There was a time in the past generation when it seemed the classic 2D platformer was all but lost. Old-school franchises like Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog had become 3D and mere shadows of their former glory, with almost all of the difficulty stripped away in order to appeal to a younger or more casual audience. Then three years ago, Donkey Kong Country Returns was released for the Nintendo Wii and veteran gamers were overjoyed. Developed by Retro Studios, best known for the exceptional Metroid Prime Trilogy, this was a truly challenging 2D platformer featuring some beautiful 3D artwork and a return to form for the Donkey Kong character after various 3D and peripherally enhanced games.
Now that Wii classic has been ported to the Nintendo 3DS courtesy of Monster Games, and to be honest it’s actually a far better experience in its handheld form than it ever was on Nintendo’s last-gen console. Gone are the waggle controls that were used far too often in many Wii games, replaced with honest to goodness, amazingly responsive button presses. The Rocket Barrel sequences in particular, where you outrun a giant bat or lava flow, once a major source of stumbling block, are now actually more manageable thanks to the new controls.
Donkey Kong Country Returns on the Wii was an incredibly difficult game and the same is true here even with the addition of “New Mode” which adds extra health and power-ups. New features include a balloon that saves you from a missed jump as well as armor for your Rocket Barrel or mine cart and they make the game only slightly easier than it would have been otherwise. Don’t expect a walk in the park as you try to get all of the KONG letters and puzzle pieces that are hidden throughout the levels; Some are in plain sight, while most can be found off the beaten path. Speaking of those letters, collecting all of them unlocks 8 new levels that were created specifically for the 3DS release.
Although extremely hard, sometimes to the point of cursing Nintendo’s name and wanting to throw your system across the room, the sense of achievement when you finally beat a particularly nasty level can match what you would experience in Dark Souls. In the later levels Donkey Kong basically becomes a 2D side-scrolling Dark Souls with a huge amount of trial and error needed to overcome obstacles.
This is a release that truly benefits from the larger screen of the 3DS XL, with colors and animations that pop off the screen whether the 3D is turned on or not. The 3D is actually quite effective during the cutscenes and at the beginning of each world when everything is introduced, but I found it to be quite distracting during actual gameplay. This can be an incredibly fast paced game and with the 3D turned on you’ll notice a lot of ghosting. I’d have to say that the 3DS’s main feature is actually one of the low points of this otherwise stellar adventure.
It seems like history has repeated itself, what was once one of the best releases on Wii is now one of the best for Nintendo’s handheld. This is one of the best and most challenging games I’ve yet to play for the 3DS and I couldn’t recommend it more. If you are looking for a hardcore, platforming experience on the go, this is the game to get.