Come on Nintendo, keep them coming! I’m loving Nintendo’s decisions to port over games that made the Wii U an underrated gem. Mario Kart 8, Bayonetta and now Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, easily one of the best platformers available have all made their way onto Nintendo’s successful rise from the ashes console, the Switch. Thing is, a lot of players missed out on playing them, they were console exclusives as with all Nintendo titles but, as was well documented, the Wii U didn’t sell well. This meant a lot of gamers, apart from the Nintendo fans such as myself, didn’t feel the console was worth buying just to play the outstanding titles that made their home on it. Those that did, however, were blessed with some awesome titles, and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is certainly up there with the best of them.
As with all platformers, the plot is easy to understand as an ice-cold force of evil called the Snowmads have cast DK Island in a blanket of ice and snow, with Snowmad lieutenants taking over each of the 5 tropical islands. It’s up to Donkey Kong, Diddy Kong and the rest of the gang to get rid of the intruders and return the islands back to normal. Such as the likes of Mario, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze doesn’t continue the story as you progress. Although boss encounters come with introductory cutscenes, nothing much else is told apart from the baddies have came and taken over, then you play through the game and watch the ending. It’s fine, players know the score by now, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is more about the stellar gameplay rather than any form of narrative.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is your typical platformer with run and jumping gameplay; however, it does have tricks up its sleeve to separate it from the rest. Firstly, at certain points in levels, barrels with the initials of DK’s associates can be smashed to release that appropriate sidekick and jump on DK’s back. Players can then use that sidekick’s ability to help with traversal, such as Diddy Kong’s jetpack which allows DK to hover for a short time; Dixie Kong can use her ponytails to make DK fly upwards for a short time akin to Yoshi in the Super Mario games, and Cranky Kong gives DK the ability to perform a stomp attack using Cranky’s cane. Each of these abilities comes in handy for solving the puzzles and traversing the obstacles that are relentlessly put in your way. The platforming gameplay is just outstanding in Tropical Freeze, but it is challenging. Enemies come at you from all angles, and puzzles can be quite daunting. A lot of them are easy to pass by, such as finding and collecting the letters that spell KONG in each level and finding the jigsaw puzzle pieces. The game can be completed without them, but completionists like myself will play levels to death to find each and every secret.
Tropical Freeze’s jewel in its crown is the level variety. Each level on each island is different and provides a unique challenge, and it’s this that will keep players hooked. Starting with standard running, jumping and climbing, levels soon evolve into mine cart riding with players needing quick reflexes to avoid obstacles, such as propellers on crashed planes or boxes on the tracks, all whilst maintaining speed on the rollercoaster-like rails. Levels also contain barrel cannons that blast DK onward, sometimes into structures in the environment which results in spectacular destruction. There’s even a level cast completely in shadow, which is reminiscent of Limbo, and it’s not only really cool to play but really great to watch too. Sometimes you can ride animals, such as rhinos, another feature that just adds to Tropical Freeze’s greatness with the incomparable frame-rate never missing a beat on the Switch. Boss fights provide a good challenge too. Beginning with a sliding seal on a halfpipe, they soon evolve to fighting an oversized owl atop a mountain and a trio of mischievous monkeys that can overwhelm you if you’re not careful. What more can add to the challenge other than each boss is in three phases too?
Certain levels have multiple finishing points that open up paths to different levels on the island. Think of it as like Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World where some levels had secret endings that give the same result. Again, you’d be forgiven to skip the levels you’ve missed out on, but as I mentioned before, the excellent level variety means you are more than likely missing out on another superb and spectacular level.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze looks fantastic on the Switch regardless of however you play it. Although playing in docked mode provides the same experience as the Wii U version, the graphics are cartoon-like and simple to render, but they look amazing on the Switch’s small screen. The larger than life environments look stunning, and the action never lets up. Even the dreaded trope of underwater levels is great fun and beautiful to look at.
The Switch version gives players the option to ease up on the notorious difficulty by allowing players the chance to play as the hip and happening Funky Kong. This cool dude plays similarly to DK; however, he can double jump and take a lot more damage before dying, making things relatively easier but not too easy for players to sail through levels. Even if you’re still finding it hard, you can detach the Joy-Cons to have another player help you in your playthrough. A really handy option.
Platforms: Wii U, Switch
Release Date: 4th May 2018