"Primate Platforming Knows No Mercy"
After dying for the umpteen hundredth time in Donkey Kong’s latest 2D platformer, you start to appreciate the little things: the jazzy jingle that plays whenever you die, the way Donkey Kong reaches for a vine that you were just inches away from grabbing, the animations of enemies hitting you when you unwittingly get too close, and that split-second moment after you press the jump button when you realize that you didn’t press it hard enough and end up missing a nearby platform by miles.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a brutal crusher of wills, a platform-hopping Dark Souls that revels in reducing grown men and women and their co-op partners into shriveling, raging babies, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
In returning to the DK franchise, Retro Studios sticks close to the formula established by the game’s Wii prequel, Donkey Kong Country Returns. Anyone who played that game can somewhat (considering the difficulty) easily jump into the new tale of DK and his simian friends as they travel across multiple islands on their journey to take Donkey Kong Island back from the icy Snomads, collecting items, riding minecarts/barrel jets/near-indestructible rhinos, and trying not to die all the while.
But, not to disappoint those hoping for something new alongside the old, Tropical Freeze throws a few new features into the platforming mix. Underwater stage sections bring the biggest addition to the Retro/DK formula, providing some of the game’s best moments as you try to maneuver DK around various aquatic enemies and obstacles without depleting his dwindling air supply.
Then there are the new primate partners that Retro adds to the roster alongside the jetpack-touting Diddy Kong. Dixie Kong is a useful addition for rookie players, as her long ponytail gives them the ability to double jump that makes it easier to gauge landings and reach higher platforms. The most fun with a partner, though, comes from the elderly Cranky Kong, whose cane can be used to safely bounce across spike-covered platforms and penetrate enemy armor. It can be a tad tricky at times, but thanks to the game’s smooth controls pogo-sticking with Cranky is one of the more enjoyable ways to get around.
Smaller touches serve to make the formula of DKCR feel fresh on the Wii U. Select stages now have to be unlocked by discovering secret exits in previous stages. There are more perk-granting items to buy at the game’s shop, and you can equip up to three separate items before going into a stage (as opposed to just one in DKCR). DKC: Tropical Freeze also comes with a greater sense of leniency compared to its predecessor, as extra lives cost less to buy at the shop and are generally easier to find in the stages.
Lenient though it may be in giving you more lives, it is just as adept in taking them from you. Make no mistake, this game is brutal, harsh, merciless, malicious… you get the idea. Tropical Freeze never misses an opportunity to make the simple act of jumping from platform to platform a punishing task for the unprepared. Dive in without a full understanding of what you are getting yourself into, and you will be mulched by platforms that explode, ziplines that split apart with only a second’s notice, stages that are literally collapsing around you, and such.
As I implied at the beginning of this review, you are most likely going to die. A lot. But if you can tough it out and weather the pounding, the constant failing, you are going to appreciate all of the refined platforming goodness the game has to offer. Tight controls, lively levels, and engaging boss fights are all part of what make Tropical Freeze worth playing in spite of its difficulty. Death never feels a cheap trick on the game’s part, but rather a stupid move of yours that can teach you how to play better and enjoy the satisfaction of finally clearing a stage all the more.
There are a few things I can nitpick about the game, even with all its strengths. These are just small things, like the unpleasantly long time it takes the game to start up once you leave the main menu (I timed it at about 25-30 seconds). It’s also a bit of a bummer that the dynamic camera angles that were hyped prior to the game’s release don’t really appear that often, though when they do it makes for some pretty memorable moments.
And there are plenty of memorable moments to be found in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. From the ones that the game places before you (like surviving a run through a burning savannah or a jungle full of giant citruses), to the moments you make yourself (the glorious triumphs and spectacular failures). Though its high difficulty will be a turn off if you’re not in the mood for platforming punishment, the experience is truly rewarding if you are willing to take a beating and endure it.
GameDynamo's Score for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U)
A writer, journalist, and aspiring storyteller, Peter Grimm has been gaming since the days of the Nintendo 64, and reporting on the goings-on in the World of Gaming since late 2011. His base of writing operations is located within the void between Here and There, or so he would have you think.
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