It's been almost 20 years since we were first introduced to Donkey Kong Country on the SNES, and it's quite startling to see how well it's held up over time. Featuring graphics that were then considered unimaginable for SNES hardware as well as gameplay that stays true to the classic platforming mechanics that Nintendo had become known for, Rare whipped up a fine classic. They continued the trend with two follow-up sequels, as well as some good supplementary titles on Game Boy.
Retro Studios took over the franchise with Donkey Kong Country Returns, a game that arrived on the Wii in 2010. Featuring most of the fundamental gameplay that the series started with, Returns also had much more elaborate level design, as well as challenging bonus rounds, beautiful (for the Wii anyway) graphics and the ability to play along with a friend. It's easily one of the better games on the Wii, even if the spikes in difficulty might be too much for rookie players to bear later on in the game.
Now, like clockwork, Donkey Kong is coming back to the portable front with a port of Donkey Kong Country Returns for the Nintendo 3DS. The big focus here will be processing a new 3D display for the game, bringing the big ape's world to life like never before. But there should also be strong gameplay elements, like the previous version, that will make it a joy to play.
Having done away with the Kremlings from previous games, Donkey Kong – with his younger ally Diddy Kong in tow – runs into a new group of foes known as the Tikis. They have managed to take off with DK's horde of bananas, forcing him to run through eight worlds surrounding his island, fending them off and eventually recovering his fruit horde. Ss you might guess, the journey gets tougher as he goes along and eventually he'll need to come face-to-face with the leader of the Tiki Tak Tribe, Tiki Tong.
This game is all about structure, as you'll move around an open world map to challenge levels. Along the way you'll also be able to take a break and speak with a staple character in the series, Cranky Kong. He'll give you advice while he chews you out, becoming a help and a pain at the same time. But fans who enjoyed his presence in the original game (where he complains about the advance in gaming hardware) will appreciate his return.
Most of the gameplay will revolve around the classic hop-n-bop where you can jump on most enemies to defeat them. But there's also another tactic involving slamming your hands on the ground, which is useful when you're trying to defeat enemies that can't be pounced upon. This flips them over, enabling you to finish them off with a jump or a roll. The roll technique is also quite useful, as you can run through multiple enemies while you have the momentum on your side. Be careful though, because as you're zipping through your roll, it's easy to fall off a ledge.
Donkey Kong Country Returns has a heavy reliance on precision platforming, thanks to the elaborate stage design. The conversion of Retro Studios' work is being handled by Monster Games who previously worked on Pilotwings Resort and Excitebike: World Rally, so you know the conversion of said levels is in good hands. Expect plenty of mine cart runs, beach battles and more as you run from stage to stage, collecting as many 1-UPs as you can (this is a good tactic, because the later levels can eat you alive if you're not prepared) as well as bananas.
If you're savvy enough, you'll also run across bonus levels scattered throughout each stage. Some are well hidden while others require launching high into the air in order to access them. They give you even more opportunity to snag collectibles or re-awaken an ally, should they be taken out earlier in the stage. (Teamwork is a huge part in Donkey Kong's world – though it hasn't been confirmed as of yet whether this game will support co-op play.)
Not too much other information has been revealed about this 3DS effort, though we are likely to know more soon since it's only a couple of months off from release. We'll revisit this game with a full strategy breakdown, including new gameplay techniques and how to get the most out of finding the bonus rooms. For now, you can rest easy knowing that Donkey Kong's successful journey continues rolling on – even if that means finding his bananas all over again. He needs to invest in a bank vault or something.
Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D will hit stores on May 24th.