Full disclosure: I loved the original Wii release of Donkey Kong Country Returns.
It had been many years since SNES series, and with the Wii game, Retro Studios not only managed to honour Rare's work, but also perfectly adapt it to the console's control methods, and leave its own stamp on the franchise with a hard-as-nails, yet always enjoyable, platforming design.
Now, two years and a half later, Monster Games squeezes the Texan effort into a little 3DS card. I thought, great! I can enjoy this jewel again and anywhere (in 3D, with extras) and complete it 100% this time. However, in videogames it's known that theory is one thing and practice can be quite another. And the latter is the only one that counts.
With that practice I've gone from excitement to disappointment. A alteration that won't effect some of you, and while we'll take a look at the values that Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D preserves, I'm convinced that this game has not reached its full potential, partly due to the process of adaptation, partly due to its original design.
The main annoyance has to do with smoothness and accuracy, both of which are essential in any good platformer worth its salt. Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is weird, at the very least.
There are two options: with analog circle pad (hold all the way to run) or digital d-pad (button to run, as in the original). Depending on the scheme you choose, the button layout for pounding (breaking floors to reveal secrets, dizzying foes), rolling (knocking out foes) and grabbing actions (swinging on vines, climbing along ceilings, throwing) changes. Yet neither convince throughout my play time.
How is it that I still prefer the Wii controls, so criticized because you had to waggle to roll? The original Retro design had that potential for restriction and/or imprecision, according to some players, as well as the handicap of the D-Pad being quite small.
The adaptation of those controls to the 3DS is imperfect, or, just perhaps due to the original concept relying so heavily on the format's control setup, there'd be no way to play the game with the same ease. The fact is that with the analog stick you lose accuracy, and with the digital solution the layout is awkward. This, in a game so demanding of platforming precision, is rather reprehensible. Was Donkey Kong Country Returns a game too well-suited to the Wii experience? Perhaps there wasn't a better alternative.
There's also a issue with the visuals. DKCR is designed with the big screen in mind, with its extensive landscapes stretching off into the background and full of details. On the 3DS, however, the small screen is often overloaded with detail, making it at times hard to calculate distances and jumps. Moreover, the 3D effect, which should be the perfect fit for a game that has several planes of action as you hop from the foreground to background and back again, while striking, makes it hard to see accurately what's going on in the far distance. (Hard enough on the XL, let alone the original 3DS). Finally, the frame rate is not as smooth as it should be, causing some further issues.
If you'd died a lot before due to the actual challenge of the game, now you do even more due to this unwelcome and artificial difficulty. Perhaps because of this Nintendo have incorporated New Mode, which offers easier play and adds in more player aids.
But...even with all this, there's need to be angry. Everything described so far can be understood given the differences in the hardware, but it doesn't make this a bad game. Because these issues aside (and they'll only be heavily apparent if you've played the original), there's still a lot of value and enjoyment in the package.
Technically, aside from smoothness issue, the beauty of the original is now enjoyed in an almost immaculate 3D (check out one early stage as you have to avoid giant waves travelling from the background to smash into the foreground stage), plus the source material was already amazing and funny. The level designs are still excellent.
Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is a good platformer for the Nintendo 3DS that comes from an prime contender of the genre designed for Wii. If you keep a Wii around or have a new Wii U, be sure to try the work of Retro Studios, as new extras will never exceed the bestial experience in a TV, side by side with another player, with rumble and all.
However, if you're looking for games in the genre for your handheld, this is a great example offering plenty of challenge. But due to the technical issues, it just falls short of being king of the 3DS platform jungle: the Super Mario titles are still top banana.