Donkey Kong Country Returns (DKCR) was released in 2010 for the Wii as a revival of the classic Donkey Kong Country series, and now it has gone portable in Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D! In fact, it's almost as if Retro Studios always planned to bring it to the 3DS. It fits the system perfectly!
The main game has eight worlds, each with a large variety of levels. Most levels are relatively short and chock-full of replay value; great for portable play! Not only is every level brimming with secrets and clever level design, this is the ultimate completionist game. There are hundreds of collectibles to find in each world; so much so, that finding all of them will get you a completion rate of over 100%. And of course, a second player can take up the role of Donkey's little buddy/brother/cousin/whatever, Diddy Kong!
The Wii's DKCR was one of the best 2D platformers in recent history. It's more challenging than Mario games, but the series is known for finding a perfect balance between difficulty and frustration that anybody can enjoy, and DKCR pulled this off flawlessly. Each mistake is clearly your own, easily recognized, and encourages you to try again. Also, the sounds and music are phenomenal, with an expertly crafted ambiance of old and new-school styles. For the most part, the 3DS version remains unchanged from the original… with a few small exceptions.
The chief difference is the new "Easy Mode" designed to attract new players and those who found the Wii game too difficult. Yep, this for those guys… the casuals. OMG DONKEY KONG IS RUINED NOOOOOO!!!!!
…Or not. In this completely optional mode, Donkey and Diddy both have three hearts each instead of two, giving a total of two extra hits. Each level has a lot more extra lives and Banana Coins to collect than before. In fact, by the second world I had gathered well over 100 Banana Coins, a previously improbable feat. I thought the game had glitched.
Banana Coins are used to purchase power-ups from Cranky Kong's store. In the Wii game these included extra lives, a clue to a collectible, a key to an extra level, and so on. Easy Mode adds new items, like a green balloon which will save you from a fall and a potion which protects you mine car in the railway levels. The power-ups are also much cheaper. The invincibility power-up now costs 10 coins rather than the previous 20.
When I first heard about Easy Mode, I admit I was a little put off. Donkey Kong without its challenge is sacrilege! Turns out, it's not really an issue. Yes, it does make the game somewhat boring for veteran players, but "Classic Mode" is still available and it's just like the Wii game. The handicap items in Easy Mode are all one-time options that work more like power-ups than anything else, something Donkey Kong Country doesn't really have much of otherwise. So it basically turns DKCR 3D into more of a Mario game with a Kong skin. Is that really so bad?
By the way, you cannot switch between modes once you've started your game. So if you're curious, use a separate save file.
Apart from Easy Mode, being on the 3DS means no more awkward, unresponsive motion controls! Huzzah! Now you can attack with just a push of a button. The controls are definitely superior to the Wii's, with one little hiccup. It's not easy to switch between the 3DS' circle pad and d-pad. You would think both would be available at all times, but instead you need to manually change between the two in the options menu. I guess to avoid your palm from hitting the d-pad while using the circle pad? Anyway, for some reason doing this this also completely alters the rest of the button layout. Fortunately, both layouts are intuitive and comfortable, so it's not that big of an issue. It's just weird.
On an even brighter note, it's not a straight carbon copy of the Wii title. Again, the returning levels are unchanged, but there is a brand new world at the end with stages based on the previous worlds, much like Super Mario World's Star World. It's a welcome surprise!
. . .Which is why I'm spoiling it for you. Bwahaha.
The only major gripe I have is that DKCR 3D's visuals were clearly designed for a TV. There are a couple of occasions when Donkey and Diddy will be sent farther back in the screen or the camera will pull farther out. While this works great with the 3D effect, the characters and objects are much smaller, almost too small for the standard 3DS screen. It's still perfectly playable, but might frustrate some players. Like me.
The original Wii version is definitely better for local multiplayer and living room gaming. However, the 3DS version is superior in every other way. The controls, visuals, sounds, and gameplay are perfect for the portable console, and playing without the forced motion controls is something beautiful! If you already have the Wii game, there isn't really enough to justify a second purchase unless you actually want the Easy Mode. However, if you gave the original a pass, stop what you're doing and go pick this up. On its own, it's one of the best platformers in a long time.
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