If there’s one genre that’s in abundance on the Wii U, it’s side-scrolling platformers. Everyone from Mario to Rayman – and even Luigi – have starred in their own games on the console, which is why the announcement of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze during E3 2013 wasn’t as much of a hit during the event as Nintendo may have expected. Following suit with a lackluster Cranky Kong announcement during Spike’s VGX, the game became the butt-end of many jokes, but Retro Studios may very well have the last laugh as Donkey Kong’s latest outing is the best yet.
For those who missed out on Retro’s Donkey Kong Country Returns on Wii (or even the port that hit the Nintendo 3DS), the series picks up where Rare’s SNES trilogy left off — offering plenty of legitimate and challenging side-scrolling action. Donkey and the rest of his fellow Kongs are faced with a new challenge in the form of the Nomads, having taken not only their bananas, but their home. Understandably, this sets the easily agitated gorilla into a revenge-fueled frenzy that will only end upon the pummelling of these newfound foes and their removal from Kong Island.
While the story of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze isn’t anything to get excited about, the gameplay will keep even the most seasoned platforming pros on their toes. This is easily one of the most challenging games Nintendo has ever released, but the layout of each world, level, and obstacle is ingeniously crafted in just such a way that players will continue to keep playing even as frustration mounts. Tropical Freeze demands precision controls, making deaths entirely the fault of the individual playing.
Retro Studios isn’t so brash as to throw players into mind-numbingly frustrating levels right off the bat, instead easing users into the game and slowly cranking up the difficulty as they progress. The obstacles and levels that need to be traversed manage to change and innovate as Donkey Kong and friends progress through them, and what follows are some of the most intricately constructed and visually engaging stages to ever appear in a platformer. Mine carts, rocket barrels, underwater levels, barrel blasting, and standard platforming make up the levels, resulting in a refreshing style of play throughout each world.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze features six initial worlds to explore, with multiple hidden levels and routes to be unlocked and played through in each. What makes every stage so unique is the amount of care put into even the most trivial details. Backgrounds are filled with incoming enemy ships, jaw-dropping artwork, and occasionally just as much action as the plain that Donkey himself sprawls across.
Whether it be rolling snowballs across pools of lava to generate platforms, extinguishing flaming vines, or puncturing hot air balloons to reach higher points, there’s no shortage of inspired obstacles for fans to conquer. The levels are so diverse, in fact, that the occasional situation may stump players in the ever-changing later levels. Although many levels within a single world share a common theme, there’s something different and memorable (and occasionally genuinely breathtaking) about each and every one.
Another memorable aspect that carries over from stage to stage is the music which surrounds them. Longtime franchise favorite tunes make their return, albeit remixed in spectacular fashion, while new songs are so catchy that they could very well get stuck in players’ heads. Some of the levels even sync up with their corresponding songs, requiring users to time their jumps to the melody. There’s always been something special about the music in this series, but Tropical Freeze takes it to an entirely new level for dedicated fans and newcomers alike.
One of the biggest additions to the franchise formula comes in the form of additional Kongs that join the already included Diddy. Dixie makes her return to the series after being absent in Returns, while Cranky makes his first ever playable appearance in the franchise. Each character has special abilities that will help players conquer particular scenarios, but largely they’re interchangeable for the completion of each level. More often than not, particular allies of the tie-wearing gorilla will come in handy for obtaining many of the hidden collectibles that are scattered across each level.
While Diddy, Dixie, and Cranky are limited to power-ups in single player, the co-op offered in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze turns them into their own playable characters. Cranky’s cane bounce, Dixie’s hair spin uplift, and Diddy’s hover all serve a purpose when engaged in multiplayer, but it’s not possible for players to select who they want. The first controller is restricted to Donkey Kong, while second player can pick between any of the three.
Once in a game, player two is unable to change the character unless they exit the entire play session, which puts a minor damper on the entire experience. Playing multiplayer is an absolute blast once users are tearing through it — albeit a much more challenging endeavor that quickly drains red balloons (Donkey Kong’s lives).
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze could have been a straight port of the Wii original, but Retro Studios took the winning formula and expertly built upon it. The sheer challenge, puzzle pieces, K-O-N-G letters, and hidden exits all combine to create an addictive and highly replayable side-scroller that is absolutely worth attention. Wii U owners take note, that this isn’t a game you’ll want to miss.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze launches on February 21, 2014, exclusively on Nintendo’s Wii U.
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