re a veteran player. It doesn’t keep track of whether or not you completed a stage with Squawks, or a Banana Potion – only if you use the super guide (a white Donkey Kong that will complete the stage for you but bypass all of the secrets).


3. There wasn’t a lot of room for me to gush about the music, so I’ll do it here. Play with the volume up, and play with the 3D on. Although Nintendo was widely responsible for the original tracks, you can cherry pick the ones done by Kenji Yamamoto. Volcano Vibe is eerily reminiscent of Metroid Prime’s Magmoor Caverns, while Tidal Terror sounds like something right out of the Sky Sanctuary in Metroid Prime 2. Switcheroo, Yamamoto’s take on Life in the Mines, also draws on Prime’s hollow beeps and boops.


4. Here’s a helpful tip for getting all of the collectibles: if you manage to die before you reach a checkpoint, any puzzle pieces you’ve collected will still be accounted for—but KONG letters, on the other hand will not. Remember to collect the letters every time you restart from a checkpoint. Oh, and don’t fail the puzzle piece minigames. You only get one shot, and if you fail, you have to die before you get a second chance.

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  • Mrgrgr and Unacceptable World

    After this review, this just easily push me from wanting to buy this game into a must buy here, considering I never finished the wii version. (Damn backlog) T_T

    Tx a lot for the review.

  • Jirin

    It’s hard to tell from this article, did they bring back the tag team system and animal companions of the SNES games?

    For me a huge amount of the fun of DKC2 was the increased range of maneuvers available through Dixie’s gliding, the ability to throw each other around, and animals such as the spider and snake that gave you more vertical maneuverability. I was hugely disappointed when they abandoned all of those things in DKC returns.

    • Robgoro

      In DKCR3D, Diddy Kong is more like a power up than anything else (at least in single player mode). He hops on Donkey Kong’s back and let’s you make use of his jet pack for more accurate jumps. As for the original cast of animals, I’m afraid only Rhambi and Squawks make appearances in this one, although the latter is passive and only scraws when you’re near a puzzle piece.

      • Jirin

        I don’t get why they scaled down the complexity of a game that was already pretty simple.

        What I would have loved in a DKC reboot is to have the tag team system, and have a team of four or five characters all with different strengths (Donkey most powerful, Diddy fastest, Dixie can glide, etc) that you get to choose two from.

        • Robgoro

          That would certainly be interesting, perhaps in a future title?

  • NimbusStev

    Aww so the “beat the level for me” tool wasn’t enough that they had to add an easy mode too? When you brought up “original mode” I was expecting it to be original as in, can only take 1 hit like the original DKC games.

    Ah well, the use of a real controller is reason enough for me to get this game. I really hate buying games that I already own, but I might just have to make an exception this time. The Wii-mote was really the only thing holding me back from absolutely loving DKCR.

    • Robgoro

      Don’t give up all hope! If you get to the end of the game, and finish World 9, you can access Mirror Mode. In addition to doing the level backwards, Donkey Kong will only be able to take one hit. Also, I’m not kidding when I said that there’s a reason why they let you get hit more than once – and that’s a product of the difficult stages. There are even times when Banana Juice (which allows you to get hit ten additional times) won’t do much to help you progress, either.

      Regardless, the option to play on easy mode is there, but it doesn’t make the game any less enjoyable :)

      • NimbusStev

        Oh nice! That is awesome! I don’t ever have a problem when games add an easy mode – I just hate when normal mode becomes the new easy mode. All games should let you choose your difficulty level. So that definitely sounds cool, I’ll have to make sure I give that a try.

        • Robgoro

          Yep! You get to choose, and this is definitely a solid addition to any 3DS owner’s library :)

  • Brion Valkerion

    Game is really pushing me to get a 3DS pre-pokemon X/Y, never been into the series but for some reason this game has been calling my name.

    • 324234

      I’d rather play the Wii version.

      • Brion Valkerion

        no thanks.

    • Ruby Doobie

      There’s plenty of reason to buy a 3ds pre pokemon. Fire Emblem ftw.

    • get-a-one there are plenty of-a-games out there like

      Super mario 3d land

      Mario kart 7

      Fire emblem awekining

      luigi’s mansion 2: dark moon

      Kid icarus uprising

      Ocarina of time 3d


      muttan muds

      • Laer_HeiSeiRyuu

        Eh I wouldnt get Mario kart. Uprising Awakening and Dark moon for sure.

  • thaKingRocka

    I loved this game. I wouldn’t mind halving the framerate for 3D, but I could see switching back to 2D every so often if it restores the 60. I, along with everyone else, also really wished they would have let me play using the classic controller, so this would be a nice chance for that.

  • IsaacGravity

    “…and possibly discovering fire” *laughs* Low blow dude!

    But this is one detailed review. Loved the original DKC (in the form of the GBA ports as I lacked a SNES as a kid) and DKL games so this news is very refreshing for me. Thanks for the write up.

    • anarchy_panty

      You have played the SNES versions of the original trilogy though, right?

      • IsaacGravity

        “Loved the original DKC (in the form of the GBA ports as I lacked a SNES as a kid)”

        The only chances I got to play the original versions of the first three Donkey Kong Country games as a kid were the rare moments I went to friend’s house or visited a Toys R Us that had the game up to be tried out. They were fun.

        Otherwise Donkey Kong Land games were my alternative since I had a Game Boy before they went ahead and ported the Country games to the GBA later on.

        • Robgoro

          Oh man! Definitely consider playing the originals, especially the third!

          • IsaacGravity

            Hrm. I’m thinking the question I should be asking here is just how different were the original versions from their GBA counterparts?

          • Robgoro

            Very, very different. The GBA games were watered down, featured fewer worlds and had completely different music.

          • IsaacGravity

            *looks up version differences* They’re pretty extensive some plain understandable for the most point. And while I’m simply glad to have played them in some form that was all still interesting to read!

            Should they ever up and put the original SNES versions for download on the 3DS someday (esp. two) I’ll definitely day one them.

        • Barrylocke89

          IIRC though, DKL2 (and I think 3) were pretty similar to DKC 2 and 3. The main difference was a lack of background art and there being less levels.

          DKL1 on the other hand was very different. There was a City and Mountain area that was never in the original game.

  • Tg

    I’ve been dying to play more DK since the SNES/64 days. ;__; I’m staring at my SNES as I type this. I’ll be buying this physically, but it’s good to know it’s 4 gigs big. Old school Rare staff people. I miss you….

    • Robgoro

      Don’t worry. Retro raised the series to be a fine specimen of gaming :)

      • Tg

        Thanks. :D

  • HavocAccelerator

    It’s still the same game, just with 3D. Not to say there’s anything wrong with the 3D, but I wouldn’t say it magically changes the game to the extent that this was the version to wait for, or something like that. I really don’t think there’s an outright better version here, it’s just a matter of which system you prefer/own.

    • Robgoro

      For me, though, the design foundations of the game felt like they were developed for the 3DS. I did not miss the switch from motion controls to buttons, either. I think that those differences alone are enough to sway people who didn’t buy it for the Wii to consider buying it on the 3DS, but, to each their own!

    • same? 30fps vs 60fps is hardly from “same”, go run any emulator on pc and set it to 30fps, play super mario bros for example, enjoy your jittery vomit nightmare

      • Laer_HeiSeiRyuu

        SMB is an old old game, bad comparison. This isnt 50hz vs 60hz

      • Robgoro

        If you’re techie and you’re really looking for a visual difference, then sure, you’ll see it. To any layman, though, it really won’t matter. It doesn’t affect the quality of the game at all. I don’t think it would even be something worth mentioning if the Wii version of the game didn’t exist, and in fact it likely wouldn’t be something worth mentioning because no one has to use the word “lowered” to qualify its speed. It’s quite a long shot to compare older, pixelated games like Mario or, say, Quake (ever play that at 18fps?) to the ones we have today in terms of fps.

        Bottom line is, and quite frankly, most people won’t, and probably don’t, care about the framerate drop.

  • Shane J

    I’m excited to get this on 3DS despite having beat the Wii version twice. I had 2 complaints about the game though.

    The first one which they likely won’t change in this version and I can accept that (but one can hope) is that all of the ‘Cave’ world levels are Mine Cart & Barrel Rocket ones. I get motion sick easily and it was a rough ride getting through this world. I’m not saying to abolish the motion levels, but some non motion ones in this world have been nice.

    The second one which they could have but I don’t actually know if they did or not is the Barrel Rocket controls. Unless I was doing something wrong, it was the most annoying thing I’ve controlled in recent and long term gaming memory.

    Despite my complaints, it is an awesome game. I’m especially looking forward to having a full set of levels for “World 9” as opposed to just the one.

  • Sperium3000

    My favorite song of this game is probably Colonel Pluck’s theme, Feather Fiend. It is very remniscent of Crash Bandicoot, I know, but it’s still makes that fight a lot more fun.

  • scrolled to this line
    “it’s now 30fps instead of 60fps”
    and stopped reading after that, now i’m 100% sure i’m not buying this game, despite my desire to play it with button roll, 30fps is a disaster for platformer, racing and fighting genres and it’s worse than wii move controls, so no, thanks.
    I love my 3ds’es (i own 4 system actually, lol), but when it launched i had this fear that most games aside from becoming an ugly polygonal nightmare will also become 30fps nightmare (or even lower, like in ssf4 in 3d mode/multiplayer).

    • Robgoro

      I’m disappointed that something so small could have such a huge impact on your decision to enjoy a great game. I won’t fight the case for DKCR3D, but it’s certainly not worth missing because of something the human eye, at least in today’s games (and in a game stylized like Donkey Kong), can barely pick up.

  • 60hz

    ugh 30 frame platformer… more “damn didn’t i press the button right BEFORE i walked off the edge” moments… sigh

    • Robgoro

      Well, there’s always the Wii version!

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