Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, being a sequel to the wildly successful Donkey Kong Country Returns, had a lot to live up to. After the first game was filled with beautiful environments and even better platforming gameplay, this game had some pretty high expectations. But will this game blow those expectations out of the water and appeel to all Wii U owners? Or is this game just another sour banana in the bunch?
After the beloved prequel on the Wii was a huge success at reviving an old series, this game was able to stray far from the cookie-cutter style the Returns used and was able to create something beautiful. This time around, the Kongs, now including Dixie and Cranky, have joined Diddy and Donkey Kong to celebrate the loveable fur ball’s birthday, when all of the sudden the game’s villains, the Snowmads, wreak havoc on DK Island, not only blowing the gorillas out of their home and into the skies, but also took their island and covered it with a forever lasting frost.
Now, this setup does a fantastic job of allowing the players to explore vastly different islands and areas, unlike the prequel which had you exploring only DK Island, and now you’ll be exploring areas such as vast grasslands and swimming in dark deep oceans. These areas are as challenging as they are beautiful, and look great on either the Gamepad or TV. The worlds are filled with challenging levels that will test your skills as a gamer, making you want to snap the gamepad into pieces at times. But your hard work will pay off in the end, as every level you go through gives you a sense of wonderment you can’t typically find through other 2D-platformers. There’ll be levels when our little furry friends will be flying atop rockets as they dodge gigantic sharks, or with them swimming majestically throughout the depths of the ocean with only the fish to lead their way. All of these levels work in the games favor, as you’ll almost never see the same gimmick used twice or in the same way. Every level goes a long way to giving you something new to experience, always giving you something to look forward to. It also doesn’t hurt that this is the first ever HD Donkey Kong experience, I might add.
Once you finish one of the levels littered around the 6 main worlds of this game, the experience may seem over, but in actuality, you’re far from it. Every level has 5 goals to be completed, only one of which is actually required to complete the game. You can (obviously) reach the end of the level, collect all the K-O-N-G- letters which let you unlock extra levels, nab all the puzzle pieces to get yourself a piece of concept art, pass the tough time trails, and play the game on “hard mode”, which has you tackling levels as one of the Kongs by themselves with only one heart. These may seem daunting at first, but I assure you, these extra challenges are loads of fun and are only some of the many reasons why you’ll keep playing these games.
But don’t worry, it’s okay if you die constantly. Good news is, Funky Kong has a shop where you could buy all the things you need. You can buy lives, power-ups, and even cute collectable figurines to keep you safe throughout your adventure, but for a fee, of course. During your vine-swinging adventures through the tropics, you might find a banana coin or two lying around. These act as currency in the game, allowing you to buy whatever you need to survive. You’ll be visiting these shops often, so be sure to stock up on those. Most of the times you won’t even know you’re collecting them, so they add up pretty fast.
Now, we have everything here to make a successful platformer, great gameplay, stunning graphics, and mechanics that work well to keep you smiling and coming back for more. That’s all great, but what about the Kongs themselves? Thankfully, there’s no need to worry about that. The Kongs are just as likeable as they were in their classic games. This is even heightened with the updated graphics, allowing the gang to be more expressive than ever. But it’s not just the looks that give the characters depth, it’s also the different feel each one gives off and how diverse each character feels.
So, with that said, you probably know already that along with Donkey and Diddy, Dixie from DKC2 and Cranky (for the first time ever!) are all playable in this iteration. All the physics for them are the same, but that’s pretty much where the similarities stop. Every Kong (aside from Donkey) has their own special ability, with Diddy still having his jetpack to glide across gaps and spikes for a short burst. But newcomer Dixie uses her hair to give herself another boost after jumping, similar to a double jump, and Cranky, being the old hoot he is, uses his cane to hop along dangerous terrain. Every character feels different and every one of their specialties will help you along your journey.
Ironically enough, along with the return of old characters like Cranky and Dixie, the old composer for the classic SNES games, David Wise, also makes a return appearance! His musical compositions are among some of the best things about this game, providing you fantastic music to really set the mood of the game. One of the best examples is in level 2-1, Grassland Groove, where he creates he a sublime mixture of African Culture along with cheerful and upbeat sounds that come together to make possibly the best song in the whole game. Whether it’s uplifting music with Grassland Groove or atmospheric music such as Aquatic Ambiance, he did an awesome job of making the soundtrack come alive.
All this above-land talk is making me happy, but what about down below? I say that because this game reintroduces underwater levels, a feature sadly absent from Returns, in all new ways. Thankfully, these levels look just as fantastic as they control, and effectively make these huge characters feel oddly…majestic. Again, like on land, every character still has their special advantage as well. Diddy speeds you up, Dixie uses her hair to give you short boosts, and Cranky waves his crane around knocking any foes aside. Thankfully, I can safely say these levels are just as excellent as the aboveground levels.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a breath of fresh air to the series, offering intense challenges that will test all your platforming skills but will gift you with a rewarding experience fueled by beautiful locales and charming characters. This game won’t be the game to make everybody go out and buy a Wii U, but it’ll keep you smiling and in awe from the start all the way until the credits roll. With the new swimming levels, improved engine, different experiences in every level with pets and items, Retro Studios have created something nothing short of amazing that you wish you had just a little bit more of.
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