Retro Studios returns to gamers’ hearts with a sequel to their re-imagining of the Donkey Kong Country series. After spending nearly a decade with the Metroid series, Retro Studios conquered the sidescrolling platformer, but just a few years later, they have perfected it. Move over Rayman, the real king of jungle platforming is back.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze begins with DK celebrating his birthday while unbeknownst to him, an invasion on Donkey Kong Island is about to occur. However, the Tiki Tak Tribe is nowhere to be found; instead, a rambunctious group of arctic animal Vikings known as the Snowmads capture Donkey Kong Island, transform it into an arctic nightmare, and kick the Kong family to the curb.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze plays nearly identical to Donkey Kong Country Returns, but that’s far from a negative point. Donkey Kong is still the main playable character and controls exactly the same as he does in Donkey Kong Country Returns, though they have replaced the air blowing mechanic with the ability to pull up objects from the ground. Diddy Kong also returns with his trusty jetpack. Of course, there are plenty of fear-inducing platforms, tons of vines to swing from, and puzzle piece and KONG letter collecting to be done. Though, there are a few notable additions that make Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze stand out from its predecessor.
Now, Donkey Kong has been re-gifted the ability to swim underwater, and two additional playable characters join the dynamic duo. Dixie Kong makes her long-awaited return and Cranky Kong himself makes his platforming debut – unless you count the original Donkey Kong arcade game. Of course, both Kongs come complete with abilities the other Kongs don’t have. These abilities include Dixie’s hair twirling which propels her into the air – a lifesaver in many dire platforming situations – and Cranky channels his inner Scrooge McDuck with the ability to pogo bounce with his cane – a moved used mostly to safely cross spiky paths.
There are plenty of control options available to the player, which is always nice to see. You can use the Wii U GamePad, Wii Remote and Nunchuck, just the Wii Remote, and of course, the Wii U Pro Controller. I quickly dumped the Wii U GamePad in favor of Wii U Pro Controller. This was a no-brainer for me as nothing appears on the Wii U GamePad’s touchscreen. However, the Wii U GamePad can be used for off-TV play, which works quite well.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze takes place across six Islands, each with vastly different level themes. This setting change for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze has allowed the developers to run crazy with ideas for level design. The game will continue to throw large, dynamic levels at you and can easily be named the most creative Donkey Kong Country game. Some of my favourite level designs include the Lion King inspired levels on the Bright Savannah, but nothing captured my heart more than the woodsy Autumn Heights levels. While there is still a heavy emphasis on jungle themes throughout the game, there are plenty of surprises in store. One of which includes the new dynamic camera angles used during select mine cart and rocket barrel levels, and during a lot of barrel blasting portions of the game.
Difficulty wise, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze seems to be a step down from Donkey Kong Country Returns, though that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of rage-inducing levels, especially late in the game. Funky Kong takes over shop duties to provide players with a lot of helpful items, which include balloons that prevent you from falling to your death and drowning, and extra heart containers for those needing a boost on harder stages. Platforming veterans willing to collect KONG letters will eventually unlock a hard mode which most definitely ups the challenge.
Multiplayer returns to Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, though it is still limited to two-players. One player controls Donkey Kong, while the other controls one of the other three characters. I feel this was the right decision as the level design would be absolutely awful for four-players. This is contrary to New Super Mario Bros. Wii, New Super Mario Bros. U and Super Mario 3D World, all of which were designed with four player co-op in mind.
Some may be disappointed to learn that online multiplayer hasn’t been added to Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, though it didn’t really bother me much. The game isn’t reliant on two-player cooperative moves, so it’s never necessary to have two players to complete a level. However, there are online leaderboards that record your efforts during time attack, which actually includes video footage of you completing the level. Those that love speedrunning through games will definitely enjoy this new feature.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is without a doubt one of the most gorgeous Nintendo games to date. It doesn’t top Super Mario 3D World, though its colorful, creative settings look amazing in HD. Where it does topple Super Mario 3D World is in its soundtrack, which is composed by none other than series legend, David Wise. There are plenty of new tracks waiting to invade your ears, as well as remixes of old favourites including Stickerbrush Symphony and Aquatic Ambience.
I have one last thing to address and that would be the game’s loading times. They aren’t nearly as bad as they have been made out to be. I don’t think I ever had to wait over 10 seconds.
If you’re a fan of the Donkey Kong Country games, you will likely fall hard for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. Its levels are perhaps the most creative in the entire series, though they won’t quite bring platforming veterans to their knees. The game does feel familiar, but I consider that to be mostly a good thing. I came for a Donkey Kong Country experience, and that’s exactly what I received, though it wouldn’t have hurt Retro Studios to add new elements and animal buddies like the original trilogy did. Overall, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a must-own Wii U title, but now I’d love to see Retro Studios move on and unleash their creativity in other Nintendo franchises.
9.5/10 – Excellent
Purchased on Amazon.ca