I pull out my SNES every year to enjoy the good ol’ days of gaming and last summer, a series I decided to tackle was no other than Donkey Kong Country. While playing, I would keep muttering under my breath, “Why can’t gaming be like this today?” Imagine my excitement when I found at E3 that Retro would be blessing us with another Donkey Kong platformer!
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a game that delivers tight platforming from beginning to end. The weight of Donkey Kong can really be felt from every jump as you meticulously plan your next move. You are very aware of Donkey Kong’s shortcomings; for example, you are forced to decide if you really have enough time to grab that “N” to spell out the classic KONG. Alone, DK is a little unprepared for the harsh realities of the platforming world and has just enough skills to get by. While the entire game can be beaten with just DK, it is always nice to have a friend tag along for the adventure.
Your partners will be your survival toolkit, as they all offer their own unique abilities. Diddy Kong has a jetpack the allows the player to have a temporary glide, really helping DK in tough situations to avoid projectiles or get that extra push he needs to reach a vine. Dixie Kong grants the ability to double-jump with the twirl of her hair, allowing precise platforming to be achieved in order to grab collectables, such as puzzle pieces and KONG letters. Cranky Kong has the ability to use his cane as a pogo stick to avoid obstacles and use it for combat underwater.
Each Kong possesses a special ability that can be unleashed through a move known as Kong POW, transforming enemies on screen into useful items, such as lives, extra health, or coins. The moments when DK does not have a partner really remind the player how vulnerable they are. For example, there were moments in the game where I realized that, if I did not have Dixie Kong by my side, I would be incapable of receiving some of the collectables offered. What was once a breeze can become very difficult without the right amount of patience, timing, and partner.
Tropical Freeze can be a very difficult game. I actually wasn’t challenged at first, which made me think that my skills in platforming simply evolved to greater heights. Retro reminded me that I am only mortal with world 4-4 titled “Irate Eight.” I died well over fifty times and it probably took me two hours to get past this stage, which is embarrassing for me to admit. The boss levels can also be pretty punishing; every one of them has multiple forms which carry over in different acts. You will need to be on your toes at all times or you will have to repeat the battles from the beginning.
It’s surprising to me that, no matter how many times I died in this game, it never turned me off. Retro has been able to craft a game that is completely fair in its design choices. The game is never unfair or “cheap” and, with each death, you will find yourself agreeing that it was all your fault, leading you to entertain that “just one more try” urge time and time again. Some of the most challenging and creative level design come from the mine cart levels. Every single one throughout the game is a blast to play and offer dynamic levels that break apart before your very eyes, requiring twitch reflexes.
The fact is, no matter how many times you do die in this game, you will always feel like you are one step closer to finally beating the level, even if you really are not. If the game ever gets to be too much, you can always pay Funky Kong a visit at the local item shop. This will ease players’ pain with balloons for extra lives, extra damage for mine carts, extra health, extra oxygen for underwater levels, and other useful items. These can all be purchased with collectable coins that are spread throughout levels.
Tropical Freeze has an amazing art style; however, I feel that the graphics could have been improved, knowing what the Wii U is capable of. I believe that Retro’s main concern was to deliver the best platforming experience possible, which they so rightfully achieved in this game. You will be brought to diverse and exciting locales and, while the maps may be a little generic on the outside, you really get to see each level as its own world. You never know where you are going to end up, which makes the game exciting to play from beginning to end.
There are six worlds total; while this may sound disappointing to some, this game offers just as much content, if not more, than previous DK games. Each level will take about an average of 8-10 minutes to complete and this is without counting how many times you will die. The increase in length really helps flesh the game out to be a memorable experience. Stages can have you platforming on the ground one moment while you’re being swept away in the next by tornadoes. In comparison to the latest Mario games, which feel more like obstacle courses than actual levels, the levels in DK are not only memorable, but they are also organic.
What could possibly make the Tropical Freeze levels more memorable, you ask? The music, of course — all richly composed by the legend himself, David Wise. You can immediately tell the music is composed by Wise the moment you jump into the water in the first stage, and it can bring a smile or even a tear to Donkey Kong fans who grew up in the 90s. The music just breathes so much life into these stages and adds to the experience. When you hear Grassland Groove for the first time, it’s something that can bring chills to the body. Wise clearly lets us know that he hasn’t lost his charm and brings many tracks that will fall into DK history.
Tropical Freeze is chock full of content. There are secret paths that lead to bonus levels and many collectables. There are multiple control options, which is a step up from Donkey Kong Country Returns, but one thing that is lacking is GamePad support. While you can use the GamePad, nothing will appear on-screen. It’s pretty unusual for a Nintendo game to completely ignore the GamePad’s existence, but at the very least, you can still use the GamePad for Off-TV Play. The multiplayer can be very annoying at times and can only be turned on outside of levels. There is no drop in, drop out multiplayer, which is quite puzzling. If you do decide to play co-op, make sure you play with someone on your skill level; if not, many balloons will be lost — many, many red balloons.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a game that cannot be missed. The craftsmanship of this game is second to none and can compete with the best 2D platformers of all time. If you ever found yourself asking, “Why can’t gaming be like this today?”, just remember that your wish has been granted.
Low Score: 8 / 10
- Graphics can be better
- No game pad support
- Multiplayer can be cumbersome
High Score: 9.5 / 10
- Platforming perfection
- Beautiful Music
- Challenging but not cheap