The lights are on
Viking armies of arctic creatures, known as Snowmads, have sailed onto DK Island’s tropical shores. Like the Old Norse seafarers, they sweep across the land, conquering its inhabitants and corrupting the soil. With a single blow from a magical horn, the leader of the Snowmads summons a monstrous ice dragon that coats the tropical forest with a blanket of snow. Caught off guard, Donkey Kong is ejected from his home and banished to a neighboring island. If he ever wants to see his birthplace again, the big ape must navigate the hazards of a small island chain.
Note: This story originally appeared in issue 249 of Game Informer.
Frozen in TimeDonkey Kong’s lineage is nearly as old as the industry itself. Originally conceived in the early ‘80s as a King Kong-like scoundrel who abducted women and pinned them to the top of construction girders, Donkey Kong was Nintendo’s biggest cash cow and one of gaming’s most iconic characters. But as Mario’s star rose, Donkey Kong took a back seat and fell out of the limelight.
In the early ‘90s, Nintendo approached a relatively obscure UK developer and asked them if they could make a game that looked better than any platformer on the market. The developer was Rare. Nintendo handed them the Donkey Kong brand and tasked the studio with making something fresh. The result was Donkey Kong Country, and even though it was released during a heyday of 2D platformers, the game stood out as a refreshing take on the genre. It was one of the best looking titles on the SNES, turning heads even though it released only weeks before Sony’s new PlayStation console hit Japan.
Donkey Kong Country was so successful that it spawned a series of new games and helped established Rare as one of the premier developers of the 1990s. Donkey Kong finally had his own identity again out from the shadow of Mario. He rode wild animals through mine-filled jungles and blasted out of the mouths of wooden barrels to soar over canyons.
When Retro Studios revived the series with the 2010 Wii title Donkey Kong Country Returns, the new developer held true to the design principles Rare established nearly two decades ago. With the company’s follow-up title, Tropical Freeze, Retro doesn’t shake up the formula, either. Instead, Donkey Kong’s handlers are doubling down on polish, crafting a platforming experience that will challenge fans and hopefully give Wii U owners something to brag about.
The original ape, Cranky Kong, joins the fray once again
Frosty FunWith a name like Tropical Freeze you might expect Donkey Kong’s new game to be full of ice-capped trees and crystalized lakes, but the worlds in DK’s new adventure are more diverse than ever (see sidebar on page 66). During our three hours of hands-on time, we bounded across the tops of hot air balloons while dodging giant owls, bounced off giant squares of Jell-O to climb over bamboo fences, and swam through electrified coral reefs teeming with colorful fish.
Donkey Kong uses vines to swing over bottomless death traps, rides rollercoaster-like mine carts through dim caves, and blasts out of barrels while trees topple to the ground all around him. In all the right ways, Tropical Freeze feels like a classic Donkey Kong Country title.
However, Donkey Kong isn’t stomping on the same old enemies he’s been wrestling with for decades. In the Rare-designed Donkey Kong Country classics, Donkey Kong battled an army of crocodiles called Kremlings. In Returns, the DK crew battled a group of tribal-looking creatures called Tikis. For Tropical Freeze, Nintendo’s brutish gorilla now has an army of Nordic animals to face off against. The Snowmads are a legion of penguins, owls, rabbits, sea lions, and walruses obsessed with turning Donkey Kong’s home into a winter wonderland.
Each enemy type slowly evolves as Donkey Kong gets closer to his home. For example, Tucks (the penguin-like enemy) are a fairly standard foe that Donkey Kong encounters throughout his journey. At the beginning of the game, Donkey Kong can easily knock them out of the way by jumping on their heads or rolling into them. However, as the game progresses, Donkey Kong comes across Tucks equipped with spears and helmets that can only be attacked from behind. Later on, tucks begin equipping themselves with double- sided spears and spiked helmets, which hurt the Kongs when they jump into them. These enemy types must be stunned before they can be attacked. The Snowmads seem like an unrelenting army, so it’s fortunate that Donkey Kong has some reinforcements of his own.
The Kong FamilyRare’s first Donkey Kong game introduced fans to Diddy Kong, Donkey Kong’s nephew and frequent sidekick. Rare originally wanted this new character to be Donkey Kong’s son and called him Donkey Kong Jr. However, Nintendo wasn’t comfortable with the changes made to the character design since his arcade appearance in the ‘80s, so Rare changed the name of the character, considering titles like Dinky Kong and Diet DK before settling on Diddy Kong.
Since Rare wanted to keep Donkey Kong Country’s screen as clean as
possible, Diddy was originally envisioned as a way to visually represent
the extra hit a player could take before dying. But as the series
evolved, Diddy took on a larger supporting role, developing his own
suite of abilities that set him apart from his uncle.
In Donkey Kong Country Returns, Retro expanded on this idea by giving
Diddy Kong twin peanut popguns, which let him stun enemies. Retro also
strapped a barrel jet to his back, which lets him hover in the air for a
short period of time. In single-player, Diddy Kong hopped on Donkey
Kong’s back and granted the gorilla the use of his tools, but in
multiplayer both characters had to help each other navigate the
platforming challenges (though the second player could choose to ride on
Donkey Kong’s back during harder sequences). All of these tricks return
for Tropical Freeze, but Donkey and Diddy are now joined by two new
playable characters: Dixie Kong and one other character that Nintendo
isn’t ready to talk about.
Playing solo, you always retain control of Donkey Kong, while these
side characters serve to augment Donkey Kong’s abilities. Diddy and
Dixie are largely the same, but they possess subtle differences that
might make you choose one character over the other. For example, Dixie’s
helicopter spin jump lifts her higher into the air, while Diddy’s jet
pack keeps him at a constant hover to help him cover a great distance.
Both are useful, but you might find that one or the other is more suited
for a particular platforming challenge. Donkey Kong can switch between
companions by breaking buddy barrels scattered throughout the levels.
The icons on these barrels slowly rotate through his sidekick’s
initials, letting DK know which companion will soon be hopping on his
Nintendo discusses what Retro is adding to the Donkey Kong Country formula
Donkey Kong’s companions unlock another new feature, which Retro is
calling Kong Pow. As the Kongs platform through the world and collects
bananas, they slowly fill up a Pow meter; once full, this meter can be
used to perform a team attack that instantly kills every enemy onscreen.
If Donkey Kong performs a Kong Pow with Dixie, all of these enemies are
replaced with hearts, offering a quick heath refill. If Donkey Kong
performs a Kong Pow with Diddy, then all of the enemies on screen are
turned into balloons, offering a quick restock of extra lives.
Island Hopping With DKDonkey Kong: Tropical Freeze takes place across a chain of six diverse islands. Each world features around six to seven levels, as well as a boss stage and a bonus level that unlocks once you collect the KONG letters in each level. Here is each isle at a glance.
World 1: Lost MangrovesLost Mangroves is a lush tropical
rainforest full of vine grabbing and zip-lining. Here Donkey Kong
assembles his crew and learns the basics of Tropical Freeze’s
platforming, but that doesn’t mean it is a cakewalk.
World 2: Autumn HeightsAutumn Heights is a Bavarian-like mountain
isle full of mine carts, hot-air balloons, and giant owls. Donkey Kong
will have to watch his step or end up plummeting down the sheer edges of
these jagged cliff faces.
World 3: Bright SavannahFull of tall grass and a spectrum of
oranges and browns, a trip through Bright Savannah is like going on an
African safari. Several of the levels have Donkey Kong dodging
uncontained brush fire as well as spear-toting penguins.
World 4: Sea Breeze CoveSea Breeze Cove is a fish’s tropical
paradise. Full of blue harbors and sandy inlets, this world features a
lot of swimming levels. Donkey Kong must dodge electric seaweed and
manage his air supply to avoid sleeping with the fishes that call this
World 5: Juicy JungleJuicy Jungle is another tropical forest, but
the trees in this jungle produce a rare fruit that is perfect for
juice. As a result, this island is home to an elaborate processing
plant, and Donkey Kong can bounce off the jellies this plant produces to
reach new heights.
World 6: DK IslandDK Island is where Donkey Kong lays his hat,
but his tree house has been frosted over by an army of Snowmads. Here,
Donkey Kong Country Returns players will see several homages to levels
from DK’s last adventure.
The Polar PlungeFive minutes with Tropical Freeze is
enough to remind players that Donkey Kong isn’t a forgiving platformer.
If Mario is Nintendo’s most well-rounded and accessible platforming
series, then Donkey Kong is the series that more experienced players can
graduate to when looking for a rewarding challenge. Donkey Kong is just
as polished as Nintendo’s other series, but its finely tuned jumps and
collapsing death traps require a little bit of trial and error to
master. Thankfully, that’s exactly the challenge that Donkey Kong fans
A rewarding challenge isn’t the only thing that Donkey Kong fans have
to look forward to when Tropical Freeze releases this February. Whether
we were jumping from one track to another during an Indiana Jones-like
mine cart race, trying to collect rows of floating bananas as we blasted
out of exploding barrels, or stomping on the silhouettes of sea lions
while a raging inferno turned a forest to ash behind us, every level in
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze felt completely fresh. We’re eager
to help Donkey Kong liberate his homeland this February.
Email the author Ben Reeves, or follow on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Game Informer.
Platformers will always be my favorite genre. There's something about jumping and bouncing off enemies that never gets boring to me, especially when you have a nice challenge to it. If you go back and play Donkey Kong Country Returns, you'll find that literally every level did something different in some way. I'm looking forward to what they bring to the table this time.
Haven't played a Donkey Kong game sine Donkey Kong Country.
I'm eager to play this game on February. Finished Mario 3D World and am looking forward to this. Nintendo knows how to make some good platformers.
Man, this game looks hecka fun.
Finally, cranky kong's a playable character. I've been dying to play with him doe
Can....not...wait...to play this one.
Really looking forward to this. I grew up with the Donkey Kong Country series. Love it. :)
Donkey Kong has always been the major adventure platforming game, with Sonic, Crash Bandicoot and Spyro rounding up as well. I remember being at my cousin's house and playing Donkey Kong Country, that game really left a large impression on me. So happy to have Donkey Kong back and the 3DS version of Returns is by far my pick of top platformer! I REALLY hope that Tropical Breeze will be ported to the 3DS as well, it be insanely stupid to not D:!
The amount of polish on display here is incredible. I am extremely excited for this game! Go Retro!
This game looks great! I'm still disappointed that Retro Studios was working on this instead of a new Metroid game this whole time, but I have nothing against Donkey Kong. Donkey Kong games are very fun and challenging! I can't wait to pick this up after it launches next year!
If it ain't broke don't fix it, just polish it. The game looks pretty cool and reminds me of my childhood. :)
The game looks pretty good.
this game looks really good. DKCR was really hard in the later levels, and I can't wait for the challenge to return on my Wii U. It will satiate my desire for Smash 4 in the meantime
I was really hoping Retro would've moved onto a fully 3D Donkey Kong platformer by now. Right the wrongs that Rare made back with DK64. And also, to serve up a new free-roaming 3D Nintendo platformer, since Nintendo is insisting on driving Mario down an ever more linear path. And keeping Yoshi or Kirby from getting a fully 3D entry at all :(
I'm getting plenty of gorgeous, challenging, varied, tightly-controlling, super polished 2.5D Platforming from Sony's (horribly marketed) Puppeteer at the moment. I don't see myself buying a Wii U to play more Donkey Kong Country. But here's hoping it's successful. Nintendo sure could use some positive momentum post-Christmas.
Why don't they make DK. Country 64 remake!?