Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D (3DS) Review

Back in 2010, it felt like Nintendo offered me a personal gift by reviving Donkey Kong Country for the Wii in all of its old timey, 2D platformer glory. Now the game has been ported over to the good ol’ 3DS and you know what? It’s just as much fun playing through a second time. There aren’t many changes to the core game beyond a 3D facelift, but that actually works shockingly well and adds a little extra eye-popping pizzaz to an already fantastic experience. Nintendo has tossed in a few new modes, bells, and whistles to ensure anyone who played through this sucker already still has surprises in store. That certainly wasn’t necessary Nintendo, but you won’t hear me complaining. Any extra DK is fine by me and even without the new additions, this is still one of the most addictive and painfully difficult games that Nintendo has cranked out in years and being able to play it on the go without anything lost is pure 3DS bliss.

There’s a plot to Donkey Kong Country Returns…well, kind of. Just when DK thought it was safe to eat up his tasty collection of bananas they get stolen (that’s bad!) only this time not by a King K. Rool (that’s good!), but by a weird tribe of floating heads known as Tikis (that’s bad!) who hypnotize all of the animals on DK’s island paradise and turns them evil (insert frogurt joke here). So yeah, that’s about it. The whole thing is an excuse to send DK and his little hetero life partner Diddy Kong out on another adventure just like their time on the SNES. You’ll jump through jungles and ancient ruins, ride high speed mine carts, and blast around through barrels. Sigh, just like the good ol’ 16-bit days.

Of course, Retro Studios weren’t content simply to trot out past DK Country glories. Oh no, they added their own additions to the mix. The levels are far more animated and interactive, often crumbling around DK as he races to the finish line. There are also entirely new level modes, like flying barrel portions that must be carefully kept in the air during high speed plummets or tidal wave based levels where DK must race between rock shelters to avoid being swept away by a big ol’ powerful wave of water. It’s a pretty diverse adventure over a variety of different worlds with one key thing that ties all the adventures together: punishing difficulty.

Yeppers, while Donkey Kong Country may look like kid stuff to the untrained eye, but this is a classic Nintendo platformer requiring pinpoint controls and timing with little room for error. Sure, they were kind enough to give Donkey Kong a few hearts to allow more than a single hit, but that’s really the only difficulty concession allowed in this 1995 throwback. Later levels and bosses will have you pulling hair out of your head, screeching obscenities, and possibly even causing your eyes to explode into a waterfall of tears. Thankfully, it’s all in good fun. That’s just the type of emotional trauma old school gamers had to face whenever they picked up a controller. Sure there’s a mode that will play through levels for you if you die too many times, but that’s for the weak! The particularly hardcore can also go for 100% completion for hard to find items and blisteringly difficult speed rounds. To anyone who has the time or energy to explore such things, I salute you!

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One of the game’s biggest draws are the oh-so pretty visuals that Retro whipped up. The general design in simple and cartoony, but playfully and amusingly so. Every inch is packed with detail and characters, with some levels designed to be particularly beautiful (a sunset level cast in silhouette springs instantly to mind) and each level only seems to get more creative as it goes on. Even when playing this sucker on the Wii with the 3DS only a beautiful dream of the future, I had a feeling it was designed with this little handheld in mind. Considering that this is a 2D platformer, there’s an amazing amount of depth. Barrel blasts and mine cart chases frequently play out over two planes of action, villains often fling stuff from deep in the background, and enemies will fly towards the screen when killed. It was all fun on the Wii, but on the 3DS it literally pops off the screen and adds even more “oooo-ahhhh!” joy to the experience. The controls have also been changed slightly to drop the motion element that irritated many gamers on the Wii version. Now everything is button based and admittedly a little easier, although I never really disliked the motion controls. On top of that there’s a new game mode offering extra health hearts and items to make things slightly easier (but it won’t help you near the end…trust me). Plus, in a spirit of extreme generosity, Nintendo/Retro even whipped up eight all-new unlockable levels that are just as fun and pretty as you’d hope.

Donkey Kong Country Returns was always one of the finest 2D throwback games released during the Wii era and playing through it again on the 3DS proves that the game hasn’t gotten any less enjoyable over the last three years. The added levels, decreased difficulty mode, and simplified controls should make this the version of choice for many gamers while the surprisingly effective 3D facelift offers eye-tingling icing on the cake. If you’re a fan of old school games and consider punishing difficultly to be just as vital a component of that genre and addictive playability, then this just might be the perfect game for you. Sure, there isn’t exactly an engrossing story or characters who have even two detentions to their personality, but there was a time when gamers cared not for such things. With Donkey Kong Country Returns Nintendo and Retro brought back that mid-90s gaming experience one more time and it was so damn good that hopefully everyone involved has plans for a sequel. This thing is simply too good to stand alone and the second round through in 3D and on-the-go was just as enjoyable as the first time I was hypnotized by Donkey Kong Country Returns while tethered to my TV. I’ll take some more of this please Nintendo and I’ll take it now, if you don’t mind.