During Nintendo’s Valentine’s Day Nintendo Direct, it was revealed that the hit Wii game Donkey Kong Country Returns is getting a 3DS port. Although the game translates well to the handheld platform and will undoubtedly be a solid seller when it releases this summer, I feel like Nintendo is making a big mistake in going the route of port instead of sequel.
Donkey Kong Country Returns brought the classic SNES-era sidescrolling Donkey Kong formula to the Wii in a big, beautiful 2.5D adventure, and the results were fantastic. With an average review score of 87/100 and nearly 6 million in sales, it is widely considered one of the best platformers in recent history, and arguably the best installment in the Donkey Kong Country franchise. Meanwhile, the 3DS has seen a number of ports and remakes achieve success, such as Ocarina of Time 3D and its 3 million strong in sales.
On the surface, a 3DS port of Returns seems like a good decision, but Nintendo would have been wise to put a little more effort into bringing Donkey Kong to the 3DS. The difference between Returns and some of the other successful remakes of Nintendo games we’ve seen on the 3DS is that Returns will be a downgrade. Games like Ocarina of Time and Star Fox are classic titles with long term appeal, but they clearly show their age in terms of both graphics and gameplay.
The 3DS offers distinct advantages (such as improved processing power, two screens, and touch controls) over the N64, making 3DS remakes of classic N64 games a no-brainer. Donkey Kong Country Returns is still fresh in our minds, and doesn’t really have any game-changing way of making use of two screens or touch controls. As a result, porting it to the 3DS only gains it the advantages of portability and stereoscopic 3D, but at the cost of toned-down graphics. This shouldn’t really detract from the quality of the game too much, but it also won’t add much to it. Given that the game is only a few years old, is it really necessary to rehash it already?
That’s not to say that I expect the game to flop. There will be a number of 3DS owners who never experienced the game on Wii, as well as Wii owners who won’t mind shelling out for the game again to see it in 3D and to have it on the go. I expect Returns to eclipse one million in sales, but if Nintendo had opted to work on a sequel instead, I believe it could easily outsell the original.
The stereoscopic 3D effect and on-the-go aspects of Returns definitely have appeal, but as with all 3DS games, this is simply taking an existing game and trying to fit it into the 3DS mold. The 3DS is a unique console with unique advantages, and a game that’s built from the ground up specifically for the platform will always be able to make far better use of what it has to offer than a port.
A 3DS sequel to Returns provides the opportunity for a better overall 3DS experience, while also likely being a better seller. In fact, a sequel would likely cause a boost in 3DS sales. People who played and loved the game on Wii are far more likely to buy a sequel to it than a port, and Wii owners who haven’t picked up a 3DS yet may be inclined to do so if one of their favorite Wii titles got a 3DS-exclusive port.
Of course, Nintendo could still release a sequel to Returns in a year or two, but the timing couldn’t be any better than now. Nintendo is gearing up to try and make this the year the 3DS finally becomes a must-have item in the United States. Overall sales have been excellent for the system, but that’s largely fueled by an extremely strong presence in the Japanese market. Nintendo Global President Satoru Iwata is aiming to bring that high success level to the United States, promising better 3DS software for western audiences in 2013. Along with Animal Crossing: New Leaf and Mario and Luigi: Dream Team, Donkey Kong Country Returns 2 would have been the perfect way to flesh out Nintendo’s summer schedule for the 3DS.