Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U) Second Opinion Review

By Camilo Aránguiz González 16.08.2016

Review for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze on Wii U

Donkey Kong Country has a transcendental place in gaming history, being one of the best-selling 2D platformers of all time. Donkey Kong Country 2 is - for many - even more excellent than its predecessor. With this responsibility, tackled two times before by Donkey Kong Country 3 and by Donkey Kong Country Returns years later in an arguably correct way, could Tropical Freeze have something to offer in an acclaimed long-running series?

As a direct sequel to Donkey Kong Country Returns, also developed by Retro Studios, Tropical Freeze shares more similarities with its predecessor than with its older SNES brothers, which is neither good or bad. The collectible puzzle pieces and KONG letters, the unlockables, the world map, the checkpoints, the in-game models, time attack mode, and the Kong sidekick gameplay mechanics are all alike, but many of them are upgraded.

However, let's start with some differences. The most notorious (because it was one of Tropical Freeze's selling points) is the addition of more playable sidekick characters: Dixie and - for the first time - Cranky Kong. This new feature is very welcomed, and it does impact the gameplay to some extent in the early game, giving a little variety and replay value.

Screenshot for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze on Wii U

Then, there is the plot, starring our beloved Kong family and the new villains, the Snowmads, a troop of penguins, owls, walruses and many others, which invade the DK island, blowing Donkey Kong and friends out of it, making it entirely of ice and cold, while being iconic, funny and memorable. More than the Kremlings? Sadly, no, but it's a good try. Nevertheless, they make the progress in the six islands of the game have a little story beyond "You stole my bananas!" but in a very subtle way. For instance, in the fifth island, we discover that the reason of the invasion was tropical fruit harvesting for making ice lollies, which is funny and is told just by level mechanics and the presentation.

Talking about presentation, that is where we have the next visible upgrade and is one of the highest points in the game. Glorious high definition makes the visuals look absolutely gorgeous and detailed, but the upgrade doesn't come just from the graphical enhancements, neither from the execution. The literally impressive presentation comes from its planning, from its art conception. The level mechanics are exquisitely blended with the Donkey Kong's surroundings, the camera adds a little depth with 2.5D kinds of angles, and all the creatures and landscapes are insanely alive. This is taken to the limits in some levels, like Grassland Groove, Amiss Abyss or Busted Bayou, which are levels that a non-gamer could just watch and be completely astounded and delighted.

However, being that amazing, the presentation is nothing compared with the music. Commanded by a returning Dave Wise, famous for his work on the original DKC trilogy (although he should be more famous for his work in Battletoads), Tropical Freeze offers one of the best soundtracks of all time. The music perfectly balances atmosphere and melody, tradition and novelty, being adequate and memorable, delivering a huge collection of original and iconic tracks, while flirting with several different music styles, from tribal to heavy metal. The score is by an enormous distance the biggest improvement over DKC Returns, which has very few original songs because of its permanent tries of awaking nostalgia in the player. In contrast, Wise makes exquisite winks at the 16-bit games, which awake that same nostalgia so elegantly, and those winks are so intelligently placed that the player can't do anything other than applaud in awe.

Screenshot for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze on Wii U

From a gameplay perspective, Tropical Freeze is extraordinary. There are no levels that are the same, and every single one delivers a new mechanic, from canopy vines to trampolines made of jelly. However, this variety and excellence is traded by fewer levels compared to its predecessor, but when you appreciate quality over quantity, that isn't a problem. The difficulty curve is at a perfect 45° angle, having levels near the end that are seriously challenging, but always rewarding, amusing and never cheap. The level design is astonishingly imaginative and well-thought: no mechanic is anti-intuitive, and the new playable characters are non-invasively introduced.

Nevertheless, one of the little flaws of the game, inherited from DKC Returns, is that the bonus rooms are repetitive and boring. The SNES trilogy offered very amusing bonus stages, which generally applied the level mechanics. In Tropical Freeze, there're five or six rooms, which are generic and monotone, and they can break the immersion from the levels.

The cart and rocket-based stages are executed impeccably, providing an excellent change of pace, but it's the return of water levels that's one of the more admirable features from a level design stand-point. They were missed in Returns, and in this instalment are some of the best water levels in gaming history. Furthermore, the boss battles are amazing. Each of them has its distinctive feeling and mechanics, being extremely memorable, deviating from the three-stomps-and-you're-dead pattern. The boss levels are placed at the exact moments for arranging a nice general pace and the final boss battle is as hard and meaningful as a final boss has to be.

Screenshot for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze on Wii U

The unlockable levels - another element taken from DKC Returns's formula - present an even tougher trial to the player's platform skills, and the unlockable extras are a nice reward for the effort, all of them building a fair part of Tropical Freeze's replay value.

The other big part of that replay value comes from two modes. The first one is the returning simultaneous co-op gameplay, which takes advantage of the variety of the new playable sidekicks. The second one is the also returning time attack mode, in which you can speed-run through beaten levels, but the nice new feature here is that the game now provides online leaderboards, which contain the playthroughs uploaded by players around the world, allowing you to compare worldwide or locally with your Wii U friends. Another great element of this mode is the fact that it truly deepens the variety of the sidekicks: the player will have to master the pros and cons of each character if he or she wants to obtain those precious gold medals.

All in all, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is an outstanding platformer, with an incredibly gorgeous and well-thought presentation and a must-listen soundtrack, and a fairly big replay value coming from its modes, but specially from its supremacy. It's easily one of the best games on the Wii U, and one of the best 2D platformers of all time.

Screenshot for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze on Wii U

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

Tropical Freeze is an extraordinary 2D platformer, which succeeds at standing as an equal next to its SNES brothers. It's imaginative, rewarding and extremely diverting in its gameplay; brilliant, charming and exquisite in its presentation; and completely out-of-this-world in its sound. A must-own for every Wii U owner and for every 2D platformer fan.

Developer

Retro

Publisher

Nintendo

Genre

2D Platformer

Players

2

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10 (3 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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