It's not great, but it is different.
The DKC series peaked at DKC2, in my opinion. I played all three DKC games when they originally came out, and I distinctly remember not loving DKC3 almost 20 years ago. When it came out for Wii Virtual Console and I actually beat it all the way through, 103%, although again, I remember not loving it. And now it’s finally out again on the Wii U Virtual Console, and I’m here to tell you that it’s just not that great.
First, I have no idea why Donkey Kong isn’t in this game. He’s been Kong-napped (again), this time with Diddy, and has been replaced by Kiddy Kong—who is functionally Donkey Kong but wearing a onesie. The game takes place in the Northern Kremisphere, which provides some new environments to explore like pine forests, waterfalls, and cave systems. The overworld is a bit more organic, with more freedom to move; you’ll go through a lengthy trading quest with a large family of bears who lives in the overworld, and search for Banana Birds. Dixie controls the same way she did in DKC2, but Kiddy Kong is imbued largely with DK’s moveset, excluding the hand-slap. But he also comes with a few new moves of his own, including a new ability to skip across water.
The standard pickups are all here—Bonus Coins, DK Coins, and Banana…er, Bear Coins. New features include minigames involving throwing balls at background objects, infiltrating Krematoa (this game’s version of DKC2’s Lost World), memorizing button sequences to free Banana Birds, and an ill-advised rocket barrel level that brings to mind traumatic flashbacks to the Earthworm Jim bathysphere sequence: limited fuel, easily-overshot controls, and lots of walls to bump into. I also have to mention how terrible and lazy the enemy design is. The first boss is literally a barrel.
The game is about as long and difficult as DKC2, but feels more like a chore. The more experimental stages go on too long. The new animal friends (an elephant and a pheasant) feel under-utilized. Despite being different, the new environments also feel sterile. DKC3 is technically competent and well-designed, but it’s lost the magic. It offers local two-players competitive and cooperative modes if you’re so inclined, and there’s a cheat menu that offers up a hard mode (not difficult to find online).
I feel the same way today about DKC3 as I did back when I originally played it: enjoyable, but not overtly so, and maybe not worth full price.