Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D Review

Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D's voyage to a portable system comes with new problems, but this is still an exciting platformer.

Innovation doesn't matter if the core concept is strong enough. This is the lesson the Wii version of Donkey Kong Country Returns taught, building on its tried-and-true foundation with sublime level design and hefty--though always fair--challenge. While these strengths are still apparent in the portable version of the game, washed-out visuals and an unsteady framerate have put a damper on the action. Identifying the exact position of obstacles and platforms is tricky, and this has damaging consequences for the very elements that made the original so great. Because the run-and-jump action is still enjoyable, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is another lengthy and worthwhile platformer, but it can't live up to the standards of its big brother.

Spiked walls are a danger all gorillas must overcome.
Spiked walls are a danger all gorillas must overcome.

Returns 3D feels like a relic from a bygone era of platformers. The well-dressed simian runs and jumps through leafy jungles and boiling volcanic caves, collecting bananas with the unmatched determination of a hungry gorilla. Gone are the motion controls from the Wii original, replaced with precise button-tap commands that make it a snap to roll through enemies and pound the ground. Donkey Kong is a heavy primate, and that weight gives his movements a deliberate feel not often found in platformers. Getting used to his moderate jump height takes practice, and coming up short on a treacherous leap is a common occurrence given that it's easy to overestimate his athletic prowess. Thankfully, smashing a DK barrel teams you up with Diddy Kong, and the spry monkey's jetpack makes landing on those hard-to-reach ledges much easier.

It's in the level design that Returns 3D makes its mark. The worlds morph into twisted ruins as you tear through the eight exotic locales. Rocks crumble under your feet, and cliffs erupt from bottomless pits. Deep in the background, a bunch of bananas hangs over a tiny ledge. Leap into a nearby barrel, and you're whooshed to this new location, the world transforming around you to give you a place to run and jump and swing and yell. Returns 3D excels in these moments. The sheer unpredictability keeps you continually on edge, moving with a delicate mixture of confidence and caution as you react in the blink of a monkey's eye to the constantly changing world around you.

Little known fact: Bats can fire sonar blasts like death rays.
Little known fact: Bats can fire sonar blasts like death rays.

Though the geographic restlessness is the most thrilling aspect of Returns 3D, it also brings with it the largest frustrations. Framerate hitches are pervasive, a troublesome annoyance in sections that demand precision. Obstacles that were easy to identify on a large television screen are not nearly as visible when scaled down to the 3DS. Recognizing the danger zones and safe points when standing still takes only a moment of analysis, but problems surface when speed is paramount. Place Donkey Kong in a mine cart that's zooming through an underground cave, and spotting the minuscule specks that can end your life is incredibly tough. If you die a few times, you may memorize the deadly spots, but that's a weak solution to this issue. The same problem surfaces when the camera zooms out. It's clear that the levels and color schemes are ideal for a large screen, so when Returns was shrunk to a handheld, what was enjoyably difficult becomes aggravating.

The higher difficulty is offset somewhat by the aptly named New mode. This gives you special items that you can buy at Cranky Kong's shop that make it easier to stay alive. For instance, the Crash Guard power-up protects you from wiping out in those hellacious mine cart levels. It's nice that there is acknowledgment that the move to the 3DS comes with problems that didn't exist on a console. However, instead of fixing the glaring issue (poor visibility), these power-ups just make it harder to die. It's a lame compromise because these sections that were so incredible on the Wii are often tedious on the 3DS, with or without power-ups. Thankfully, there are only a handful of such levels in the game, and if you do get stuck, you can use the Super Guide feature to have the computer pass them for you.

At least there's one addition to Returns 3D that's a noticeable improvement. Eight new levels are buried within the Golden Temple which awaits at the end of your journey, and should challenge even those who complete the rest of the adventure. There are two ways to unlock this new content. Either play through the entirety of the core journey, including the bonus levels, or just buy a moderately priced orb from Cranky's shop. Either way, the toughest levels in Returns 3D are located behind the golden door, which is a great way to finish this fiendishly tough platformer. And for those who crave even more challenge, conquering this forsaken land unlocks Mirror mode, which strips you of your monkey sidekick and some of your precious hearts. It's a challenge worthy of even the strongest of primates.

Rambi was henceforth shunned for letting a monkey ride on his back.
Rambi was henceforth shunned for letting a monkey ride on his back.

Although Returns 3D does suffer on the visual front, the stirring soundtrack sounds just as incredible on the 3DS. The catalog has been pulled from the original Donkey Kong Country games on the Super Nintendo, albeit in remixed form, along with new tracks that fit the jungle-explorer theme quite well. The music echoes the onscreen hijinks. The serene melody as you venture across sandy beaches matches the soothing power of the sea, and the music shifts gears to a more energetic beat when you board a flying barrel to steer through falling debris. It's an excellent soundtrack that does a great job of balancing classic tunes with new instrumentals to make something that stands on its own.

Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is an uneven update. The core elements that made the original so thrilling are still here, but visual problems turn the satisfying challenge into something that often feels unfair. Multi-card cooperative play doesn't help matters. Throwing anothing player into the mix makes it even harder to see what's going on. However, this is still a good game with tons of levels to explore and collectibles to uncover. Just don't expect to be awed by this aging gorilla.

The Good
Diverse and unpredictable level design
Eight new levels offer a sizable challenge
Stirring soundtrack
Lots of hidden collectibles
The Bad
Murky visuals make it difficult to identify obstacles
Too many cheap deaths
Problematic cooperative play
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Avatar image for notserbamma

yea but what are the controls like? Cuz wii forced you to drum the controllers which was do you ROLL on this version?

Avatar image for ShadowofSonic

The Wii version was god-tier.

Avatar image for Swiv2D

Agree the 3D does hurt your eye. The 3DS was said to have the same power as the Wii but why can't they smoothen out the graphics is it the resolution on the 3DS?

Avatar image for demian742

@Swiv2D You can always switch off 3D.

Avatar image for LittleSaintGoph

Was Tom McShea not wearing his glasses when he played this as i'm playing on the regular 3DS and have no idea what he's talking about with hard to see obstacles etc..?

Never played the Wii version but enjoying this a lot, great platforming with a great art style and not hand holding difficulty. Definitely deserves at least an 8.

Avatar image for jedasis07

it's funny how you guys say "Murky visuals make it difficult to identify obstacles". i have no problems with those obstacles. in fact, it is easy to identify them because of the 3D technology from the 3DS. and it is the most superior graphics on the 3DS. come on gamespot, make your reviews right. you guys always finding a flaw that actually not a problem.

Avatar image for scooby987

I used to DK Country over and over and over on my GBA SP! I haven't played it since. This one looks fun!

Avatar image for Jd234

You must be off your rocker or blind. washed-out visuals poor framerate I have yet to exprience either and you saying not being able to tell the location of a platform or object maybe you need your eyes check cause i can tell the location perfectly fine

Avatar image for Hoffymann07

@Jd234 I have a hard time believing someone has no eye trouble when they lack the ability to use proper grammar and punctuation.

Avatar image for jaredcollins

@Hoffymann07 @Jd234 eye skills are different than reading/writing skills (;

Avatar image for timdogg42069

I definitely wanna play this game but why no new Donkey Country side scroller

Avatar image for RSVSilver

Ahahahahahah 8.00 Disney Epic Mickey (the demo i palyed was boring..the game was so slow..) and 7.00 to a masterpiece like DKCR. Even a 3 yo child would have choosen better scores

Avatar image for Rod90

Being able to play this game without silly waggle is pure bliss.

Avatar image for notserbamma

@Rod90 that means I need to get it ASAP. It was so unbelievably frustrating to be FORCED to use WAGGLE controls when I have a Controller PRO sitting right next to me. I couldn't BELIEVE they didn't support the controller PRO, being that this was a SNES game. Wii games that force you to use waggle and dont give you any comfortable alternatives are part of what plagued the system...

Avatar image for SNESNOSTALGIA2

Do I even need to mention how bad these guys and gals rate excellent 3DS games at this point? It's become cliche. You would think handheld gaming is dead if you just read these reviews! Attention gamers: think for yourself and don't let a review make or break it for you - especially not from these horrible editors. I could be a little harsh; Gamespot rates very tough and in some ways I appreciate that but just recently they should have given Fire Emblem a 9.5 / Luigis Mansion an 8.5 / and this an 8. Maybe they're making a statement or something collectively as an editorial staff. I want to hold back my criticism alittle. That luigis mansion review was ridiculous I'm sorry LOL still can't believe that!!!! That should be redone - this I'm ok somehow but that needs to be redone - I've never said that before about any review LOL

Avatar image for Hoffymann07

@SNESNOSTALGIA2 It's called a different opinion. Just because someone has one, doesn't mean they are inferior to you and yours. Try not to be hard on people who don't share the same opinion as you do!

Avatar image for SNESNOSTALGIA

I disagree what else can I say? Besides its a comments board - Its where I can voice my criticism - and I DID admit to probably being a little harsh...I totally get that its his opinion no biggy but I disagree : )

Avatar image for ChaosUndivided

Currently playing the Wii version and it is awesome as described above challenging but fair. One of the best modern platform games available.

Avatar image for x-2tha-z

I bought the Wii version a few years ago but never really got into it. I think I'll have to start playing it. Great review Tom. It's made me want to start playing this ASAP.

Avatar image for sonyfreak456

Just buy the game people. This review is just biased and stupid.

Avatar image for deactivated-5aa546641889b

It's rediculous how a game lowers in value for gamespot. First it gets 8.5 out of 10 and now suddenly 7 out of 10? Nintendo did a great job with this game.Nintendo is systematically being underrated by Gamespot. It only hows how unprofessional these reviewers are and says nothing about Nintendo's game design.

Avatar image for dzimm

@bhagenbeek What are you whining about? He explained quite clearly why this version is inferior to the original (which earned an 8.5). Given its shortcomings, 7.0 sounds like a perfectly fair score.

Avatar image for jakesnakeel

@dzimm @bhagenbeek Ha, he didn't read the review, just looked at the # and reacted

Avatar image for Dimitri_Canavis

NINTENDO rules. This game was excelent on wii and only can be better in 3D. GS ur reviews about NINTENDO are pure crap, always taking out points for nothing.

Avatar image for jedasis07

@Dimitri_Canavis agree

Avatar image for Vegamyster

@Dimitri_Canavis The Wii version runs at 60fps while this version runs at 30fps with some drops. That being said i'm on world 8 now and am loving it (haven't played Wii but will probably pick it up when i get a Wii-U in the future), i couldn't image playing this on the regular 3DS though, it zooms out so far it can be hard to see things even on the XL.

Beings that Nsmb2 got a 7 too and i'd say this game is much better, i would give it a 8-8.5

Avatar image for volc-123

Great review !!!

Avatar image for anthony7648

Donkey Kong Country 3D> GS review of this> XBOX ONE!!

Avatar image for adkcrazox

Can't wait to play this game on the go :)

Avatar image for WillyWynn

its funny how nintendo launch the same games over and over again in different platforms LOL! And people are enough stupid to buy it again and again! Nintendo are kinda dahhhh! they CANT invent new games franchises like sony or microsoft, they just remake old games or launch old games slight upgraded lol. Thats why i never bough another Nintendo console after N64

Avatar image for jedasis07

@WillyWynn why people buying the nintendo remakes over and over again? because people love the game and they want to experience it on a different platform. and they're are not bad. we're not stupid.

Avatar image for NiteX

@WillyWynn Seeing how you never played a Metroid Prime game because you were too full of it to own a Gamecube, you're opinion is fairly moot. You have the right to be a tool though.

Avatar image for deactivated-5aa546641889b

But hey, look what a faillure ps vita is...compared to 3ds

Avatar image for deactivated-5aa546641889b

Hahaha, so funny he? Hooray for sony and microsoft. Enjoy yourself.

Better not look at nintendo again

Avatar image for toshineon

@WillyWynn "Thats why i never bough another Nintendo console after N64"

And that is also the exact reason why you don't have a say in this.

Avatar image for TomMcFail

@WillyWynn lulz like cod 500...uh I mean "Ghost" ? kthxbai. On a seperate note I see mcfail strikes again. Does this guy seriously still have a job? Jesus this site must be desperate.

Avatar image for abHS4L88


So what "new franchises" has Microsoft come out with in the past couple of years? So it's totally fine that Sony has put several "HD" versions of their PS2 games on the PS3 but when Nintendo ports one of their best Wii games that would benefit from the 3DS hardware, they're out of ideas? Who are you calling stupid again?

Avatar image for pitblyh

@abHS4L88 @WillyWynn Thank you for calling out the fanboy!

Avatar image for abHS4L88


Lol, I love how he never responded, maybe because he had no answer. Just do a bit of research and you'll find out that all the major developers hardly put out new IPs, Sony has put out the most this gen, but much less than they're actually credited for. These idiot gamers like to credit Sony/Microsoft for their published IPs while calling out Nintendo for not developing new IPs consistently while ignoring their publishing efforts.

Avatar image for OoSubaruoO

@WillyWynn "And people are enough stupid" Irony.

Avatar image for JustPlainLucas

Good. They never should have bothered to port this game over to the 3DS. Should have been a brand new Donkey Kong.

Avatar image for anonymousicko

@JustPlainLucas What? You don't like it, don't buy it. I for one never had the Wii version and would love to play it on my 3DS.

Avatar image for RSVSilver

@anonymousicko There are a lot of good wii games...let's make a port of all them on 3ds instead of creating new ones.....JustPlainLucas is right. Nintendo is teasing gamers in this way. We want new games.

Avatar image for RSVSilver

Here in Italy DKCR it's 35 euro (more than 45 usd). We pay games much and we have a lower salary (1000 euro at month: 1300 usd). Playing videogames here is much expensive than in America. A 3ds full retail game price is 45 euros (60 usd). I' ll never spend 35 euros for an old game that is way better on wii. Luckily i own a wii and i played it years ago. DKCR it's a masterpiece on wii..i prefer it than new super mario bros wii.

Avatar image for Vegamyster

@RSVSilver @anonymousicko Not everyone who has a 3DS owns a Wii. I'm not sure how much it is in Europe but here in North America its $35 instead of the full price $40, which isn't too bad since it includes 8 extra levels.

Avatar image for RSVSilver

@anonymousicko @RSVSilver It would be ok if the game has a low retail price, 25 euros (or usd) not more. Now you can buy a used wii and used games and play a lot of masterpiece with a few of money. DKCR on wii is better than on 3ds. Why pay a lot of money to play a worse version? If you only have a 3ds is a must, but not at full price. Play it on wii if you can.

Avatar image for anonymousicko

@RSVSilver @anonymousicko There are a lot of new games. there's nothing wrong with having variety. Like I said, if you already played/have it on Wii, then good for you, they don't force you to buy it. I never have a chance to try it, so this version is good for me, if not better.

If you think this isn't right, you should feel the same way on Square Enix, they keep rereleasing ports of their Final Fantasy games on different devices. But I don't feel it that way. Actually it gives me and others who don't have a chance to try Final Fantasy games to be able to do so in modern devices.

It's not like Nintendo delaying new Pokemon, or Zelda, or Smash Bros game just to make this port.

Avatar image for WithoutGraceXII

The framerate issues sound the most bothersome to me. I'll probably pick this one up later at a cheaper price.

Donkey Kong Country Returns More Info

  • First Released Nov 21, 2010
    • 3DS
    • Wii
    Donkey Kong Country Returns is a side-scrolling adventure where players must help Donkey Kong get back his stash of bananas from a group of evil Tikis that have stolen them.
    Average Rating1650 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Donkey Kong Country Returns
    Developed by:
    Monster Games Inc., Retro Studios
    Published by:
    Action, 2D, Platformer
    Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
    Mild Cartoon Violence