There’s always a risk involved in porting a well-regarded console experience to a portable system; something has to give in the transition to the small screen, even a small screen as powerful as the 3DS. In the case of “Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D” (3DS; Rated E; $34.99), a portable re-release of a Wii game from 2010, every sacrifice is mitigated by some sort of enhancement.
Take the most obvious concession: the visuals. The visuals of “Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D” can’t keep up with the Wii’s “Donkey Kong Country Returns.” The colors feel muted on the portable system, which is unfortunate given that the original’s visuals rival even the “Super Mario Galaxy” series for pure candy-colored Nintendo goodness. Every so often, the visuals seem to catch up to the portable as well, slowing down the action and skipping frames every so often, which can make playing a little difficult in some of the more fast-paced stretches.
Still, gimmick as it may be, the 3D is something to behold. There was obviously some serious attention paid to the sense of depth in the game, and the 3D is implemented in ways that only Nintendo itself has been able to coax out of its little portable. Perhaps most impressive is the sunset level, right near the beginning, in which nearly everything is rendered in silhouette. Even as everything is rendered in jet black, the depth of the 3D makes the foreground and background obvious as you play, making an already beautiful level even more lovely.
So the visuals hold their own. What about the gameplay?
“Donkey Kong Country Returns” was one of the more difficult games on the Wii, especially of the games developed for the system by Nintendo. It seems that for better or worse, the challenge has been reduced on the 3DS version as well. Most of this has to do with the shop run by Cranky Kong, a handy little place where you can buy things as typical as extra lives or as nifty as Banana Juice, which lets you get hit 10 times before taking any actual damage. For almost every challenge, you can buy something that keeps you in the game a little longer, which far reduces the frustration of the more manic levels.
That said, there are eight new levels in “Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D,” accessible once you beat the game. These are eight of the hardest levels the series have ever seen, exactly the sorts of levels that will beat you down to size once you get too confident after beating the game. Particularly difficult is the third of these levels, whose combination of temporary platforms and fire-spewing tikis means many, many lost lives.
It’s not as hard as the original, but it has some levels that are even harder. Got it?
Other than those particular differences, “Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D” is what the original was: an extremely well-designed platformer. There aren’t too many people who will be upset with the loss of motion controls, and the added precision that you get from being able to do everything at the push of a button lets you see that much more clearly just how well-designed the levels are.
If you’ve played through the original, “Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D” probably isn’t worth a purchase. Still, those who haven’t played it and are looking for a fantastic platformer on their little portable that doesn’t have the name “Mario” on it should get a look at this immediately.
Also New This Week: “GRID 2” (Xbox 360, PS3), a hyper-real street racer that puts you on the streets of famous cities (perhaps not coincidentally the same week that the new “Fast and Furious” movie arrives), and “Fuse” (Xbox 360, PS3), four-player co-op action from the makers of “Resistance” and “Ratchet and Clank.”