Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Developer: Retro Studios
Release Date: 4 May 2018
Price: $59.99 / £49.99
Reviewed by Josh Brant
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze originally came out on the Wii U to great reviews, but not so much the consumer success it deserved. Now, Nintendo is bringing it over to the Nintendo Switch where they hope it will find a greater reception, with some minor but well welcomed additions to the superbly designed platformer.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze takes place after the evenst of the Wii title Donkey Kong Country Returns. In this new entry, Donkey Kong is celebrating his birthday when one of his balloons flies away through a window and is found by the evil Snowmads. This snowy gang of viking critters blow the balloon back to Kong island where they bring with them a giant snow storm.
Along with the storm is an ice dragon that knocks Donkey Kong and his friends off the island. Donkey Kong must now travel through a variety of areas before eventually reaching their home and fighting for its safe return. It’s a quirky story, but it all works out well and all the characters have a sense of humor and personality.
Tropical Freeze is very much still the same game you would have found on the Wii U. For those of you who missed out on the Wii U version, the game offered one of the most polished and wholly challenging platformers of the last few years. A sequel to the newly rebooted Donkey Kong Country series that started with Returns on the Wii, Tropical Freeze will take you on roughly a fourteen hour adventure across six different islands.
All For One
You can play as a duo of Kongs with either Dixie, Diddy, or Cranky accompanying the titular hero. Each of these Kongs offer a new ability that changes up the gameplay and the platforming action. Diddy Kong has his jetpack, Dixie has her helicopter jump, while Cranky’s cane-jump is a move ripped out of the original DuckTales game on the NES.
While many 2D platformers keep the scale small and simple, Tropical Freeze does the complete opposite. It still has 2D platforming, but with stages that feel more enormous and alive.
The stages have this constant interactive tendency that alters the platforming elements, creating fun yet challenging levels to run and jump through.
There’s an item shop for every island, where you can buy things like potions to aid you during a level, though it’s completely optional if you want more of a challenge. Typically stages are long, filled with dangerous obstacles and fully interactive objects. Treasures will often be hidden in plain sight, but you'll have to be smart and attentive enough to spot their whereabouts.
You've Got a Friend in Me
The highlights of Tropical Freeze are undoubtedly the boss fights that punctuate the end of every island. Taking the form of beautifully cinematic set pieces that are broken up into multiple stages, each one gets progressively more difficult than the last. You can also bring a friend on board, piloting the companion Kong to help you take down these devious enemies. The new Joy-Con control scheme makes it easy and seamless for couch co-op multiplayer on the Switch.
Funky Kong mode is the biggest change to the Switch version of Tropical Freeze, and it’s essentially an easy assist mode for new players that my nine year old enjoyed. Rather than playing as Donkey Kong with a partner, you play as Funky Kong equipped with five hearts and a slew of abilities that essentially combine all the partner abilities into one.
This doesn’t mean the levels are easier though, the traps and enemies remain exactly the same, you just have more breathing room as Funky. This new mode is completely optional and you can still switch back to playing as Donkey Kong if you’d like.
Visually, Tropical Freeze may be a port of a Wii U game, but it continues to be one of the brightest and most vibrant looking platformers of recent years. As for the visual transition between the Wii U and Switch the only real difference is the slight use of shaders for the fur of the Kongs and a bump in resolution from 720P on Wii U to 1080P on Switch, at least when playing in docked mode. When playing in handheld mode though, the resolution drops down to 650P, although the title still looks very sharp on the Switch's portable screen.
Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder
The real charm of the visuals though, is how well the levels are designed. Whereas the likes of new Super Mario Bros. U was simple in art design, Tropical Freeze feels like there's a vast open-world hiding behind these 2D levels. They feel alive, and interactions with many secrets and different gameplay mechanics keep everything feeling fresh.
Back to working on the music from the Super Nintendo era is David Wise and he lends his experience to Tropical Freeze. Luckily, he hasn’t lost his touch at all in the twenty year transition from the SNES to the Switch and the soundtrack is just as magical as it was on those 16bit era classics. You’ll get some epic sounding boss battle motifs, and tropical themed music that plays well with the art style and setting. For the many of you who fell in love with much of the music from the classic Rare games, you’ll definitely love this soundtrack.
Overall, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze on Switch is still very much the same game from the Wii U version, albeit with a bump in resolution, newly added portability, and even an easier Funky Kong mode. If you’ve never played Tropical Freeze on the Wii U it’s an easy recommendation to make. It’s a fun and challenging platformer with very few flaws and it only gets better being on the Switch. However, if you already experienced everything the Wii U release had to offer, it’s probably not worth double-dipping. Ultimately though, this is one of the best platformers of the last few years and should be played by everyone.
Pros & Cons
+ Amazing art style and soundtrack
+ Packed with tight and solid platforming action
+ Funky mode is a great addition
- Not much reason to come back if you owned the original