When Donkey Kong Country Returns was released on the Wii in 2010, it was hailed as one of the best 2D platforming games of the generation. It’s now been ported to the 3DS, and that praise still rings true.
Much like the in first game, Donkey Kong’s hoard of bananas is stolen, thieved this time by a mischievous band of Tiki masks, the Tiki Tak Tribe. They’ve hypnotised the jungle’s creatures into aiding them while you, stepping in to the red tie of Donkey Kong, ably aided by the more diminutive Diddy aim to retrieve them. You primarily control Donkey Kong but when you encounter a DK barrel Diddy – a chimp off the old block – joins, granting you the ability to use a jetpack to slightly prolong your jumps and doubling your life tally.
The plot, as in previous DKC games is mostly inconsequential; the meat of this game is its superlative platforming. The level design is some of the best I’ve ever encountered; every single item, enemy and landing is perfectly placed, requiring the utmost precision, timing and dexterity. You’ll need to learn many of the levels’ hazards, which you’ll be forced to do – because you will die. A lot.
Your skills, along with your patience, will be convincingly put to the test. Its difficulty, whoever never feels cheap – your many deaths are always the result of your own failings; mistimed jumps, lack of foresight and unresponsive fingers.
Augmenting the classic platforming sections are the returned mine cart races, which are exhilaratingly fast paced and monstrously difficult – but like the rest of the levels, impeccably designed. New to the series is Retro Studios are barrel rocket levels, where you traverse arduous, obstacled horizontal levels. The rocket isn’t directly controllable though – tapping a button increases the rocket’s thrust, while ceasing causes it to lose momentum. These are some of the game’s toughest stages, requiring an otherworldly amount of fine balance
Gone, thankfully, in this port are the forced motion controls, and you’ll never have to waggle to get your Gorilla to do anything. This makes a welcome change, and actually makes the game better. There are couple of other changes this time around, mostly geared at making the brutally difficult game a little more accommodating – but only a little. When you start, you’re given the option of playing the game just as it was on the Wii, or a new mode that gives your little simians an extra heart each. It also adds a few purchasable extras to the shop to make things easier; you can now buy a green balloon that’ll save you from a mistimed jump, or extra armour for your carts and rocket barrels.
These, amazingly, don’t cheapen the experience or make it too easy – because it’s still one heck of a difficult game, with some levels and bosses still capable of making you want to pull your hair out.
As difficult as it all is, you’ll be back for more, because this time…this time goddamit, you’re going to make it to level’s end, and it’s just so much fun and so damned rewarding that you don’t care that you’ve exhausted your entire cache of extra lives just on one level.
And just when you think you’ve seen it all, beaten the game and endured its difficulty, a golden temple appears, and reveals to you that if you collect all of the letters spelling out KONG on every single level in each of the game’s rich and sumptuous worlds, you’ll be given access to another level in each; and they’re exponentially more difficult, bordering on insane. Just finishing the game will take you many hours, but harvesting the game’s myriad of collectibles will take months. There’s even further value in that each level, once completed, unlocks a time trail. If you thought a level was difficult, try doing it as quickly as you can.
The game no longer holds the crown of being the best 2D platformer though, as its been snapped away (in my opinion) by Rayman Origins, and it’s difficult to really recommend for those who’ve played the Wii original. It’s not quite as fluid, with the 60 fps of the original now locked at 30, nor is it quite as visually arresting on the weaker 3DS hardware – but it’s hardly anything you’ll notice, because it still plays like dream. There are a handful of new stages, but just not enough to really warrant another run.
If you haven’t played it, it’s definitely worth adding to your collection – and you’ll be rewarded with one of the toughest, most endearing and most enduring platformers in recent memory.