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Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U) Review

Review for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze on Wii U - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

When it was revealed that the next game from the beloved Retro Studios would be a follow-up to the Nintendo Wii game Donkey Kong Country Returns, it came as a surprise to many, and fan reactions were fairly mixed. It is the end product that matters, however, and in that sense Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is nothing short of a triumph.

The story is kept traditionally simple. Donkey Kong's birthday party is interrupted by a cold threat coming from the invading Snowmads tribe that swiftly takes over the island and sends the Kongs flying across the ocean. It is now up to Donkey Kong and his friends to make their way through six islands to reclaim their home. Much like Donkey Kong Country Returns introduced the Tiki tribe in place of the original Kremlings, this game also features a new set of villains that includes animals such as penguins, owls and even polar bears.

The general structure is similar to its predecessor for the most part. Each of the six islands has around six required levels and a boss fight to move on to the next one. Additional levels can be unlocked by finding hidden exits or collecting all K.O.N.G letters in every stage of a world. Puzzle pieces return, too, and finding all of them in a level will unlock various game art and music in a gallery. Unlike the K.O.N.G letters, puzzle pieces don't have to be collected in a single run and remain in one's possession after a death as long as the level is finished. These collectibles are often cleverly placed or hidden, and playfully invite the player to explore the detailed environment.

Screenshot for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze on Wii U - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

The most noticeable additions are Dixie Kong and Cranky Kong that - much like Diddy Kong - now serve as partners for Donkey Kong. They all come with unique abilities and are very handy and fun to use. Some levels are built around a specific partner while the majority of them allow the player to choose which partner would benefit them and their play style the most. Another new mechanic is the Kong POW attack which can be triggered with any partner after collecting 100 bananas, killing any enemies on the screen and turning them into extra lives with Diddy, and banana coins with Cranky. Dixie's Kong POW produces golden hearts which, in addition to healing any lost hearts, provide an additional hit when collected at full health. Dixie's version in particular is very useful, but it should be noted that it's completely optional, and purists can easily opt to ignore it instead.

When it comes to their individual abilities, Diddy provides a slight horizontal extension to Donkey Kong's jump with his jetpack, while Dixie does the opposite by twirling her long hair like a helicopter to achieve some more height. They might seem fairly similar in theory, but in practise, one of them can be a lot more helpful depending on the situation. Cranky plays completely differently by bouncing on his cane - similar to Scrooge McDuck in his recent DuckTales Remastered outing. This can be used to bounce on spiky terrain or objects that would otherwise be damaging, but it is also a huge boon for speed running, as Cranky's bounce will retain any momentum, allowing highly skilled players to blast through levels for some very impressive clear times.

Speaking of momentum, that is one area the platforming in this game focuses on. Donkey Kong feels very heavy in comparison to other 2D platformers, making it crucial to extend jumps by performing a roll right before the leap. Learning to bounce off enemies to gain some extra height is extremely useful, too, and required in many cases, especially if Donkey Kong is by himself. These two aspects of the controls create a very different feel, but it's all extremely tight and satisfying to control.

Screenshot for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze on Wii U - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

The level design is top notch and full of great ideas when it comes to both gameplay and the presentation. Some of the more standout levels take place in the Alps, inside a hurricane or in a burning forest. The environments feel very interactive and serve as more than just fancy backdrops. For example, in the burning forest, one has to use crumbling tree branches as platforms while trying to put out the fire to progress. The platforms in the hurricane level consist of flying debris with random objects caught up in the storm, and lightning strikes that have to be dodged. The camera is also occasionally used to provide a 3D view of certain segments, such as blasting through barrels. A few simple but lovely looking silhouette levels make another appearance, as well.

Two particular types of levels, where the player takes control of a mine cart and rocket barrel respectively, are also in this game, and while they are still really fun to play, they have been made a bit more forgiving by giving both vehicles a second heart to allow for one more hit, as hitting anything in the previous game resulted in instant death. Checkpoints in general are fairly placed throughout levels, and allow for plenty of challenge without much frustration. Those who do need some extra help will want to pay Funky Kong a visit, who now runs the store in place of Cranky Kong. The Super Guide found in Donkey Kong Country Returns has been replaced with a variety of helpful items, such as portable partner barrels, green balloons that prevent a death by falling into a pit, or extra hearts for either the characters or the vehicles. Squawks also returns and helps with finding puzzle pieces by making noise when the player is near one.

Screenshot for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze on Wii U - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Much like the stages themselves, the boss encounters manage to impress in every way. They're well thought out, exciting and very satisfying to beat, easily surpassing the ones found in the previous game. Learning the boss patterns is rewarding but not a guarantee for victory because they will switch up their attacks as the fight goes on, and perform completely new and sometimes unexpected moves. They can last more than just a few minutes, too, making victory much sweeter, especially when compared to the length of many bosses in Mario platformers.

The Time Attack mode is very addictive and well done. It is possible to change the default partner for the level to the desired one for obtaining either a bronze, silver or gold medal. A play of a level can easily be uploaded to the online leaderboards and viewed at any time. Anyone who would like to see some advanced strategies from players, compare their times to those of friends, or just sit there and watch in awe will surely appreciate this feature and it is quick and smooth to access, too. Any ties are also broken by a heart icon next to the time, signifying that no damage was taken during that particular run.

If there is one thing that deserves a special mention, it is definitely the soundtrack. David Wise is still one of the very best in the business and delivers unparalleled atmospheric, dark and lonely feeling pieces. Some remixes of classics from the original Donkey Kong Country trilogy will no doubt make older fans very happy but most of the soundtrack is brand new and every bit as good. The overall selection of musical styles is also perfectly balanced, opening up with mostly upbeat themes in the early parts of the game, slowly mixing in more atmospheric and emotional pieces, and going all out with them once the end of the journey draws near. It is, quite frankly, so good that only a proper sound system or great headphones can do this soundtrack justice.

Screenshot for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze on Wii U- on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Gameplay

Retro Studios took the already outstanding template they made for the previous game, added two new partners in the form of Dixie Kong and Cranky Kong, and delivered dozens of highly polished and inventive levels that provide some of the best and most satisfying 2D platforming one can find. Any issues some may have had with the motion controls of Donkey Kong Country Returns using the Wii Remote or Wii Remote/Nunchuck combo are eliminated by the inclusion of fully traditional controls in the form of the Wii U GamePad and Wii U Pro controller.

Graphics

A great art direction with beautifully detailed models and varied environments easily puts the visual efforts of Nintendo's own New Super Mario Bros. U to shame. To top it off, everything runs very smoothly, no matter how intense the levels become. The detailed fur for Donkey Kong and his companions is a very nice touch, too.

Sound

After his absence in Donkey Kong Country Returns, David Wise returns to the series that made him famous and delivers one of the most magnificent soundtracks in recent memory with a plethora of styles including upbeat tunes, very atmospheric tracks and even intense rock music. Some David Wise classics from the original Donkey Kong Country trilogy make another appearance in the form of remixes, but the majority of the soundtrack is brand new and can proudly stand alongside the best of his past works.

Value

While there are only six worlds instead of the typical eight, the levels themselves are longer to make up for it. The length of the main adventure can vary depending on the player's skill and desire to explore every nook and cranny, but on average it should be somewhere around ten hours. K.O.N.G letters and puzzle pieces return again as collectibles in each stage and provide an incentive for exploration, in addition to over a dozen secret levels that have to be unlocked by finding hidden exits and collecting every last K.O.N.G letter in a world. On top of all that, it includes a Time Attack mode with online leaderboards, the ability to upload and view replays, an unlockable Hard mode for those craving for an even harder challenge, and local multiplayer for two players, with one player controlling Donkey Kong and the other playing as either Diddy, Dixie or Cranky.

Cubed3 Rating

10/10
Rated 10 out of 10

Masterpiece - Platinum Award

About this score
Rated 10 out of 10

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is oozing with quality and polish in every aspect, and easily surpasses the already outstanding previous instalment on the Nintendo Wii. Underwater segments and the partners Dixie Kong and Cranky Kong are very welcome additions, while the level design is as inventive and challenging as ever. The absolutely marvellous soundtrack and lush visuals only further support the tight and extremely satisfying gameplay, resulting in an overall package that is one of the best 2D platformers of all time - one that fans of classic platforming should truly go bananas over.

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02.03.2014

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Developer

Retro

Publisher

Nintendo

Genre

2D Platformer

Players

2

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  10/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now    Also on Also on Nintendo eShop

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Reader comments - add yours today Comments on this Review

Better than Rayman Origins & Legends?

I played some levels of DKCR and I didn't like it. All the collectibles made it too slow for me, because I'm a hoarder.
Rayman Origins is one of my favorite games ever. So fast, fluid, pretty, well-designed. Oh and some levels are HARD. I haven't really started Legends yet, but so far it's looking grand.

Staff Member

I've yet to play Rayman Legends (own it, though) but Origins really just didn't click with me. Not because of the level creativity and variety, music, art direction or anything either, it was the general feel of the characters and the controls that didn't feel right to me. As I said in my review, both Donkey Kong Country Returns and this game feel very different when it comes to handling the character and Donkey Kong hits all the right spots for me. I also love the way they handle the collectibles and don't mind stopping regularly to check every little suspicious thing.

Different strokes for different folks, I suppose. Returns was previously my favourite 2D platformer of all time and Tropical Freeze snatched that honour from it. Smilie

( Edited 02.03.2014 21:07 by SirLink )

Cubed3 Reviewer/Feature Writer | Twitter | Backloggery
Senior ModeratorStaff Member

Legends is MILES better than Origins - just thought I'd throw that in Smilie

Adam Riley < Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited >
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter
Staff Member

I've heard as much but from what I've seen it still controls/feels the same, so my one issue with Origins will likely remain. It's pretty hard to explain just what I mean but I still enjoyed Origins and I'm sure I'll enjoy Legends even more, so it's all good. Smilie

Cubed3 Reviewer/Feature Writer | Twitter | Backloggery

Only just started playing Tropical Freeze, but  Returns was one of my favorite Wii games.

One of my favorite little tweaks with Tropical Freeze is with Time Trials. In Returns if you died during Time Trials you would restart with the clock still running (and would have to manually restart the time trial). In Tropical Freeze the clock restarts every time. When attempting a lot of runs to set a new speed time that little change ends up saving you a lot of time.

I also love the online leaderboards for Time Trials and the ability to watch the videos of the top times. I just wish each username had the the flag of that person's country next to their name (I like international competition).

So, Is Rayman Legends worth to buy? Is it also available in 3ds? Tropical Freeze seems to be a good game to try too!

There s always a kid inside each of us

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