A Game Review by Greg Dabkey
Game – Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Version – Wii U
ESRB Rating: ‘E’ – Everyone
Release Date: 2/21/2013
Obtained – Courtesy of Nintendo
D.. K… Donkey Kong! He’s the leader of the bunch, you know him well. He’s finally back, to kick some tail! He’s bigger, he’s faster, he’s stronger too, he’s the first member of the D. K. crew! Huh!
The Snowmads are out sailing the oceans and happen to come across the DK Isles. They feel the desire to conquer this warm and tropical island. Meanwhile, Donkey Kong and his crew are celebrating DK’s birthday inside his hut. Using their ice birds, the Snowmads blow arctic winds at the island, knocking Donkey Kong, Diddy Kong, Dixie Kong and Cranky Kong off it completely. They must travel back to their island and reclaim it.
The story in Tropical Freeze is not one of the strongest in the franchise, but then again previous entries (DKC Returns, DK 64, and even original DKC series) never really had much of a story. There were always fairly simple cutscenes that would finish quickly and jump the player immediately into the action. While I would prefer a stronger story, I understand it has never been a series staple. For what it’s worth, the story works and introduces a new villain and even allows for chilly conditions and battles, since the majority of games always offer more heated jungle and lava levels.
Gameplay & Controls
Donkey Kong returns in this sequel to the smash hit Donkey Kong Country Returns. Dixie makes her return as playable character, and for the first time in the series Cranky Kong is also playable. They join Diddy and Donkey Kong to take back their island from the Snowmads. The DK series has always been about platforming (except DK 64), and the games are also on the tougher side. Each level is packed with secrets, alternate routes, bonus areas and hazards. DKC Tropical Freeze is no exception. Each level is incredibly well-designed and even the length of the levels has expanded significantly. If the player is searching every nook and cranny and attempting to locate every secret, the levels will easily take a minimum of ten minutes, especially if the player is defeated (once or numerous times) mid-level. While the game sports excellent level design, the length can be a concern on the more difficult levels as there are fewer and even non-existent check points. While I am a fan of difficulty, I’m not a huge fan of replaying the same area hundreds of times. What I was thankful for is that I did not have to reacquire the puzzle pieces (after each death) even though I died dozens of times.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze introduces several new elements (when compared to DKC Returns for Wii) including the ability to swim in water, areas requiring Crank’y Cane or Dixie’s extended jump, secret exits, and online leaderboards to name a few. While the addition of Dixie and Cranky was very welcomed, I found that their unique moves were very under utilized. I only found a handful of situations where Cranky’s cane bounce was useful (but not required), while Dixie made the levels easier to avoid dying within a pit. Her jump was not required in any instance that I experienced, but certainly made finding and accessing secret areas much easier. In Tropical Freeze, the Kongs can swim through bodies of water to get to the next area, or simply to go diving for puzzle pieces. New to this game though, they have limited air supply making the player go to the surface or shallow an air bubble to avoid dying. While underwater, the controls are quite smooth. You can propel your Kong using a spin move (which also attacks some water enemies) or you can swim normally. I found it quite easy to navigate the Kongs under water. Some courses have secret exits which open up routes to new levels. Finally, the player’s time is recorded within the leaderboards and can be ranked with their friends and others that have the game. While the game does offer new elements, I still feel the developers still kept it safe and felt the game played very similar to Returns on Wii/3DS.
Retro Studios removed the motion controls from the game and opted for the simple button controls. The Kongs retain the abilities to ground pound, roll/attack and jump from previous games. The controls felt very familiar and easy to use. The pig helper appears in earlier levels to remind the player of the controls at particular points in the levels, as well as waiting at the checkpoints. With the levels being significantly longer, there are levels with at least three checkpoints. I felt the controls worked extremely well, but I was disappointed that the GamePad is not used in a unique way. The screen is only used for off-TV play, and shows nothing on the display otherwise.
Visuals & Sound
One thing that has been consistent for the DK series has been the high quality of visuals and audio. This game is no exception and DK enters the HD era looking awesome. Remember when Nintendo revealed that you’d get to see each individual hair on DK? Well, you definitely can during the cut scenes and he looks very realistic. This extends to all of the Kongs and all of the different characters. In addition, there are live and interactive backgrounds that make each level look incredible. There are also many barrel scenes where the screen will rotate giving it a three-dimensional element as the camera follows DK around a tree or another object.
In terms of the music and sound, this game has numerous catchy tunes consisting of both new and remixed older pieces. It was definitely enjoyable to hear some of the classic Donkey Kong Country 2 music make a return in a remixed format. The sound effects are also top notch and fit the environment or scenario perfectly, such as a blast from a barrel cannon, the shattering of a box, or Rambi stomping the ground. If you are looking for some jamming tunes, this game is definitely for you.
Final Score: 9.0 out of 10
While DKC Tropical Freeze sees the return of Dixie Kong as a playable character and sports some killer graphics and tunes, I consider it to be a pretty safe entry. It does introduce and reintroduce features into the series, but the vast majority of it feels unchanged. The player will still be driven crazy attempting to find and collect each and every puzzle piece and letter, and enjoy the challenge of traversing through all of the different levels, but even then it still has that feeling that we have done this before. This game is still incredibly fun and enjoyable let alone incredibly beautiful, it just does not seem to be a complete must-have for Wii U owners. It is definitely a solid game to pick up and enjoy while us Wii U owners await for more games and I would still recommend it to everyone I know but it will not be seen as a system seller. If you really need a new title to play I would definitely recommend this game, but if you have a major backlog or simply did not enjoy Returns or even dislike games of harder difficulty, then this game would be a safe one to pass by.
+ Incredibly beautiful graphics
+ Dixie and Cranky are playable characters with unique abilities
+ Plenty of hidden secrets and bananas to collect
+ Same incredible difficulty
+ Co-Op mode returns (did not experience/use)
+ Greatly expanded levels and incredible new designs
- While superior to Returns, felt very similar to it
- Relatively non-existent story
- Under-utilized Cranky and Dixie mechanics