Donkey Kong Country Returns was a great platformer for the Nintendo Wii. Although it had its share of problems, the team at Retro Studios did a great job of balancing out originality and taking inspirations from the previous Rare titles. Proving that they are highly capable of creating fun and difficult platformers. Thanks to those praises, Retro Studios returns with another Donkey Kong title in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. Once again showing that they have great ideas for platforming design and are very knowledgeable of the things Rare did with their DKC games.
If you’ve played and enjoyed Donkey Kong Country Returns, you’ll very much enjoy this sequel. Retro’s great level design and visuals are kept well intact in their move to Wii U. Controls are better since motion is completely taken out, with rolling now tied to an actual button. Game does feel a bit easier compared to DKCR, but I’m sure the new controls play some part with that.
There are some differences too, like blowing being taken out in place for grabbing points on the ground, allowing for some changes in the level design. Also changed, or more like added, is that you’ve got more options in terms of partners. Diddy Kong is back again, and having him as a partner nets you more health along with a hover ability. In Tropical Freeze you’ll be able to partner up with Dixie Kong and Cranky Kong as well. Dixie Kong’s ability is similar to Diddy’s, but you’ll gain a bit of vertical lift as you hover, which can be helpful in reaching higher points in levels. Cranky Kong has a pogo-stick type jump with his cane(similar to Ducktales), and using his cane jump allows Donkey Kong to jump a bit higher and even on spikes without taking damage. There’s also a special move you can perform with your partner that will turn all enemies on the screen into balloons for you to obtain. They’re nice additions that add some depth to the platforming, and play big roles in making the difficult parts feel not too hard.
There are also minor details that wrap up the whole experience. Multiplayer returns where you can play the full game with a second player, who assumes control of any of the three partner characters. A Time Attack mode that times you on how fast you complete a level, with an online leaderboard for you to compare and view other players’ times. Lastly, lots of collectibles and secrets to uncover in levels add to the overall replayability.
The Good: One of the things I really liked about Donkey Kong Country Returns was that it had some difficulty. Fortunately, this continues in Tropical Freeze. Although I’d say the game is a bit easier when compared to DKCR, Tropical Freeze is no game you can just breeze through without many deaths occurring. Retro does a good job in maintaining the great parts of their previous game, like the rail and rocket levels, and still manage to show off some new things. And while some can complain that too much inspiration may have been taken from previous DKC titles, I actually enjoyed that aspect of it. The callbacks and those familiar moments really played nicely with my memories of those good old times.
The changes greatly help in making Tropical Freeze feel like a better game overall. Especially the control setup. One of the bad points of DKCR was the forced motion controls, and it seems Retro understood that. There are no ‘gimmicks’ here and what you get is a more traditional type of game, one that’s playable with just buttons. However, if you did enjoy the Wii remote controls from the DKCR, that control option is available.
The Bad: While I do like the traditional set of controls and the difficulty, they do provide some unfortunate drawbacks. For one, there’s a real lack of “Wii U” found in this game. Not with the visuals, since this is a great looking game, but with the Wii U’s other features. There is off-tv play, but the game does nothing with the gamepad elsewhere. No second screen or gestures of any kind. Super Mario 3D World had a small amount of levels that revolved around the gamepad, and those were a couple of my favorite levels from the game. So it would’ve been nice to see Retro try something like that as well in a few of their levels. The classic feel is still nice, but I wish more was done in terms of embracing what the Wii U could do.
The difficulty can also be a bit much in some parts. I do find enjoyment in difficult platformers, as completing them brings lots of joy and satisfaction. However, there were moments of great frustration. These mostly occurred around the boss fights. They just take a really long time. There are multiple phases to completely beating a boss, and dying from the fight will result in you doing it all over again. Tropical Freeze is a trial-and-error type of game, but it becomes a bit tedious when you’re forced to retry lengthy parts of the same thing because you had no idea what to expect. This could have been easily remedied with at least a checkpoint for boss fights. I feel that at least including that will help greatly in lowering frustrations and maintaining the flow of enjoyment.
Overall Thoughts: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a great platformer. It is a bit of the difficult side, but the new partner additions and control scheme helped in making the game have more satisfying moments, instead of frustrating ones. Yes, it may not be the game many wanted Retro to make, but after playing Tropical Freeze, I’m happy it exists. It’s a good game and if you’re still in the mood for platformers, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is definitely worth your time.