Review: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
There was once a time when the concept of a gorilla riding on the back of a rhino might have seemed a little strange. I’ve certainly stopped questioning it, and perhaps this is Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze’s biggest weakness. The graphics are good and the levels are creative, but everything feels a little familiar, and whilst the game is still an enjoyable platformer full of great ideas, a few too many of them have been seen before.
What made the original Donkey Kong Country: Returns so good was its compelling balance of old and new elements; it was a modern game that expanded on the ideas of a Super Nintendo classic. Tropical Freeze has had its work cut out thanks to the competence of Retro Studios’ previous title, and little improvement was needed/has been made to the game’s mechanics. There are some new monkeys for Donkey Kong to team up with, including Cranky Kong who is playable for the first time, but that’s pretty much it.
This makes for a familiar experience, yet in some regards this works in the game’s favour. The difficulty level is pretty high, and therefore caters to those who have mastered the original. If you’re new to the series then Tropical Freeze has a bit of a learning curve, but it’s never unfair and isn’t too frustrating. It’s a game that requires you to be good at it, but it also teaches you, and you won’t reach the end of the without overcoming some intense challenges. It’s a rewarding journey, and you’ll be engrossed in it from start to finish. It’s never boring, it’s never predictable, and you’re always one wrong move away from a situation involving a couple of dead monkeys.
As with Super Mario 3D World, the main draw of the game is its creative level design. With pre-defined mechanics, the majority of Tropical Freeze’s development cycle was presumably spent making cool and interesting worlds for the player to explore. This shows. Every level offers something new, and the game never gets dull thanks to a large variety in both setting and structure. You’ve also got the iconic mine cart sections and some epic boss battles spliced into the mix too.
This is a similar pattern of evolution to the original Donkey Kong Country series on Super Nintendo. Whilst the first game had very traditional levels (jungle, beach, forrest ect.) the second had a lot more variety, as well as new characters. Tropical Freeze makes the smart decision to include the old characters too, and as each world is now it’s own island there’s a new level of unpredictability as you don’t know where the game will take you next.
You’ve also got an extremely enjoyable two player mode, which I personally prefer over the Super Mario co-op games. You’ll certainly need a partner who knows how to play the game, but there’s the potential for a lot of fun if you’re with the right friend, especially if you decide to go collectible hunting. Finding the KONG letters in particular is a challenging and enjoyable task that requires precise platforming skills, rather than a tedious need to examine absolutely everything you encounter.
Donkey Kong County: Tropical Freeze may play it safe, but it’s still an incredibly fun game. Its release timing feels a little unfortunate, as it’s starting to feel like the Wii U needs some original experiences, rather than more of what we’ve already seen. Tropical Freeze is an improvement over Returns in just about every way, but not by much. I’d have liked something a little more different, but I won’t let my personal opinion defy the fact that Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze an undeniably good game. Familiar? Yes. But it’s also currently the best way to experience the greatest platforming thrill in recent years.