Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D (Nintendo 3DS) Review

By Jorge Ba-oh 17.05.2013 2

Review for Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D on Nintendo 3DS

There are only a handful of 2D platformers that come close to the simplicity, precision and timeless gameplay of Super Mario Bros. and one of these franchises was Donkey Kong Country, created by British studio Rare and released for the SNES console almost two decades ago. With a string of critically acclaimed successors and much loved Donkey Long Land, Nintendo's tie-wearing simian cemented himself as King of the platforming jungle.

However after splashing out on far too many bananas, Donkey Kong ended up swinging into other concepts. He traded side-scrolling adventures for bongo drums, puzzle and quirky racing games but never truly stepped back into the 2D platforming realm.

After a successful rebirth on the Nintendo Wii, the game has been ported to the Nintendo 3DS. Does the portable edition of Donkey Kong Country Returns maintain the series' momentum or does the poor simian fall short of bananas on the move?

Fans have been crying out for a true successor to the Donkey Kong Country series for over a decade. Whilst there was an expansive 3D game on the Nintendo 64, there hadn't been a 2D traditional Donkey Kong game since Donkey Kong Land III back in 1997. Expectations and hunger for a new entry were growing and in 2010 Nintendo teamed up with Retro studios to give Donkey Kong Country a much needed reboot.

Released on the Wii, Donkey Kong Country was met with solid reviews across the board - including a 9/10 on Cubed3 - so it was no surprise that Nintendo decided to bring the project over to the Nintendo 3DS.

For those unfamiliar with the story in Returns, the game does away with the classic Kremling foes from the original titles and replaces them with new tribal creatures known as the Tiki. After a deadly volcanic explosion, the Tiki Tak tribe appear on the now peaceful Donkey Kong island, wreaking havoc on the island's animals with hypnosis and grabbing hold of the ape's banana collection. Together with best buddy Diddy Kong and his nifty jet-pack, Donkey Kong sets out to retrieve his sweet stash and save his home from this rhythmic new foe.

Screenshot for Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D on Nintendo 3DS

Much like past Donkey Kong Country titles, players take on a variety of different levels that span eight different themes, with a bonus ninth world, including the classic jungle, beach, ancient ruins and a vicious volcano. These stages fall very much into the classic mould that RARE created, boasting tricky platforming sections, precision timing and menacing boss battles. Swing between vines, collect the hidden K O N G letters and simply try to overcome a relentless set of obstacles is the task at hand. Whilst it's all familiar ground for series enthusiasts, there's still a sense of modern design influences that give Returns a contemporary lick of paint without straying too far from franchise essentials. Little critters that plod along will still need to be rolled into or pounced on, and a mistimed jump can cause poor Donkey Kong to bow his head and take things from the start.

Each of the different worlds also invites a new challenge, whether it's carefully balancing on rotating cogs, or having to guide a ridiculously tricky mine cart through a sprawling path of tedious Tiki.

Boss characters and sequences are particular highlights of Donkey Kong Returns, each offering something different in contrast to the stagnant selection in New Super Mario Bros. In one, players will face a handful of disgruntled crabs, another is a mine-cart chase against thieving mole people.

Screenshot for Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D on Nintendo 3DS

The classic series was well known for its increasingly challenging design and Returns follows that trend to a tee and the original Wii version was known for its punishing yet continually challenging level designs. Enemies and traps may seem fairly harmless and a piece of banana cake at first glance, but with limited health it can pose a true problem, causing a long stretch of level to be replayed. This is certainly not out of the ordinary for a 2D platformer; but the designs border on near impossible at times. To help struggling performers and newcomers, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D includes two distinct modes of play - the original, untouched game and a "new mode" option. This grants both Donkey and Diddy Kong with extra health plus the ability to use a series of items to lighten the load in a similar way to New Super Mario Bros. Items are picked whilst in the over-world, assigned or available to use when the time comes. These do certainly come in handy towards the later worlds, Volcano in particular, and offer the ability to carry an extra DK Barrel, seek out hidden puzzle pieces with ease or offer more lives.

One of the main drawbacks that came under fire in the original Wii release was the use of compulsory motion controls for attacks and ground pound that broke up the platforming flow, feeling tacked on and straying perhaps too far from tradition. However, fortunately Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D doesn't have players slamming down 3DS hardware onto their own hardware as the remake is very much a strictly classic affair. The simple shift back to button controls for both movement and action has made it a far more enjoyable experience from the outset, translating well into the portable domain. Whilst the 3DS circle pad is the default means of moving our protagonists about, the D-Pad is also available for those wanting a truly authentic 1992 feel.

Screenshot for Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D on Nintendo 3DS

As for the visuals themselves, one of interesting ideas of the original game was to have layered backgrounds, so still traversing from left to right but the action taking place in both the foreground and occasionally plopping the player into the far distance. This effect is even more apparent in the 3DS version with the 3D slider enabled, bringing loose leaf elements in the top layer whilst tribal trees and chanting Tiki folk are tucked away in the back. 3D isn't vital for the gameplay experience, but does offer some neat touches in places. However, there are moments where the effect can cause some strain on the eyes, so a lower setting or switching it off completely might be more beneficial. There are also very minor bouts of slowdown when 3D is turned on, or slight frame skipping in certain areas, where there's perhaps far too much on screen at one time.

One drawback in the 3D gameplay itself is when Donkey Kong pops into the background. On the TV screen the distance effect used well, but on the small 3DS screen it does cause its share of problems because it's just too small to be of any use.

Whist its strengths lie in visuals and gameplay, sound, a much regarded aspect of the original series, is very much a miss in Returns. Critisied in the Wii release, not much has changed in the Donkey Kong Country Returns score here. The instantly recognisable Donkey Kong melody will help the action plod along nicely, but when there's little variation throughout the different themes and levels, it can grow irritating far too quickly. It's a shame as musically this is one of the areas that had most potential for resurgence.

The main game itself will draw many hours to complete; even just the first world alone will pose a hearty challenge for most players. There are hidden dioramas and image galleries to unlock by piecing together hidden puzzle pieces scattered across Donkey Kong island. Whilst certainly not essential or vital, they offer that little bit extra. Those who brave the game without breaking into a manic sweat can also tackle each level through time trial to try and topple personal scores with a bit of practice.

Screenshot for Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D on Nintendo 3DS

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Donkey Kong Country Returns has been translated well for the Nintendo 3DS, bringing more traditional control and nifty 3D effects to the well-received Wii release. An enjoyable, lengthy experience that has some issues in presentation and sound, but is certainly a strong contender for portable platforming bliss - one for anyone's Nintendo 3DS collection.


Monster Games




2D Platformer



C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10 (2 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now    Also on Also on Nintendo eShop


Anonymous (guest) 17.05.2013#1

Great review! I was on the fence, but I just made my pre-order at Gamestop.

Just a note, though... Streetpass doesn't mean local multiplayer. Do you not know what Streetpass is?

Anonymous (guest) said:
Great review! I was on the fence, but I just made my pre-order at Gamestop.

Just a note, though... Streetpass doesn't mean local multiplayer. Do you not know what Streetpass is?

Lol, thanks - yes I do, was tired so substituted it for wireless Smilie

Cubed3 Admin/Founder & Designer

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