After the success of Donkey Kong Country Returns on the Wii and Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo have once again asked Retro Studios to make an all new entry in the jungle based platform adventure series. Deciding to take full advantage of their latest home console, Retro have released Tropical Freeze, which adds all-new elements to the usual sunshine filled paradises, snow and ice.
During the celebration of Donkey Kong’s birthday, an evil tribe of Viking-like creatures known as the Snomads take over Donkey Kong Island by freezing it with powerful magic and throw DK and his family into the sky in the process. When they land, the Kongs are furious at the invasion that has taken place, so they decide to challenge the Snomads, reverse their freezing magic and retrieve their vast collection of bananas, as well as their home.
The general formula for the Donkey Kong Country series didn’t need to be radically redesigned, and Retro Studios have taken this into account with great respect for the original concepts, and added a few tricks of their own. Each level is filled with collectables that can be obtained, such as bananas, puzzle pieces that unlock hidden artwork, and the KONG letters that reveal hidden levels. The well known mine cart levels and animal riding levels have also returned, offering the same nail biting precision gameplay they have in the past.
As well as collectables and runaway vehicles, there are also many ways to interact with the environment using the various techniques DK has at his disposal. In one section, it is possible to flip a trapdoor that leads to a secret passage, or ring a selection of bells that reveal a group of bananas or unlock the path ahead. Returning from previous entries in the series is the ability to purchase new items to help you along your way. The role of shopkeeper is taken by Funky Kong, who can be found at a set location on each of the six islands you visit along your journey.
One of the new features to be included in the game is the option to have another member of the Kong family with you on your travels. You may choose from Diddy Kong, Dixie Kong or for the first time in the series, Cranky Kong. Each character has their own unique abilities, and each of the the companions can be controlled by another player. Diddy can use a barrel shaped jetpack to hover, Dixie uses her hair to provide a vertical boost mid-jump, and Cranky uses his cane as a pogo stick. These extra moves do make going through each of the levels an easier task, almost akin to the Super Guide option found in many of Nintendo’s recent titles.
You can choose not to use them if you wish, which gives experienced players the chance to go it alone, and make the levels slightly harder to complete. All three characters give you twice the amount of health you would normally have, a feature that proves very useful in the harder levels of the game. All three companions are well implemented, but I tended to use Dixie over the other two, because the other two felt redundant after discovering her ability. If you don’t want to use the Wii U Gamepad, you may use the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, or a Wii U Pro Controller. Both of these methods are just as efficient as the default option, and they do not offer any benefits or additional features if you decide to choose an alternative.
The soundtrack of Tropical Freeze uses the same type of fast paced jungle beats combined with noises from the animal kingdom. It does not offer anything radically different from previous games in the series, but the occasional remix of an old tune is always welcome, along with the new tracks that have been composed. There are a few occasions where the level does not match the theme of the music, but these are largely in the minority.
Following in the footsteps of many Wii U platformers before it, Tropical Freeze allows you to play the game entirely on either the TV, or the Gamepad controller. Whether you decide to play on the controller or the TV screen, the graphics are optimised for either scenario. If you opt for the traditional TV set up, there is a wider colour range present, and the detail in both the environments and the characters is wonderfully vivid.
Playing on the Gamepad does not offer the same level of resolution, but it does add a vibrant sheen to the lower quality textures and an extra dose of anti-aliasing. This effect makes choosing the Gamepad a valid option to consider, and not just a possible feature implemented for the sake of inclusion. The only slight drawback to this feature is the fact that when one screen is being used, the other screen remains completely blank.
Whether it was a technical issue that forced them to not use the second screen, or if they decided that it wasn’t necessary to waste graphical resources on a blank status screen, the reason for this omission is currently unknown. While it does not impair the game, it would have been nice to see how many collectables I had without needing to pause the game. The only other concern was that some of the boss stages at the end of each world felt simple to complete. Compared to the levels I had come through, the battle to defeat the world’s enemy did not feel as much of a challenge.
Overall, Tropical Freeze is a great addition to the Donkey Kong Country franchise, keeping the same level of visual quality and progressively difficult level design that has become a common feature in the series. While there are some issues with the difficulty of the boss characters, a few misplaced soundtrack elements, and the lack of features for the second screen, they are not enough to take away from one of the best platformers to be released for the Wii U.