Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D review time, folks. The game, which is a port or remake or whatever you want to call it of Donkey Kong Country Returns for Wii, just came out on May 24, 2013. It's a Nintendo 3DS exclusive, it has everything from the original, plus a world's worth of new levels, plus an easier mode, plus 3D. Short version: this is definitely worth buying if you didn't play the original, or if you really liked the original.
Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D review, long version, starts now.
First up, full disclosure: I never played the Wii version. The Wii version, developed by Retro Studios (of Metroid Prime fame), was quite well received. It was praised less for its innovation than for its sheer good design as a platformer. It managed to stay true to the Donkey Kong Country legacy while doing its own new thing. And it was called punishingly hard -- an extreme rarity for a first-party Nintendo game these days.
Any Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D review would be remiss to deny those things. They are all as true as ever. The game immediately feels like Donkey Kong Country, right from the start -- even if Diddy Kong is more of an accessory than an actual playable character. Even if the game replaces Kremlings with Tikis. Tikis are just fine; they're different, that's all. Everything cool about Donkey Kong Country is back -- barrel cannons, a surly Cranky Kong, Rambi, KONG letters.
And I'd be lying in my own Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D review if I said these things weren't mostly better this time around. KONG letters used to get you an extra life. Whatever. Now, they get you an extra life, and if you get them in every level in a world, you unlock a secret level. Now we're talking. It's a bit of a collectathon -- letters, Jiggies puzzle pieces, banana coins, bananas -- but that's okay. It gives the levels a replayability they never had back in the Super NES days.
The major theme of any Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D review, much like the original, has to be the difficulty. This game is no joke. It offers a new difficulty level, which gives each Kong three hearts instead of two and unlocks some new items, but the classic difficulty is there as well for masochists like myself. You'll die. A lot. Even in the first world. The game takes a lot of precision, and it's not forgiving. If you make a mistake, you're done. It's a refreshing change of pace for those of us used to Nintendo's perpetual easy mode that started back in the day with Wind Waker.
Thankfully, it's not so hard that you won't enjoy it: the easier difficulty helps a lot, and the game has a Super Guide if you really get stuck. It is eminently finishable. But if you're a completionist or a stickler who insists on playing on classic (I'm both), well, get ready for the ride.
As for the new levels, you unfortunately only unlock them at the very end. And I'm not there yet -- the game came out, like, twelve hours ago -- so I can't comment.
The new items are pretty cool, too. The green balloon is a lifesaver when you screw up a jump (i.e., constantly). Portable DK barrels bring back Diddy whenever you need him, which is a total gamechanger. And the crash guard is moderately handy for flying levels, of which there are at least a few. It's a shame these are only available on the new difficulty; I don't want the stigma of playing on easy mode, but I do want to check these items out (beyond an investigation for the purposes of this review).
Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D controls tightly once you get used to it; unlike the Wii version, there's no gimmicks or waggle here, just buttons, and you can choose between using the analog stick and the +D-pad.
Now for the drawback. This Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D review, at least, will have only one. And it's the graphics. Not their quality, which is great: the game looks really good, especially the 3D effects and some of the tricks it plays with light, surprising for a 3DS port of a Wii game. The problem is in the design. I may be alone in thinking this, but with a few exceptions -- like the stunningly gorgeous silhouette levels -- the visual design here has less going on than the original Donkey Kong Country for Super NES. That game, with its wire frame models, showed off a lot of visual depth. The graphics here, even though they are objectively better, just feel less substantial.
Alright, let's just throw up a comparison and you can decide for yourself whether I'm crazy or not.
That aside, consider this Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D review to be a wholehearted recommendation. It's a lot more fun than the pretty bland New Super Mario Bros. 2, it's much faster paced, and it's much harder. And hey. It's Donkey Kong Country.