Developed by: Retro Studios
Published by: Nintendo
Platforms: Wii U, Switch
Feeling Like: Pressing Pause
I don’t like posts where I seem defensive, but I have a feeling this is going to be one of them.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is considered by many to be one of the all-time great 2d platformers. A true evolution of the previous games in the series, perfect level design and a stellar soundtrack to boot.
I WANT to think that, I really do. The fact that I took this many entries to get to my first Donkey Kong Country is a testament to how wonderful they are, but also how much of a personal preference I have. They may be in the same ballpark as Mario, but only just. Running and jumping, sure, but the minutia, details and feel are so different they may as well be different genres.
But I can’t put Tropical Freeze any higher. There were a few factors that held it back for me. Maybe it’s my own fault; I wanted something that felt like old school DKC and what I got was something that was arguably better, but not for me.
And that made me a Cranky Kong.
I think it all lies in the controls.
I just nabbed a Playstation 5 and the hype surrounding the controller is legitimate and hardly hyperbolic. The feel is there, the buttons are a work of art and the haptic feedback adds so much to your game experience with seemingly so little. I can’t wait to see how developers take advantage of the hardware in future games. I’d say the controller itself is nearly worth the (currently) high launch price, and a shame it’s so difficult to find. Every gaming enthusiast deserves to try it out.
The Super Nintendo controller, far inferior and three decades older, still retains its charm and I can’t move beyond it. I still have a few of them lying around, the most recent SNES Classic purchase yielding two of them as new as the ones I got in the early 90s. The dogbone shape, the access to the buttons, the directional pad all are permanently imprinted in my brain, both in location and feel. X and Y are concave, A and B are convex. It’s gray and purple colors may appear to be an odd combination, but now it’s an unbreakable association with the system. Why do you think I chose this color scheme for my Backloggery?
The Wii U controller…
Maybe it was too ambitious for its time? Not that Nintendo ever took full advantage of it beyond a few titles, but holding a small tablet is hardly the same as having complete mastery over your thumbs and fingers. (change this). Add this to the drastic change in visuals, updated animation and slightly different momentum, and it meant I never got used to the challenges and pitfalls that awaited me. If only I could transport the SNES controller and feel to Tropical Freeze.
Nobody else seemingly had this issue, and good for them. It’s getting harder and harder to nit-pick the game and upon reflection, I’m a bit embarrassed to not have this one higher. The levels are truly a character among their own, the backgrounds are vibrant and full of interesting things to look at. The animation is smooth and wonderful. The “chase” levels go beyond a static threat coming towards you; it’s hard not to admire a giant bladed wheel crunch up the wood right behind you, while also creating platforms and pillars for you to jump and weave your way forward at top speed. There’s nothing lazy about the level design, and I don’t recall ever getting bored.
The songs are equally good. They may not be as iconic as the original DKC’s, but it’s hard to argue with Mangrove Cove’s Underwater Theme. Or how joyous and care-free Windmill Hills makes you feel. Or the melancholy, mysterious Pitter-Patter Panel. It may not be Aquatic Ambiance, but Amiss Abyss is still tremendous in its own right. Speaking of Aquatic Ambiance…You know, I think I’ve been sleeping on the music for Tropical Freeze for too long. It’s astonishingly good, and with some powerhouses behind the tracks like David Wise, it’s easy to see why. Any misgivings I had about the controller and the controls are swept away when I’m giving these tunes a re-listen. Incredible.
Boss fights are, from what I recall, no pushover. Playing with Kyla meant we had to time and coordinate our jumps accordingly, and some of the later challenges really stumped us. It’s definitely as difficult, if not moreso, than the original games. It never felt unfair, but we did let out a collective breath of relief when we finally beat the game.
I definitely got more of what I wanted with Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair five years later. Different developer, but the controls and levels were exactly what I was looking for, with a fantastic final dungeon to boot. I’ll take a sequel to THAT even if I don’t get another Donkey Kong game.
The more I reminisce and the more I write, the more I DO want another Donkey Kong game. I still prefer the old school method when it comes to a few minor details and I’m not certain if this is the kind of game that’s better co-operatively, but aside from that, it’s a total blast. A threequel would be a day 1 purchase for me, unless reviews are overwhelmingly negative.
Look, don’t listen to me. Watch a few reviews if you’re keen on giving this a whirl. For all those fond of old school platformers, this may be one of the best. It was released on the Switch in 2018, so you don’t have any of the Wii U Tablet complaints to justify a non-purchase. Go bananas.
I still can’t get enough of the soundtrack. Listen to how good this rendition of Stickerbush Symphony is!