There was a time nearly twenty years ago when Rare could do no wrong. Teaming up with Nintendo, they developed hit after hit, taking the SNES and N64 library by storm. The Donkey Kong country trilogy was one of their greatest 16 bit entries, catapulting basic platforming mechanics into legendary territory with incredible visuals and tight level designs. Kong took a major hiatus after 1999’s Donkey Kong 64, only returning under new developer Retro Studios for 2010’s Donkey Kong Country Returns. DK’s return to Wii was met with positive criticism and, though this 3DS port is every bit as good as the original, its lack of major additions or improvements makes it a fairly unimpressive prospect for all but the newest of Donkey Kong players.
Much like every other DK game ever made, our simian hero finds his banana stash stolen, this time by an evil Tiki tribe who have brainwashed the island’s animals. The plot is, as ever, fairly superfluous, but it offers enough of an excuse for your traipse around a series of exotic locales. The location variety is improved over the older Donkey Kong Country games, though the level design itself isn’t always so well executed. Previous DKC titles managed to achieve a sense of flow that is never quite matched in Country Returns. The pace is impacted accordingly and, whilst some of the designs are clever and challenging, this lack of platforming rhythm is a detriment to the series.
This level design issue is highlighted by the game’s simple mechanics. Simplicity isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, and it would be unusual for DK to betray his classic platforming roots in this franchise reboot. DKC Returns is retro platformer all over and, though the gameplay isn’t especially inventive by today’s standards, tight platforming and the removal of the Wii version’s questionable motion controls turns this 3DS port into a well oiled platforming machine.
So it’s Donkey Kong as we know and love him, a return to a classic era of 2D platforming that was largely praised in the original Donkey Kong Country Returns on Wii. The transition to 3DS has not harmed the original experience, with the visuals and frame rate holding up well. The bright and vivid aesthetic fits right in on the smaller screen, and the use of stereostopic 3D works absolute wonders in spite of the game’s 2D perspective. The variety of locations is also mimicked in the game’s soundtrack; a varied arrangement that manages to recall the catchy tunes of the SNES era effortlessly.
Sadly, the lack of new additions make this particular port unappetising for anyone familiar with the original game. The biggest change is the misleadingly titled “New Mode,” a revision of the game with an additional heart for each Kong character and more items for sale in the shop. That’s it. Granted, the extra health removes the often gruelling challenge of the Wii version, but it isn’t exactly enough to warrant the name “New Mode.” There are also a few extra levels near the end of the game, but the eight additional stages, whilst enjoyable, are a paltry offering for those who demolished the Wii original back in 2010. Classic mode replicates the original Wii experience for those who prefer the harsher challenge and, to a certain degree, the added difficulty makes the more archaic elements of DKCR’s design seem more appropriate as a part of a unified push into a retro gaming template.
It’s ironic that it is in sticking to the classic Donkey Kong formula, that Country Returns 3D hits a few longevity issues. The game’s simplicity leads to repetition after a while and, though the variety of level designs alleviate this to a degree, the choppy rhythm of the levels prevents the experience from having that “one more go” feel to it. Short play sessions are the order of the day. Even though there are a huge amount of levels to go through, the variety of gameplay doesn’t always feel like enough to justify a full priced game cart. If the formula had been reinvented slightly, it would be more acceptable, but paying £40 for a 16-bit platformer with a makeover is a bit hard to swallow in this day and age. Cooperative multiplayer is available for those with multiple 3DS systems, but joining in as Diddy Kong doesn’t reinvent the experience in the way you would imagine. It makes sense as an extra in the console version, but it winds up being little more than fluff on the 3DS.
Though I’d argue the slick visuals and re-imagined controls make the 3DS port the definitive version of Donkey Kong Country Returns, it’s not quite the no-brainer you’d expect if you were raised on the DKC games on SNES. The magic just isn’t quite there any more and, whilst DK on 3DS remains an exciting and engaging platformer, it may not satisfy you entirely if you have previous experience with the king of Kong.
This game was reviewed on 3DS.
Easy to learn but hard to master, New mode offers a more lenient experience, 3D effect is well used, Improved controls, Great soundtrack
Gets repetitive, Few additions to the original game, Chunky level design can break platforming flow