Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

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The argument about whether Retro Studios should or shouldn’t be spending its energy on another Donkey Kong Country game rages, but at this point it’s moot. The studio finished a while ago and is surely now working on something other than this series, but while they do, let’s talk Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, the Wii U follow-up to the smash hit Donkey Kong Country Returns on the Wii.

What You Need to Know

Some evil Antarctic minions invade Donkey Kong’s birthday party and blast the Kong clan off to a remote island, so now Donkey Kong, along with Cranky, Diddy, Dixie and shop-owner Funky, must traverse six worlds of platforming, rolling, flying creativity to send the penguins, walruses and giant fish back to the cooler climes they belong in.


What’s New?

The high definition graphics are magnificent, and so are all of the new music and courses. Donkey Kong’s moveset is slightly altered – he can’t blow this time but he can pull things with the ‘ZR’ button. In addition to Diddy, he can now also move to the right with Dixie and Cranky on his back. Dixie gives him a jump arc similar to Yoshi does for Mario, and Cranky gives him a pogo ability (a bit like Scrooge McDuck in DuckTales).

There are two bigger gameplay differences, too, one of which are water levels. These are generally good, and although not without the usual water control frustrations, they have remarkable atmosphere and some really original level design ideas. The other gameplay difference this time are course segments where the camera moves to an almost over-the-shoulder viewpoint. This allows there to be multiple tracks in the mine-cart segments, for example, where you have to jump between tracks. It also adds excitement and spectacle to the barrel blasts that Donkey Kong loves to do.

What’s the Same?

Tropical Freeze is a direct sequel to Donkey Kong Country Returns and builds directly on it, similar to how Rayman Legends built on Rayman Origins. The overall arc of the game is the same, though: Each world has a boss at the end and secret stages to find while each course has ‘KONG’ letters and puzzle pieces to collect, as well as a time-attack mode once you’ve passed it. The courses are varied by setting and mechanics with mine-cart stages and rocket stages interspersed between standard run, jump and roll stages.

Surprisingly, Retro stuck to giving us just two hearts like in Returns, despite the change in the 3DS version of that game, which gave me an early indication that the difficulty level will be just as high as before. I wasn’t wrong…

You’ll Enjoy Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze If You Liked…

… Donkey Kong Country Returns: Suffice to say if you liked that game you will like this one as it ups the creativity on the same core gameplay.

… Rayman Origins / Legends: Although Rayman is a very different character, the style of platforming between DK Country and Rayman games is similar.

… New Super Mario Bros Wii U: If you liked the move from SD to HD of the New Super Mario Bros series then you will enjoy the lush, brightly coloured environments HD has enabled Retro to create.

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What I Liked

5.) The Painguins are a pretty awesome bunch of villains, while Rambi, your trusty Rhino steed, is a great addition to the characters.

4.) Bright, creative environments fully animated with layers of detail – be sure to watch the idle animations!

3.) The music is fun, breezy and well-suited to each course. Much of the energy of the DK games is in the music and this one is no different.

2.) Loads of content. Six big worlds with over fifty long courses (some of which have three or four checkpoints), none of which feels like filler content. I love the way Nintendo is producing such full-featured ‘big-box’ games these days – full price is good value for Tropical Freeze. I also love that you only have to complete six out of nine courses on a world but that so much more is available for those who search for it. It’s twelve to fifteen hours if you skip the extra stages, far more if you do them and go for the puzzle pieces and KONG letters.

1.) Consistent quality and variety of level design. This is for me the most important aspect to platformers and Tropical Freeze gets it right. Each time a barrel blast is used it’s a bit different, each mine-cart level has it’s own twist and each level-end is tweaked a bit.

Favourite Moment

Grassland Groove – World 3-1. I’ve played this through a number times and keep going back to it. The beautiful music with African chanting, the dancing Baobab trees and the Giraffes in the background make this my favourite level in the game.

Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze Screenshot 2

What I Didn’t Like

2.) Load times. They’re not terrible but they’re just long enough to be noticeable. The load screens are beautifully done with silhouette artwork and six levels of parallax scrolling, but they jerk at times which ruins the soothing effect.

1.) A familiarity, similar to the move from New Super Mario Bros. Wii to New Super Mario Bros. Wii U. Tropical Freeze is better in many ways and Retro has infused a lot of new ideas in the level design, but it isn’t quite as fresh as Returns was.

Least Favourite Moment

The big fish boss in World 4. I generally loved the boss fights, but this one felt like I was being arbitrarily crushed. As much as I enjoyed the setting of the underwater stages and even the feel of the controls, they are not nearly as precise and direct as DK’s above-ground controls, so I found the difficulty in this boss fight more frustrating than challenging.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze Launch Trailer

What’s Extra?

Time attacks, secret stages, online leaderboards, puzzle pieces to collect, and you can even play two-player co-operative.

The Bottom Line

Donkey Kong returns again, this time in HD. Not ultimately new but well worth it – a must-have for Wii U owners.

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