In 2014, Retro Studios took its Donkey Kong Country franchise -- which it took over when Rare departed for Microsoft years ago -- to new heights with Tropical Freeze on the Wii U. Although the game was far more challenging than most folks expected and didn’t make proper use of the second Wii U screen (we’re still not sure why), it served as a great platforming game for the system.
But, with Nintendo’s ongoing trend of bringing Wii U games to the Switch, we’ve been treated to an enhanced port for the handheld/console hybrid, enabling fans to discover this adventure all over again, with a few minor add-ons. Is it worth double-dipping? Well, it really depends on how much you like the game. But one thing’s for sure -- those of you that love platforming games on the Switch shouldn’t be without it.
DK and company find themselves in hot water -- er, cold water? -- when Arctic pirates essentially take over their island and force them to fight back. This journey will take you through a number of levels and boss battles, featuring familiar tropes from the DKC series -- including those fun mine cart levels where split-second timing can make all the difference.
Along the way, you’ve got a bevy of collectibles to pick up, including 1-up balloons; K-O-N-G- letters to earn an additional life; bananas and coins and so much more. In fact, the game is overflowing with so many secrets, you likely won’t find them all until the fifth or so playthrough. And even then, you’re looking for more. That’s longevity.
The gameplay has innovated quite a bit from previous DK games, making fine use of secondary characters. This includes Cranky Kong, who can help DK get across spike pits with a DuckTales-style pogo jump; Dixie Kong, who uses her hair to levitate our hero across pits and long chasms; and Diddy Kong, with his modified double barrel rocket pack for an extra boost. You’ll need them all too, because the game is still quite challenging.
But for those crying foul that the game is too hard, there is some relief. The key addition to Tropical Freeze on the Switch is Funky Kong, who’s probably the most stylish character we’ve seen yet in the series. He’s considered an “easy mode” character, as you can use his surfboard to hover and get across spikes, along with an infinite roll feature and increased health. He’s just the thing people can turn to if the game gets too difficult for them. What’s more, there’s no penalty in using him -- and you even get a discount for his shop. (Couldn’t you just, um, take items? It is his inventory after all.)
Aside from that, the game doesn’t have too many new features. You can play local co-op with a friend, which is rather engaging; and challenging certain level times can be a fun thing to do against other offline players. Outside of that though, this is essentially the same game. So if you already own the Wii U version, you’re not missing too much.
That said, the gameplay seems to click a little better, especially if you’ve got a Pro Controller. The buttons are much closer together than with the Wii U version, and performing functions like pounding the ground (to open up plants and activate trap doors) feels much better here. There’s a slight bit better functionality, even with on-the-go play.
As for the presentation, it still shines. There are very minor visual stutters here and there, but you’ll barely notice unless you’re paying attention. Otherwise, the graphics are a wild bunch, with beautiful animations, compelling level design and a fun use of colors. The game also moves at a speedy pace (for the most part) on either handheld or TV screen, so no matter which way you play, you’re a winner.
The music is probably the best we’ve heard in a DKC game since the original SNES version; and there are even nods to that wonderful soundtrack. Just dive into the water for the first time and you’ll see what I mean. The sound effects are great, too. Hearing Funky Kong call out in joy while performing tricks makes us feel like he deserves his own game.
Tropical Freeze’s biggest problem is that there’s really not too much new here. Not many new challenges to take on; no new territories that open up; and no new cinemas featuring Funky. On top of that, you can’t skip the opening cut scene, even if you played through the game and are going back in. It’s automatic.
There are minor squabbles though. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is yet another excellent platforming romp for the Nintendo Switch; and if this is your first time playing the game, it’s an absolute must-buy. As for you prior Wii U owners, that’s really on you. But the controls are better; Funky Kong is a blast and actually makes it easier to beat the game; and the co-op is just plain bananas. (Mind the pun.)
As long as Wii U ports get this kind of love moving over to the Switch, we’re all in. So...how about an improved port of Star Fox Zero with various control options next?0comments
WWG’s Score: 4.5/5
(Disclaimer: A review code was provided by the publisher.)