Retro Studios has managed to take two classic Nintendo series and give them new life on newer systems. If Metroid Prime wasn’t enough to make you a believer, then their two Donkey Kong Country games should be enough to get you over-the-top. However, if you didn’t need further convincing and just wanted a decent sequel to one of my favorite Wii and 3DS platformers, then the new DKCR will fit your needs.
I say mostly because other than the HD visuals this game plays dangerously close to Donkey Kong Country Returns. That’s not a bad thing but I was expecting a little more. There are moments when Retro turns it up to 11 and takes advantage of the Wii U’s greater power to deliver some cinematically, thematically, and outright fun levels. But for the most part, these levels don’t stand out enough for a true sequel.
The other new editions are good but not great. I loved having sidekicks other than Diddy this time. I also appreciated that each have different strengths and weaknesses. That said, they end up feeling a bit too similar when every level could be beaten with just DK. Sidekicks make certain parts easier and they can help you with specific bonuses, but I would’ve preferred they were a lot more distinct even if it meant making certain sidekicks level-specific.
I barely used the banana special ability thing. Basically, once you collect a certain amount of bananas, you and your sidekick high-five and all the enemies currently on screen disappear. It’s not useless, but it isn’t very visually appealing, exciting, or even necessary.
The music is fantastic as are the visuals and art design. The ‘viking-animals invade tropical islands and freeze them over’ plot device manages to work, though going in that was a huge concern for me. Donkey Kong Country games have always managed to have very distinct looking worlds with real thematic differences. I didn’t want an all-snow game. The end result is a good one: each world is distinct but ice and the same cast of viking-animal enemies populate all the game’s levels.
On average, level design is really solid. Some are absolutely stunning, however. To me, Retro’s take on Donkey Kong Country is at its best when its in full motion. Rather than the jump-heavy nature of the originals, I loved Donkey Kong Country Returns tendency to keep the player moving, relying more on a mix of reaction and timing rather than straight timing. Tropical Freeze doesn’t disappoint there. The very best levels include tornadoes, landslides, and snowballs – each bringing challenges that feel fresh and exciting.
In place of the prior game’s simple system where you purchase keys to unlock bonus levels, Tropical Freeze has you unlock bonus levels through alternate level exits. It adds yet another element to ‘collect’ on top of name tiles and puzzle pieces. Though it has always been prevalent in Nintendo games, collecting everything has never been my m.o. While I don’t mind skipping the bonus world that completionists can access, I do mind skipping so many bonus levels (usually two per world). If it were a lot easier to find some of these doors or more fun to do so, I’d get over it. As is, forcing trial and error with Donkey Kong’s usually cryptic secrets is a bit much to ask of me.
Challenge-wise, this game is easier than the last, but never so much that you notice. Though I did get frustrated a few times and I did try to keep marathoning the game to a minimum, Tropical Freeze is mostly forgiving. Extra levels and coins to buy them are plentiful, as are Checkpoints. My only point of contention are the Rocket Barrel levels, which still frustrate me to no end. Mine Cart levels were a lot easier in this one though, so it balances out.
I would like to take a moment and praise this game’s bosses. Not only are they all humorous in their own ways (the cutscenes in Tropical Freeze are great, as well as the other bits of humor throughout the game), but they are all really fun. Overall, I think they are a big improvement over the last game, if only for their superior design and personality. The last boss is a bit disappointing in comparison, but he’s still pretty cool.
Worth noting but not really big opinion-changers, the Gamepad does nothing special for Tropical Freeze. Also, I didn’t get to play the co-op mode, but it looks like more of the same: serviceable but not spectacular. Also, I couldn’t find any online features to this game, not even a Super Mario 3D World-style Miiverse integration.
Donkey Kong Country Returns: Tropical Freeze is not a bad game. If you liked Retro’s first run with the series, then this one likely won’t disappoint. I, however, was expecting more from a sequel (like more animal friends than the rhino!). While the graphical upgrade is nice, it is not enough to make this feel like a meaningful follow-up. At the same time, it is fun and worth playing – I would never hesitate recommending it to anyone. It’s easily a must-play for the system, especially if you weren’t as over-hyped as I was.