While the King of Kong scandal, centered on the alleged cheater Billy Mitchel, is heating up, Donkey Kong is yet again taking center stage in a port on the Nintendo Switch, and the timing couldn’t be better for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. If you know anything about me, you probably know that I am an absolute sucker for playing games at certain times of the year and this one is a perfect game to pick up in the summer. It starts out in the tropics and the player progresses into the later levels that slowly transition into dark and wintry which feel oddly dystopian. Tropical Freeze happens to be one of my favorite Wii U games. While this statement may not seem that earth shattering (sorry, Wii U), Tropical Freeze puts on a master class of what a platformer should be. It’s a challenging game and when player gets comfortable with one thing, the game throws in something totally new and unexpected. It took everything that was right with Donkey Kong Country Returns and amped up the experience tenfold.
First off, the game is pure beauty. The tropical vistas have never looked better, and the water effects are top notch. For me, the thing that sets this game apart is the ambiance. This is something that is hard to get right, and many developers still haven’t figured it out. It’s amazing how Retro Studios captures the ominous feeling of a dark and scary storm approaching on a clear and beautiful day. This game has the player experience the environment through the use of genius shading, intricate detail of the environment, and what seems to be a real life simulation of weather changes and other natural disasters. Whether the player is swimming deep in the ocean while there is a thunderstorm looming overhead, running through a scorching wild fire, or even bracing through a tornado, there is never a dull moment. What sets this apart from recent Mario side scrollers is that nothing is blocky and linear, it all looks like natural environment and from a development perspective, there is no noticeable copy and pasting of environmental textures going on.
Of course, the ambiance wouldn’t be possible without the music. David Wise, who was the composer for the original DKC Trilogy, captures the same magical feeling through his sweeping and oddly calming scores. Playing through the game, the level that actually gave me goose bumps was Grassland Grooves in the Bright Savannah. This level starts slow and builds up to a grand climax of cheerful music and visuals. It’s not all pleasant though. Some of the music also matches the fear of a raging thunderstorm and it only adds to the intensity. If you don’t believe me that this game has intense music, go ahead and Youtube “Vikings Island Theme” and tell me that isn’t one of the most adrenaline inducing songs you have ever heard.
Like any game, however, it does have some flaws. My biggest gripe is that there isn’t really enough variety between characters. Cranky Kong’s “Duck Tales” pogo-cane technique is fun, but the game never really forced me to utilize it so I usually wound up using Dixie Kong for her twirl technique. I do want to note that it never really subtracted from the gameplay. The other issue with the Wii U version was load times. These were downright awful. Loading a level could take upwards of half a minute, and sometimes it felt even longer. Lastly, some people critique the challenge in this game. Personally, I have no issue with it, but I can see where it would be challenging for newcomers of the series. The Switch version seems to have a solution for every one of these issues. For one, Funky Kong is now a playable character and should take some of that difficulty edge off. I’m not sure how much I will use him, but it’s nonetheless a neat addition. I’m expecting load times to be better based on the new hardware, but that is to be determined.
So if you can’t tell by now, I’m pretty pumped to play this game again. It should be a huge success on the Switch and will give those that didn’t want to get near the Wii-U a crack at a game that was already near perfection. By nature, platformers are great “pick up and play” games, so it should adapt perfectly to the Switch. Up to this point, I haven’t used the Switch portable feature much, but I predict that should change upon release of this game. Though the price point may seem a little steep for a release of an older game, if you have never experienced the joy that is Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, do yourself a favor, pick it up, and go bananas. (Sorry!)