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When the original Donkey Kong Country was released, people marveled at its pre-rendered graphics and detailed textures, but the platforming gameplay and hidden secrets drew players in. Nintendo's reboot quickly became king of the jungle, spawning sequels and ports to the handheld Game Boy platform. Donkey Kong Country Returns helped to remind gamers why they love the big ape in 2010, but DK fans like me who had a bigger focus on portable gaming so many years ago might wish Donkey Kong Land could return too.
It makes total sense. Platformers are great on handhelds where levels can eat up just enough time to make the wait for an appointment or a bus ride fly by. Still, there's no mistaking that DKCR, at least as it appeared on the Wii, was meant for gamers looking for a challenge, whether that meant finding every hidden goodie or trying and failing at a level several times in a row before finally securing victory. That's where Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D swings in.
Nintendo has packed everything from the Wii game into DKCR3D, in addition to several new levels, items, and a brand new mode. "New Mode" rebalances the game for handheld play, but fans of the Wii version can still go bananas over Original Mode. I tried a few opening levels to start.
Players can choose worlds and levels from the map and quickly jump into action, rolling over enemies, using them to reach new heights, navigating platforms, or clinging to grassy surfaces to scale up walls to the level goal. The same bosses return, but the challenge level on hand is incredibly high in Original Mode.
Switching to New Mode seemed to fit better. Both Donkey and Diddy have three hearts instead of two and new items like the Green Balloon float you right back to that tricky platform if you miss it and fall to your doom. Levels play faster and easier than Original Mode, but my favorite new feature in DKCR3D is easily the visuals. Even in 2D, the characters and vibrant backgrounds move and react beautifully. Stages fly by at crisp pace and even the over world map seems to come alive on the 3DS screen.
Sliding the 3D effect all the way up introduces new depth to each level. New layers reveal themselves in 3D and taking an explosive barrel into the background looks incredible. Every ounce of graphical power shoots directly into my eyeballs, making the choice between better graphics and increased battery life on the portable a tough one.
(Of course, this screen looks like garbage so you'll have to take my word for it.)
The rep overseeing the game at the 3DS showcase yesterday suggested I try a later level in 3D. In it, waves crash periodically on the stage, pushing enemies, bananas, and even Donkey Kong to his doom. I had to pause behind structures that could block the waves before moving on in between splashes. With the 3D on, I could see the wave coming for miles. But when it finally collapsed on the stage, I had forgotten to move behind cover and had to restart. Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is so gorgeous, it's dangerous.
There's only a little more than a month left until DKCR3D lands on store shelves, but the 3DS port will probably give the original Wii version a run for top banana. Added items, New Mode, a brand new world, and an expanded Golden Temple make it the most feature-complete version, but we'll be sure to deliver a final verdict when Kong and company swing to retail on May 24th.