The lights are on
Note: This review is based on my initial playthrough of the game upon completing the final boss. Should I feel the need to after 100% completion, I'll come back and update this review later.
It's no secret that the Donkey Kong Country series of games is one of the most beloved platforming franchises of all-time, leading back to the Super Nintendo days. Many assumed DK's adventures would conclude after Rare went to Microsoft, but this wasn't the case thanks to Retro Studios, the developers of the acclaimed Metroid Prime series. In 2010 Retro released the critically welcomed reboot known as Donkey Kong Country Returns, which featured some of the best, creative, and thoroughly difficult levels in platform gaming on the Wii.
With Nintendo's Wii U, many wondered what Retro Studios' first game for the system would be. Many speculated a new Metroid was upon us, so most of the internet seemed very surprised when Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was announced during last year's E3 Direct broadcast instead. After much skepticism and a three-month delay, Tropical Freeze has hit stores to critical acclaim. And after spending hours traversing through its six worlds, I can safely say that critical buzz is totally called-for.
The plot, like most of Nintendo's platformer outings, is very simple; after a crew of viking-themed enemies known as Snowmads make their way to DK Island and ruin Donkey Kong's birthday party, our hero and his crew--consisting of Diddy, Dixie and Cranky Kong--set out to make things right, across a diverse range of five other gorgeous islands. These different islands pose threats to our crew in the form of walruses, owls, and even a monstrous polar bear. Before going any further I should drive the point home that despite the kid-friendly looks and content, the levels are designed with the child-at-heart gamers that grew up with this classic franchise in mind.
While the game boasts a mostly 2D presentation, don't let that throw you off. Unlike previous Wii U 2D platformers (such as Mario's first outing on the console), these levels will leave you in awe of their lush environments. Everything from background trees to glorious skylines are all catchy and appealing to the eyes in high-definition. Retro Studios used their time wisely with this title, and it shows. Even the fur on our starring Kongs look so realistic you'll want to pet them.
Speaking of our stars, during the single-player campaign you'll obviously be spending most of your time playing as Donkey Kong himself, while the other Kongs can be found in the signature DK Barrels. In some instances, you'll be able to choose which one spawns from the barrel by simply ground-pounding near it. Each member of the Kong family offers something to help DK out. Diddy Kong boasts a jetpack that can be used to float over a short distance. Dixie Kong can use her hair to levitate higher briefly, which can help to get out-of-reach items or collectibles. For his gameplay debut, Cranky Kong can use his cane like a pogo stick to bounce off of enemies or get through thorny spots, à la DuckTales. When you've filled your Banana meter (which usually happens after getting 100 of them), DK and whomever he's with can use a Kong-POW attack, which turns all of the enemies into objects depending on who DK is with; Red balloons with Diddy, gold Hearts with Dixie, and Banana coins with Cranky.
Series staples such as finding the K-O-N-G letters makes a comeback in this installment, and finding all of them will give every level good replay value for completionists. In addition, players are tasked with finding puzzle pieces, which depending on the level there can be anywhere between five and nine of them to find. During my initial playthrough, I haven't found every puzzle piece on a single level yet, so I've got a long way to go still. During other levels, DK and his crew will find themselves using minecarts, rocket barrels and even Rambi to help finish levels. Funky Kong makes a return in this game as well, offering goodies and 1-ups if you've got enough Banana coins to cover it. Trust me, even the most proud of platforming experts will need to go to him at least once.
All of this greatness comes down to one thing; the control scheme. Or in this case, schemes. The one thing I usually praise a Wii U game is also something I need to take to task with. While there are an assortment of different control options--Wii remote, Wii remote with Nunchuck, Pro Controller, and GamePad--I would definitely avoid using the Wii remote options and stick with the other two. However, even with these control schemes you'll be given a choice between two different configurations; either use the D-Pad or the Left stick. Neither one is exactly easy to get used to, but at the same time I found myself going with the D-Pad configuration more only because I'm used to platforming with the D-Pad. Why the team at Retro couldn't keep the button for both options the same but allow players to switch how they move around anytime is beyond me. Other than that, the only time the GamePad's screen is fully utilized is for Off-TV Play.
For those in doubt about the game's length considering there are only six worlds in the main game, fear not. Every level has a lot to offer, see, and explore--they're literally bursting at their seams with content. Especially if you missed puzzle pieces or KONG letters, you'll find yourself re-exploring levels often. If you're skilled and crafty with your platforming, extra bonus levels will unlock in each world too. With that said, be prepared to get frustrated here and there.
Upon defeating the last boss and seeing the game's ending, the frustration and back-tracking is all the more worth it. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is an absolutely engrossing and engaging platformer for Nintendo's Wii U, and anyone with the console is only missing out by avoiding this.
No one has commented on this article.