If you pay attention to this site, you’d know that I was a big fan of Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D. I appreciated the challenge and loved the visual design, but felt that it was a home-console game at heart. It was difficult to grasp the game’s sense of scale on the small screen of the 3DS, even with 3D turned on. It was a brilliant game but on the wrong console. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is only available on the Wii U and with the console’s extra power, the game looks consistently outstanding.
Visually, Tropical Freeze is a treat. The game’s diverse worlds offering a new, brilliant aesthetic. Remember Sully from Monster’s Inc.? Donkey Kong’s fur moves about just like his. It looks excellent and shows the attention to detail Nintendo and Retro Studios like putting in their games. The level of detail in every aspect of this game is ludicrous. From Donkey Kong’s heavy, but quick-moving to the environment shaking when you slam the ground, to the poor flapping of an enemy bird that’s clearly eaten too many seeds to fly properly. Tropical Freeze is amazing. The animations are brilliant and rival the likes of a Pixar production. The groundwork was already there with Returns, but Tropical Freeze improves upon the first game in almost every area.
The gameplay is largely untouched from Returns. You’ll be guiding Donkey Kong through a great variety of landscapes whilst hurtling through barrels, rolling, jumping and climbing vines. Because this is a Donkey Kong Country game, however, nothing is quite as easy as it seems. Tropical Freeze is a difficult game. It’s not hideously difficult, mind, but be warned – there is a solid level of challenge here, especially when you’re trying to find and collect everything. Just as in Returns, Tropical Freeze challenges you with finding puzzle pieces and K-O-N-G Letters within each stage. Personally, I found it hard to track all of them down, but for those wanting the game to go on beyond its story, this added challenge is always present – and collecting everything will unlock new levels.
In order to reach the higher ground and tricky areas where these secrets are found, Donkey Kong has three sidekick helpers. Diddy Kong, Dixie Kong and Cranky Kong. Each of these helpers comes with their own unique abilities. Diddy Kong remains unchanged from Returns, meaning his jetpack and boosted roll-speed can help you out in a pinch and cover more ground. Dixie Kong helicopters skyward with her ponytail, followed by a slow pursuit downwards, and Cranky Kong lets you bounce along on his walking stick, much like Scrooge McDuck in DuckTales, with a higher jump, and the ability to move undamaged across barbed vines and shielded enemies.
Sometimes you will need a certain sidekick Kong to access specific areas, but for the most part, you can play any level with any one of the three helping you out – at the very least they give you an extra two hits. New to the game as well are Kong Pow attacks (such a great name), which are screen-filling attacks that wipe out all enemies in view. These are built up by collecting enough bananas. Depending on what Kong you have alongside you in co-op, or on your back in singleplayer, the items that appear in place of your enemies will be different. Banana Coins (that can be spent on extra lives, helpful items or 3D models from the game), extra hits, or extra lives will all prove helpful.
Each sidekick also helps you out in different ways in one of the games biggest new gameplay features – swimming. Unlike Returns, Donkey Kong can swim in Tropical Freeze. The swimming sections are more than enforced visual differences, however. Donkey Kong’s swimming abilities are excellent, and you will move along gracefully and with a zip. I’ve seen others complain about the swimming in the game, but I enjoyed its change of pace. It’s a feature that’s never too in your face either. Each Kong coupled with Donkey Kong gives you a neat boost underwater too, such as Dixie Kong letting you get through strong currents via her propeller hair and Cranky using his walking stick to bash pesky enemy fish out-of-the-way. Everything in the game is great fun, including the boss battles.
Tropical Freeze is a difficult game, with each level presenting you a tricky task. You’ll be bouncing over jelly, mine-carting through perilous tracks and escaping a wildfire that’s spreading through a savannah. The diversity and challenge on show are excellent, but it is the boss battles that slathers the icing lavishly on this already delicious cake. The bosses are ingenious and require you to think on your feet, learning the attack patterns. One or two of the bosses used up a hefty number of my lives, so building up bananas to unleash a Kong Pow attack can be a viable (if lengthy) tactic if you’re having trouble. Tropical Freeze is a smart, impeccably designed game in every area – including David Wise’s spectacular soundtrack.
Similar to Rayman Legends, Tropical Freeze builds stages around its soundtrack. It’s effortlessly stylish and never fails to bring a big, stupid grin to your face. None more so than in the third world “Bright Savannah”. David Wise’s soundtrack is superb and gives the game an incredible flow. So too does the new 3D sections. Returns was stuck in a 2D plane the whole way through, but in Tropical Freeze, the camera will swivel and move with you. When the camera turns you get a real feel of the level of detail and scope in each of the levels in the game. These are big, beautiful environments full of life and stuffed with character.
Tropical Freeze is a treat for the senses. It’s challenging gameplay, incredible soundtrack and luscious visuals all combine to create what’s one of the best platformers I have played in a long while. The only bad marks I can award the game are for its lengthy load screens and short length when compared with Returns. It’s easy to overlook such issues when the game is as great as this, however. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is 2D platforming at its very best.
An impeccably designed, fiendishly challenging feast of platforming perfection.