And so Nintendo welcomes Donkey Kong onto the Wii U with his first brand new adventure in four years. Now, we feel very sorry for poor old DK as he must have a massive amount of pressure on his shoulders. Donkey not only has to look after Diddy and Dixie making sure they go to school and get a good education, but he must also look after elderly Gorilla Cranky, because there isn’t a nursing home under the sun that treats their residents like anything more than creatures in a zoo.
Along with his family, Donkey Kong also has to deal with some overweight Walrus and Penguin type creatures calling themselves the Snowmads who have decided to evict DK from his Island. Just when you think poor old DK should have had enough, he’s also got Nintendo on the phone. There aren’t many Wii U releases over the next couple of months so this one better be pretty damned good.
As killer apps go, those Nintendo fans expecting Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze to come along and save their system are massively misguided. If Mario couldn’t achieve system saving sales success, then what kind of hope does Donkey Kong have? After all, Donkey Kong Country is a series that traditionally is a lot harder and less accessible to gamers than Mario is.
Donkey Kong Country is also a 2D scrolling platformer that doesn’t have the technical wizardry that Super Mario 3D World has. To the average Joe on the street DK is less superior than his plumbing counterpart.
This is a shame because Tropical Freeze is a rich, colourful platformer. Retro Studios don’t explore the huge amount of variations on the platforming theme that Nintendo did with the latest Super Mario 3D World. There are still an extensive amount of ideas within Tropical Freeze though, that will keep players excited to unlock new stages and progress. The visuals are also stunning. Even though silhouetted levels are becoming something of a cliché nowadays, in Tropical Freeze, the hidden shadow stages are absolutely beautiful.
The massive variations between the different Islands also help to keep the aesthetics fresh and again, will propel you forward wanting to see everything right up until the final massive Walrus Viking Snowmad boss at the end. There are theatrical Lion King esque Saharan levels, Alpine levels with giant horn parping owls, and levels with bouncing jelly blocks that look so real you will shudder at the thought of poor old DK having to deal with his sticky fur.
Our biggest complaint against DK isn’t towards the starring Gorilla, it’s more about the supporting Kongs. Donkey is joined by Dixie, Diddy and Cranky and players are able to choose which one of these characters they want to team up with after locating barrels hidden around the different stages. By allowing another character to ride on Donkey Kong’s back and treat him like a pony at the seaside, not only does DK get an additional two hearts on his health metre but he also benefits by gaining additional abilities. Diddy Kong can hover when jumping for slightly longer by using Diddy’s jetpacks. Dixie propels Donkey further by allowing her pigtails to transform her into a Chinook, or should we say a Chimp-nook. Cranky is able to bounce on his walking stick, sending Donkey Kong slightly higher, but also allowing you to traverse spiky ground. The problem is, Dixie’s abilities far surpass those of all of the other primates. Her skill to float like a helicopter effectively means she can do pretty much what Diddy and Cranky can do but slightly better. Therefore, the majority of the time, payers will find themselves picking Dixie Kong every time; apart from those very few moments where Cranky’s ability to navigate thorny ground is required. Character selection could have been refined a tad by Retro but, it’s hard to make too much of a fuss about this as it doesn’t really detract too much from Tropical Freeze. Should they get a chance to work on a third title, then its something Retro can definitely improve and build upon. Here’s hoping they don’t get the chance though and their next title will be a Metroid one. Well, we can dream can’t we?
As to be expected with the Country series, Tropical Freeze is a very difficult game. However, the difficulty curve is so well judged you won’t feel like you’ve been cheated when you die. It might almost be said that Tropical Freeze is a game of polar opposites. There are levels that allow players to wander around rich and fertile jungles, exploring at will and looking for secret barrels and exits that will take them off to new areas. As there is no clock counting down a la Mario, you are afforded a more leisurely stroll when investigating the nooks and crannies of some levels. There are times though, when you will be catapulted down a mountain in an avalanche or on top of a rhino dashing away from a wave of lava. When these moments occur, you will find yourself huffing and puffing like a Penguin getting into a hot bath because the game requires jet speed reflexes and laser guided precision.
If you are reading this and thinking, “Hmmm that’s nonsense I thought the latest Donkey Kong was a bit of a doodle”. Then you are either lying or have the kind of abilities that the Ministry of Defence want to take advantage of in their jet fighters.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze doesn’t try to re-invent the platforming genre. It doesn’t even take full advantage of the Wii U’s hardware. If you are using the TV to display the picture then the image on the pad is de-activated and Visa versa, when using the pad to display gameplay. At least you get a choice of which screen you want to play on, how many other consoles give you that?
And thankfully Retro haven’t shoe horned in some touch screen mechanics just for the sake of it, like so many other developers would have been tempted to. As a result Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze is a well-refined 2D platformer. If you like hard-core old school gameplay then there are few titles available that come anywhere near as strong as this one.
System: Wii U