After Donkey Kong Returns made its debut and revitalized the Donkey Kong franchise, Retro Studios (to the disappointment of a good chunk of fans awaiting a new Metroid or Star Fox title) decided to develop another DK game.
Did Retro make a grave mistake with this new undertaking or can Tropical Freeze be squarely filed under “classic in the making?”
I already detailed my first impressions in my preview of the title but this review will delve a bit more into level design, controls, music, playable characters and graphics. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze takes the upgraded formula from Returns and adds in a few extra mechanics, as well as the addition of new character Cranky Kong.
For those that are unaware, Cranky Kong is the grandfather of the current Donkey Kong — which makes him the original Great Ape Mario battled against. He’s decided to come out of retirement and joins Diddy, Dixie and Donkey Kong in their quest to reclaim their now frozen over island home from the Swomads.
Dixie, Diddy and Cranky each have unique abilities that is best suited for different stages. Dixie’s ponytail can glide and briefly lift DK up for more air, which is made for stages with vertically rising platforms. Diddy has his trademark jetpack that lets Donkey glide for longer stretches. Finally, Cranky’s walking stick is good for more than shaking at whippersnappers — he can bounce himself and Donkey to reach high areas, as well as bounce safely on spikes and other hazards.
Speaking of specials, a new mechanic that can be used when two characters are on the field and the special bar is completely full (it fills after collecting items, dealing damage and other actions). A special team-up attack can be activated, which defeats all enemies on screen. If during a normal level then the enemies will turn into red balloons that DK can collect for extra lives. During a boss battle, they’ll turn into hearts that restore health or grant extra hearts.
Each stage features unique and imaginative level design that kept me guessing; I never knew how each one would unfold as I went along. Enemies also sported unique designs and attacks as well, which added to the difficulty. Some highlights include the popular mine cart stage, amazing and gorgeous water stages (that actually control well!) and even rockets that make use of the Gamepad’s gyroscope.
Boss battles are one of the highlights of the game and every one has a variety of differing attacks and special moves. These grueling matches are beautifully animated (such as the first boss’s impressive looping through the air before sliding back down for an assault) and equally pulse-pounding, with bosses rapidly changing their attack patterns and (later on) locations.
Playing co-op offers a different experience, as two players must work completely in unison to defeat enemies and bosses. While it’s certainly not necessary to beat the game, co-op is a fun addition that keeps both players entertained as they are forced to communicate constantly for anything ranging from simple platform navigation to felling foes to activating team attacks to defeating bosses.
Online leaderboards are another new feature introduced to this title. Basically players can replay stages and try to get the fastest completion time, then submit them to the boards. It’s rather fun and I must admit, sparks a competitive streak that keeps you playing for a while.
Tropical Freeze‘s HD graphics are colorful and gorgeous; the amount of detail in every environment — both in the background and foreground — is truly staggering. The visuals are so good that you can even see the matted fur on the apes.
This game’s music is nothing short of miraculous. I hardly expected the soundtrack to be so exceptional but from the first stage on, I realized David Wise (a veteran composer of the franchise) clearly had plenty of tricks up his sleeve.
Overall Tropical Freeze controls well, with smooth and responsive gameplay. Players can use the Gamepad or Wii Remote, and either method is equally viable. Off-screen play works quite well and is actually my preferred method of playing the game, since its so convenient.
The only real issue I came across was that rarely commands wouldn’t be recognized during a crucial jump or attack. This didn’t occur enough to dampen the general experience but it was frustrating since levels are already challenging enough. Another something I noticed was that when you play using the TV, the Gamepad’s screen only shows the logo for a short while before going white. If Retro didn’t want to use the screen, they should have at least the logo on — a big white blank is kinda weird to look at.
And now I reach the pink elephant in the room. Instead of just telling you how wonderfully, beautifully, horrendously difficult each and every stage is, here’s some example dialogue from an average play session:
“Oh come on!”
What?! But I didn’t even touch that….”
“And I’m suppose to make that jump how?!”
“What the fu–!”
*After losing the last life* “Oh my god….”
*Various angry noises and swearing, followed by a promise to never play this game again*
*Plays the game again and immediately screams after dying right at the beginning*
However, I will say that the challenge is more than welcome in a sea of overly easy platformers; it brings me back to a time where most titles in the genre sent me screaming back to the start of the level but were addictive enough to keep me retrying until I finally beat it. It’s strangely comforting, in a weird way.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a well-made platformer that adds more than enough level variety, graphical upgrades, new characters and new mechanics to keep the long-used formula from getting stale. While it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it certainly molds and polishes that wheel to near perfection.