Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D
3DS | Nintendo / Monster Games | 1-2 Players (co-operative play) | Out Now
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11th June 2013; By KnucklesSonic8
Contemplating the possibility of a comeback or return to form, there is an understandable stance that something legendary be remembered as it was, not how it would be or is now with a direct successor. Not so with Donkey Kong Country Returns, which purposed to re-imagine the original's handiwork and form new memories as a follow-up foray for the modern generation.
Now we're seeing that same model replicated onto the 3DS to entice handheld-centric audiences in the form of Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D. I include myself in the secondary group this package aims to please -- those who missed out on the original Wii title for one reason or another. And after a close examination, I can see that Donkey Kong Country Returns, or Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D as I should refer to it, is far more than just a faithful ode to classic platforming ideals. It's a laboured experience that, while not outclassing its teacher, raises the bar with steady mechanical execution and superb game design, to the end of producing an entertaining landscape driven by original, not tired, ideas.
Striving to develop a subtle mystique of its own is how Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D begins carving a path for itself. This is accomplished by the chosen art direction, which sees the game world in touch with tribal roots, touring players through jungle-set docks and bridges surrounded by fresh shrubbery; forests with mossy rock masses and a thin veil of purple mist; active factories where nearly everything runs on an assembly line or programmed motions; and damp caves with stalactites in full view between openings of rock-pile walls, each environment having their own forms of treachery that are often tied to the activity of the setting itself.
Unique enemy designs and the odd abnormal design motif (which you'd be more inclined to associate with Mario tropes) give the game a steady heartbeat that bulges in its exploration of cohesive settings. Dynamic, multi-layered backgrounds feature a wide depth of field, at times containing many competing elements yet rarely affecting your concentration, applying an all-encompassing visual effect -- such as when silhouettes take over Sunset Shore and Smokey Peak -- that leads to gorgeous scenery, or simply adding an additional mood-setting touch in the way of good rain effects or environmental features like thorns.
These are all circumstances that help the incorporation of 3D flourish as parts of the background collapse or as commanding elements take center stage, challenging your focus and blurring the distinction between foreground and background layers. It isn't perfect, however, occasionally being too much as when environments already pull inward, or in the case of one boss fight where obstacles continue to emerge in an impromptu manner as the camera moves along and shifts direction at a fast pace.
On the side, there are some minor framerate shuffles independent of the 3D effect to take note of (though never posing an outright interference). And with respect to the graphics at large, cutscenes have a slightly compressed quality to them that takes a little away. Yet, through and through, the entire game is pleasing to the eye, often serving as its own means of immersion.
As far as mechanics, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D manifests accurate gestures and translation of on-screen controls, to the point of establishing a pace and slight nuance conducive to speed runs. Roll-jumps are well-executed in the context of how they play out, with continuous ground rolls possible when Diddy is in play. When accuracy is top-of-mind, you don't have to look down at the button layout to make sure you set things up correctly. You find your comfortable position very quickly, and both actions and reactions happen more naturally as times goes on. This is felt even as more precarious jumps are required, with the automatic activation tied to Diddy's jetpack being a big help.
Barrel grabs and vine climbs are mapped to the shoulder buttons so that as you control DK in a primary sense, your thumb can interchangeably switch between running, jumping and ground pounds (Y, B, and X, respectively) without having to pause at length. I'd say the only exception when the controls aren't as to-the-point is when riding Rambi the Rhino, in which case managing running and jumping is slightly stinted. And there was a time early on when the game read my ground slams as rolls, on account of the Circle Pad apparently not being in the neutral position. But otherwise, control management is a smooth process throughout.
In the way of level design, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D accomplishes measured feats in the resulting speed and action sequences that spawn from level developments, as well as the individualized contexts that levels are defined by. Highlights include navigating across half-demolished pirate ships ravaged by a giant octopus; going from leaping across aerial platforms to crossing a body of water on a makeshift raft; boarding a rocket barrel to soar past an extended, platform-free stretch; or relying on a giant dinosaur egg to move forward as it breaks apart and you make your way from topside into the inner shell. Even in more narrow terms, it's regularly demonstrated that the game has carefully considered enemy positions in relation to the short reach of your jumps, with them being placed just so. And in like manner, neat quirks are added in select areas to leave a more lasting impression, as in Handy Hazards when barrels are continuously shuffled like a short trickery event.
Granted, some of these level executions are rather conventional. Tidal Terror has players racing to the next protective barrier as a tidal wave continually threatens their safety at spread-out openings across the 2D plane. Muncher Marathon consists entirely of a chase sequence, with players being on the run from an angered swarm inside a large hollow trunk. Giant Boulder's design becomes like a large marble track at one point, albeit it's not as imaginative or grand as you might envision. And then Switcheroo involves activating the correct wall switches to pull out or remove square-pegged barriers and platforms protruding from the wall. But these are also some of the most memorable -- and not because they align with Donkey Kong Country's designs, either.
What fascinates is the manner in which the game's inspirations are subdued so they don't become a dependency. Barring the introductory level layouts, it isn't until maybe the fourth world that you start to experience transitions that are strongly reminiscent of the original's approach to level design. In broader terms, what this includes is when vine leaps and well-timed barrel launches are required to avoid spinning blades (what normally would be Zingers in their place), or mine carts are your only means of getting around entire levels. And then you have cases like in World 6, where timing is elevated considerably and your methodology is similar to Donkey Kong Country in how you would have dodged Zingers in their hyper form.
But while some elements are directly re-imagined, the game isn't heavy on the referencing, crafting its own inspired ideas much of the time and introducing fun breakaways in the 2.5D format, as when launching yourself through openings in giant stone monuments. In fact, it isn't even until the back-end of the game that you see your first bouncy tire -- a staple element in the original. The most overt of references is seen in the first level of the Factory world, Foggy Fumes. In it, Game & Watch themes merge with early Donkey Kong setups to create a remarkable motif, with its design being likewise. So even then, when the game pays direct tribute to its history, it's for a purpose -- one that's less to do with nostalgia and more lending to form a worthy construct.
What continues to identify the original game is its legendary soundtrack, and Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D certainly acknowledges this by extracting and re-making select compositions to respectable, sometimes strongly faithful results. Accompanying these are smooth, jumpy, mellow, and generally upstanding tunes of the game's own creation; a soundtrack dominated by flutes, acoustics, organ sounds, and of course puncturing drums, with the occasional level theme being driven by samba, drum and bass, merengue, and jazz styles to suit the tropical vibes that permeate much of the journey. The combinations are a thrill to hear as transitions trickle in, and with sound effects also demonstrating consistently strong performance, the game earns much praise for its performance in this area.
Looking at the model as a whole, the emphasis on accuracy and timing breeds design that newer platforming fans will find unforgiving, but the terms of health supply are more lenient to allow for a wider error margin. Always having three lives to start with, if you pick up a DK Barrel while only having one life to spare, your hearts will fully regenerate and have three more added thanks to Diddy's presence. The world is accordingly easier to bear, with temporary health and invincibility items at Cranky's Shop further preventing the game from alienating players not as well-versed in the ways of platforming.
Further aids come in the form of unassuming tutorial bubbles where the game will detect your confusion on how to interact with certain elements and offer a friendly reminder of how to advance. Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D also benefits from the Super Guide made famous by the New Super Mario Bros. line, albeit it'll go through the entire level from the beginning rather than the specific section you may need help with. None of this, however, will numb players to the gruel of the final world, which perhaps best connects with classic ideals in that you can't afford mistakes.
Platforming veterans will be thrilled that Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D delivers exceptionally in the way of content. In a bid to substantially improve upon Donkey Kong Country, bonus levels are found in abundant numbers, often involving that the environment be influenced to gain access to them. What is more, there are subtle hunts of exploration that deepen greatly as the experience progresses, with surprise Puzzle Piece locations and KONG letters being often out of immediate reach and requiring additional stage plays to collect.
Taking into account all the collecting and time trials, you may well be in for a 20-hour experience, with opportunities for that to expand with the initially off-limits Golden Temple, as well as co-op multiplayer over wireless. Unfortunately, two-player mode demands two copies of the game, and that needless limitation of its appeal is very disappointing.
Any claim that Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is heavily relying on nostalgia as a crutch is disproven rather swiftly, for while ties to its parent are at the root, it maintains no overruling fascination to one set predated approach, never overstating its foundation and instead stacking its inspired model with harmonious agents that help it thrive on its own merits. Besides the vast array of secrets and the movement towards exploration this creates, the game again and again exhibits superb design that unquestionably fosters a no-nonsense environment where little is amiss. The enriching gameplay on display here is top-notch, only furthered by the 3D enhancements. And while some very small issues lie with its presentation and feature set, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is all the same a superior creation that makes a compelling case in the absence of its console counterpart.
27/30 - Excellent
Gameplay 9/10 - Smooth controls make for instinctive platforming, creative design ideas, reminiscent of older style but doesn't rely on it excessively
Presentation 9/10 - Dynamic backgrounds and environments, 3D flourishes but is too much in areas, unique art direction with subtle inspirations
Enjoyment 5/5 - Difficulty better tailored to casual and hardcore platforming fans, still may be found unforgiving, satisfying methodologies encouraged
Extra Content 4/5 - Loads of secrets to uncover, multiplayer limitations are disappointing, further extras with galleries and Golden Temple stages
Equivalent to a score of 90% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System