How do you shake up the core gameplay to help keep things interesting?
Kensuke Tanabe: We have not made significant changes to the core gameplay. We have kept the base of the game and added new elements like the rotating cameras, new partner characters, and special moves that can be used with partner characters which we call Kong Pow. We have been able to keep the gameplay experience fresh and interesting by creating level designs and gameplay mechanics based on these new ideas.

How do you balance the game so that it’s fun for multiplayer and single player? Will the game support more than two players?
Kensuke Tanabe: There is no collision detection between players, it’s as if players can enjoy the game in two-player multiplayer as if playing in single player mode. In effect, we feel that as long as we maintain a game balance for single player, the game can be just as fun for multiplayer.

Also, Donkey Kong and his partner character can be joined together or separated during multiplayer, which allows a more advanced player to carry the less experienced player and together clear the level with the help of the better player. We hope parents will enjoy the game with their children, but the children may be better players.

How has the game’s delayed release benefited its development?
Kensuke Tanabe: The game itself was almost complete, so we were able to take more time to polish areas not directly related to gameplay. There are also some interesting details, like the Snowmads in the background. Just watching them move around is fun.

Michael Kelbaugh: The extra time was really a blessing for us. It allowed us more time to refine and polish and to add that little bit of extra love Nintendo games are so famous for. It really made a difference. We made extra polish passes on particles and FX, animation and artwork. And, let’s not forget it gave David Wise and Kenji Yamamoto a little extra time to make adjustments to the amazing soundtrack!

How does the team at Retro work with Nintendo headquarters in Japan? How does that developmental process work?
Kensuke Tanabe: Game development, such as coding and data creation, is done entirely at Retro, and although we work from separate locations, we function as one team. NCL/SPD works with Retro on game concepts and specifications right from the earliest phase of the project. We maintain constant communication until the completion of the project, including reviewing the latest versions, making improvements and modifications, and discussing new ideas to incorporate into the game. Phone and video conferences are often held but we also visit the Retro team in Austin, TX a few times a year and stay up to 10 days each time for extensive meetings. We have been doing this for over 10 years now. Retro understands and practices Nintendo’s development style, so in that respect one can say that Retro is a Texas based Nintendo development group.

Michael Kelbaugh: I agree with Tanabe-san completely. Though Retro Studios and SPD reside at different locations, we are one team and we are extremely proud to be a Nintendo game developer. This is a great sense of pride for us. It’s really a unique experience working here. Many of our colleagues, including Tanabe-san, worked on the original franchises many grew up playing and share those experiences through mentorship and guidance daily.

Would you consider porting this title to the 3DS? Would that be a hard process?
Kensuke Tanabe: Minneapolis-based developer Monster Games ported the Wii version of Donkey Kong Country Returns to Nintendo 3DS with Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D. Even Retro praised Monster Games for successfully porting the game without compromising its quality. In fact, Monster Games was involved in some of the level design, art, and engineering of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze; they did a phenomenal job. However, if we were to port Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze to Nintendo 3DS, it would be extremely difficult to not lose quality, even for Monster Games, because of the huge differences in the 3DS and Wii U technical specifications – more so than Wii.

Michael Kelbaugh: Monster Games did a phenomenal job bringing Donkey Kong Country Returns to the 3DS. We’re very proud, and a bit jealous, of their efforts. So much that we asked them to help us with Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. It would be a monumental task taking this new game from the Wii U to the 3DS because of the technology used in the Wii U version. However, if it could be done, I’d like to play it.

You guys did a great job taking the Metroid formula and shaking it up while staying true to its core concept. Would you eventually like to do the same thing with Donkey Kong – take it into a different genre or change the formula that Rare established on the SNES?
Kensuke Tanabe: Indeed, Retro has turned 2D Metroid into a 3D game and created a fun, new style of First-Person game. Although we didn’t greatly change the basic style of the game with Donkey Kong Country Returns, I feel that we did not betray the fans’ expectations while bringing something new to the game. I also think that moving on to the Donkey Kong Country series from the Metroid Prime series came as a big surprise for Retro fans; but this is Retro and Nintendo’s testament to developing different genres of games rather than sticking to the same. That being said, we may consider not just the Donkey Kong Country series but a broader range of possibilities for Retro’s next project.

For more about Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze read our hands on impressions about the game from issue 249.