It’s pretty easy to say that Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze has secured a place as one of the Wii U’s most hotly-anticipated titles. Despite several schedule push-backs and the glaring lack of success in Nintendo’s corner recently, it’s maintained some definite momentum as one of the go-to games that could help drag the flagging system into relevance, alongside recent successes such as Super Mario 3D World and the upcoming Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. titles.
The Donkey Kong Country franchise has built a steady following since the days of the SNES and for good reason; with a solid formula that’s held true throughout the spanning generations. For a little while, though, I want to set aside the hyped-up expectations, and delve into the series’ latest outing on its own merits.
We begin our journey, as so often we do, with a brief glimpse at an unperturbed Kong life. The apes and monkeys are enjoying some time off from their last island-threatening escapade when, of course, the peace is shattered – this time by a band of raiding Viking penguins, who invoke an ancient-looking magical horn to encase a portion of the island in a deep, frozen winter.
Thus begins our foray back into the jungles and grasslands familiar to veterans of the series, and eager to welcome those less seasoned. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze wastes no time diving into familiar territory; utilizing a plethora of tried-and-true elements from previous games including collectables, swinging vines, madcap mine-cart levels, and much, much more.
Elements old and new litter the landscapes from early on, but it’s not all seen-it-before scenery. Plenty of new features and foes – and some old faces – spring into the forefront pretty early on. Our hero is joined by some well-known allies in Diddy and Dixie Kong, as well as the now-playable Cranky Kong, who’d been little more than a snark-spouting fixture in his rocking chair until now. Each of the backups offers a unique set of skills that will help navigate the treacherous territory, and many situations will offer you a choice as to which you think will help you the most.
Diddy’s trusty jetpack stretches a jump to new lengths, while Dixie’s hair-icopter maneuver soars above the rest. Most interesting, probably, is Cranky’s cane-bounce, a new mechanism that not only gives a boost to hopping power when you need it, but can also be used to navigate dangerous spike-pits that were previously merely death waiting to happen.Among the elements returning from prior entries are, of course, the K-O-N-G letters, present in every non-boss level – but, to what purpose? You’ll have to collect them all to find out!
It shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone that Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze uses and builds on elements from the prior games really, so I should talk for a minute about some of the other trappings here. For those of you who played the last entry in the franchise, Donkey Kong Country Returns for the Wii, you know that it had some pretty notable problems with execution, especially in the controls department.
While the Wii Remote controls here mirror those ones, Tropical Freeze at least allows more variety, adding the Wii U Gamepad and Pro Controller as well as the Wii Remote (with optional Nunchuck). Additionally, the Gamepad offers two control schemes; I found myself preferring the D-pad option over the thumbstick, perhaps because I’m so used to using that kind of control for the series.The game’s first boss, a horned-helmet-sporting circus seal, looms over our heroes menacingly. I didn’t know a seal could do much of anything with menace, but there it is.
The bottom line here is that fans of the existing Donkey Kong Country titles have a ton to be excited about, as Tropical Freeze delivers the same consistent game that we’ve come to expect. All the requisite difficulty is intact as well, with segments that have frustrated me just like the old days, but it’s perhaps a little bit easier on the palate than Donkey Kong Country Returns was — though, that may only be the improved controls shining through. With the updated cast of characters, new levels and obstacles, and good, old-fashioned Donkey Kong Country play style, Tropical Freeze is a welcome addition to the franchise, as well as a much-needed solid win for Nintendo and the Wii U, and I don’t hesitate to say this one is a must-own for all classic Nintendo fans who are looking for more reasons to get into the company’s latest hardware.