Over the past few weeks, I've been working on my pile of shame -- the mountain of games that I have yet to finish.
Somewhere atop that mass of discs and cartridges was "Donkey Kong Country Returns." I couldn't get to it when it was released on the Wii in 2010, but Nintendo is giving me and other gamers a second chance with the follow-up to Rare's Super Nintendo series.
The Japanese company has rereleased the title on the Nintendo 3DS. Monster Games' port is close to the Retro Studios original. The game retains the solid platforming mechanics and keeps the level design mostly intact. Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong travel in and out of the foreground and background. They ride atop rampaging rhinos.
The duo still has to save their island from creatures called Tikis that hypnotize animals and use them to steal the Kongs' bananas. The campaign takes players through eight themed worlds, but it's the punishing level of difficulty that sets "Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D" apart.
The title is a throwback to the games of the 1980s and 1990s, where players would have one set of lives to go through a campaign. Success relied on trial and error, and players had to learn a level like a piece of sheet music, memorizing every enemy and obstacle for a perfect run.
The levels of "Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D" lean heavily on this design. It can be frustrating even with Monster Games' tweaks such as an additional piece of health and the Super Guide, which lets the computer take control and allows players to pass a stage. At times, it feels as though this game is channeling another Rare classic, the notoriously challenging "Battletoads.—
Simple tweaks the developers made mess with players. Platforms move at uneven intervals, throwing off timing on jumps. Defeating enemies isn't as simple as stomping on their heads; they often need to be flipped over, slapped around or snuffed out. A player's skill and patience is truly tested during the stages where Donkey Kong travels via mine carts or rocket barrels. They take an impeccable amount of timing and judgment to finish.
A game this difficult succeeds if there's a sense of accomplishment by completing a level or performing a fantastic feat. Unfortunately, "Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D" doesn't deliver that. The title is beautiful at times, and the campaign has inventive moments, but the plot and the level design never made me want to see what the next stage held. I felt mostly dread because I knew my thumbs were in for more punishment.
'Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D'
Platform: Nintendo 3DS