Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze Review
Back in 2014, Tropical Freeze came out on the Wii U. It was an engaging sequel to the Wii’s Donkey Kong Country Returns. Riding on the waves of its predecessor’s successful formula, Retro Studios ports Tropical Freeze to the Switch, bringing back everything good about the Donkey Kong franchise and giving us one of the best platformer experiences out there.
Right off the bat, I am hit with nostalgia as the title appears on-screen. The menus look nice and polished and the upbeat jungle beats set the tone. As far as plots go in that type of game, Donkey is celebrating his birthday with his kin when a float of Viking enemies spread an arctic winter curse on the island. It’s up to the Kongs to save the land and defeat the icy invaders.
Embracing the same cartoonish style as always, some textures seem to have gotten a little touch-up in the Switch version. With the world taken over by ice and cold, the levels do a good job at displaying the different weathers, each one carefully thought and crafted. As for the music, the soundtrack still complements each mood very well, and some tunes are very easy to end up humming. Every world has its personality and the mood also varies depending on whether you are on a beach or underwater, with the sounds muffled.
While the handheld graphics are in slightly lower resolution, the graphics are still looking vibrant and lovely and make for a very good portable game.
As always, there are six very different worlds to explore, each comprised of multiple levels. Throughout the twelve-hour adventure, you will visit pirate beaches, autumn forests, sandy savannahs, and perilous fruit factories, all scattered with new and varied enemies. The amount of detail is impressive and each new level will offer new concepts and surprises.
The game is still a side-scrolling platformer although some levels rely on depth of field and make for blood-pumping action-packed sections. The rhino friend Rambi is also joining the fun, allowing for fast-paced chase sequences as the world collides and frenetic stone blocks crushing. The gist is to jump at the right places at the right time, avoiding enemies and obstacles along the way. Skill and good timing are of the essence and a good memorizing of the level may be required at times.
Recurring characters Donkey, Diddy, Cranky and Dixie are back, each with their unique skill or tool. The Switch version features the newest addition to the Kong family, the laid-back surfer cousin Funky Kong. His special skills are unsurprisingly linked to his surf board. He can perform double jumps and hover in the air, on spiked floors and also on water. And of course, as a pro surfer, he always dives with a snorkel, saving him the trouble of finding air bubbles in underwater levels. With more health hearts than the other characters, all his skills tremendously kick down the game’s difficulty, which is a nice feature for younger players (or just players who are fed up with some levels).
You can always purchase extra lives, temporary boosts and upgrades at Funky’s Fly ‘N’ Buy in exchange for Banana Coins. While these boosts are certainly useful, especially on later levels, they are never mandatory to progress.
The bosses are definitely a highlight, each unique in its style and strategy. With several stages to bypass in order to deliver the finishing blow, some can be very tricky to beat, requiring multiple replays and a lot of memorization. While challenging, it is also very fun and rewarding when you finally make it, granting you passage to the next world.
Much like in its Wii U counterpart, the co-op mode could do with some slight improvements. As fun as it is to play with a friend, it may be harder to go through the levels since there is no split screen. Playing co-op is great although more challenging given that some parts require the two players to communicate a lot and follow each other closely. Moreover, each death removes 2 red balloons instead of one, which can be taxing on each attempt to beat a level.
Apart from that, there are not many changes in the Switch version. The controls are pretty much the same, as well as the content, which is a slight letdown. Some extra levels could have been fun. A welcome addition however is shorter loading times.
There are several collectibles in each level. First, there are the K O N G gilded letters to spell throughout the levels. Second, there are around 8 puzzle pieces to find per level. While some prove to be very well-hidden, others are just so frustratingly hard to get, taunting us in plain sight. Third, there is the KONG barrel to hit at the end of a level, which takes luck and skill to hit at the right time. All in all, the smart level design begs for replays, in order to get all the collectibles and achieve 100% completion. There are also dioramas to collect as well as unlockable toys, found in the Capsule Toy Machine.
The multiplayer mode allows for diversified character combinations, if you’d rather play the levels with Diddy, Dixie, Cranky or Funky. Note that some secrets and collectibles can only be obtained with a specific character.
It is hard not to have fun playing a Donkey Kong game. Granted some levels can be frustrating, sometimes to the point of rage-quitting, but an upgrade store is never too far (camped on each world). Provided you have the coin, you can ease your pain through the harder sections. All the levels are well crafted and smart in their design choices. There is never a boring moment or a section that drags too long. The collectibles are challenging to collect but very rewarding to find. It’s definitely a game designed to have a good time.
I am an unconditional fan of the Donkey Kong franchise ever since the Super Nintendo days. The cartoonish and vibrant worlds, the animal friends found along the way and the main characters’ humoristic cutscenes were always strong selling points for me. This title does not disappoint. Some levels are pretty tough at times and I may or may not have rage-quitted once or twice. But I always picked the gamepad back up and finished the level, rewarded with a great sense of pride and accomplishment. The visual art style is gorgeous and I loved the uniqueness of some levels, taking me by surprise. If you played the game on the Wii U, you are in for a somewhat similar experience, although playing as Funky is very fun and may allow you to get 100% completion without losing too many hair. If however you have not played it yet, the Switch version gives a second life to a successful title that had the misfortune of coming out on an unsuccessful console.
- Colorful and engaging level design
- Unique and challenging bosses
- Funky Kong as a playable character
- Faster loading times
- Not many new additions on the Switch
- Some harder frustrating levels
- Co-op mode can be a challenge
- Lasting Appeal8
- Fun Factor10