Retro Studios dev Bryan Walker recalled in an interview how unexpectedly understanding Shigeru Miyamoto was to him and his team's vision for the project in the planning stages and how considerate and mentorlike he was with their pitches and ideas. When the final moments of the collaboration were almost done, however, Walker recalled that Miyamoto said something in English to them that stuck with them forever: "Please take care of DK. He is my friend."
In World 1-1, if the player goes back into the starting hut there will be a television showing static. Using the ground pound move will make the television change to the intro of Donkey Kong Country Returns.
At the end of the level "Lift-off Launch", green lights can be seen in the sky. These lights can be found in northern parts of the world, and go by the name of the "Northern Lights". This suggests that the game takes place in a northern part of the world.
In the level 2-6, the zebra, giraffe and elephant in a boat in the background are possibly a reference to the movie Madagascar.
In 7-R, "Lift-Off Launch", there is a large gyroscope with three spinning rings around a core; this is a reference to the Main Dynamo present in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes.
In honor of the release of the game, Nintendo trademarked the phrase "It's on like Donkey Kong."
"In honor of the upcoming Nov. 21 launch of Donkey Kong Country Returns for the Wii console, Nintendo has filed a request with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to trademark the pop-culture phrase "It's on like Donkey Kong." For those unfamiliar with the term, "It's on like Donkey Kong" is an old, popular Nintendo phrase that has a number of possible interpretations depending on how it's used. In addition to Nintendo's use, it has been used in popular music, television and film over the years, pointing to Donkey Kong's status as an enduring pop-culture icon and video game superstar."
If you scroll over the DK Barrel, an exclusive item for the 3DS version of the game in Cranky's shop, Cranky will say "It's dangerous to go alone. Buy this!" This is a reference to the original Legend of Zelda, in which an old man gives you a sword and says "It's dangerous to go alone! Take this."
In the Options menu, a coral reef is shown that is believed to be based on the Rare logo, possibly to pay homage to the developers of the previous Donkey Kong Country titles.
Donkey Kong Country Returns is the first game in the series to feature no water levels, nor any Kremlings. Water levels were planned for the game, but according to the game's producer Kensuke Tanabe, the old underwater levels "felt slow... It just wasn't the kind of gameplay we were looking for." The reason King K. Rool and the Kremlings were removed still remains a mystery.
Mr. Game and Watch from the Game and Watch series makes a cameo appearance in the Foggy Fumes level.
In level 3-2, Button Bash, there's a stone monkey which opens up for you to go into. The monkey is wearing a tie, which looks somewhat like the American flag. This tie looks exactly like the tie in which the famous gamer Billy Mitchell (who held the world record for the top score in the Donkey Kong arcade game) wears.
In the background of the Foggy Fumes level, there appears to be the skull of the mini-boss Crocomire from Super Metroid.
In 2010, UK video game retailers "Game" and "Gamestation" created a promotional offer for the release of the game, where the first 20 customers at select stores could trade in actual bananas for a copy of the game.