Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D Review
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo 3DS.
Despite being the arguable star of Mario’s first game (although Mario was then known as Jumpman), Donkey Kong is often overlooked by gamers in favour of some of Nintendo’s other, more famous, characters. Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D, just released for the Nintendo 3DS, attempts to push the giant ape back into the forefront of gamers’ minds, with a mixture of fiendishly difficult platforming and a tropical theme (the visuals of which prove particularly pleasing on the eye). Originally released for the Nintendo Wii in 2010, Donkey Kong Country Returns was known for its controller-crushing difficulty, but the 3D rerelease, which has been handled by Monster Games, sees the introduction of a ‘New Mode’, alongside the original settings, in an attempt to make the game easier for those who found the previous release too much of a struggle.
Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D won’t win any prizes for writing, but what story is present tells players of a volcano eruption on Donkey Kong Island that releases a group of Tiki Masks, who proceed to hypnotise the animal inhabitants of the island, and force them to liberate the Kong family of their precious horde of Bananas. As Donkey Kong and his relatives are the only creatures on the island unaffected by the masks’ hypnotism, they take it upon themselves to free the island’s animals and retrieve their priceless Bananas. Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D plays as a 2D sidescroller, but with a lot of depth to most of the levels, the effects of which are amplified by the 3DS’ three-dimensional capabilities. Donkey Kong is frequently pushed to both the foreground and background of levels as he moves through them, and enemies will zoom in and out at certain points as well. Whilst the 3D component of the game isn’t crucial to your enjoyment of the game, it does add a cool touch to particular sequences within some of the levels.
Impressively, and considering that there isn’t really any story to speak of between levels, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D does a good job of establishing Donkey Kong Island as an actual living and breathing location rather than just as a series of artificially-connected levels. This is done by a slow easing of one area’s theme into the next, such as the Jungle, which is the first area that players experience, gradually segueing into the Beach area, with elements from both areas appearing throughout the first level of the Beach region. This continues for every regional transition throughout the game, and goes a long way towards making the island feel alive. Despite this, each area has its own particular feel, thanks to a wide variety of enemies and a unique visual palette for each setting. Graphically, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D looks particularly impressive for a handheld title. Though the in-game visuals don’t quite match up to the high standards set by the opening cutscene, they are charming throughout, and always provide something interesting to grab your attention.
Each region contains around six levels within it, and although repetition does start to kick in towards the second half of the game, there’s an impressive variety of tasks that each level will ask of you. These range from the Donkey Kong series’ staple mine cart rides, to levels that appear entirely in silhouette, and even levels that feature Jetpack Joyride-style riding of rocket-propelled barrels. Enemies are slightly less varied than the levels themselves, and tend to be repeated more often, but come from a large selection of tropical animals, such as crabs, sharks, frogs, bats and birds, among others. Each region is topped off with a boss fight, most of which can be boiled down to Nintendo’s primary mechanic of hitting the boss three times to defeat them. How you get to the stage of hitting them is nicely varied, though, including throwing bombs at a phoenix, attacking moles on a hijacked mine cart, and avoiding pirate crabs with cutlery for claws. Once you get the pattern of a boss down, they’re often fairly straightforward to defeat, but that initial sense of unknowingness lends a real sense of danger to otherwise fairly adorable and well-designed creatures.
To be honest, I found that the boss battles in Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D were often easier than some of the levels themselves. Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D starts off as a fairly difficult game, even on New Mode, although it doesn’t seem unfairly difficult very often, instead providing a solid challenge that keeps you on your toes from the get-go. Donkey Kong is given three Hearts by default at the start of each level, and each hit from an enemy causes him to lose one. Lose all three and you get put back at your most recent checkpoint, so long as you have Balloons (continues) in your possession. If you have no Balloons, you’re put back to the start of the level, with no further punishment. The one problem that I found with this system is that you’ll often build up an abundance of Balloons throughout a number of levels, only to lose almost all of them on one particularly tricky section. Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is full of rather intense difficulty spikes, most of which come in otherwise seemingly innocuous levels. In fact, most of these spikes were so out of the ordinary that they would seem to fit perfectly within the free-to-play model of certain games, as I would have been extremely tempted to dig out my wallet and pay a couple of bucks, so long as I didn’t have to crash and burn over and over again.
For a game that already packs a fair amount of content (level-wise) into its running time, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is packed full of reasons to return for another stab at the adventure. Chief among these are the collectibles scattered throughout each level, ranging from Puzzle Pieces, to KONG Letters (that provide a Balloon if all four are collected), to Banana Coins that can be spent at Cranky Kong’s shop. Each level also contains its fair share of bonus areas, which can be as simple as a hidden nook or cranny containing a single Puzzle Piece, to a completely separate room chock full of Bananas, Coins and Balloons. Cranky’s shop, which has been revamped for the New Mode, contains a wide variety of items designed to aid Donkey Kong in his quest, from additional continues and lives, to an extra level for each region, along with a parrot that serves as a guide to locating Puzzle Pieces, potions that bestow temporary invincibility, and Balloons that prevent instant death from falls.
If you never got the chance to play Donkey Kong Country Returns on the Wii, or did get a chance and gave up in frustration at the difficulty level, then the new 3D version for Nintendo’s handheld may well be worth a look. The difficulty level is still on the higher end of fury-inducement, but there is a more definite sense of handholding to prevent you throwing your console at the wall quite as often as you may have done otherwise. There are still some points that feel a little unfair, but these can almost be overlooked by the sheer level of craftsmanship that has gone into Donkey Kong’s adventure. This is one of the most well put-together platformers that I’ve played recently, and should be more than enough to push Donkey Kong back to the front of gamers’ minds.
About This Post