Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is a 2.5D platformer for the Nintendo 3DS. It’s actually a port/remake of the Wii game Donkey Kong Country Returns. Unfortunately I never got the chance to play the original game on my Wii before it broke. I’ve played the original three Donkey Kong Country games to some extent, with most of my experience being with Donkey Kong Country 2. I’ve also played Donkey Kong Land. So I have a bit of an idea of what the originals were like, but I’m certainly not what you’d call a veteran to the series. This game might not have been made by Rare, but it’s clear that the developers understood what made the original games fun and expanded on those ideas.
The basic story is that these tiki mask… instrument… things steal all of Donkey Kong’s bananas. So, in classic Donkey Kong Country fashion, it’s up to you to traverse worlds full of levels collecting bananas, banana coins, Kong letters, and a few other things while running, jumping, rolling, and fighting your way through the enemies, areas, and bosses. You’ll recognize common things like throwing barrels, finding secrets, swinging on vines, blasting from barrel to barrel, and even riding in mine carts. Even good ol’ Rambi is back in action. In fact, anyone familiar with platformers will probably pick up on the basics very quickly, but there are some new things added into the mix that change the game up and make it more interesting.
A minor change is that most of the secrets in the game will net you golden puzzle pieces, sometimes for completing certain challenge rooms while other times simply being in hidden, hard-to-reach places. It’s more or less just a visual difference from Krem coins, DK coins, or other hidden collectibles. The banana coins can be used in Cranky’s Shop in each world to purchase extra lives and inventory items to help you in a level. You can equip up to three before you start a level and use them to help you with certain parts of a level. I’d go more in-depth with all of them, but I actually didn’t use them. I mostly just bought lives because… I’m stingy. The one item of interest that I DID buy every time was the key in each world that opens up a path to more levels. You get three hearts of health and an extra three if you find a DK barrel with Diddy in it. Getting Diddy on your back will allow you to hover for a short while when jumping. You’re rewarded with bonus art, music, and videos for collecting the Kong letters and puzzle pieces throughout the levels as well. The new basic mechanics include blowing and ground pounding. You can duck and hit the shoulder buttons to blow things like flowers, pinwheels, and other objects in the background to uncover items and secrets as well as just the main path for some levels. It can also be used to extinguish certain enemies. The ground pound is used for stunning enemies and breaking platforms. But wait, there’s more!
The really interesting changes come in the form of the levels and the things they offer. A new recurring level type has the visuals silhouetted, with only a background and splashes of color here and there to indicate certain things. This lets you get imaginative with how you can interact with the levels based on their visuals while also being artistically interesting to look at. Another level type you’ll find are barrel rocket levels. You jump into a barrel rocket that is propelled forward. You hold jump to ascend and let go to descend as you collect items and avoid obstacles. Beyond these there are a lot of new little elements that often come and go in combinations to keep you on your toes. You can climb on grassy surfaces. There are crumbling platforms. There are falling platforms. There are parts where you will switch between playing in the foreground and playing in the background. There are some levels that force you to continually move forward because of something chasing you. There are just so many things that will pop up to surprise and entertain you the whole way through.
If you’re looking for replayability, this game has tons. You can always go back and try to attain all the puzzle pieces and Kong letters in each level. After beating a level you can also replay it in time attack to try and get the fastest times. You can get gold, silver, or bronze medals depending on how fast you are. Once you beat the game then you’ll open up a new world. To access the world you will need to go back to Cranky’s Shop in each world and buy the newly appeared orbs there for fifty banana coins each. So if you saved up then you’ll be able to go right away, but it’s a nice incentive to try and go back for the collectibles while getting coins along the way rather than just doing a straight grind. These levels, aside from the last one, are all new to the 3DS version as well. Beating all of these levels will unlock mirror mode, which allows you to replay all the levels backwards with one less heart and without Diddy. You can collect the Kong letters in mirror mode for another medal as well. So there’s a lot to go back for.
I don’t know the Wii version that well, but here are some things I found out for differences. There are no motion controls in this version, which many people would prefer. It’s on a handheld system, obviously. There’s 3D support if you’re into that. There are more levels than in the Wii version. The new mode option gives you three hearts and more items for purchase in Cranky’s Shop, but the original mode follows the same rules as the Wii one. Basically, you just get more options, different visuals, more levels, and improved controls all on a portable system.
I found myself enjoying this game a lot. The visuals are very detailed without getting too samey. The sound design is very satisfyingly clicky and the music quite catchy at times. The game constantly throws new things at you so you never really feel like you know what to expect. It’s a constant adventure full of surprises. Yet the mechanics do appear again in later levels so you can’t just learn them once and forget it. The levels are fun, frustrating, and ultimately fair. Most of them near the end of the game will eat up your lives as you try and learn them, but they’re definitely doable. You just need to practice or purchase those items if you’re having trouble. You can even skip levels if they’re too rough on you, which is nice for being able to see the whole game. The length of the levels and the spacing of the checkpoints are very reasonable. You’ll never be asked to do ridiculously long and difficult stretches. It’s just a thrill ride that brings in ideas and values of the original Donkey Kong Country games and updates them with more mechanics, updated visuals, and a lot of heart. Plus, it’s all on a handheld!
However, there are definitely some things I’m not too keen on here. The controls are weird to adjust to. Using the shoulder buttons to attack is an adjustment. They’re also used to blow and ground pound. So sometimes I haven’t stopped all the way or hit a direction too soon and end up rolling when working with the ground pound. I also sometimes mix up the actions of ground pound and blow. Although it’s nice that you have to tap the run button again to pick things up rather than just doing it if you’re holding the button as you pass. The way your momentum and hitboxes work is also tough to feel out sometimes because it’s 2.5D. Sometimes you’ll roll because you have enough speed, but sometimes you won’t. Sometimes you’ll make a jump… and sometimes you won’t. Sometimes you’ll jump on an enemy and other times you’ll get hurt. It’s just not as tight as it could be. The challenge rooms are cool, but I feel like they repeat the same challenge rooms too often. There should’ve been more variety. The final boss could’ve been more difficult or longer with more phases I think also. Most of the game is just a matter of practice and learning, so the purchasable items aren’t really all that necessary. Also, if you die too many times on a level then you get the option to watch Super Kong play through the level for you. It’s optional and only lets you pass by a level you can’t beat, but it’s still an annoying addition. Whatever, I guess that’s for the kids. The new barrel rocket levels were also very frustrating from the wonky control. You move around awkwardly and it feels more like the luck of the wobble than actual positioning skill. Plus, I think stages like the rocket barrel levels and the silhouette levels could’ve shown up more frequently to feel like a staple rather than a more passing gimmick. Also, the very last level of the game in that bonus world, while understandably difficult, feels exceptionally more relentless than the rest of the game because of the challenges, the length, and the lack of any checkpoints whatsoever. It’s a huge difficulty spike. There were a few framerate drops when I played. They were mostly done when a level was first loading for a second or two, but they were there. Though I didn’t get to try out the multiplayer mode, it certainly felt a bit lacking in options. The only way to play with someone else is for you both to have a copy of the game and it will only save to one of them. No online play. No download play. Not even the simple switcharoo type of co-op from the originals or their handheld ports. I think that could’ve been handled better.
So the game definitely has things to gripe about, but it’s still overall a really fun experience. It’s tough to compare it to its classic predecessors, but I think it does the series a significant amount of justice while adding in lots of new content for all to enjoy. It has a wider appeal and a prettier polish. Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is a great and worthy addition to the 3DS library of platformer fans and Donkey Kong fans alike. It’s worth the asking price, or at least 30 bucks. Give it a try and see what you think. Unless you’re looking for the co-op experience, this is definitely the way to experience Donkey Kong Country Returns. Although I still don’t know why those tiki things wanted your bananas in the first place…