I must admit that, like many others, I wasn’t too excited about the announcement of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze at E3 last year. With word that Retro Studios was working on another game for Nintendo, I was pulling for a new Metroid game. With their last game also being an entry in the Donkey Kong Country series, I was worried we were getting another one too soon. Now that I’ve played through the game, I’m glad this decision was made. Check out the video below for my full review.
In Tropical Freeze, the DK crew’s island paradise is overrun by viking invaders, and it’s up to Donkey Kong, Diddy Kong, Dixie Kong, and for the first time, Cranky Kong, to take back their home. Each Kong has unique abilities that will help players navigate various platforming challenges, and uncover the game’s bevy of secrets and collectibles.
Donkey Kong is the default character with no discernible special abilities. Diddy can use his jet-pack to hover, Dixie can spin her hair like a propeller to give jumps a little boost, and Cranky can use his cane as a Pogo stick much in the vein of DuckTales, allowing him to bounce on typically hazardous areas. All the other Kongs can ride on Donkey Kong’s back in single player, permitting players going solo to utilize these various skills. In multiplayer, the characters obviously control separately, but player two can still jump on Donkey Kong’s back at any time to make getting through certain obstacles less troublesome.
Tropical Freeze is a classic Donkey Kong Country game in every sense. The series has always been about pacing. Players must be able to identify when to move quickly and when to take the time to assess the next obstacle. The game’s standard platforming levels often give players a moment to breath between difficult sections, while the fast paced rocket barrel, Rambi the Rhino, and infamous mine cart levels are non-stop thrill rides almost certain to result in sweaty palms.
This game hearkens back to the days of classic platformers not just because of its 2D side-scrolling gameplay, but also because of its difficulty. The game often requires pin point precision to successfully move through obstacles without missing your target or taking damage. For this reason, players are likely to find themselves replaying sections multiple times. Again, this level of challenge is nothing new for the series and likely a welcome aspect for old-school platforming fans.
If I had to pick one standout aspect in Tropical Freeze’s gameplay experience, I’d have to choose the boss fights. If you found yourself leaving games like Super Mario 3D World wanting more epic boss battles, then you should play the ones in Tropical Freeze. Every boss encounter in the game is a challenge and each requires a different strategy to overcome. The thing I found most fascinating about the bosses in this game was how they all do a great job of lulling the player into a pattern just in time to surprise you with a new attack. If you don’t keep focused throughout the entirety of these battles, you’re likely to get caught off guard.
Luckily the game’s controls are tight. So, even though there is a rather high level difficulty, when you under shoot a jump, or run into an enemy, you almost always feel that you’re the one at fault. The only issue I had with the controls was the fact that ground pounding and rolling were mapped to the same button. Your character performs a roll if the button is pressed while moving and does a ground pound while standing still. In a couple of instances I pressed the button wanting to ground pound before I came to a complete stop which resulted in a roll, sometimes off an edge or into an enemy. Given that there are more than enough buttons on the Wii U’s GamePad to map these actions separately, it would have been nice if the game offered that option.
Now, all this talk about the game’s difficulty doesn’t mean less skilled players are left to drown in frustration. For those regularly running into trouble, the game offers solace in the form of Funky’s Shop. Here players can spend banana coins collected throughout the game to buy items such as extra lives, hearts, and even free passes from a pitfall deaths. Each item only has a single use, but stocking up on these resources can save players a great deal of time that would have otherwise been spent attempting the same sections over and over. Completionists can also take advantage of the shop by enlisting the help of Squacks the parrot. If you bring Squacks into a level, he will… well squack whenever a you’re near a hidden puzzle piece, making them easier to track down.
While the gameplay of Tropical Freeze may take players back to their classic platforming days, the art design and soundtrack of the game are executed in the big budget manner akin to the Triple-A titles of today. The shock value of seeing my favorite Nintendo franchises in HD still hasn’t ceased to amaze me. The standout factor in Tropical Freeze is the fine details. From Donkey Kong’s fur to the way snow blows through trees in the background. There’s a sense of realism in this cartoony world that at times took me aback.
I was initially worried that the Tropical Freeze theme would result in an over saturation of snow and ice themed levels that would quickly get old, but these levels were used sparingly and designed so well that I actually came away from the game wanting more frozen themed levels. Not to mention each of the game worlds has its own aesthetic feel to constantly shake things up.
David Wise, the composer of the original Donkey Kong Country games, returns to create a soundtrack for Tropical Freeze that is nothing short of phenomenal. Each track not only sets the tone of the level, but often the pace. I frequently found myself reacting to the music as a sign of things to come. Aquatic Ambience, the underwater theme from the first Donkey Kong Country game, is one of my favorite video game tracks of all time. Tropical Freeze includes a new version of the track that I’ve been listening to repeatedly since I heard it in the game. It may be early in 2014, but this title is sure to be a contender for best video game soundtrack of the year.
There really wasn’t much I didn’t like about Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. Retro Studios seems to have largely stuck with the formula that made Donkey Kong Country Returns a solid title, while improving on almost every aspect. Some may still think the Wii U doesn’t need more platformers, but, in my opinion, this just cements the console as the go-to destination for fans of this genre. As many Nintendo fans know, there are several major titles slated for release on Wii U this year. If Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a sign of things to come, then the time to own a Wii U is now.
+ Classic platforming gameplay that stays true to its roots.
+ Amazing soundtrack and art design
+ Raises the bar for boss fights in modern platformers
- Lack of button mapping options
- High difficutly level may turn off new comers
Final Score 9/10
Are you currently playing Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze? What do you think of the game? Let us know in the comments.