Throughout its five-year lifecycle, the Nintendo Wii was rightly chastised by some sectors of the gaming community for pandering to one sole demographic: the now infamous ‘casual gamer’.
Party-centric mini-game compilations and waggle infested, lacklustre third-party produce littered the library of Nintendo’s lucrative console, leaving those who desperately sought genuine, quality titles an unbearable swamp of shovelware to wade through. Remember staring at shelves packed full of Carnival Games, Imagine Babyz and My Horse and Me? To this day, it’s still the stuff of nightmares.
Nevertheless, despite Nintendo’s golden seal of approval being dragged through the mud by the above drivel, the Wii was home to some fantastic, exclusive and unmissable games. Retro Studios’ marvellous Donkey Kong Country Returns was certainly one of them, and it couldn’t have been any less ‘casual’ if it tried.
The Texas-based developer produced another shining example of how to modernise an old-school classic, without inciting the wrath of the series’ loyal fan base. Donkey Kong Country Returns had all the core components of a great game; beautiful visuals, engaging gameplay and a punishingly hard difficulty – a potent combination, one that lured in the casual and satisfied the hardcore who grew up with the ‘Game Over’ screen. Thankfully, the same remains true of the 3DS version, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D, an astonishing, near-flawless port by Monster Games, the studio responsible for Pilotwings Resort.
Never Touch An Ape’s Banana
DKCR 3D’s story centres around the fight for precious yellow-skinned fruit. Donkey and Diddy Kong’s banana stash is suddenly stolen by a bunch of hypnotic, mischievous masks known as the Tiki Tak tribe and naturally, they want it back.
The floating fiends have managed to cause an almighty rumble in the jungle by hypnotising the animals to do their bidding. But fortunately for our heroic simians, the game begins by letting you bash one of the thieving masks senseless when his attempt to hypnotise Donkey Kong fails spectacularly. From then on, it’s up to DK and Diddy to restore natural order to the jungle and more importantly, reclaim their stash of favourite sustenance.
DK and Diddy must jump, roll and ground pound their way through eight worlds comprising of six to eight stages, with a boss battle at the end. The format is tried and tested, but it’s the scintillating gameplay that keeps you coming back for more.
Whether you’re collecting KONG letters, uncovering puzzle pieces or galloping through speed runs, mastering the roll and adopting an inquisitive approach when it comes to the interactive environments is a must.
DKCR 3D borrows numerous elements from the series’ past glories, but there’s enough invention and excitement to ensure that – as with many Nintendo IPs – the experience feels fundamentally new.
Donkey Kong is the main controlled character in the game, able to leap further than his red-capped wearing friend, Diddy, though his movements are noticeably heavier and more pronounced than his smaller companion. When DK discovers a barrel adorned with his signature abbreviation, the smartly dressed ape can call on his friend to ride piggy back, offering the advantage of extra hearts and crucially, the use of Diddy’s jet-pack – invaluable for fine tuning or correcting any mistimed jumps. If Diddy suffers three hits, then you’re back to square one, controlling DK without the supporting simian on his back.
While moving and jumping are the fundamentals for any platformer, DKCR 3D also incorporates the aforementioned rolling, pounding and even harmless blowing into the formula. And you’ll be required to utilise every one of these actions during the game, especially if you’re to overcome particular enemies types and seek out the many hidden items to collect. Whether you’re collecting KONG letters, uncovering puzzle pieces or galloping through speed runs, mastering the roll and adopting an inquisitive approach when it comes to the interactive environments is a must. Of course, you’ll also be rewarded with unlockables such as concept art and other hidden goodies, so it’s more than worth the effort.
Players can look forward to devilishly challenging enemies during the campaign, most of which require a touch more thought than simply jumping on their heads. The hairy tag-team duo will also transition frequently between the background and foreground, fly through spectacular barrel blasts sections, swing on vines and grab onto grassy verges, and make their way through original and delightfully constructed environments spanning from lush inhabited jungles to fur-singeing volcanoes. Variety is the spice of life in DKCR 3D.
Surprisingly, the controls for DKCR 3D – a potential stumbling block for so many console to handheld ports – are without a doubt, superior to that of the Wii version. On the Wii, controls were often mapped to awkward inputs such as shaking the Wii Remote to ground pound, blow and roll. Performing such actions on the 3DS is simply a button press away – and it feels far more intuitive because of it.
The circle pad is also a better match than the Wii’s miniscule D-Pad for movement. Each nudge of the circle pad is met with an accurate on-screen representation; the amount of close control on offer is quite frankly stunning and wholly satisfying. Donkey Kong responds effortlessly to your inputs, jumping slightly when the jump button is lightly tapped, leaping higher when it’s pressed with the required force. It’s a frustration free setup.
A Helping Hand
DKCR 3D retains all the features and content from the original but comes with a couple of added extras, each of which are welcomed additions.
The imposing difficulty has been tweaked ever so slightly; by choosing ‘New Mode’ players begin with three hearts for both Donkey and Diddy Kong, as well as the opportunity to buy specific items that will aid your fearless apes on their quest. It’s an admirable adjustment, and one that never feels overpowered or cheap; in fact, it actually provides a more balanced and forgiving experience overall. Of course, the game is still rock solid, but if you want to play the game as Retro originally intended – two hearts, no special items – then the option is there to do so.
A new world has also been included, offering eight new challenging levels for players to overcome; though it’s unlikely to sway those who already own the game on the Wii to spend another £30 two-and-a-half years later.
It’s A (Red) Tie
As soon as Donkey Kong breaks out of his personalised hut and begins to beat his chest, it’s immediately obvious that DKCR 3D is an exceptional port. Bar a frame rate drop from 60 to 30 frames per second (the game is locked at 30 FPS whether the 3D slider is on or off), Monster Games have performed a spectacular feat in converting DKCR for the 3DS hardware – DKCR 3D is a pixel-perfect port in its purest form.
The halved frame rate may be noticeable to those who have already played the silky smooth Wii original; however, the 3DS version makes up for this somewhat with the addition of glasses-free stereoscopic 3D. Crank the 3D slider up and DKCR 3D looks and plays even better than before. There’s a bit of ghosting to deal with in the darker sections of the game, and the jury’s still out on whether 3D actually aids gameplay or not, but when you’re shifting between the foreground and background, it definitely helps.
The final point of contention that should be noted is multiplayer. Previously, two controllers were all that was required to play together on Wii, but as this is a 3DS title, two players will need their own 3DS system and a copy of the game each. Players can then navigate levels separately or as one, with Diddy Kong jumping on and off Donkey Kong’s back when fitting (a useful maneuver to help inexperienced players through difficult sections).
DKCR is an absolute blast to play as co-op, so it’s a shame that many 3DS owners will potentially miss out on the monkey business two players can get up to. Still, it’s hard to criticise DKCR 3D for this omission, as the game is equally as enjoyable when playing solo.
A review copy of Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D was provided courtesy of Nintendo.
An A-peeling Proposition
It’s difficult not to feel a sense of ambivalence when replaying a port. After all, a port’s fundamental reason for existence is so that new players can share the same or similar experience of a game that many of us have already enjoyed. Yes, there’s usually a few added extras in the mix for second timers to discover, but it’s impossible to capture the same raw emotions that only going in cold can arouse. Nevertheless, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D deserves exactly the same praise as a newcomer would bestow it; for this is a remarkable, near immaculate transition of a terrific platformer from home console to handheld. And in many ways, it actually plays better than the original. How many ports can we say that about? Once again, Donkey Kong comes out swingin’.