Four years after the smashing success of Donkey Kong Country Returns, Nintendo and Retro Studios graced the world with a sequel, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze Tropical Freeze was also re-released on the Switch in 2018 for those who prefer successful consoles But for this review I’ll stick with the Wii U original Like every DKC game before it, Tropical Freeze is light on narrative There is a group of bad guys and the Kong’s need to defeat them The original trilogy had the Kremlings Returns had the Tiki Tak Tribe And Tropical Freeze features the Snowmad Having played all 5 of these games for the first time this year, back to back, I don’t really have a strong preference for any of the three main groups of villains I understand there is a certain nostalgic attachment to the Kremlings, but they seem similar to many 90’s characters to me, like the Ninja Turtles Same goes for the Tiki Tak Tribe These tribal mask instrument hybrids look like they could fit right into a Rayman game The Snowmads too seem alright, a bunch of arctic and antarctic themed animals donning Viking style gear Anyway, the Snowmads either want DK’s banana hoard or are looking for a spot to park their boat, the opening cutscene isn’t clear In any case, the Donkey Kong crew is launched many islands away from home, and the Snowmads make themselves comfy in their newly conquered island There are some heroes, a villain, and a mission, so let’s get moving Much like Returns, Tropical Freeze is played with Donkey Kong, with Diddy acting as a power-up giving a brief hover with his jet pack.The ground pound can be used to stun enemies or activate certain switches Gone is the blowing mechanic, replaced by a grabbing maneuver It is a small change for sure, but at least it seemed the developers were open to feedback Tropical Freeze features some massive changes as well First and foremost is the swimming This is introduced right in the opening level too, immediately setting Tropical Freeze apart from its predecessor And it seems the developers took a page right out of the Rayman playbook Like Rayman Legends, the protagonist retains a bit of momentum, meaning changes in directions aren’t quite instantaneous But DK can freely swim about the levels using the d-pad or analog stick without having to press the action button to ascend It’s a great change to the DKC formula and I vastly prefer this over the 80’s style swimming in the original trilogy Donkey Kong can also spin attack while underwater, meaning DK isn’t overmatched by simple enemies Additional speed can also be gained be rapidly pressing the action button Overall it feels smooth and responsive and prevents the water stages from dragging down the overall experience This isn’t the most significant change to Tropical Freeze though Nope, that has to be the addition of Dixie Kong and Cranky Kong Like Diddy, these act like power-ups, but they drastically alter DK’s abilities Dixie allows for a flutter jump and Cranky Kong a pogo jump Cranky’s pogo jump is surprisingly useful It can be used to bounce off spikes and thorns, defeat enemies with horned helmets or even sharks, and even defeat a few enemies immune to Diddy or Dixie Even better, it won’t affect certain teeter totter platforms, which can be beneficial in the last world of the game Each of the sidekicks will allow Donkey Kong to perform an infinite roll They also allow Donkey Kong to infinitely spin underwater There are secondary underwater benefits as well Dixie’s helicopter hair turns into a propeller, allowing the player to push through heavy currents Diddy Kong’s jet will give a brief burst of speed, but it doesn’t last forever like Dixie’s propeller hair Cranky can use his cane as a weapon, and even hit spiked enemies Overall, Tropical Freeze is a terrific follow-up to Returns with an expanded moveset and a few tweaks helping the game feel like an improvement to the already updated formula There is one strange addition though As the player collects bananas, a Kong POW meter at the top of the screen will slowly fill Once full, if DK has a sidekick, the Kung POW attack can be used This is effectively a screen clearing bomb, but there are additional bonuses When using Cranky, all defeated enemies will turn into coins With Diddy, all enemies turn into life balloons And with Dixie, enemies turn into hearts The hearts can be stacked as well, offering an additional four hit-points, represented by the yellow heart icons The reason I say it is odd, is because Sonic Heroes Yeah, as best as I can tell Tropical Freeze lifts an idea off Sonic Heroes, odd What isn’t odd is the game’s structure Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a linear platformer where the player is tasked with beating sequentially unlocked levels in a world to reach a boss, defeat the boss, and then move onto the next world The worlds in Tropical Freeze each take place on a different island, giving the artists

creative liberty to create virtually any set piece or location they desired And for my money, this game offers the greatest diversity in locations found in the entire series It also seemed the developers took another page from the Sonic playbook, this time Sonic Unleashed, and sometimes based islands on different countries rather than platform cliches like jungle, lava, and ice, although those are here as well Still I love the Autumn Heights levels which feels like an old Dutch village, complete with beer steins and windmills Bright Savannah is another worldly location inspired by Africa Others take on a more fantasy feel The Juicy Jungle is filled with oversized fruit, and is perhaps the least realistic theme found in the series thus far Of course the typical jungles and forests the series is known for are in abundance as well DK Island also makes a triumphant return, but as the Island is now covered in ice, the familiar set pieces are all frosty Even better, the world contains 8 levels, each one taking place in on one of the 8 worlds introduced in Returns As someone who just finished DKC Returns, it was cool to see some semblance of a passage of time from the world I’ve since become familiar with Also making a return are the smooth controls, Donkey Kong continues to be one of the best platforming series ever in terms of actual movement Donkey Kong responds instantly to inputs, feels weighty with a slightly delay in acceleration when changing directions or leaping, yet responds quickly to mid-air adjustments Landing on small platforms is a breeze and navigating through the games plethora of moving platforms is satisfying thanks to predictable acceleration and tight jumping It’s also worth noting I am using the d-pad instead instead of the analog stick on the Wii U gamepad as the button layout better matched my previous four experiences But full analog controls are available, which also eliminates the need for a run button The wii remote and nunchuck are also available for those that despise the Wii U gamepad, and even the Pro Controller is supported While my preference probably doesn’t match everyone else’s, I appreciate the game actually supports three controllers and multiple configurations I’m also glad Nintendo finally moved into High Definition with the Wii U And man it is good to be back The 60 frames per second frame rate combined with the HD resolution, high-res textures, and detailed models look stunning and I suspect these will withstand the test of time I also like the little shader effects like the fur on DK and even the polar bear boss and the thousands of little air bubbles when Donkey Kong is spinning through water DK, friends, and enemies have just never looked better And even the simplest of animations, like an enemy changing direction, is done with the utmost care Everything is easier to see thanks to the HD visuals too At times, the action in Returns got pixelated when the camera zoomed out due to the low resolution But in Tropical Freeze, everything is crisp, clear, and visible no matter how fancy the designers got with their camera work There are a ton of little details I didn’t notice while playing too The glow through the windows of the background of the saw mill flicker and glow, these mountains in the background have owls carved into them, and these Tucks react to Donkey Kong flying by on the rocket barrel Moments like these add a bit of polish to the overall presentation Other times, the background elements interact directly with the action, like bombs being tossed onto the screen or instruments being played to levitate leaves I also love how little corkscrews and other elements all interact with each other, helping Tropical Freeze feel like a living world The art direction also remains fantastic Despite many locales being based in reality, there is an almost caricature like quality to the art, with elements exaggerated in a cartoonish way to enhance their effectiveness Colors are also chosen expertly Basic things, like these water berries, use a contrasting color drawing the players eye to them, without looking out of place In fact, despite the vast amount of detail on most stages, nothing is ever confusing Lines, shapes, and colors are used perfectly to highlight platforms and enemies, never tricking the player, while still being visually striking I honestly can’t find a single complaint, the game is beautiful and easily the best looking DKC game to date The soundtrack is also strong, and hey look David Wise is in the credits If I’m honest, I feel like I’m running out of things to say about the various DKC soundtracks Tracks range from melodic and catchy, to smooth and somber, and everything in-between Instrument selection is again vast and varied There are horned instruments, amazing guitar riffs, downright playful percussions, steel drums, and the chanting in Grassland Groove stuck with me days after putting the game down The piano notes in Amiss Abyss also stuck with me days after playing

And on top of all the wonderful tracks, variety of genres, and amazing instrument selections, is a dynamic element As the player switches from underwater to land, jumps onto a zip line, mounts Rambi the rhino, or enters a minecart, the music changes I assume this is working a bit like the old Guitar Hero and Rock Band games, were specific instrument tracks can be added or removed thanks to modern technology Like how the detailed backgrounds themselves aren’t needed to make the graphics outstanding, dynamic music certainly isn’t required to make a soundtrack great, but these two elements really do add an extra layer of immersion to the experience At its core, Tropical Freeze is still just a side-scrolling platformer, but these touches elevate the overall presentation, and bring DKC firmly to the next generation So with all of that out of the way, we arrive back to the question asked at the beginning Actually I didn’t do that this time While I generally come into a game having a decent idea of how it is perceived, I’m a little more lost on Tropical Freeze The game isn’t even 5 years old yet, and a majority of people are just discovering it now on the Switch, or will be this coming holiday season It’s reputation hasn’t been cemented yet I will say based on the comments of previous videos, there seems to be a general consensus Tropical Freeze is the best of the DKC games, though many still prefer DKC2 So I guess I’ll take that approach Is Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze the best DKC game? First, let’s talk about the improvements Tropical Freeze makes over Returns The infamous rocket barrel segments are back, but they are made more fair Upon entering a rocket barrel, the player is given two Rocket Barrel hit points This means no matter what, the player is able to make at least one mistake Even better, there are occasional health power-ups, giving the player an even greater chance at success In my opinion, this is a net gain for Tropical Freeze The rocket barrel stages are still hard as hell thanks to the sluggish handling, needing the player to hold or tap the action button to achieve lift, and release to descend Thankfully the designers did do a better job tailoring the obstacles around the mechanic Things move a little slower better fitting the limitations of the controls, and patterns are telegraphed in a more obvious way While some may be disappointed this aspect of Tropical Freeze is easier, I would say they are easier because of better design The second improvement is with the boost received when jumping off an enemy The timing on this was extremely unforgiving in Returns, with a tight window to press the jump button and receive the boost Failing to get it exactly right, could easily result in death Tropical Freeze addresses this issue and I’m pleased to say the timing has been tweaked and I rarely found myself missing the boost when bouncing off an enemy When it did happen, it always felt like my fault, like I wasn’t paying attention and pressed the button too late Because of this, moments where the player is tasked with bouncing over a row of enemies becomes a fun and engaging challenge, rather than a stress inducing endeavor And this made all of the K-levels, better The collectable structure in Tropical Freeze is the same as Returns There are optional puzzle pieces to find, either by snatching them in the main part of the stage, or beating a bonus room, which also rewards a puzzle piece I mostly skipped them this time as the reward in the previous game was not worth it The second collectable is the KONG letters These are always visible to the player, though sometimes may be tough to see at first This means platforming skill is necessary for collection, rather than mindless searching A new element is introduced in Tropical Freeze though Certain stages can only be accessed via secret exits hidden in other stages Over the 6 worlds there are 10 secret exits, unlocking 12 extra stages, signified by an A or B in the level number These stages are not necessarily harder than the regular numbered stages Rather, just additional content for experienced player to chew on, and of course collect even more Kong letters Once the KONG letters are obtained on all stages in a world, a special K-level is unlocked, similar to the Temple stages found in returns These are brutal gauntlets requiring quick reactions and perfect inputs in order to be

successful But thanks to the improve bounce boost, I found them far less tedious, and completing them gave me that feeling of satisfaction one wants when overcoming an extraordinary obstacle There are no checkpoints either, further aiding to the old school feel Tropical Freeze also tweaks other aspects of the gameplay Mine carts return, and these too have the additional hit point which is a welcome change and matches the original trilogy, but there is also a new Z-axis element, forcing DK to switch rails to avoid obstacles This isn’t a groundbreaking change, but is one of those little touches that pushes the franchise forward Bosses are also improved If there is one constant in the pentalogy, it’s the boss battles are going to be better the the ones before it And Tropical Freeze easily takes the cake in the boss department Part of this is because of the themes used in the game There are a ton of arctic and antarctic animals to choose from, and the designers took full advantage of this These include a massive seal, a Snow Owl, a Baboon, a pufferfish, a polar bear, and finally, Lord Fredrik, a walrus The other thing these 6 bosses do really well is telegraph their actions and attacks Pompy the Seal has a normal sliding attack, where the player can jump on his back to land a hit When pompy is rolling, he is invincible, much like the Kongs, following the rules set forth at the beginning of the franchise Ba-Boom the Baboon is the same way Before he swings down at DK, he will sometimes reach behind his back and grab a hammer But it’s done with just enough time for the player to react either offensively or defensively Fugu, or Fugu, the pufferfish is naturally covered in spikes, and only the non-spiked portions of his body can be attacked, again following the rules of spike avoidance Skowl the owl does a great job telegraphing when he is about to perform a wind attack, or a feather attack, again giving observant players just enough time to react, without any attack feeling cheap or unfair Even the final boss, which gave me a really hard time one my first try, is fair The two projectiles that drop from the ceiling each have different animations, letting the player know which attack is coming Honestly, all six bosses are wonderfully crafted Failure always felt like my fault, either as a result of not giving my full attention or just being sloppy with execution And like the previous game, failure to learn and execute will result in starting the boss over from the beginning; a fitting punishment for poor play For those hoping for a return of animal buddies, Tropical Freeze may disappoint Like Returns Rambi is the only returning animal buddy and is again only featured in three levels: Mountain Mania, Frantic Fields and Meltdown Mayhem However as the other Kong’s give DK additional jump height or even hovering, and the underwater controls basically mirror Engarde already, their omission doesn’t bother me Additionally, Tropical Freeze features a ton of variety even without them It really does feel like the designers wanted to experiment with new gimmicks and one-off levels Zip Lines are added in Wing Ding, and require the player to spin to ring bells which reveal the next area Frantic Fields has a tornado, because why not Scorch ‘N’ Torch features those water filled fruits needed to put out fire to progress Shoal Atoll has treasure chests with keys and the player has to keep looping through the level to unlock all of the chests with the newly located keys Jelly Jamboree is filled with jelly blocks of different colors which behave differently Forest Folly has these unique platforms where the player has to utilize both the grab mechanic to hang on, and the ground pound to launch off platforms And Dynamite Dash features plungers which send a charge to dynamite which creates both hazards to avoid as well as platforms to progress I find it all rather brilliant if I’m honest, and I’m struggling to find one obstacle or mechanic which feels anything less than polished and well designed That isn’t to say Tropical Freeze is perfect With 57 levels, not counting the boss stages, there are bound to be a few duds For me, this mostly comes in the form of not knowing what speed the game wanted During Mountain Mania and Meltdown Mayhem with Rambi for example, it wasn’t always clear to me when the game wanted Rambi to be running, and when the game wanted Rambi moving at normal speed The rocket barrel stage Twilight Terror was also confusing Cheese would fall from the top and bottom of the screen, but there is no graphical clue hinting at their release, requiring memorization to pass, rather than quick reflexes The final swimming segment in Irate Eight was another rough point in the adventure The player is tasked with swimming up the screen avoiding the incoming squid ink It feels like the player should swim as fast as possible, as they are being chased, but there are odd moments where the obstacle placement doesn’t match the limited agility when going

fast, making for a clumsy segment In the grand scheme of the adventure, these infrequent moments are just that, infrequent A vast majority of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is expertly designed First, new obstacles are introduced thoughtfully In Alpine Include, the design of the stage forces the canoe underwater for the player to see When the KONG letter appears later, the player knows exactly how the canoe reacts when jumping, allowing them to snatch it In Harvest Hazards, Donkey Kong’s weight affects the movement of the cart, allowing it to roll left or right When first introduced, there are little stoppers preventing the player from rolling off the edges Later on, those stoppers are gone, forcing the player to navigate the obstacles without the handicap In Dynamite Dash, the player is forced to jump on the plunger, and then sit and watch how the dynamite works, with no way forward until it’s complete From beginning to end there is the Nintendo level of polish one expects from a Nintendo published game, despite being developed by Retro Studios As the player progresses through the levels, it almost always feel like game testers were going through, making sure each jump, platform, and enemy was in a perfect spot to challenge the player to perform proficiently, but never frustrate with cheapness The difficulty curve is excellent tool The opening worlds feature few bottomless pits and easily avoidable enemies The middle of the game ups the ante with additional spikes, more bottomless pits, and trickier enemy placement The final third of the game is a real gauntlet with a ton of chase sequences and at times no platforms, only enemies, forcing the player to keep moving forward with precise and accurate movements It flows beautifully from beginning to end with few difficulty spikes to speak of, slowly expecting more from the player with each passing world, and does a masterful job keeping the player engaged with few lulls in the action There are some scripted moments though, acting as bouts of spectacle to give the player a quick chance to catch their breath, but they never overstay their welcome So, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze has breathtaking graphics, wonderful controls, a beautiful soundtrack, expert level design, and a near perfect difficulty curve This should be the best Donkey Kong Country game to date, right? When I first played through Tropical Freeze, I thought it was awesome Awesome enough to make me purchase the original SNES games and start this marathon On my second go, which was a 100% run, I was still impressed and privately noted this was the best DKC game I really dug the extra challenge brought with going for a 100% It isn’t just going for the Kong letters, but really paying attention to the level layouts and seeking out those secret exits to unlock new levels And of course the brutally difficult K-levels were the perfect tests of dexterity and skill, making me feel like a better player than I am, upon victory But on my recorded run, two things stuck out First, seeking out those secret exits becomes tiring on subsequent runs They are often located before the final KONG letter, which means after reaching the secret exit, a player will have to play the level again to snatch all of the letters And even when the player can obtain all of the KONG letters, the secret exit will only open up the secret path, not the regular path, so most stages will have to be replayed anyway Twilight Terror is the absolute worst because it contains two secret exits This means the level has to be replayed three times to unlock the three different paths And being forced to replay three time has the unmistakable whiff… of padding It’s optional padding sure, but none of the previous games required a level be replayed two or three times for completion, so I find it noteworthy A much bigger issue is Funky’s Fly ‘N Buy Here the player can buy extra lives and other powerups using the coins collected during the stages Curiously, the player can also buy DK barrels, allowing the player to equip Diddy, Dixie, or Cranky prior to the start of any stage Even more curious is the Green Balloon If the player falls into a pit, the balloon will rescue the player and bring them back up But it doesn’t stop there, the player can equip up to three items, instead of just one, and some items stack A player could grab an extra heart container and two Dixie Kong’s for example When the player takes three hits, another Dixie is presented and even the extra heart is refilled, allowing the player to begin a stage with a serious amount of hit points This is a two-fold problem First, Dixie breaks the game Her flutter jump is so forgiving it eliminates many challenging jumps allowing for a degree of sloppy play not present in the first four titles The recovery potential is quite amazing A player can engage the flutter, even after walking off a ledge

With this newfound flexibility, the K-levels become quite easy Without Dixie, a player can experience just how perfectly timed every obstacle, enemy, and hazard really is A player is tested to recognize patterns and quickly execute Anything less than perfection will result in failure, and send the player back to the beginning of the stage With Dixie Kong equipped, all of that wonderful level design is basically lost If this doesn’t quite make sense, imagine having access to Squitter the Spider, at will, in the classic games It would break most levels Iconic stages like Animal Antics or Jungle Jinx would lose any sense of challenge What Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is missing, is balance Tropical Freeze opens with specific DK barrels being available in specific locations This gives the player a chance to learn the new characters in environments designed around their moves But as the game wears on, or the player becomes aware of the shop, they can just equip Dixie Kong bypassing any in-level limitations In fact, there is just a single spot that requires Cranky Kong, allowing access to a secret exit There are other areas where Cranky would seem like an obvious go to thanks to his ability to pogo across spiked floors, but even then, Dixie is simply better I certainly don’t know the development cycle of Tropical Freeze, but it really doesn’t feel like many of the levels were designed with the flutter jump in mind To hammer this point home even further, let me move on to the three Secret Seclusion levels After finding all of the KONG letters in every stage, beating all of the K-levels which reward six relics, and finally defeating Lord Frederick rewarding a 7th relic, Secret Seclusion is unlocked This small world contains three levels featuring no checkpoints, no KONG letters, and no bosses It’s just three hardcore levels needed to get the completion percentage to 100 The final stage, Crazy Clouds, ends with an auto-scrolling segment where the player is supposed to jump or duck over and under hazards, and then quickly move onto the next platform Except a player can skip this segment entirely By equipping Dixie Kong, and using the KONG Pow attack to grab extra health points, a player can literally smash into every obstacle and still have more than enough health left over to finish the stage This is dumb A player should not be able to bypass parts of a stage like this And there is no punishment! The player is still given full credit for beating the stage, even though they didn’t Look, games are allowed to be easy I love the Kirby franchise But those games keep the player engaged through exploration and discovery Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a linear game where the engagement comes from overcoming obstacles, not discovery, so this ability to cheese the game so hard just doesn’t work If Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze limited these gamebreaking mechanics, either through fewer inventory slots or just not allowing barrels to be bought in the first place, the game experience would improve dramatically, forcing a player to actually overcome adversity, rather than skip it without penalty This is somewhat mitigated with Hard mode Once a player beats the three Secret Seclusion levels, Hard mode is unlocked This allows the player to select any of the four heroes and replay stages without the aid of items, health or powerups Dixie Kong is still broken in this mode, but she can’t be spammed, which is an improvement I also really loved seeing Diddy Kong do cartwheels again, or Dixie spin Both have great ground pound animations too Cranky is also cool, but as he wasn’t animated much during the 16-bit games, I was less excited Still, I’m not sure I should be forced to play a game for 10 to 12 hours to gain access to a non-exploitable mode So at the end of the day, no, I don’t think Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is the best Donkey Kong Country game For my money, Returns is a much more balanced game To 100% that adventure, a player has to straight up beat every level without game breaking gimmicks Returns demands the player’s 100% focus and attention, anything less will result in failure While I wish the bounce boost mechanic wasn’t so strict, I’ll still prefer it over spamming items and cheesing a level Don’t get me wrong, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is still a great game The polish, presentation, controls, level design, and aesthetics are nearly unmatched in the genre But the game is unbalanced and I have a hard time reaching the conclusion it is a masterpiece or the best side-scrolling platformer ever It’s still easy to recommend, and worth a play, but also flawed

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