Take the jungle with you.
I believe that anyone with a lifelong love of video games started that affair with a deeply memorable experience. Maybe you passed the controller back and forth playing Super Mario Bros. with your sibling, or your Nintendo 64 and Goldeneye 007 (and therefore you) dominated your college dorm. We make connections with games directly, emotionally, through our lives and the people around us, but my love for Nintendo came in the mailbox. When Donkey Kong Land was released in 1995, it didn't take long to wear the yellow out of the cartridge's case, but no matter how much I played the game, I couldn't find a K.
As in Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D, a handheld port of a console-remake, collecting all four letters to spell "KONG" in DK Land allows you to save your game after every level, but one K evaded my eager thumbs, decimating my stock of lives in subsequent plays. Thankfully, it was 1995 and there was such a thing as writing a letter, so that's what I did. I wrote to Nintendo and got a reply telling me where to find the precious collectable. While a few notable changes have made Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D even better than the Wii version, there's still no question that Retro Studios and Monster Games have evolved the experience I fell in love with on Game Boy.
For those of you that have been living under a giant banana recently, Donkey Kong doesn't threaten plumber's wives or run people off the go-kart track in DK Country, he runs around, jumps on stuff, and collects bananas. Enemies, moving platforms, bouncy platforms, platforms that crumble after you jump on them… the ground, the list of jumpable things goes on, but it's not the only way Donkey and Diddy get around. Moving barrels shoot DK like a cannonball and mine carts speed him along perilous tracks, now with glasses-free 3D, much deeper into the monkey's giddy animated world. Sliding into 3D for these moments alone gives the platforming impressive depth, but I can't imagine anyone navigating a challenging sequence so deep in the screen. Gamers without an XL screen will have to strain their eyes to pick DK out of the background, but Donkey Kong's halcyon platforming days will find a lot to love here. Retro's measured and faithful approach to a suicide mission like remaking Rare's gameplay deserves applause.
Josh Laddin put it well in his review of Donkey Kong Country Returns for Wii:
It’s been three generations of consoles since DKC left me. I was lonely and depressed. Other platformers came and went, and I loved a lot of them, but DKC could never be replaced. And now, suddenly, it’s back home again…. I’ve always believed that Nintendo purposefully let Rare fly the coop for two reasons. For one, they somehow foresaw Rare’s downward spiral from their former glory, but more importantly, they saw a spark of something wonderful in Retro Studios and knew that the new Rare was already waiting in the wings.
It's true! I missed the Wii version, but my experience with Rare's platformers always leaned toward portable anyway. Bite-sized levels, intense console-quality gameplay, and those awesome pre-rendered graphics made me feel like I carried an amazing Super NES game with me wherever I went. I can't put DKCR3D down, but it's a good thing Josh's could handle the brain-melting frustration I felt playing "Original Mode." I'd even go so far as to say Original Mode just shouldn't have been included, but it's hard to scold Nintendo for including more options.
They should call "New Mode" "Handheld Mode" as playing it feels more like Funky Kong and less like Original Mode's Cranky Kong. Having finished the main campaign, I'm sure I'll eventually graduate to Original, but anyone who says they wouldn't need the readjusted difficulty is a liar. Dedicated fans of the original remake (what?) will love how the entire experience translates into 3D, but I had quite a bit more fun with New Mode and the expanded item selection players have to choose from. Equipping three green balloons from your inventory, for example, will allow you to recover from any difficult missed platforms you might be stuck on.
Other items make your rocket barrel or mine cart invincible, give you a DK barrel for use at any time, or provide you with Squawks the parrot for help locating hidden puzzle pieces. I sure could have used Squawks when I was playing Donkey Kong Land, though. So much of DKCR3D plays on that platforming nostalgia that it's impossible not to think back to that single K. In 1996, I had to wait several weeks for a response, but the developer has taken Nintendo's super guide to heart and even added depth to the system. With each item players can rely on a single aspect of Nintendo's our-games-play-themselves Super Guide feature, which makes finding that hidden item or clearing that impossible gap a matter of interacting with the game, and not writing a letter (or looking up cheats).
Approaching the final world, I realized the personal experience I had with a game advisor from Nintendo would never happen with this game. As big an influence that experience had on me as a gamer, I wouldn't trade DKCR3D for waiting by the mailbox. Where Rare fell into obscurity, Retro and Monster Games seem to have picked up the pieces and evolved the platforming formula to a new level, streamlining certain features and giving the 3DS yet another must-play game.