Review of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

Super excitement in a tropical freeze

Despite the fact that all four and a half years of Wii U’s existence were accompanied by pain and humiliations, Nintendo managed to extract some benefit from the widely recognized failure. First and foremost, of course, in the form of invaluable lessons in business and design, which allowed the company to release where a more successful console, to establish relationships with third-party publishers and design a gamepad that does not resemble a hybrid of a television and a tabletop.

But the Wii U is also home to dozens of truly great games that were unfortunately not successful on the target platform. These are games that almost no one has seen, and their ports can be released on the new “Switch” without any guilt. There’s no need to put in much effort, and the audience has no right to complain as if they were entitled. After all, you didn’t buy our previous console anyway, so what difference does it make to you?

So, among others, a wonderful group of people came to the ball from a sinking ship. Bayonetta 2, Pokkén Tournament, Mario Kart 8 and now, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze – surprisingly solid platformer of conditional freshness for everyone who, for quite understandable reasons, missed it in 2014.

Balloons and festivities

From the jungle to the jungles

The bench of Nintendo mascots is restless these days: northern invaders have docked to Donkey Kong’s native islands! And not just any day, but right on the birthday of our cheerful gorilla. Literally blowing the whole monkey family away from the festive table, the barbarians turn tropical shores into frozen lands because they are evil, and the hero, waking up a hundred screens away from home, embarks on a long adventure to give them a payback, because deep down in his soul, he is also very angry. No wonder – they didn’t even let him taste the cake!

Describing the actual essence of this adventure, it is impossible not to bring up my recent experience of getting acquainted with Kirby Star Allies, because Tropical Freeze is its complete opposite. Against the backdrop of an ambitious and all that modern Kirby, Comrade Kong looks like a guest from a distant past, limited by a classic genre set. He doesn’t even have any special gameplay gimmick – just the familiar “run, jump, grab, and hit” with contextual variations.

In everything, from level design to details like the inertia in controlling Kong’s massive body, you can feel the love and understanding of what makes the game captivating.

Well, actually, there is a catch, but of rather questionable purpose. The point is that on the levels, barrels with other monkeys regularly appear, which give a health bonus along with a unique character ability. Diddy allows you to stay in the air a little longer thanks to the jetpack, Dixie throws you a bit higher, and Grandpa Cranky indulges in nostalgia and shamelessly copies the key mechanic from DuckTales. The one with the springing cane.

Riding a powerful rhino

Interesting addition, but in reality it is of little use. All three abilities are not only practically identical, but also essentially auxiliary means that simplify the passage where it is quite possible to cope without them. The game itself never even attempts to incorporate new mechanics into the action and does not generate any situations around them, so you quickly start treating Kong’s relatives as a banal living shield, completely forgetting that they come with some enhanced jumps.

On the other hand, it is thanks to this spartan foundation that Tropical Freeze manages to do what Star Allies failed to do – remain interesting for longer than the first 20 minutes.

Monkey’s work

Retro Studios justifies its name with interest. While they may struggle with innovation, they make up for it by meticulously executing the old-school program, making it impossible to find fault with the quality of their work. From level design to small details like the inertia in controlling Kong’s massive body, you can feel the love and understanding of what makes a game captivating. The platforming itself is presented and felt not just as a crutch for another gameplay gimmick, but as a standalone and thrilling challenge that brings immense pleasure.

And, as it turns out, it can also cause a small genocide of your nerve cells. After Kirby, it’s even unusual to see how complex platformers can be.

A showdown with a fierce adversary

Shopping for essentials

In the local store, you can even buy unique loot boxes – with figures of favorite heroes.

Although Tropical Freeze starts off not much better, generously filling the player’s pockets and leading them by the hand through neatly arranged platforms, by the third or fourth level, the difficulty curve shoots straight up. Make a small mistake on a simple stage, and suddenly you’re thrown into some inhuman reaction test, where every jump needs to be timed to the fraction of a second, and any mistake is punished by being sent back to that checkpoint. Carelessness is not forgiven here, and it will take dozens of accumulated lives to adapt to it.

I won’t lie: I died and replayed entire levels very often. This game is truly not easy, and in some cases, the fairness of its challenge can be questioned, but any difficulties here are worth overcoming. Finally, when you roll that cursed minecart to the end, you feel like a master of arcade games, and the long-awaited victory over a boss after thirty-four attempts and half an hour of learning patterns is accompanied by a level of euphoria, forgive the comparison, akin to Dark Souls.

And if you just want to play at your own pace, without gritting your teeth at every first screen, the Switch version added a special Funky Mode, where instead of the weak Donkey, the macho primate Funky Kong races through the jungle. He can withstand more damage, is trained in double jumps, and is just an all-around good guy, of which there are few. The joy of completing the game in this mode, however, is significantly diminished, but it never hurts to relax, and it’s no longer fashionable to criticize growing casual gamers.

Meeting a familiar face
Enjoying a captivating scene

This is indeed not an easy game, but any difficulties here are worth overcoming.

What the newly established port really needs is detailed control settings. At the same time, 70% of the controller space is clearly empty, which only gives more reason to complain about the inability to create a custom scheme for oneself.

* * *

Perhaps, from the perspective of relentless progress, all this shaking of the air is in vain, and yet old as the world ideas still work if properly implemented. Despite the fact that Donkey Kong’s adventures rely too much on worn-out methods and techniques, there are various reasons to return to them, whether it’s pointless collectibles missed on the first run or your inner masochist who enjoyed the unexpected difficulty of the local levels. Such things cannot be bought with any innovations.

Tropical Freeze, let’s be honest, does not crown our list of “drowning” exclusives that urgently need to be saved (we are still waiting for news about The Wonderful 101), but the game definitely deserves a second chance on the Switch. In some places, it could have deviated a little further from its old-fashioned beliefs, but that doesn’t stop it from being a high-quality, technical, and incredibly engaging platformer, which for some reason the modern Nintendo library does not spoil us with.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Switch, Wii U
Adventure, Co-op
Retro Studios
Release Date:
Editor's rating:
Is it worth playing? (If the score is more than 70%)



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