Review

Review: Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze (Switch)

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Is Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze King of the Jungle when it comes to platformers, or is that statement bananas?

At a Glance – 10/10

Though the game might be a skip for Wii U owners that have wrung every bit of joy from it previously, if you haven’t played Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze before you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find one of the best platformers you’ll ever play. Every movement in the game just feels right, and controlling DK is a complete blast. The addition of Funky Kong provides accessibility to the franchise, without dumbing down what makes it so great, which is an extraordinary balancing act by Nintendo.

It doesn’t hurt that the game looks gorgeous and that there are a large number of varied and themed worlds to experience, that will constantly put a smile on your face. Those levels are filled with collectibles that provide really neat in-game rewards, the likes of which we don’t see enough anymore, and provide an extra layer of exploration that I found thrilling in each level.

Simply put this is the best version of an absolute master class platformer, that feels fun and fresh, and is hands down the best Donkey Kong Country title out there. It definitely earns its spot in my Hall of Game, and if you love platformers you owe it to yourself to check this game out. You won’t be disappointed.

It is a real shame that so many people were down on the Wii U during its lifespan, because it had a host of absolutely phenomenal exclusives, and one of those exclusives was Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze. Much of the internet was extremely disappointed when we found out what Retro Studios was working on during E3 2013. I was one of those people, as I was hoping the developers were working on something more mature and closer to their magnum opus: Metroid Prime.

However, I decided to pick it up regardless when it came out, and found a platformer that could give Donkey Kong’s frenemy Mario a run for his money. The idea that such a fantastic game got a collective ‘meh’ from the online crowd was frustrating, I felt like if this had been released on any other platform, the reception would have been stellar. So I was very happy when I found out Nintendo was bringing this to the Switch to let everyone else have a chance to find out what I already knew: DKC Tropical Freeze is fantastic fun.

True, Nintendo also decided to apply the infamous Switch tax to the game as well, charging full price when the Wii U title was available for a scant $20, but ultimately I felt it deserved its second chance. I surprised myself when I picked the game up, but I had decided the ability to play portably was worth it, and I’m so glad I changed my mind on the purchase.

If you’ve never played the game before the basic premise is that new enemies, the Viking like Snowmads (Get it? Like nomads), take over Donkey Kong’s island by freezing it. Of course this leads to Donkey Kong and crew losing all of their large banana hoard, and it is up to them to put these interlopers in their place, regaining their bananas in the process.

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You’ll roll, jump, and trounce enemies through various charming locales, and experience an airtight platformer in the bargain. Donkey Kong’s friends join him on this outing as well, and in single player that means they will leap onto Donkey Kong’s back, which provides him with new traversal abilities. Dixie Kong is clearly the best Kong with her helicopter ponytail providing a little extra height to the jump, while Diddy Kong provides extra distance to a jump, and Cranky Kong allows you to Shovel Knight (or Scrooge McDuck) your way through spikey obstacles by bouncing off his cane.

These companions are a smart way for you to choose a sort of buff for Donkey Kong, and you’ll always miss their companionship when they aren’t there. That doesn’t mean playing as the big ape isn’t  fun though, quite the contrary, they’ve designed DK to be an absolute blast to handle.

Though people unfamiliar with platformers might think you can just swap out any protagonist for another and have the same game, the truth is that Donkey Kong handles entirely differently than any other jumping Nintendo mascot. There is a weight and momentum with DK and his animations that just feels absolutely right, whether it is rolling through an enemy, or that slight vibration and dust cloud when he barrels to a stop.

Each level is packed with things to find as well, with secret puzzle pieces hidden throughout, challenging letters to retrieve that spell out Kong, coins and bananas to gather, and even secret exits to the levels that unlock bonus levels. The letters and puzzle pieces are cleverly hidden, and quite fun to look for, but best of all you will never go unrewarded. Collecting all of the Kong letters in each level unlocks a brutally hard challenge level that you can take on, gathering all the puzzle pieces will reward you with concept art, and you’ll want to grab those coins to purchase cool figurines from the game. Though the bonus levels can be a real achievement to beat, you are rewarded with these really neat dioramas that you can look at.

These are some of my favorite sorts of rewards in video games, and I lament that gaming in general has moved away from this sort of in-game reward. Does a diorama do anything for you? No, but it is something that is really cool to look at, and is a better reward in my opinion than a random trophy or Gamerscore.

Of course all of the levels can be tackled with a friend, and it is a great way to make you want to strangle them. Playing alone these levels can be challenging, but tackling them with a friend can be a downright test of your friendship. Donkey Kong Country games can be very hard, often asking pixel perfect platforming of you in the bonus levels, and coordinating that with someone else can be nigh impossible. However, the Switch version alleviates that a bit by providing you with the funkiest of Kongs.

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That’s right, Funky Kong is playable for the first time in a Country game, and though I initially thought him a pointless baby mode, I’ve since proved myself entirely wrong. Funky Kong is a genius addition to the game that makes it far more accessible to a wider audience, and as such he is instantly a welcome addition. Even better, when you play co-op, it allows a second less experienced player (a.k.a, my kids) be able to tag along without sincerely hampering the other player.

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In addition I found that playing as Funky Kong was not the baby mode I was expecting, instead he just kind of combines all the Kong’s powers into one, and hence the reason he can’t team up with the other Kongs. However, he doesn’t make levels as easy as, say, an invincible flying Tanooki hat. You still have to content with pits, time your jumps, and get through minecart levels. Funky just bumps the amount of hits you can take up to 5, and makes jumps and spikes more forgiving. You’ll have to choose to play as Funky Kong in a separate mode, but you can switch to Donkey Kong at any time and it only gives you one additional heart.

If you’ve always been intimidated by the Donkey Kong Country games before then this is extremely good news for you, and Funky Kong even adds something for experienced players by providing new ways to speed run levels. He really is a fantastic addition to the Switch version, and not just some random throw away additional feature.

There isn’t much else of note here that wasn’t in the original game, but it does have a higher resolution docked, loads a bit faster, and runs even smoother than before. We should get this out-of-the-way right now, this game’s art direction is off the charts good, and it looks completely amazing in motion. I’ve taken dozens upon dozens of screenshots so far, and am absolutely in love with the style and graphics of the game. Retro Studios accomplished something spectacular with this title on the original hardware of Wii U, and it looks even smoother on Nintendo Switch.

This obviously makes it the definitive version of an already amazing game, but does it warrant a double dip? If the price was a little lower I might have a more resounding yes, as I obviously thought the portability and addition of Funky Kong worth the price tag, but for many that is a tough pill to swallow. I’ve been outspoken about the outrageous price and I stand by that, this should have retailed for no more than $40. That being said, I’m having an absolute blast with the game, and don’t regret buying it again on a far more worthy platform.

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Though the game might be a skip for Wii U owners that have wrung every bit of joy from it previously, if you haven’t played Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze before you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find one of the best platformers you’ll ever play. Every movement in the game just feels right, and controlling DK is a complete blast. The addition of Funky Kong provides accessibility to the franchise, without dumbing down what makes it so great, which is an extraordinary balancing act by Nintendo.

It doesn’t hurt that the game looks gorgeous and that there are a large number of varied and themed worlds to experience, that will constantly put a smile on your face. Those levels are filled with collectibles that provide really neat in-game rewards, the likes of which we don’t see enough anymore, and provide an extra layer of exploration that I found thrilling in each level.

Simply put this is the best version of an absolute master class platformer, that feels fun and fresh, and is hands down the best Donkey Kong Country title out there. It definitely earns its spot in my Hall of Game, and if you love platformers you owe it to yourself to check this game out. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Final Score: 10 out of 10

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3 thoughts on “Review: Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze (Switch)

  1. I picked this up becuase of all the positive buzz around it, but I haven’t really got on with it so far. It’s growing on me, but I just feel like there’s no real purpose to all the collectibles, and the gameplay is a little slippier than I’d like. I haven’t played a DKC game before though, so maybe I’m just not the target audience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is what I like about the collectibles, they are what used to be in every game I enjoyed so much. Unlocking little bits of art is something I’ve always enjoyed, and most of the collectibles provide you with entire new levels or worlds (the Kong letters), so they do provide more gameplay. I could see though if you wanted your collectibles to be more gameplay focused, that it would be an issues.

      The slippier part I’m not sure what you are referencing, perhaps the weight and momentum of the character? I always felt like I had complete control over DK, no matter what I was doing. I could even do a roll on a tiny platform and still pull out of it with a well timed jump in the other direction.

      Liked by 1 person

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