Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
February 13, 2014 (JP)
February 21, 2014 (NA, EU)
February 22, 2014 (AU)
I hated this game. I can’t begin to describe my dislike of what this game was and how annoyed I was it took the name of one of my favorite childhood series. It was nothing like the SNES titles that it got its name from.
That’s honestly how I felt when I first played this title. As an avid Donkey Kong Country series fan, Tropical Freeze did not compare in any single way except name and I felt slightly betrayed. The controls felt weird, the characters moved weird, and the game didn’t feel like it belonged in the Country series. I quit playing this game after the first island and decided to clear my mind of my childhood memories and, after a few months, decided to give this game a shot on its own merit.
And boy, I’m sure glad I did.
Tropical Freeze is actually one of the best platforming games I’ve ever played. Each level presents you with concepts that stack as you progress through the islands which culminate in very challenging levels the entire time you play. You get something new from every stage and challenging concepts and skills develop as you move forward on your adventure. One of the best features of Tropical Freeze is the mini-stories taking place on each island. A savannah island suffers from an ever-growing brush fire that consumes the entire island as you progress to each stage, another has the baddies harvesting fruit from the island to make frozen popsicles for the polar bear boss. It’s a uniquely amazing experience watching the entire island’s plot unfold and it often outshines the main story, which is overall weaker when compared to the sub-plots.
The story is new for Donkey Kong, but not unfamiliar. A host of baddies from up north decides to head down to the land of Kong and cause trouble, freezing poor Donkey Kong’s island and expelling him from it. Led by a mysterious and large walrus, Donkey and friends must fight their way through his minions who have taken over five other island along the way to advance their goals. The minions include penguins, owls, and even a few monkeys. Classic DKC fans might scoff at the lack of Kremlins and K. Rool, but I learned to love the new baddies.
The game is fluid and well-crafted, requiring absolute precision in your movements – sometimes to the point of being brutally so. In a rather challenging level, I ended up losing over one hundred lives thanks to some poorly timed A-button presses. It creates an environment of difficulty, yet also one of top-notch level design. Each level is beautifully presented with scenic backdrops, colorful enemies, and interesting gameplay elements. It’s the best looking Kong game ever and some levels made me stop playing just to take in what was on display.
David Wise brings back the classic charm, beautiful sounds, and wonderful expertise the soundtracks of this series are known for. Busted Bayou, displayed above, is one of my favorite songs of the game and it beautifully captures what makes Donkey Kong Country so special, much like Aquatic Ambiance and Stickerbrush Symphony did for entries of the series in the past.
One of the biggest faults of the game is the underutilization of the secondary characters like Diddy and Cranky. You can basically go the entire game with only using Dixie and the game doesn’t do enough to support or make you need the other two Kongs. Neither of the other Kongs’ powers stack up to Dixie’s and I found that they had little use during my entire run of the game. Not only is her hair-twirl the best add-on, but her bonus power of unlocking extra hearts for your meter is easily one of the most overpowered features. It can add up to four extra hearts to your bar, on top of an extra heart you can buy from Funky Kong’s shop, which almost makes you invincible if desired. It doesn’t ruin the game, but helps for the moments too frustrating to handle. I would have liked to use Diddy and Cranky as often as Dixie however, but they can’t compare to Dixie’s bonuses.
It’s an extremely wonderful feeling to initially dislike a game and return to it months later to find it skyrocket to become one of your favorites of all time. I can’t say that’s happened with any other game I’ve played and I’m truly grateful to have given it another chance. The levels are very interesting, the characters are as beloved as ever, the soundtrack is jaw-droppingly good, and it all bundles together to create an experience well worth purchase on your Wii U system. The finely-tuned level design helps to make this one of the best entries in the Country series ever and possibly my favorite of all five games. I can’t wait to see what Retro does next for Donkey Kong, but I would love to see the utilization of more of the Kongs of the franchise, perhaps even some of the poor monkeys of Donkey Kong 64-fame like Lanky, Tiny, and Chunky (and don’t forget 3‘s Kiddy). I think Nintendo has a great cast of characters that go extremely underutilized in the Kong and Nintendo world, but perhaps things are looking up for the banana-loving family.
All of this to say that Tropical Freeze is truly my favorite Kong experience in history. I fell in love with the game instantly after abandoning it for a time and if I had to re-do my Top Ten of 2014, it would easily be among the highest ranked. Nostalgia-blindness had me upset, but once I discovered the crafted beauty of the game, I was hooked. It suffers in some areas like balance and precision, but makes up for those with undeniable charm, incredible scenery, joy-ensuing tunes, and a host of unique allies and enemies that really should make fans of the series say, “Welcome back to Donkey Kong Country.”
Beautiful level design.
Amazing soundtrack by David Wise.
Fun characters whose powers add a unique twist to the DKC formula.
Tight platforming gameplay.
Great miniature stories in each world.
Dixie Kong's power is the only really useful one, and her bonus of adding hearts to your bar can make the game a bit unbalanced.
Sometimes punishing difficulty requires a minute level of precision.