Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze is the Year’s First of the Big Wii U Releases. Does It Bode Well For the Future?
One of the bigger releases on the Wii was Donkey Kong Country Returns – essentially Nintendo giving another of its platformer franchises the New Super Mario Bros. treatment. It worked, too.
The nostalgic musical score, the thrill of finding secret after secret, and Donkey Kong’s absurdly comical death noises. Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze is the almost obligatory sequel on the Wii U.
Gameplay is a tough thing to judge as far as platform games go. Mostly because unless something goes horribly wrong mechanically, the crux is all very same-same. Indeed, Tropical Freeze mirrors most of the gameplay elements from its predecessor.
I’m not sure why so many games on the Wii U are so afraid of the game pad. Tropical Freeze offers several different controller schemes, including Wii U game pad, Wii remote (with or without nunchuk), and Wii U Pro controller. The primary peripheral does feel underused in this case as most Wii U owners will have played New Super Mario Bros. U and will feel more comfortable using a Wii remote than the game pad.
Nintendo advertises the off-TV play aspect of using the Wii U game pad on the game’s box and I just do not get why. The camera is already zoomed in on a large TV and making that smaller will only hurt your eyes after a while. Not to mention, the ability to play your home console without using your TV is only really a marketable tool for one game: Wii Fit U. For anything else, I want to see it in full vibrancy on the largest TV possible.
Tropical Freeze has stripped away a couple of the gameplay mechanics of its Wii counterpart. The ability to blow air (hold down and shake Wii remote) is one such casualty and, honestly, is not that much of a loss. Other than this, the games play almost identically.
There are a few things to note about the controls. Most notably, there are occasions when the 1-button (when using the Wii remote on its own) can feel almost overloaded. This button is used to run, pick up barrels or other projectiles, and to grip vines/ropes. It becomes a problem when you are expected to perform two or three of these actions simultaneously and can get a bit frustrating when your Kong picks up an item and therefore cannot grab the vine.
The second questionable control mechanic is Donkey Kong Country’s use of shaking your controller. In platform games – and more so in Donkey Kong Country than, say, Super Mario Bros. – precise movements are required to make dangerous jumps or evade swarms of enemies. Because of this, having such an ambiguous move like shaking your Wii remote is counter-productive. On certain occasions, you may not shake it enough and die because your Kong does not perform his forward roll; on others, a completely unintended shake of the controller can cause you to barrel into a chasm.
The Thrill of the Hunt
True to the franchise’s roots, the real meat of the game is in trying to collect the four KONG letters and find the varied puzzle pieces in each level. Doing so would indeed provide hours of entertainment for those inclined.
For those players who are not interested in the puzzle pieces (which usually unlock bonus artwork/gallery type things), the main game can seem rather anticlimactic. Your crusade against the Snowmads takes place over six islands of about seven levels each. Even when collecting KONG letters, an entire island can take somewhere in the region of forty minutes to complete.
Unfortunately for Tropical Freeze it sits in the middle ground between staying too close to tradition and being too difficult for newcomers. Those who played Donkey Kong Country Returns on the Wii will find the challenges and hiding places of puzzle pieces quite obvious whereas players newer to the series may find the onslaught of collectibles a bit overwhelming.
Again, following in the footsteps of New Super Mario Bros., Tropical Freeze offers the ability to play the game alongside a friend in two-player co-operative. What this means that the sidekick on Donkey Kong’s back comes off and can be played by a second person. Effectively, it robs the first player of any unique jumping/swimming mechanic.
Each of the sidekicks offers something and this can allow for minor strategic decisions (in the single player). Diddy allows for a medium-duration glide in the air, Dixie offers a short burst of upward momentum after your initial jump, and Cranky can use his walking cane as a pogo stick. So when playing the multiplayer of Tropical Freeze you will be watching your friend zip about the screen to collect all the bananas and coins while you try to cover the envy written all over Donkey Kong’s face.
I wouldn’t be so bitter about this if the multiplayer wasn’t so unforgiving so you really need to choose your partner wisely. Firstly, you both share the same stock of lives and if you fail in a level, it requires two balloons (extra lives) to bring you back to life. Secondly, the camera is a bit more zoomed in and means the two Kongs need to stick close to each other. If someone wanders off the screen, they are teleported to the other player after a three-second delay. You get five seconds before being teleported to your friend if they enter a barrel cannon without you. So if your friend is hasty and jumps into a barrel, you’re not investigating any possible puzzle piece.
To be quite honest, the multiplayer is just too harsh to be any fun. Better off pretending you didn’t buy the game, keep the unique jump for yourself, and save on red extra life balloons.
Is this Donkey Kong Country Returns Returns?
Throughout so much of Tropical Freeze, I felt as though it could have easily been DLC for Donkey Kong Country Returns with updated graphics. What exactly is new in this game, though?
Like I said above, the graphics are updated and the game does look great. A lot of effort has gone into the background as well as the foreground and is a treat to look at. The problem here is that the busier parts of the background can be distracting or downright vague about what can and cannot hit you – especially in barrel rocket or mine cart levels.
Alternative paths through worlds are now opened up by secret exits in adjacent levels. No longer are you spending banana coins on a key in the shop. Having said that, though, the secret exits are not exactly well-hidden and any perceptive player will be able to identify them in a heartbeat.
Funky Kong’s Fly ‘n’ Buy has taken over the in-game shop in lieu of Cranky Kong’s shack. Basically you can spend the banana coins you earn in levels here for various upgrades, including extra balloons, extra hearts, or even purchase a particular sidekick. The game hands out banana coins like sweeties and they are useless outside of the shop so you may as well stock up if you are having trouble.
Not entirely unlike Donkey Kong Country Returns, Tropical Freeze is plagued by loading times. Loading the overworld map from the title screen can take almost a minute; Funky Kong’s shop can take a good chunk of time as well. Even loading the overworld map when exiting a level or vice versa can be time-consuming and stutter as Donkey Kong runs across the screen. Once you are in the individual levels, the game runs smoothly, but getting there can really test your patience.
But in Tropical Freeze it’s not just the graphical design that is beautiful to behold. The music for each level is outstanding – particularly for the Bright Savannah island. There are a few songs that are reminiscent of Diddy Kong Racing and it is wonderful. If you are not too stressed out when leaping through the canopies and jumping on (adorable) penguin soldiers, take a moment just to listen to the sounds of the game. It’s a real treat.
Tropical Freeze is not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination and it is as fun as its predecessor. There are a few let downs, namely the lack of graciousness in the multiplayer and loading times, but the game is rather solid if you overlook that. Am I happy that I bought Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze? Yes. But how much of that is just desperation to fill out my Wii U collection I can’t say.
In the end, would this be a wise purchase? Well, if there was a year to own a Wii U, it would be this one and Tropical Freeze is certainly a strong start to any collection of games. I cannot help but think that newcomers to the Donkey Kong Country series would be better off with the budget option and getting Donkey Kong Country Returns on the Wii.