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Power Member - Level 10
A few months ago, I launched a new series of blog posts I've neglected for far too long - dubbed "Arguing With Myself" these posts examined a game or series I have torn feelings about and have me literally debating myself over the quality of the game or series in question. Both of my "counterparts" will banter back and forth for a while and try to seek common ground, taking humorous jabs at one another and wondering why they share so much in common in the meantime.
Today, I've decided to revive the series in style by taking a look at one of the Wii U's few major releases this calendar year, and a title that's been very divisive among gamers the world over - Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.
Jake: It's great to see you again Jake! It's been far too long since we sat across from each other to discuss games.
Jake: Tell me about it. I've been so busy lately. You know how it is: work, familial obligations, schooling, dammit...I just want to sit down and play some games. Is that too much to ask?
Jake: You don't need to tell me man. Anyway, I've called you out today to discuss a game that I know you're very cynical towards, but that I personally loved D-
Jake: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. I knew it.
Jake: You can read me like a book. Anyways, care to share your history with the franchise for the readers?
Jake: Of course. I've been with the Donkey Kong series from the beginning. I played quite a bit of the original trilogy on the SNES. I didn't really LOVE the games like some people did, but the impressive graphics, tight platforming, unique setting, and plethora of secrets held my attention for quite some time. I've got fond memories of the series and would rank at least one of the games in the trilogy in my Top Ten SNES titles list. Fast forward to 2010 and I got to experience the gem that is Donkey Kong Country Returns. I cannot sing enough praise for this game. It was a gorgeous revival of a series that was dormant for far too long, and you could tell it was lovingly crafted. The controls were even tighter than before, the environments were varied and a treat to take in, and it was chock full of memorable and exciting levels. I was very much looking forward to Tropical Freeze earlier this year, but the final product left me very disappointed. Like the New Super Mario games before it, it simply felt like more of the same. It had the same graphical style of Returns, just in HD. The controls were virtually identical, and Donkey Kong's basic moveset hardly changed. It had 6 worlds as opposed to 8, which felt kind of cheap for a game I was spending $50 on. Furthermore, the underwater levels were a frustrating affair, and were lazily all tossed into one world, and the fact you had to play the same levels multiple times with different members of the DK family to collect all of the puzzle pieces within them (if you wanted to 100% complete the game) was rather annoying, and felt like an artificial way to lengthen your play time. Also, David Wise isn't as great as he's made out to be.
David Wise is not amused.
Jake: Whoa! Shots fired on that last one. People will crucify you for suggesting that on the Internet. Anyways, you bring forth very valid complaints, so I think it's best we tackled them one at at time. First off, I cannot deny that visually and functionally, Tropical Freeze is very similar to Returns. However, is this necessarily a bad thing? As we discussed in our New Super Mario Bros. debate, sometimes taking the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude isn't a bad thing. There was nothing functionally wrong with Returns, and the game looked great on the Wii. So what's wrong with Tropical Freeze merely being an improved version of Returns in that regard?
Jake: I can't deny that Tropical Freeze has well designed levels, but the Wii U needs exciting new experiences that "wow" gamers, and an HD version of Returns with similar levels and identical controls isn't particularly impressive. Nintendo's been reluctant to mix up the established formula in many of their age old franchises, and that trend is reflected in Tropical Freeze as well.
Jake: Alright, let's stay focused here. Regarding the game's length - it's true the game had six worlds as opposed to eight, and thus had less content than Returns. But let's not beat around the bush here: Returns had a lot of "filler" levels. For every three levels that put a smile on my face, there was another that made me groan as it did nothing remarkable. On the flip side, almost every level in Tropical Freeze takes on a unique idea that distinguishes it from every other in the game because Tropical Freeze focused more on providing players with a condensed and enjoyable, albeit brief experience. Returns tried too hard to meet the "8 worlds in a platformer" criteria.
Jake: Your argument would be sound...if it were true. Tropical Freeze had just as many "filler" levels as Returns, if not more. As I stated before, the underwater levels were tedious and paled in comparison to the rest of the game. There was a reason Retro Studios didn't put them in Returns - it's very hard to make underwater levels compelling and enjoyable. I feel as though they were put in Tropical Freeze so they could be used as a selling point to distinguish the game from its predecessor - and they were. The controls were admittingly pretty smooth, but the underwater physics were as annoying as you'd expect them to be in a platformer. The worst part about these levels in my opinion is that they were all unceremoniously dumped into the 4th world of the game. Had they been generously sprinkled throughout all six worlds, I would have tolerated them. But having to dive underwater and put up with the slow pacing and annoying physics level after level after level midway through the game killed the momentum and pacing of the whole product. I actually found myself having to take a break from the game before finishing it - they were that frustrating.
Are the underwater levels in Tropical Freeze frustrating filler, or compelling and unique?
Jake: I think you're overreacting just a bit. I concede condensing every underwater level in the whole game in one world was rather lazy, but these levels also provided a welcome reprieve from the rest of the title. Platformers are all about your character's constant struggle with gravity. Enemies are a come and go threat, but gravity is your main concern as it draws you towards pits and instant death. Think about it - if you could fly in a 2D platformer, there would be no challenge to it. In this sense underwater levels change the very way we perceive platformers as there's naturally no gravity underwater. The newfound fluid physics are your new foe. And while some of the underwater levels DID irk me quite a bit (like that damn Irrate Eight level), many of them were delightfully atmospheric and serene. And this was largely in part due to David Wise's masterful soundtrack. He's truly a god of mus-
Jake: Gonna stop you right there. David Wise is overrated.
Jake: Cue Internet Meltdown in 3...2...
Jake: Let me explain. I cannot deny David Wise is a talented man who has a flair for music. But truly great video game music stays with you after the credits roll. Truly great music brings back vivid nostalgic or modern memories of playing a beloved game. And David Wise's music lacks that for me. It's catchy while you're playing the game, and I can't complain about the quality of the tunes he's composed.. But after I shelve the game, none of that music sticks with me in the same vein as the notorious Super Mario Bros. Main Theme, or Lone Survivor's masterful Survival theme.
Jake: I strongly disagree in that regard, but I will respect your opinion. And debating over whether or not a game's soundtrack is good is pretty petty. Let's tackle your last point. The last annoyance you found in the game was the fact that you had to replay several levels of the games multiple times with the three partners you can chose from - Diddy, Dixie, and Cranky. Right?
Jake: Okay, well I don't find this to be a bad thing. First off all, complaining about having a choice of which animal buddy to choose from when tackling a level is ridiculous. Each member of the Kong family is better suited to certain types of terrain and specific obstacles, so knowing which one to choose is part of the challenge - and the fun. Plus, more often then not, picking Dixie will yield the best results. Furthermore, having to replay a level several times with different Kong partners to obtain all of its collectibles is irksome I'll admit. But if you're not a completionist (and most gamers are not), this isn't a problem for you. And most completionists likely wouldn't take issue with clearing a few levels several times in order to 100% them. One of the advantages of being a completionist is you'll get more mileage out of each of your game purchases as you won't stop playing until you've done everything there is to be done in it. If anything, forcing the player to backtrack and clear old levels with new animal partners was a wise decision, as it'll boost the game's replay value for completionists.
Jake: I understand you're reasoning for saying that, but I still find the backtracking pointless. If I know what I'm doing in a level, I should be able to 100% in one playthrough of it. Forcing me to play the same level multiple times with a different partner is a silly and superfluous way of expanding the amount of hours you get out of a game. It's a cheap way to turn a game that would normally take 15 hours to 100% into 20 hours. And this isn't a petty complaint. Let's take a look at Bravely Default. It was a critically acclaimed title, and I know it's one of your favorites as well. Yet everyone agrees the biggest fault with the game was its drawn out ending sequence that forced you to replay the same dungeons and fight the same bosses an absurd amount of times to reach the final boss. Everyone agreed this was a lame way to artificially lengthen the game, and felt like "padding." The same concept applies to Tropical Freeze. A quick and enjoyable trip to 100% clearing a game is better than a long and unnecessarily drawn out one in my book.
Does Tropical Freeze suffer from one of the same flaws Bravely Default has?
Jake: Food for thought for sure. Anyways, I think now's as good a time as any to call it a day. We can never get each other to see eye to eye on certain issues, and we've brought forth some interesting things to think about.
Jake: Agreed. It's been a pleasure as always. Feel free to give me a buzz when you're up for another one of these. Just know that you'll lose in the end like you always do.
I hope you enjoyed reading my rant with myself as much as I did composing it. As usual, this was all done ad-lib as stream of consciousness writing. That is, I did not plan any of this beforehand. This interview was spontaneous, and aside from the proofing I did before publishing it (you wouldn't BELIEVE what kind of typos I make), the interview has been unaltered from its original form. You may think it's unhealthy to write such a schizophrenic piece, but I find it important to stop and think about the exact reasons you like or dislike a certain game, and whether or not those reasons are justified.
What are YOUR thoughts of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze? Do you agree with the arguments put forth by one of my "counterparts" more than the other? Sound off in the comments below, and happy gaming!