When news broke in November that Retro Studio's newest Donkey Kong adventure was being delayed to February, I was devastated. As someone who has beaten every title in the Donkey Kong Country series multiple times I can't say I was looking forward to many games more than Tropical Freeze. There were many who were less than enthused that Retro decided to stick with DKC and not head back to their Metroid roots or move on to a new IP, but I believe Donkey Kong deserves some more time in the spot light. The real question is, will he shine or will Retro Studios finally fall short of greatness?
If you haven't already heard, the musical genius known as David Wise has returned to the Donkey Kong Country series (after nine years) to serenade your inner most emotions. There are fresh takes on classic DKC tracks as well as new tunes that range from heavy metal riffs to African tribal beats. There are even some nice musical nods to Wise's other works such as the classic Diddy Kong Racing. Sometimes it's hard to focus on the music due to the stressful gameplay, but when it does sneak into your ear it makes a huge impression. You only need to remember three words - Aquatic Ambiance Returns. I've included it above. Enjoy.
The opening cut scene of Tropical Freeze could easily be a Pixar movie for all I can tell. Never. Never have I seen a Nintendo game that looks this good. It's hard not to instinctively reach out try to touch Donkey Kong's hyper realistic fur as it billows in the icy breeze. While the actual gameplay doesn't quite reach these levels of detail they're still running at a solid upscaled 1080p. It's obvious that a large amount of work went into crafting the various environments that Donkey Kong and pals swing through. I highly recommend that you take a moment in every level to stop (if that's possible) and absorb the wonderful atmosphere of the game, especially the multilayered backdrops that add so much depth to some already stunning environments.
Hundreds of balloons were sacrificed so that I might conquer this game. You're thinking, "Surely he means dozens, right?" No. Hundreds. Now I consider myself a decently talented platformer fan, I can usually pick up on how a game controls and how the levels are going to flow. It's hard to do that with Tropical Freeze at times. It throws you curve balls that you never see coming and you have little to no time to react. The game is brutal and it can get overly frustrating at times, but I love that in a platformer. The game makes you work for your victory, and you'll never be so enthralled and proud of yourself to reach the end of a level. If I had to compare it to Donkey Kong Country Returns I would have to say it's slightly harder in all respects. Do not give this game to your six year-old brother and expect him to get very far. I've never been so close to snapping my controller in half, but darn it, I wanted to reach that end barrel. Don't even get me started on bosses...
Tired of hovering about with Diddy? Good news! There are three news kongs rejoining the squad in Tropical Freeze. Dixie and Cranky can both aid Donkey Kong on his adventures by riding on his back or going solo in co-op play, while Funky Kong provides players with much needed items. At first I was a little hesitant to use the new kongs over Diddy, as their advantages on land in water seemed strange to me. Over time I found that Dixie was my go to ally and that Cranky was... well, useful occasionally. The game sometimes forced me to pick up a certain ally, but usually it gave me the choice of all three. Causing me to curse loudly when I accidentally picked Cranky. The game also introduces a special move called "Kong POW" where Donkey Kong and his current ally can turn all enemies on screen into helpful items at the click of a button. It's a nice feature that I honestly forgot about for most of the game, but came in handy at times.
While it's not quite on Par with Donkey Kong 64's thousand plus collectables, Tropical Freeze still has much for you to discover. There are the normal K-O-N-G letters, bananas and balloons from the original titles, but along with them come banana coins, puzzle pieces, figurines, images, soundtracks, and dioramas. There is a redonkulous amount of things to collect and unlock after you've played through the story mode. Prepare yourself.
Tropical Freeze is wonderful in the fact that it lets you choose from four different controller options and two different control schemes. I played 90% of the game with the Pro Controller, and boy did it feel right. The Wii U Gamepad, as mentioned by Kotaku EiC Stephen Totilo, stays black no matter what controller you use. This seems like a cop out, but in all reality you don't have time to look down at any extra information during level play throughs. It may seem like a terrible way to promote the Wii U's unique controller, but it was the right call on Nintendo's part. Besides, you can still play the game on the Gamepad and that's what really matters.
At $50, Tropical Freeze is ten dollars less than the average first party Wii U title. If you're clever and willing to download the title you can actually snag it for $40 if you follow these instructions.
1. From February 23 - March 1 Best Buy will be holding a sale for eShop cards at 20% off. Go online or to a local store and buy the $50 card for $40.
2. Redeem the code in the eShop. Buy Tropical Freeze.
Unlike it's predecessor, Tropical Freeze features a large variety of underwater and ice levels. The ice ones, aside from being slippery, aren't very different from your run of the mill DKC environment. Water levels, on the other hand, are a whole other ball game. Let's just say I didn't miss them very much (aside form the music). DK's movements are fluid and it's fun to rocket around the undersea depths, but what really makes the return of underwater levels a pain is that Retro decided to add an air meter. No DKC title to date has had one. I kept unintentionally dying from lack of air because I was so focused on just surviving the other under sea threats. Rayman Legends this is not.
I'm a sucker for improving on high scores and while Tropical Freeze may not have online co-op it does give folks across the world the chance to compete in speed runs via online leader boards. I was sure I'd be top dog until I realized the game had already dropped in Japan. The best thing about the leader boards is the fact that you can actually go watch anyones best run. After watching the top ranked player on the first level I applied some of his/her tricks and knocked a good 30 seconds off my time! Fun stuff.
This is a Donkey Kong game. Villains come in and they steal things from the big ape or make him angry in some way and he gets revenge by leaping and smashing his way through hoards of bad guys. It's not the most original set up in gaming history, but it's better than Princess Peach getting kidnapped... again.
Lack of Animal Buddies
I realize we got two new controllable allies with Dixie and Cranky this time around, but come on Nintendo. Look, Rambi is great, but he's the only animal buddy you gave us in DKC: Returns. Couldn't you have at least given us back Enguarde the Swordfish since you forced us back under the waves? Expresso? Squitter? Winky? Any one new or returning aside from Rambi would have been welcome.
At 11 gigs Tropical Freeze is easily the largest game download on the Wii U to date. It may not be as large as some PlayStation 4 and Xbox One titles, but if you're rocking a Basic Wii U you're out of luck if you want to download this title (assuming you don't have an external hard drive). Even if you have the Deluxe Wii U you're losing nearly half of your 25 available gigs. The game took nearly 12 hours to download on my decently fast internet connection.
I think I may be spoiled by Nintendo's usual loading times. Take the newly released Super Mario 3D World for Wii U, the levels load in blazing fast times. When you compare this to the loading times of Tropical Freeze they seem excruciatingly long. The load screens even seem to lag at times, freezing (rim shot) the loading animations of DK and pals horsing around. It's not something that would keep me from playing the game, but it's less than I would expect from the Big N.
Despite the brutal difficulty it's hard not to enjoy Tropical Freeze's goofy charm, tight controls and well constructed level design. Its "kiddy" nature is deceiving though, as it's not a game I would recommend one buy for a younger gamer. Levels can prove to be extremely frustrating and may sour a player's taste for platformers on the whole if they're not prepared to handle all the crazy arctic antics the game throws at them. When all is said and done this adventure is for truly die hard platforming fans who don't mind a challenge. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is bananas... and I wouldn't want it any other way.