Review by horror_spooky
Donkey Kong is back and better than ever before
When Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was first announced, I was disappointed. I expected Retro's next game to be a return to the Metroid series that made them a studio to watch in the first place, and while I thought Donkey Kong Country Returns was a great game, I wasn't exactly jonesing for more DK platforming so soon. After having played Tropical Freeze extensively, I wish I could go back in time and slap my past self in the face for ever doubting Retro's ability to create a one of a kind platformer, and the game that makes it worth it to go out and buy a Wii U.
The main addition of Tropical Freeze is the inclusion of new playable characters. In the past, Donkey Kong only had Diddy Kong as a partner. In this game, Donkey has access to Dixie Kong, Cranky Kong, and can purchase items from Funky Kong at his mobile shop. Instead of just looking different from one another, utilizing the other Kong characters actually changes the way the game is played quite significantly, so players will want to find which Kong partner's abilities best cover their platforming weaknesses.
Co-op makes Tropical Freeze a lot more fun for the most part, though there are some levels that seem designed to counteract the co-op gameplay. Mine cart levels are an absolute blast, but they're really only for one person. Some of the boss fights, especially the later ones, practically punish you for playing with two people. Perhaps it would be wise to have a set of co-op specific levels instead?
To play the game, players have a multitude of choices at their disposal. The old remote setup works fine, as does the Wii U Pro Controller. The GamePad is my favorite method of controlling the game, as it really works like a dream. The "waggle" controls are completely eliminated with the GamePad, so most of the control issues from the first Retro made Donkey Kong platformer are gone, but it is still sometimes too easy to wind up rolling off a ledge when you meant to pound the ground.
New items have been added to the shop this time to make the game easier for those that are struggling. There are balloons that increase how much oxygen the Kongs have underwater, as well as a balloon that prevents Kongs from falling to their deaths. The 1-up balloons are still extremely valuable, and the golden banana coins used to purchase them can be obtained by grinding through the levels repeatedly...or by simply dying over and over again at one checkpoint in an attempt to actually beat the level, so even if one is constantly failing, it still feels like you're accomplishing something and getting ahead.
Another new feature added to the game is building up the banana meter and utilizing a special move that converts the enemies on-screen to helpful items. Overall, I found myself almost never utilizing this ability. If enemies were grouped together in large, reachable chunks more often, then I might've used it more, but as it stands now, the way the game is designed and the layout, this new mechanic seems kind of tacked on.
Otherwise, this is the same kind of intense, take no prisoners Donkey Kong platforming experience. The game relishes in its high difficulty, with even the early levels requiring a mastery of the mechanics with their extremely punishing game design. Completing any level in this game feels like an accomplishment, and I wish more games were like this.
Fan favorite gimmick levels return. There are more barrel rocket levels than before, and they are better designed here. Mine carts also make a comeback, though I wish there were more mine cart levels than what there are in the final product. Players are still striving to collect the K-O-N-G letters and find the puzzle pieces to unlock all the content...and speaking of that, there is plenty of content in the game, from secret levels to hidden collectibles, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze will give you your money's worth.
Boss fights in this game are some of the best boss fights in the history of platforming. Every boss feels significantly different from the previous one, and every boss requires new strategies to defeat. The boss fights defy genre conventions, and constantly throw surprises your way.
There are some situations in the game that do feel kind of cheap, for one reason or another. There are some points where the game deliberately screws you unless you have prior knowledge of the situation, and that is an example of poor design. Thankfully, these moments are very few and far between, so while they will annoy when encountered, they are not encountered enough to put a huge damper on the experience.
Tropical Freeze doesn't really take advantage of the unique features of the Wii U or the GamePad, which is a shame. It does allow players to play the entire game on the GamePad screen if they want, which is nice, though the ideal way to experience this game is on the television.
Tropical Freeze does take advantage of the beefed up hardware of the Wii U, at least. The visuals are gorgeous, with beautifully designed worlds, brilliant special effects, unique character designs, and an insane amount of detail into just about everything in the environment. The game is pure eye candy, and while it does seem to have slight lag every once in a while, the game mostly runs perfectly.
Music in the game is also superb, as is to be expected from both the series and Retro at this point. Just like how Donkey Kong Country Returns utilized the music of the Donkey Kong Country games in the past to create a nostalgic experience, Tropical Freeze does the same. There are new tunes, remixed old tunes, and plenty more to help those that played the original games pick up the GamePad and feel like it might as well be a Super Nintendo controller.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is by far one of the best platformers that I have ever played. The game does have its flaws, but yet it is still extremely entertaining from start to finish. It is the best argument to owning a Wii U to date, providing a challenging and memorable adventure for old and new Donkey Kong Country fans alike. I hope Retro does go on to do Metroid eventually, but after playing Tropical Freeze, I don't think I'll be disappointed this time if we get a third Donkey Kong game instead.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (US, 02/21/14)
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