In 2010, Donkey Kong Country Returns delivered Wii owners a worthy evolution of classic '90s platforming in a colourful and modern visual package.
The musical score was a head-nodding treat, the art style was sophisticated and - perhaps most memorably - the game was mercilessly difficult.
Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is, as the title suggests, a 3DS port of that Wii game, handled by Monster Games (Excite Truck, Pilotwings Resort). For the most part it's indistinguishable from its console sibling, except for a lowered difficulty level for intermediate gamers and the (welcomed) removal of motion control moves such as ground slaps and roll attacks.
This new difficulty level is masqueraded as "New Mode"; a name which may imply some sort of update, but is in fact a flattering synonym for "easier mode".
New Mode gives Donkey Kong and his partner Diddy three life hearts instead of two, offering a maximum five chances to finish each level. Meanwhile, each stage is peppered with additional 1-up balloons, meaning that chance of total failure is significantly reduced.
On top of this, more items have been added to Cranky Kong's shop, which previously only offered extra life balloons and a couple of minor inventory items. Now also available are bumpers (which offer additional protection during the notoriously difficult mine cart and rocket barrel stages), along with green balloons, which can come to the rescue if you descend into a pit.
Combined, these advantages tilt the balance in the player's favour. You'll still die knowing it was your own fault, but no longer for that fifteenth time where you begin to question your worth as a human being.
But in a way, that was the beauty of the Wii original. It managed to delicately walk that line between very difficult and unfairly so. There are no cheap or sudden deaths, no stages so near-impossible you'll need to know them inside-out, and no random traps that lead to an unmerited game over screen. It's just an exceptionally challenging game - and New Mode enfeebles that experience.
Not everyone needs help, of course, and if you're the sort who finds the idea of an easier mode downright sacrilegious, rest assured the game also lets you play Classic Mode instead. This is the Wii version, untouched and as nail-gnawingly hard as ever.
But gone are the frustrating, inaccurate motion controls, with the humble Y button now used for rolling and ground-slapping instead. It's a far better way of playing, and the option to choose between the Circle Pad and D-Pad for movement is welcome. It still takes a while to get used to, as it initially feels odd using the shoulder buttons to pick up barrels, but it's a far shorter adjustment period.
As for the 3D effect, it seems so befitting that we wouldn't be surprised if Retro Studios had developed the Wii version with a 3DS port in mind. When Donkey Kong hopped into a barrel on the Wii game, he was blasted far into the back of the screen, and continued on his journey on an island way off in the distance. It was simply a nifty effect, but on the 3DS it makes perfect sense. There still aren't many 3DS games that look truly special with the stereoscopic effect enabled, but this joins the likes of Super Mario 3D Land as an excellent exception.
For those who own the Wii version, Donkey Kong Returns 3D is hardly much more than a portable version of a game you've already played. If you already own the console edition, the question should be whether you want to return to it on handheld with only a few new levels to mix things up.
But if the Wii version passed you by, then this should be considered essential, especially if you have a fondness for the unrepentant difficulty of 16-bit platformers.
An impressive port of a fantastic platformer, but there isn't enough new here for Wii owners.
- Looks and sounds magnificent on 3DS
- Additional levels are welcome (if few in number)
- 'New Mode' makes it more approachable
- Too little for Wii owners to return to