Retro's fantastic Donkey Kong Country Returns is a known quantity by now, so when we had the chance to go hands-on with the 3DS port in San Francisco recently we weren't exactly overcome with sweeping revelation. It was a great game on Wii and, unsurprisingly, that same great game translates very well to a handheld.
Those who’ve already played DKCR, and there's been ample time in which to do so since it launched on Wii in late 2010, can attest to what a delight of a platformer it is — tight level design, gorgeous environments and at times nightmarish challenge makes it one of the last gen’s top games. It was a game that more than lived up to the legacy and whimsy of Rare's classic SNES trilogy, even if the signature Kremlings of yore were nowhere to be found. All that goodness is still here, along with just enough refinement and territorial upgrades to consider the upcoming Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D the definitive version. Whether you need to go out and buy a whole new copy depends on how badly you need it portable, but for those who skipped it before — or perhaps found the challenge too intimidating — would do well to check it out on 3DS.
You can read all about what makes DKCR great in our Wii review, as the core game and two-player options (in which one controls Donkey Kong and the other Diddy) are the same here. Much of what’s been added can be considered housekeeping. We don’t intend to sell anything short, but by virtue of adapting to its new hardware home there are certain features that come with the territory. Nothing revolutionary, but certainly welcome.
For starters, there’s the whole stereoscopic 3D business, which Donkey Kong Country Returns uses to great world-building effect. Its stages were already built around playing with different planes, so adding a touch of depth to the environment goes a long way for making the island come alive. Ironically, DKCR 3D looks to have been actually designed with the magic screen in mind compared to the rather flat New Super Mario Bros. 2. There's a loss in detail and grandeur when playing on the small screen, but we felt the delightful depth makes up for it.
It also wouldn't make sense to shake the handheld around simply to be faithful to the Wii version’s motion controls, so pounding the ground, rolling and blowing on pretty flowers is now all accomplished with buttons. As shaking the Wii Remote always felt a little unnecessary, waggling won’t be missed. The motion substitute is mapped to duplicate face buttons, with grabbing relegated to the shoulder buttons; this felt like an awkward setup at first, especially because it seems a little silly to not just have everything mapped to the face buttons, but by the end of our session we had grown used to the scheme. You can opt to use either the Circle Pad or D-Pad as well, so an all-digital scheme is well within reach if you didn't care for how the Wii version played. We played primarily with the Circle Pad and performed just as well as on Wii.
New Mode rounds some of the more unforgiving edges by adding a bit of extra health, reinforced mine carts and green balloons that bail out Donkey Kong after he falls into one of the game’s numerous pits, allowing players not so interested in starting over all the time to enjoy the game. It’s reminiscent of Casual mode in Fire Emblem: Awakening, and players can skip it entirely in favor of the rock-hard original difficulty by not selecting New Mode at the beginning of a new game — once you’ve made your choice, that save file is locked in. Playing in New Mode is hardly a cakewalk, though, as DKCR3D is still a good challenge: these concessions do an admirable job of alleviating stress, but you'll still need finesse and agility to make it through. Ye ol' Super Guide is available as well to help you through really challenging parts, but this can be avoided entirely if you'd rather rough it out.
Most significant for Wii veterans, though, is the addition of a new set of eight stages leading up to the Golden Temple, upping the cloud world tally to nine stages. These unlock after the game is completed and are fairly fiendish in design, pulling out all the stops to stop you in your tracks. While we would have liked to see a more substantial new stage count, from what we played these new ones are rather lengthy and of good quality — although not necessarily the best in the game, having more DKCR is better than not.
As fans of the original we're delighted to have another romp in the jungle when the game launches on 24th May, even if the amount of brand new content is a little slim. How about you?