The history of Nintendo’s key franchises is more complex than three seasons of Game of Thrones, run backwards, in French.
Take Mario, (deep breath), whose recent Wii U outing was a home console remake of a retro-inspired but original 3DS handheld game, but whose upcoming ‘true’ 3D reboot is more inspired by the Gamecube’s ‘Super Mario Galaxy’. Or Zelda, who has both an all-new Wii U game on the cards, as well as a ‘Wind Waker’ remake and a 3DS sequel to the 1991 SNES Game ‘A Link To The Past‘.
Then there is Donkey Kong. Behind Super Mario, ‘Donkey Kong Country’ was the best-selling SNES series of all time. And while it didn’t match the same heights in terms of sales, the sequel ‘Donkey Kong Country Returns‘ for Wii was also rapturously received. So Nintendo has now remade the latter for the 3DS.
But while the decision to bring DK back in this specific incarnation sounds a bit arbitrary, it turns out it’s actually barrel-busting genius. Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is one of the best platformers available on the rapidly maturing handheld 3DS console. And it’s hard not to suspect that with its rich, deep graphics and retro-themed gameplay, it was actually meant for its 3D screen all along.
With 70 seriously varied levels (jungles, factories, pirate ships etc), plus mine cart chase scenes and exploration-heavy areas, DKC 3D is a very rich and challenging platformer. While at its core this is a pretty standard precision running-and-jumping game, it also has a number of interesting mechanics that include rolling to make long jumps and attack enemies, pounding on the ground and blowing various game-world objects to solve puzzles.
Most of the levels are exactly as they were on the Wii. But this time around there’s also a ‘New’ mode which softens the difficulty somewhat, and adds a boosted role for shops, where you can trade items for extra lives and energy boosts plus other new upgrades like green balloons to lift you out of deadly pits. The game also comes with eight new levels which act as a sort of ‘greatest hits’ for the game’s more difficult moments which is a good challenge if you’ve already played the original.
As on the Wii, the levels are designed to constantly play with depth and perspective, shooting Donkey Kong between rocket barrels in the foreground and background, twisting through mines and jungles and factory stacks. But with the 3DS 3D enabled, everything is massively improved. The game feels faster, more creative and more fun than ever, and effects that once seemed a bit shallow – the game is still essentially a 2D experience – now feel integral to its appeal.
That said, this is not an easy game. Even in ‘New’ mode the game is still surprisingly difficult and completing it is a tricky and frustrating task. It’s also not quite as visually smooth as the famously silky original.
But despite those niggles, DKC 3D is essentially excellent – a bright, cheerful and challenging adventure, which combines a retro feel with state-of-the-art level design and is straightforwardly fun to play – no matter how tortuously complicated its history might be.