Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D Review

bDonkey Kong Country Returns is easily among the best Wii platformers ever released. It’s also one of the most notoriously difficult games in the Wii library! Thankfully, the game is difficult for the right reasons, pushing players’ skills to their limit with clever and dynamic level design, which is made all the better by zany, eye-popping graphics and catchy, encouraging music. It’s a shining example of platforming punishment done right!

Despite Donkey Kong Country Returns still being readily available, even brand new in just about any retail store that carries Wii games, Nintendo has decided to migrate the game to another platform. Thus, we now have Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D on 3DS, a portable rendition of the same game, bolstered further by a bonus world and the 3D effect. It also comes with the option to play on a reduced difficulty setting, should you be worried about the constant degree of challenge in the Wii game. Obviously, the core game is still fantastic when taken on its own merits, even on 3DS… But if you’ve already bought, played through and enjoyed the Wii game, there’s no real incentive to double down on 3DS.

In case you missed Donkey Kong Country Returns coming to the Wii back in 2010, the game is meant to be a revival of the highly beloved Donkey Kong Country franchise that ex-Nintendo studio, Rare used to develop, long before they were bought out by Microsoft. Despite a three-dimensional continuation of sorts on the Nintendo 64 with Donkey Kong 64, the Donkey Kong Country brand stayed dormant for about a decade afterward, before it was handed to Metroid Prime trilogy developer, Retro Studios for a revival effort, materializing as Donkey Kong Country Returns.

As you can imagine, the game is rather light on story. It simply goes that, one day, on DK Island, a volcanic eruption sends a squad of evil Tikis down into the wilderness. After using hypnotic sorcery to take control of the island’s animals, they make off with Donkey Kong’s Banana Hoard, before one Tiki tries and fails to hypnotize Donkey Kong himself. After DK knocks the Tiki into the stratosphere, he and nephew, Diddy Kong see that the Tikis have stolen their massive collection of bananas for some unknown purpose. Thus, they set out to reclaim their stash of fruit and shut down the Tiki operation for good. Pretty standard Donkey Kong Country stuff. As Cranky Kong even comments, who hasn’t stolen DK’s bananas at this point?

DKCR3D - Gameplay 4When you start the game, you’ll see that it plays very much like its Super NES inspirations. It’s a straightforward side-scrolling 2.5D platformer that simply tasks you with running and jumping through levels, bouncing off of enemies’ heads, avoiding obstacles, and just trying to reach the goal at the end. Unlike the similar New Super Mario Bros. games, you don’t have a time limit, which means you can poke around stages at your leisure, looking for hidden Puzzle Pieces that you can collect for bonuses. You can also stay on the lookout for the four K-O-N-G letters hidden in each stage. On Super NES, they gave you an extra life if you collected all of them. In this game however, they’re necessary to open the way to the game’s hidden ninth world.

As you can imagine for the 3DS port, all of the enjoyable motion controls in the Wii game are now gone. Instead, you play the entire game with just buttons. A lot of the fun little ‘quick-time events’ where you can smash up some Tiki, or perhaps even the Goal Barrel, were a lot more fun to do on Wii. After all, moving the Wii Remote and/or Nunchuk felt a lot more intuitive and satisfying when it came to emulating a Kong-sized beatdown. On 3DS however, you just mash buttons. Not nearly as fun to do.

On the note of the controls as well, they’re… fine, but it’s frequently evident that this is a game that’s meant to be played on the Wii. The 3DS controls can sometimes be a little fussier, even when you just play with buttons in this case. Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D sometimes has trouble recognizing when you want to run or jump on a whim for example (a big problem with the unpredictable level design at times!), not to mention that playing the game for extended periods of time can be quite uncomfortable and hard on your hands!

The main reason for this is that you constantly have to hold the Y button to make DK run, since failing to do so will often make him fall short of jumps or get consumed by obstacles, eating up your lives. On Wii, this was no big deal, since the 1 and 2 buttons were right horizontally next to each other when playing with just a Wii Remote, and playing with a Nunchuk spread movement across both of your hands more comfortably.

On 3DS however, you constantly have to lock your right thumb in a weird position to try and hold Y while pressing B at the same time to jump. In the later stages especially, there’s an incessant demand for this! Needless to say, it’s not ergonomically sound, and you’re guaranteed quite a few hand cramps, since this control arrangement makes the handheld’s corner dig awkwardly into the base of your thumb. This game was definitely a lot more comfortable to play on a Wii compared to a 3DS!

DKCR3D - Gameplay 3You can at least partially deal with this problem by keeping the default movement controls that use the Circle Pad, which allows your left thumb to move upward, allowing you to hold the 3DS a bit more evenly. Unfortunately, the Circle Pad is rather unwieldy to move DK with, as you can expect, since it’s not well-suited for 2D movement. Moving with the Control Pad is a lot more precise, but then that causes discomfort. We shouldn’t need to choose between comfort and precision when trying to play a game, let alone a game like this that prides itself on being fast-paced and challenging!

Speaking of that staggering difficulty level, this is one strength that the 3DS game does have over its Wii sibling; The ability to reduce the challenge. Granted, even on Wii, you could enlist the aid of Super Kong after dying enough times in a certain stage, who would be nice enough to finish the level for you so you could proceed ahead. You can still do this on 3DS as well, but Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D also adds in ‘New Mode’, which should provide solid incentive to play for people who are interested in the game, but were turned off of a purchase by the much-advertised high difficulty of the original Wii version.

In New Mode, DK and Diddy can take an extra hit of damage before dying, and you can purchase new items from Cranky Kong that save you from bottomless pits, temporarily render your mine cart or rocket invulnerable, and can summon a DK Barrel wherever you may need one. You can also buy the Orbs that unlock the bonus Banana Temple area with fifty Banana Coins apiece in New Mode, rather than having to hunt down the K-O-N-G levels in every stage, then fetch them from a treacherous Temple area. Of course, playing in New Mode is optional. If you’d rather play with the exact same rules and difficulty as the Wii game in ‘Original Mode’, you do still have that option on 3DS.

Even in New Mode however, expect a pretty stiff challenge! The level design is very quick, unpredictable, and still demands a lot of skill from the player! You’ll need pitch-perfect reflexes, expert jumping precision and, in the case of the vehicle sections especially, a lot of patience! Even when you spend Banana Coins en masse to get help from Cranky Kong (who will predictably mock you for needing assistance), you’ll still run into sections that will shred through your extra lives like nobody’s business! The Rocket Barrel sections are still the most trying of the bunch, with intentionally bad controls and death coming when so much as a single pixel immediately grazes the wrong object!

The other big new extra, as mentioned, is an additional world that you can unlock by opening the Golden Temple, which, just like on Wii, becomes available after you beat the game. The difference now is that the bonus stage inside the Golden Temple is now at the end of eight additional stages that each take inspiration from the eight worlds in the main game.

DKCR3D - Gameplay 2Unfortunately however, these bonus 3DS-exclusive stages are nothing to get excited about, because they lack the same engaging, high-quality action of the main level designs, and feel rather sleepy and straightforward in comparison. Needless to say, it’s a disappointing let-down for people who were expecting more of Retro’s superb level design.

Disappointingly however, Retro didn’t develop these additional levels, as the bulk of Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D, and all of its extras, were instead put together by Excite Truck developer, Monster Games. It’s to be expected, since Retro is no doubt very busy with the upcoming Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for this November. Still, it’s a let-down nonetheless.

That’s really all you get in the way of extras too, which is pretty disappointing. The rest of the game is a beat-for-beat port of the Wii version, just on 3DS this time. Again, if you didn’t initially purchase the Wii version because you prefer handheld games, or were worried about the high difficulty that was mandatory in that original release, the 3DS version might provide better incentive to invest. This seems to be who the 3DS game was made for in fact; People who didn’t play Donkey Kong Country Returns because they either don’t own a Wii (or a Wii U), or were worried about not enjoying the game because it would be too hard.

If you already own Donkey Kong Country Returns for Wii however, the 3DS port gives you absolutely no reason to buy it, even at its reduced $34.99 price tag. The 3DS extras are either redundant or poorly-realized beyond the efforts to optionally tone down the difficulty, and the game doesn’t really gain anything by being portable in this case. The controls and gameplay are much more comfortable and intuitive on Wii than they are on 3DS, for starters. Plus, while you can still play co-op with a buddy controlling Diddy Kong over local wireless in the 3DS port, it’s a lot easier to do this on Wii. On Wii, you just need to pick up a second Wii Remote and/or Nunchuk, not deal with needing two 3DS’s and two copies of the game!

In fact, if you could care less about playing this game on 3DS, we’re inclined to remind you that Donkey Kong Country Returns for Wii is still extremely easy to find! It’s only $29.99 for a brand new copy in most stores at this point, maximum. It’s also pretty well always available at any store that carries Wii games, which is still just about any store with a video game selection. If you’re not concerned about the difficulty or the lack of portability, we have to be honest; The 3DS port is noticeably inferior to its Wii original.

The only other small incentive in the case of Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is the fact that it can now be played in 3D, naturally. As you can imagine however, once again, this is a game designed for Wii, not 3DS.

DKCR3D - Gameplay 1Sure, the 3D effect can provide an extra sense of depth in the atmosphere, and works particularly well during the sections where DK and/or Diddy are barrel-launched between environmental backgrounds and foregrounds. That being said however, the 3D doesn’t contribute anything to the majority of the game unfortunately, since Donkey Kong Country Returns just wasn’t developed with 3D in mind, as you can imagine. On this note, if you don’t plan to play in 3D anyway, why bother playing on 3DS? Why not just play the superior Wii version?

In fact, if you crank the 3D Slider to maximum, it does a number on the framerate as well. In a way, this can be helpful, since the slight speed reduction gives you a bit more time to react when on a rocket or a mine cart. Most of the time however, it’s just annoying! We will be honest and admit that the 3DS porting design is at least respectable, since the entire Wii game is successfully recreated on Nintendo’s handheld with no gameplay compromises beyond some slowdown, and that’s no small feat! Still, it’s clear that the 3DS is struggling with compressing graphical resolution meant for Wii, which may not be surprising.

The decreased resolution that comes with translating console visuals to a handheld often makes the 3DS graphics in Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D¬†look muddled, pixel-y and sometimes choppily-animated. The 3DS is a powerful handheld for sure, and one that easily rivals the power of the Wii when games are optimized for it. Even then however, the graphics in this game were much better-realized and better-looking on Wii, since they were designed for a television screen, not a handheld screen. On 3DS, the visuals just look squished in and poorly-optimized at the best of times. It’s certainly not the worst-looking 3DS game by any stretch, and the colourful, appealing graphics are still very charming and enjoyable on 3DS, but the graphics are still nowhere near as striking and gorgeous as they were in the Wii game!

Even the music and sound lose a considerable amount when they’re played out of 3DS speakers, since they no longer have the enhancement of Dolby Pro Logic II audio that they had on Wii. It’s still Donkey Kong Country Returns, and we wouldn’t say any of these technical elements are ‘bad’ really, even on 3DS. They feel more ‘unpolished’, if you want a term stuck to it.

donkey_kong_country_returns_3d_boxartNow, don’t get us wrong; Donkey Kong Country Returns is still one of the best Donkey Kong games ever made. If you only have the means to play the 3DS version, then by all means, do it, because this game is truly a must-play! With that said however, if you already own the Wii version, or want the best possible experience, then you’re safe taking a pass on the 3DS port and just sticking with the Wii game, especially since it’s cheaper if you don’t already own it.

Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is still a fantastic game on its own merits, but as a port, it suffers from being redundant and not well-suited to its platform. Was there really a demand to put Donkey Kong Country Returns on a handheld, especially with so many evident technical compromises necessary to render the game on 3DS?

It would have been better if Monster Games had just developed their own Donkey Kong Country game, and not just shoehorned a game that’s barely a couple of years old now onto the 3DS, simply for the sake of doing it. The 3D effect barely adds anything. The portability adds nothing. The extras are a waste. All in all, even if the game itself is still awesome, the 3DS port is rather disappointing, and does a poor job of justifying its existence.

If it’s more Donkey Kong Country you want, and you’ve already exhausted Donkey Kong Country Returns on Wii, we’d advise you to save your cash, skip this pointless 3DS re-release, and wait for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze to arrive on Wii U this November. Already, it looks more polished, more ambitious and much better-suited to its platform. Not only that, but we know that Retro Studios will be back handling development, so you can likely expect the exact same immense quality from the new level design, and a much higher quantity of new levels to boot!

Hopefully the next time DK adventures on 3DS, he actually brings a proper new game with him. As it stands, this 3DS re-release is certainly nothing to go bananas over!