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Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Game Reviews

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

Nintendo’s Big Ape goes HD in this excellent sequel, though the extreme difficulty may drive some bananas.

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The drudging crusade for quality Wii U games have left people with few choices as of late, especially as their consoles gather dust waiting for more worthwhile titles. In this case – quality releases on Nintendo’s console are more than welcome no matter how scarce.

Which is why Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (DKC:TF for short) is a much needed entry in the renewed series since…well, the last Donkey Kong game.

Indeed, Retro Studios, the craftsmen tasked with reviving Nintendo’s most memorable icons has used the often reliable formula of “more of a good thing” approach. It’s served them well in the past and that doesn’t change here as DK and his fellow Kong clan must reclaim their homeland from arctic animal Vikings. A premise that dutifully kicks off another island-hopping adventure.

Needless to say, if you enjoyed the Wii release of 2010’s Donkey Kong Country Returns you’ll be happy to know that everything has been turned up a notch in the sequel – Clever level design and a steadily ramped-up difficulty curve is accounted for, doused in that familiar 16-bit charm. Like the previous game, variety and ingenuity go together as you experience silhouette play in harsh jungles, lively grasslands that move along with the music, and the all-important mine cart rides with a twist, through a sawmill production line.

Likewise, the jovial soundtrack is refreshed and loosely harkens back to the atmospheric tunes of the Rareware classics, with original N64-era composer David Wise making his return to the famed franchise.

It’s these elements, along with drastically updated visuals and features, that makes playing DKC:TF a potential treat. Underwater stages and the ability to swim have thankfully returned to the mix for a more complete game, and now Diddy Kong isn’t the only one helping out DK. New partners include Dixie Kong who grants a brief upward jump or underwater propeller, while Cranky Kong uses his cane as a pogo stick for traversing across dangerous spikes or smacking aquatic foes. In addition, each partner has a screen filling attack that makes short work of any minor foes by turning them into either banana coins, extra hearts, or (often needed) extra lives for flexibility and partner usefulness.

But many won’t be playing this game so much as surviving it until each level’s merciful conclusion. There’s some thrill involved as each stage tries to provide something unique and inventive no matter how small the attraction, and this helps encourage exploration as you literally blast through luscious scenery collecting a multitude of K-O-N-G letters and puzzle pieces along the way. There’s a definite sense of reward and aesthetic wonder as you play through the campaign the first time, which is a vital complement to the overall gameplay.

Tropical Freeze does, and will demand your undivided attention or else you might end up hating this game. There’s little leeway for error, even during the earlier portions and always during the impressively trying boss battles, and every death is a stark reminder of your minor inadequacies – a harsh trait that Retro seamlessly carried over from DKCR. It’s often aggravating and downright frustrating even for me at times, as it didn’t take long for my blood to boil and for the inevitable sprays of colorful language to leave my mouth.

Depending on how you look at it, there’s enough passion and pain to be had here, especially when you factor in the removal of the embedded “Super Kong” guide/cheat in lieu of extra items purchased from Funky Kong. For uninitiated gamers this specific change is a questionable one at best.

Opinions will differ on how reasonable DKC:TF plays to the average gamer, but one thing that most will probably want to ignore is the co-op play. As with its predecessor one player controls DK while the second has the option of the other three characters, and like before you won’t be getting far if your partner doesn’t have the skill, or luck to endure what lays ahead.

Also worth noting is that you can play this game with the Wii U Gamepad, Wii U Pro controller, and even the Wii Remote with Nunchuk attachment. In order to fully appreciate the experience the Wii U Gamepad is your best bet as you’ll be able to switch displays on the fly and still have a traditional layout, while Wii Remote/Nunchuk works if you desperately need to add some waggle action. For what it’s worth you can change these options whenever necessary.

If its predecessor on the Wii rejuvenated the dormant franchise then Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is the continued momentum for Wii U owners desperate for any good game. Visuals and music aside, hardcore gamers will find this sequel a blessing with loads of replay value and punishing difficulty while the experience could be too unforgiving for everyone else, especially those who’d associate Nintendo with lighter fare. The verdict is undoubtedly mixed but if you do enjoy a challenge and with a fair amount of cursing, Tropical Freeze is probably worth the effort.

 

About the Author: Herman Exum