Review: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Posted 07 May 2018 at 11:20 by Adam Hirst
The game starts off with the DK family minding their own business and having a party in DK's house. Out in the ocean a fleet of ships appears, with a bunch of enemies known as the Snowmads, targeting DK Island. A large mysterious figure blows a horn which sends an artic blast towards DK Island, blowing DK and his friends off of the island and allowing the Snowmads to lay claim to land. There's no explanation as to why this is happening but I guess that's not important. It's probably best not dwell on such things and just jump straight into action.
I guess Kiddy Kong wasn't invited.
The game features 6 worlds, with a hidden 7th being unlocked if you meet certain requirements. Each of the worlds gives the player 6 stages to play through, with the final world adding an extra 2 levels for players to tackle. Beat the 6 stages and there will be a boss fight waiting for you on the next stage. There are more stages to find if the you are willing to search high and low. There are 3 extra stages that can be unlocked in each of the worlds, with the special K stages offering some of the more difficult platforming sections that the games has to offer.
You'll be seeing this screen a lot when tackling the "K" stages.
The level design in each of the stages is something very special. Everything, whether it's a platform or an enemy, seems to have been placed with such precision. There is an amazing feeling you get when you are able to pull off a series of rolls and jumps and while this obviously has something to do with the players skill, it also goes to show just how well the levels are designed in order for the player to actually do these things. It also helps that the controls are perfect and super tight. Some levels even change as the game goes on, with scenery breaking away or vehicle sections being added half way through. This keeps things fresh and constantly keeps you on your toes.
The levels themselves look absolutely gorgeous and there is plenty of variety on offer. The Mario series, especially the 2D series, gets a lot of hate for the themes they use in each of the games. Things like ice, water, fire and desert are all common themes that tend to get over used. This isn't the case with Tropical Freeze. Whether you are exploring an African style savanna, swimming in the blues of oceans or working your way through a fruit factory, the game constantly wows you with the locations it allows the player to play in.
Everything the light touches...
Donkey Kong has some help getting through these stages. Scattered around the levels are DK barrels. In each of these you will find a unique partner that have skills that will help DK get on his adventure but also allow the player to take an extra couple of hits. Choosing Cranky Kong will allow players to use his cane to do a pogo stick jump ( ust like Scrooge McDuck on the NES classic DuckTales) that lets Donkey Kong jump on spikes. Diddy Kong returns with his jet pack that lets Donkey Kong float in mid-air for short time. The final partner available is Dixie Kong, who will let Donkey Kong hover and do a high jump. She is by far the most useful of the 3 and can really help players out in a pinch. In comparison Diddy Kong seems kind of useless.
You simply cannot talk about Tropical Freeze without discussing the soundtrack created David Wise. I'm a big believer of a soundtrack being able to elevate a game to another level and David Wise certainly does that with his work in this game. When Donkey Kong Country Returns was released on the Wii I was a fan of the game but was very disappointed with the soundtrack. It lacked the magic that the original trilogy had back on the SNES. I know many other fans of the series felt the same. Retro clearly heard the fan outcry and managed to rope David back for this outing. Every tune fits the level perfectly, some stages even have the background moving along with the music. There is a lot of soul and emotion to some of these tracks and Seashore War is one of my favourite bits of music from any game and one that I listen to on a regular basis. Back in 2014 this game was robbed when discussions came up about gaming soundtracks of the year. Hopefully this release will rectify that.
Rambi charges his way onto the Switch.
The game seems to have a reputation for being hard as nails and honestly I just don't see it. If you were to just play through the game without going for any of the secrets or collectibles (more on those later) then the game isn't that bad, it's only when you start trying to go for every thing the game has to offer that the difficulty ramps up. That's not to say that there aren't challenging sections in certain stages, because there certainly are, but these are always fair and never cheap. It encourages players to learn the mechanics, some times by trial and error, and once you learn how to jump off of enemies and roll before jumping to extend your leap, then things become much easier. It's not as if there is a constant fear of losing all of your lives. The game is very generous with extra lives and there are an insane amount of bananas are kicking about each stage, as well. Collect 100 of these and this will also gift you an extra life.
This is why i'm baffled with the inclusion of the Funky Kong mode. Funky Kong mode is essentially God mode in the game. It makes the game laughably easy and eliminates any challenge or skill that is required to play the game, As I said earlier, the game is easy enough if just playing from start to finish, which I imagine how most younger gamers would play and giving them this mode is a bit insulting, I think. People who play games on a regular basis I would imagine would rather play the game in it's original mode but have the option to switch to Funky if stuck on a certain part. This isn't possible though because the game locks you to either Funky mode or Original mode at the start of the game. It's one or the other. A far better way of doing it would have been to do what some of the Mario games have done in recent years and have some kind of help block/barrel. This could have appeared after a certain amount of deaths and players could then choose whether to use it or not.
If you are struggling, the game does offer some help in the form of Banana Coins. These are in every stage and you will soon rack up an insane amount of them. These can be used in Funky's store, which can be found on the world map, and he will offer a variety of goods that will help you out. You can buy things like Squawks the Parrot who will help you find collectibles, a red balloon that will give you an extra life, a heart so that you can take an extra hit or a shield that will allow for the rocket barrel or mine cart to take more damage. These can come in handy, especially in some of the latter stages. The extra heart is particularly good to buy and use before every boss fight.
Just one of the many stunning locations the game has to offer.
Outside of the critical path of the game there is plenty to unlock and a lot of it will require multiple play throughs of levels and searching every nook and cranny to find the hidden secrets. Things like secret exits are scattered around various stages, some of which will require you to utilise the abilities of a certain member of the Kong family. Other things to find are puzzle pieces. These range from finding as few as 5 pieces or as many as 9. These are hidden quite well and will require players to search every bit of the stage to get them all. Finally, KONG letters are placed in every stage in the game. These, while easy to find, they often require a bit of tricky jumping to grab. Unlike the puzzle pieces, the KONG letters will need to be collected again if you die before hitting a checkpoint.
While I do think it is a fantastic game, there are a couple of sticking points which bother me.
The first is the loading times. Back on the Wii U version the game had some pretty rough loading times between each of the stages. These loading screens still remain in this version. However, I do think they are slightly faster than what was seen on the Wii U. Also, the loading screens still have the stuttering issue that was on the Wii U version. It's not a big thing but I would have liked a little more polish and to have this effect eliminated.
The boss fights were always a drag in the original version and the same remains true on the Switch. Each of the boss fights lasts far too long and could have done without a 3rd stage to each of the fights. I'm a little disappointed that this complaint wasn't addressed here. It was a common complaint when the game was first released and i'm sad to say that Retro didn't take this opportunity to tweak these fights.
Now to address the Ellie in the room... the price of the game. I'll just come out and say it, I think the game is overpriced, especially for those of us who bought it on the Wii U. We are living in a time where Microsoft is giving free updates to their entire back catalogue of games that enhance the framerates and visulas, Sony is remastering some of their classics and selling them for £25, and 3rd party studios are updating and adding extras in games like Kingdom Hearts 1.5 & 2.5, Crash Bandicoot Trilogy and Street Fighter Collection and are selling them as budget releases. Here we have a game that is barely 4 years old and has very little new added to it. Sure, there is the funky Kong mode but, as I mentioned earlier, nobody should really be touching this mode anyway. It feels like a slap in the face for people who supported Nintendo during the Wii U era that this game is priced higher than it was back then.
N-Europe Final Verdict
Despite the issues I mentioned the game is still a masterclass in 2D platforming. Anyone who has never played Tropical Freeze and owns a Switch owes it to themselves to play this amazing game.Stunning visuals, tight controls, amazing level design and God tier soundtrack make this a must buy. However, if you own a Switch and already played the game back on the Wii U, you have to ask yourself the following question: Is it worth paying £40+ for a game that is pretty much the same as the version you have already played? That is up to the individual to decide.
Fantastic level design
Plenty of things to find and unlock
Boss fights go on for too long
Long loading times (although slightly faster) and stutter still remain from Wii U version
Not enough new content to justify the price for people who have already played it on Wii U