It’s February and that means it’s still Winter. This also means the snow is still coming down and we’re still months away from warm weather. But we’re not alone in this battle of the cold. Our favorite red tie gorilla has problems of his own when the Snowmads decide to move in on his tropical paradise. It’s time to bundle up and bring your A game, cause “It’s on like”…yeah you know the rest.
Our game begins on the beautiful paradise that is Donkey Kong Island and the Kongs are celebrating DK’s birthday! But the festivities are cut short when a cold breeze starts to blow through the air, as a fleet of Snowmad ships begin their invasion. The Kong’s are literally blown away from their home and watch as DK Island becomes a winter wonderland. Poor DK, and on his birthday too. That’s the story in a coconut shell. Island hop your way back home and take back what’s rightfully yours!
Veterans from Donkey Kong Country Returns will feel right at home with this title. In fact, any veteran from previous Donkey Kong Country titles will adjust smoothly to Tropical Freeze with the greatest of ease. This is your basic platforming sidescroller with some great elements to keep things from feeling too repetitious. Players will take control of Donkey Kong throughout the game as he ground pounds, rolls, and jumps his way to the end goal. But he’s not alone in this quest. Joining him are his friends Diddy Kong, Dixie Kong and Cranky Kong. Yup, you read that right! Not only has Dixie Kong returned, but DK’s feisty grandpa Cranky is here to show these youngsters how it’s done.
Each Kong has their own special ability that can really lend DK a hand in a pinch. Diddy comes equipped with his jetpack, allowing him some brief air time, and his peanut popguns for taking out baddies. Dixie can use her ponytail to gain some higher altitude in the form of a double jump, which is great for clearing gaps or getting to those hard to reach places. Lastly, there’s Cranky who uses his cane to get the jump on foes and traverse spiky areas unharmed almost similar to Scrooge McDuck from the DuckTales game.
When playing, players have the option of playing with four different controller types. There’s the Wiimote held like playing an NES game, Wiimote and Nunchuk for those who are more familiar with DKC Returns, the Wii U Pro controller (which was the most comfortable in my opinion), and the GamePad which features Off-TV play if needed. What’s great about this, is the option to change the controls during gameplay. All it takes is a quick pause of the screen and a selection of your controller preference.
But what fun is Donkey Kong without bringing a friend? DK has a buddy to explore with – so why not you? Like previous installments in the DKC franchise, Tropical Freeze offers two player mode, where player one takes charge of DK and player two, a Kong of their choosing. My only gripe about this is when it comes to changing Kongs for player two. Instead of there being an option to switch before the level starts, you have to drop player two out of the game, bring them back in, and then have them select their preferred Kong. A quick change option would have been nice to work with instead.
There’s also a new team attack feature in Tropical Freeze that is only available when paired up with another Kong and with the right amount of bananas. These new ‘Kong PoW’ moves will not only wipe out every enemy on the screen, but depending on the current sidekick, will yield a different result. Having Diddy will turn all enemies into extra lives. Dixie can transform them into golden hearts, which act as shields to your current hearts, and Cranky will change everyone into banana coins.
While this was a neat new feature, I rarely used this ability as I didn’t find myself in dire situations 24/7. Also, whenever I did use this ability, it made more sense to use Dixie Kong as banana coins and extra lives are easy to come by, while hearts are not.
Utilizing each Kong’s abilities to the fullest feels rewarding, as you may find secret bonus rooms or easier ways to get to the goal that would’ve otherwise proved challenging.
But there’s one returning Kong that I’ve yet to mention. Sadly, he’s not a playable character, but man did the nostalgia waves flow in when I saw Funky Kong. Funky has taken over Cranky’s position from DKC Returns and has now set up shop in each world to provide the Kong’s some gnarly items. For you younger readers out there, terms such as “gnarly”, “radical” and “tubular” were popular phrases amongst patrons of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Used typically by skaters, surfers, and Ninja turtles, but I digress.
You can use banana coins found throughout levels to purchase items from Funky’s shop ranging from extra lives, extra hearts, invincibility potions, DK barrels at the ready, and much more to help you out on your future endeavors.
Out of all the Donkey Kong games out there, Tropical Freeze is by far the most colorful and immersive. Each section feels well thought out in both bonus room locations, secret exits and enemy placement never seemed unfair. I’ve played my fair share of platforming games in the past where the levels seemed to drag on and on with no sight of the goal. While some of the levels in Tropical Freeze were lengthy, this was not a problem as they were not only beautiful to look at, but the music was beyond fantastic.
David Wise, composer of the past Donkey Kong Country titles, made his return to write the score for Tropical Freeze. Past DKC fans like myself will catch remixes of old favorites such as Aquatic Ambience or Stickerbrush Symphony but brand new tracks properly accent both the world and level. While I loved the remixed tracks of old favorites, it was refreshing to hear an entire array of new songs that fit perfectly within the Donkey Kong universe – full of tribal drums, jazz tunes, big band swing and so much more.
A new feature that was unexpected in Tropical Freeze are secret exits. When looking at the world map, players will notice that there may be a path inaccessible even after beating the level. This means, that somewhere in the previous level hides a secret route that you must discover. This is a fantastic in-game element that really requires the player to explore the level inside and out. It’s time to use the Kong’s strength to their fullest when it comes to searching for these hidden portals.
While Tropical Freeze plays greats, looks beautiful and sounds fantastic, there are some issues that I need to address. It’s so easy in this game to accumulate a full 99 lives from collecting 100 bananas, finding them within levels, using Diddy’s ‘Kong PoW’ move, or even buying them from Funky’s shop. By the third world, I already had 99 lives and about 500 banana coins. This ultimately gives the player no consequence when it comes to dying therefore taking away the exciting challenge from previous Donkey Kong titles. In-game deaths became more of a nuisance rather than an edge-of-your-seat moment. Don’t get me wrong, there are some really challenging parts in the game as you progress, but it’s just not as intense when you have so many lives to spare and so many coins to purchase said lives.
Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze is an amazingly fun title that belongs in any Donkey Kong fan or Wii U owner’s library. While it may be very generous with the amount of in-game lives that you can collect, that is completely overpowered by the presentation, gameplay, and music quality that you’ll experience as you play. The digital download is a whopping 10 GB, but it’s worth every byte.