While I'm reviewing a game I keep a notebook next to me as I play, and I write down key phrases that stick in my mind. Page one of Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D (DKCR3D) review notes has one two-word phrase written over and over, like the scribblings of a happy mad man.
That phrase is, "riotous fun".
Throughout your time with DKCR3D you'll cause chaos and destruction with two awesome apes, all in the name of unbridled, rejuvenating, and challenging platforming joy.
It's not a bed of roses, but if you miss '90s-era Nintendo and sky-high difficulty, and you can look past some occasionally sticky controls, this one's for you.
A port of the rock-hard Wii version, the 3DS outing has included an option to tone down its difficulty to a more acceptable level. It's still by no means an easy game, but the added hits you can take from enemies before losing a life - the original gave you just one - are a welcome buffer between life and death.
DKCR3D's difficulty stems from platforming sequences that require a great deal of dexterity and thought to proceed. Whereas you can speed through a Mario game relatively quickly with little resistance, if you try powering through this you'll very quickly come undone.
There are times when you feel the game is deliberately tricking you into failing, and though it can border on the mean-spirited, the quality of the feeling of movement is such that you won't mind retrying stages multiple times.
The basic platformer gameplay of leaping from one area to another across chasms feels weighty and meaningful thanks to the damage you can cause to the environment. With Diddy Kong on his back providing a short glide function, Donkey Kong is a powerful beast on an island dominated by powerful forces.
You'll hammer on buttons to raise huge areas of land, barrel through towers that topple as you bust their centres to pieces, and avoid tidal waves that can sweep you away.
All this power makes for some pretty silly situations, but they're over-the-top in such an entertaining way that I found myself grinning almost constantly, even after dying a dozen times on a sequence plagued by instadeath.
A few of these deaths could have been avoided if it weren't for some squidgy inputs. You can control your character using button layouts based around either the Circle Pad or the D-pad, but neither layout works as well as it should.
The D-Pad option assigns the ground pound to the shoulder buttons, for instance, and I often found myself performing this move unintentionally. You can work around them, but they don't quite allow for the instant reactions you need in a platformer of this difficulty.
When failure isn't your fault, and the last checkpoint was a while back, it's difficult not to feel a pang of disappointment.
Another disappointment is that the 3D adds nothing to the experience, and due to the (often rapid) plane shifts you can occasionally lose track of where you are. The visual and audio design is otherwise top-end Nintendo, with big and bold characters, all brightly coloured, and smooth animation.
Issues aside, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is another brilliant platformer from the house of the plumber. While the difficulty may put some people off, those who persist will find more innovation here than the last couple of Mario games combined, and certainly a more lasting challenge.
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