The death of the Wii U was one that surely hit hard for Nintendo fans last year, given that the system had a small but pretty passionate audience, and an excellent library of games that came along with it. However, if there is one silver lining to take from the Wii U’s demise, it’s the fact that most of its top-quality titles have been brought over to the Nintendo Switch in the past year, giving many of its best games a second chance at life. Thankfully, that has included Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, and the new Switch release for the game is easily the best excuse yet to play this excellent and under-appreciated platformer.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was previously released on the Wii U back in February 2014 from Retro Studios as a follow-up to Donkey Kong Country Returns, their acclaimed 2010 revival of the classic SNES platforming series, but with a few modern touches. The game’s release on Switch this time around brings the original Wii U experience over to Nintendo’s newest console, but with a few added bits and features to make the release worthwhile for those played it on Wii U and newcomers alike, including a cheeky reference to Nintendo’s own new console.
The basic premise of Tropical Freeze is that the Kong family’s home of Donkey Kong Island (in the midst of a DK birthday party, no less) suddenly gets swept up by a tribe of ice-loving scoundrels called the “Snowmads.” Upon their arrival at DK Island, they turn the Kongs’ home into a tropical tundra, which then leads the Kongs across six islands to defeat various members of the Snowmads and to restore their home to its sandy, sunshine-y splendor.
Like Returns, Tropical Freeze carries over the same 2.5D style of platforming gameplay, but with a number of added gameplay touches that not only up the challenge (of which Tropical Freeze is notoriously difficult), but also enhances the revived series’ creativity and charm.
Tropical Freeze doesn’t quite have the same sense of nostalgia for the classic Donkey Kong Country series as Returns had when it debuted, but it makes up for it with a ton of level variety, numerous wacky boss battles, and some excellent platforming set-pieces that will have you laughing, cheering, and maybe cursing once you finally complete the level.
Notably, Tropical Freeze introduces several other members of the DK Crew aside from Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong. This time around, Dixie Kong and Cranky Kong also bring their talents to Donkey’s journey as companions when playing solo, or for other players to take on individually when playing in co-op. Specifically, Dixie has her powerful ponytail that can give her a bit of a double-jump, while Cranky Kong’s cane gives him a DuckTales-like pogo stick ability that can help him reach new heights.
By and large, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze plays just as well on the Switch as it did on the Wii U in 2014 and then some. As someone that only played a little bit of Tropical Freeze when it first released and never got to experience the full game, I definitely looked forward to the opportunity of playing the game while not confined to the Wii U (or the GamePad), and the Switch release preserves everything that made Tropical Freeze a delightful platformer, even if it might make you tear your hair out in some places.
Thankfully, on a technical and control level, the Switch version plays marvelously however you decide to take on DK’s latest journey. The Switch release of Tropical Freeze maintains an incredibly smooth 60fps across the handheld and TV configurations, and plays almost just as well in both formats.
While sometimes I got more from the game by playing on a TV for the benefit of the larger display to appreciate its many visual details (and since the camera can pan out pretty extremely at points), Tropical Freeze was no slouch in handheld mode either and pops on the system with its lush jungle colors and vibrant level design. Control-wise I had a slight preference for using the Pro Controller in TV mode, mainly because of its more responsive analog sticks and larger-sized buttons, but handheld mode will still get the job done to get through some of the game’s more demanding challenges.
Outside of its smaller tweaks and the benefits of being on a new console, the biggest new feature in the Switch version of Tropical Freeze is Funky Mode, which (aside from being quite meme-worthy) acts as a more accessible way for newcomers to play the game. Taking on the role of Funky Kong, players are able to ease into the game with five hearts instead of the standard game’s two, and gain other benefits like being able to breathe underwater indefinitely, double jump, and stand on spikes without taking damage.
It would be simple to boil down Funky Mode into being the game’s “easy mode,” and while Funky Mode will undoubtedly give players (especially newer players) an edge, I wouldn’t say that the mode necessarily makes Tropical Freeze a cakewalk either and (thankfully) doesn’t take away from the original game’s intentions.
Tropical Freeze still provides a fair enough challenge to any players regardless, but Funky Mode at least provides a little bit of relief from some of the game’s more taxing challenges, especially if playing in co-op with friends or family. The one downside to the new feature is that you can’t switch a game save from being either in Original or Funky Mode after starting a game, so if you want to experience the game at its intended difficulty, you’ll have to switch over to a new save file to do that.
As the system in a lot of ways feels like a more refined version of what the Wii U was trying to accomplish, the fact that the Nintendo Switch is giving many of its predecessor’s games a new chance to impress new audiences is something I’ve been warming up to over the past year, and I’m very glad to see that Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze has transitioned almost flawlessly over to the Switch.
While I find that the game’s difficulty can be a bit punishing at some points — as certain levels led me nearly to controller-throwing-levels of frustration from trial-by-death — Tropical Freeze gives a high level of challenge in balance with incredibly charming level design, an excellent level of detail, and a colorful emphasis on building on players’ skills and rewarding them for it.
Plus with the high number of collectibles — puzzle pieces to find, “K.O.N.G.” letters to discover — and secret levels to discover, I don’t think it’s overstating it that players should definitely go bananas over the Switch version of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.