Reviewing a game such as Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is always difficult because the game could receive a completely different reception based on whether it stands alone or is compared to its earlier version. Donkey Kong Country Returns was originally a 2010 Wii release by Retro Studios. This time around, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is an enhanced handheld port developed for 3DS by Monster Games (ExciteBots, Pilotwings Resort). Do we give extra points to this version for being the ideal version of the game? Or do we add an extra critical quality by which it’s measured – judging its new features for whether they justify playing the game all over again. Is the review score meant to be intended for new players who never experienced the original version or is it for older gamers who want buy it for a second time?

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Ultimately, I can\’t step into anyone else’s shoes other than my own. And since I am someone who only played the original game for a few minutes at a friend’s house, I experience the game as a fresh new experience. So, that’s how I\’ll judge the game. Still, I will try to explain what enhancements and changes were made over the original game since I did get a brief look at that in its day. As a fresh new experience, I can say that there are three main characteristics which make Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D an excellent handheld game to add to your collection. Those three are: detailed, lush graphics, a high-quality soundtrack, and a wonderfully challenging difficulty level that keeps you hooked on completing the game until its over and then some.

First up is graphics. From the beginning it’s apparent that this is the same studio that created Metroid Prime. Each level is presented with many different layers to its foreground and background, and each layer is filled with a mind-boggling amount of detail. There are swaying forests of trees, lush vegetation, crumbling rock, splashing water, puffs of smoke, and dripping lava. You can almost imagine you\’re standing in Magmoor Caverns, Chozo Ruins, or the Tallon Overworld at times throughout the game. That level of detail helped to draw me into the world of Donkey Kong Country Returns even more than the environments of the original Donkey Kong Country games by Rare. There are times though where I wondered whether the level of detail was better fit for a large screen because some of the little puffs of smoke or dust particles were lost on the small resolution. A 3DS XL would definitely be the best way to enjoy this game. But I didn\’t \”suffer\” at all playing on my regular 3DS; I just couldn\’t grasp the beauty in all its splendor. Nevertheless, you won\’t stop being impressed by the graphics for a moment.

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One extra note should be made about the 3D effects in the game. It’s almost like Retro made this game ground up with the intention of it being viewed in 3D. Since the detailed level environments rely so heavily on the various layers of background and foreground, the depth provided by viewing the levels in three-dimensions works wonderfully to enhance the graphics. Indeed, the 3D is one big reason to play the game on the 3DS over the original Wii version. The only issue was that occasionally I\’d see \’ghosting\’ on the screen, with a nearly-invisible second screen appearing behind the first one. I\’ve never had that yet with any other game, so I guess it has to do with the amount of depth in the many layers of DKCR3D. But, again, this is nothing that breaks the experience. The 3D is still a great addition.

The second is the audio. Seriously, the music throughout this game rocks! Much of it retains similarities to the classic themes we already know from the three previous Donkey Kong Country games, but there is enough variation on those that I would call half of them \”remixes\” and the other half establish enough new territory to be considered new tunes with old influences. The point being, you will enjoy this soundtrack as it will bring back many memories while feeling fresh. The sound effects, while not out-of-this-world, do enough to preserve the personality of the characters and enemies.

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And lastly, we come to the biggest draw of Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D: its challenging difficulty level. This has always been DKCR’s greatest asset and weakness. Difficulty level is always a double-edged sword. On one hand, those who appreciate an old-school challenge will be happy with every last dime they spent on this Retro Studios controller-throwing-catalyst that they call a game. And yet, I\’ve spoken to more than a few seasoned gamers who passed on the title because they just couldn\’t hack the difficulty spike over other platformers. One friend told me he played through a few worlds in the game, got stuck in one of the more challenging worlds, and never touched the game again.

The great news is that Retro has mostly solved this \”issue\” with their 3DS version. The specific platforming challenges in the game are present as always, but no longer are you limited to two hearts containers and a handful of lives. This time around, you\’ll be collecting banana coins which allow you to purchase extra hearts and extra lives from Cranky Kong’s shop. This means that on levels you find extra difficult you can keep on trying over and over again as you use your hard-earned extra lives. Also, if you just can\’t get past that well-timed jump and have begun to pull out your hair, there is one last-resort option you can use. If you\’ve failed countless times on a level, you will get the option to let Super Kong play through the level. Of course, this won\’t let you keep any of the collectibles on the level, nor will it count towards unlocking the extra levels which can only be done by completing every level by yourself.

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I\’ll be honest here: I\’ve had to use Super Kong a number of times in completing the game. And this has been a godsend for me. I\’d have given up many times if not for Super Kong and Cranky Kong’s shop, and yet I did feel like I enjoyed all the challenges the game put up against me. I got to have the best of both worlds. However, those who know they can handle the challenge without any help can either skip the training wheels or use Classic Mode, which plays the same way the Wii version did.

All in all, I felt like Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D offered me a \”Retro\” challenge that is rarely seen in this day and age and for that I commend it. It differs from a platformer like New Super Mario Bros U in that NSMBU aims more for pure \”fun\” with tons of diversity and powerups, whereas DKCR3D devotes more time to challenging the player. You won\’t be laughing out loud or having a blast. You\’ll be tightly squeezing the controls, focusing intently on the screen. And of course, each time you pass a hard level, you\’ll feel like giving yourself a pat on the back.

As I\’ve now mentioned the controls in passing, let me point out that the 3DS controls fix some of the annoyances in the Wii game. No more motion controls to roll, pound, or blow. Everything is mapped to buttons now. And honestly, with such a difficult game, motion controls didn\’t really make sense. It got tiresome trying to complete tight levels with sloppy motion waggles. So, that’s another plus for the 3DS version of the game.

All in all, Retro Studios took a great Wii game and made it even better on the 3DS with a better control scheme, new options for gamers that need a bit of extra help with the difficulty level while preserving the original challenge, and a stunning 3D effect. Not to mention a few new levels and challenges have been added in for good luck. If you\’re looking for a challenging platformer with incredible production values on your 3DS, look no further than Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D.

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