By the end of 2010, the then-four-year-old Wii's significance was trending downward with haste; the enthusiasm with which consumers sought out its integrated motion-controlled gaming had quickly faded into a faint murmur. Indeed, there was Super Mario Galaxy 2, but even a bona fide first-party masterpiece such as that couldn't fully feed the ravenous appetites of Wii owners itching for another Nintendo classic of the side-scrolling variety. Then, like a giant golden banana piercing through variable treetops, Donkey Kong Country Returns hit the market, satisfying both new- and old-school quotas in terms of refreshingly amalgamated nostalgia-inducing gameplay with a modern spin.
Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is a convenient port of Retro Studios' late-era Wii magnum opus, handled with extreme care and equanimity by Monster Games, a developer that clearly understands the importance of not tinkering too much with something approaching flawlessness. Though the constant shaky-shakes of the Wiimote are long gone, the 3DS control scheme is actually more suitable to the content at hand, and the amount of bonus material specific to this fresh take on a current genre standard warrants a purchase, even if the elder DKCR still sits in your gaming library, absent dust.
DKCR3D's story is unchanged from its source. The jocular yarn of a tribe of kooky Tikis burglarizing Donkey and Diddy Kong's 'nanner stockpile and hypnotizing friendly forest dwellers once again sends the able-bodied apes on an adventure through an array of colorful and dangerous locales. Verdant jungles, sunset-soaked shores, maniacally mechanized factories, and even a secret unlockable cloud-themed world, which is just as imaginative as any of the aboriginal areas, are all consummately realized on the 3DS's smaller screens. The handheld's button layout more closely resembles that of the Donkey Kong Country franchise's SNES entries. Moving about the dual-planed landscapes, shooting in and out of barrel cannons, dodging hoards of immovable hazards, piloting mine carts, etc.—every action feels natural and deeply responsive throughout. Local co-op adds another layer of strategy to the proceedings, but, much like its successful blueprint, the plurality of DKCR is best, and most rewardingly, tackled unassisted.
The first DKCR is known for its massive difficulty spike, and that same degree of challenge is still present in the 3DS version. However, Monster Games has wisely opted to widen the game's accessibility to the younger, more-likely-to-own-a-3DS crowd by introducing an easier mode of play. In this kindly forgiving setup, the Kongs are both allowed an extra hit before being dispatched, helpful items like the fall-saving Green Balloon are available for purchase in Cranky Kong's boutique, and the DK barrels now replenish HP in addition to switching off partners. Even with these generosities, DKCR3D still offers a formidable test of one's coordination skills, though the harder scenario is where true platforming mastery should be routinely hunted by those who seek it.
While the 3DS is no doubt a graphical powerhouse in the portable exchange, DKCR's downsizing decidedly takes a toll on the overall ocular presentation of its compact counterpart. Fluidity falters from time to time as framerates drop, character animations can backslide into choppiness, and the comprehensive luster of the Wii's performance is occasionally replaced by a fragmented murk. These issues are very minor, though, as DKCR3D is one of the strongest Nintendo ports in recent memory. More than just a handy, cash-in replication of its precursor, an abundance of updated polish has been amply applied to render the game a must-have, perhaps even for those who've played the original to death.