A fistful of bananas.
When players found out Retro Studios was working on yet another Donkey Kong game, disappointment filled the air. The Texas-based studio has been one of the premiere Nintendo developers, and there was hope they were working on perhaps a new Metroid game, or even something entirely new. Instead they have delivered another adventure for Donkey Kong, and while some are disappointed, this game is certainly not disappointing. Tropical Freeze is the epitome of old-school Nintendo design – extremely challenging, colorful and perfectly balanced for an experience simply unavailable on any other platform.
On the surface this appears to be just another Donkey Kong Country-style game, and for the most part that is correct. It is still a side-scrolling platformer with wicked difficulty and tons of collectibles. The big differences were only noticeable once I started digging into the game. For starters, Retro has added two new companions to DK’s arsenal. Cranky Kong and Dixie Kong now join Diddy Kong and bring a special flavor to the platforming.
Cranky Kong allows players to get an extra spring in their jump, not unlike Scrooge McDuck in DuckTales. Dixie Kong on the other hand essentially brings a double jump to the table, allowing DK to get an extra boost in his distance. Neither of these additions change the core formula, but they do add some variety. It is also cool that any of the companions can be purchased in the shop and used at the player’s leisure; great for returning to levels for collectibles.
Something old, something new.
Another area where Tropical Freeze sets itself apart is in the level design. There are six worlds packed with tons of levels, with the first one only setting the stage of what is to come. There are chase levels, swimming areas and unique designs that really make this game stand out. Retro has done an amazing job of keeping the game from becoming stale early on by introducing new mechanics into the familiar ones, and making every level feel unique. I loved tearing through a tornado inspired level, while the silhouette pieces were visually stunning.
Combined with the pitch-perfect mechanics, this makes playing Tropical Freeze a complete joy. Not once did I find myself not wanting to progress, but instead wanting to go back and pick up the numerous collectibles. This is what made the game more challenging though. Retro has balanced the difficulty by making things obvious, but still hard to master. Collecting every K-O-N-G, coin and puzzle piece in the levels will prove tough for even seasoned gamers, but it is never unfair.
Bosses also play a large role in the uniqueness of the game. The multi-tiered encounters sometimes borrow from staples in gaming, and provide unique challenges across the board. These were actually my favorite parts of the game, and I was always excited to see what was coming next. It is rare nowadays to have a standard boss fight in a game, let alone one that is interesting in the classic sense, but Retro has managed to pull it off without a hitch.
Control options are once again plentiful. Tropical Freeze allows play using the Gamepad, classic controller, or even the Wiimote/nunchuk combo. So whatever style players prefer, it is here. Sadly there is no functionality on the Gamepad outside of off-TV play. The game even asks at the beginning of each session what the primary display device should be, and turns off the other in conjunction.
Multiplayer also returns, but in limited fashion. Player two can take control of the helper characters such as Cranky and Dixie. This mode takes a highly coordinated team to make it through levels. It is also sad to see that player two cannot switch between characters without dropping out and coming back in again. It is a nice diversion, but one that proved too troublesome for extended play.
One thing I have loved about the recent crop of Wii U games is their visual explosion. The colors in this game simply jump off the screen, and much like Mario 3D World, or even the more recent PvZ: Garden Warfare, the bright palette really stands out in a world of realistic visuals. Every level feels unique, the frame rate is rock solid, and it looks amazing on a high-definition screen. The Wii U may not be capable to outputting the resolutions of whatever other technical jargon people love to use, but their games of late have been utterly gorgeous.
The audio feels familiar, but the soundtrack is simply outstanding. There are numerous tracks that I caught myself humming after playing. For anyone who loves game music, this might just be a soundtrack purchase.
Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze might be a disappointment in theory, but once I started playing it, I couldn’t help but fall in love. The level designs are some of the best I have seen in the genre, the soundtrack is stellar, and the difficulty is tough but never unfair. For the audience that owns a Wii U and desires platformers crafted to perfection, this is a must-own. Nintendo continues to pump out stellar releases for its console; I just wish the audience was there to purchase them.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.