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.