Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D
Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D joins the list of unnecessarily-lengthily-named Nintendo games which I feel conflicted about. It’s also a game which will kick your arse again and again, ever happy to see a tie-wearing gorilla fall to his death. Despite that, it’s possibly my favourite Nintendo platformer right now.
The story of DKCR3D is fairly simple, some bug-eyed musical instrument monsters are hypnotising animals to give them bananas, but our hero Donkey Kong is too stupid to get hypnotised and fights back alongside his nephew, Diddy Kong. No relation to P. Like any one of a million 2D Mario side-scrollers, you run and jump through levels dotting semi-linear world maps, fighting a boss at the end of each level. That’s the main similarity, but DKCR3D puts the New Super Mario Bros series to shame.
Donkey Kong has three hearts before he loses his life (although there are enough instagib opportunities to render the hearts system unnecessary), and his main weapon is hitting the ground. When DK drums on the floor, the level shakes satisfyingly, knocking fragile objects apart and rattling the bushes. The environment moves, twitches and jiggles as you interact with it which is amazingly satisfying and can vary from simple background effects to falling into place as elements in the levels themselves. It really shows off the 3D of the console and can make the world around you seem more important than simple set dressing.
DK has a few other skills, he can blow dandelions! Okay, that sounds stupid but they might hide bananas, hearts or coins so shut up, it’s a good skill. He can roll a short way, too, knocking over enemies as he goes. When he breaks open a barrel featuring his nephew/kidnap victim, Diddy Kong piggybacks to double health and add to the jump & rolling times. It’s a nice equivalent to Mario’s mushrooms which doesn’t entirely replicate that particular power-up. As well as Diddy, there’s a rhino who you can bust through levels and over spikes with. Mine carts and rocket barrels round out the extra ways DK might navigate the maps filled with billions of deadly enemies and obstacles. That’s the good (and horrible) part of DKCR3D, it will beat you up repeatedly. There’s a level of challenge which many people will appreciate and others might consider abuse. The good news is that for people who keep losing about 15 lives on a level, after a few lost lives there’s an option to have Super Kong complete the level for you. He won’t get you any of the collectibles, but it moves you ahead and as much as it feels like a surrender, sometimes it’s necessary.
Each world has a simple theme of the island Donkey Kong is navigating, but the individual levels all have their own themes which can get quite varied at times. There’s one level entirely in silhouette, Limbo style, then some which alternate between platform and mine cart, or have a monster chasing you while you’re in the really awkward-to-control rocket barrel. There’s a school of thought which says that platforming games often turn into rhythm games. Bit.Trip.Runner 2 is of course, the perfect culmination of that, but some of the harder Mario levels and Super Meat Boy all fit the type of platformer where perfectly-timed button presses are all that will save you. DKCR3D fits in with this pantheon, almost at the Bit.Trip.Runner level of rhythm at times, where only split-second jumping & smashing will do.
The boss levels are nicely varied and not as punishing as the actual levels, possibly because of the aforementioned timed jumps. In one level you’re fighting crab pirates who pop up from the ground and make a totem pole of pinchy death. In another you’re on a mine cart racing after mole miners. Once you defeat the mind-controlled animal bosses you get to smack the evil instrument controlling them as many times as you can mash the ‘punch’ button.
The difficulty is the biggest problem with the game and there are some power-ups which can help, although any which provide hearts don’t help against that fickle bitch gravity, as would being able to select any of them at any time. You can stock up on items, but a few repeat each other in the concept of what they give you and having to select which three you will use before you start the level is a bit of a nuisance. Some of the levels are simply stunning in the way they use the platform medium, with you jumping in a giant hoop as it decimates everything in the area, launching yourself at a massive stone tower or fleeing a swarm of deadly insects all falling over each other to strip Donkey Kong’s bones clean.
If you are fine with crazy difficulty in your platformers then it’s a really rewarding game to play and so beautiful it puts the NSMB series to shame.
Reviewed on 3DS; Game provided by Nintendo Europe.
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