Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze Review – A Blast From The Past
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze arrives on Switch in great shape after four years confined to Wii U, and it’s a treat to revisit. It’s a straightforward platformer packed with delightful moments, but a steady stream of peril ensures that any fun you’re having is underscored by ever-present tension. It doesn’t have as much added content as other Wii U-to-Switch ports, but even so, Tropical Freeze is an easy game to recommend.
Retro Studios’ second Donkey Kong Country game doesn’t deviate too far from the series’ familiar foundation. It presents you with six worlds and a handful of levels in each, as well as a bunch of optional challenges that considerably ramp up the difficulty if you’re in the mood. You can attempt to beat stages as Donkey Kong alone, but you can also team up with his fellow Kongs: Dixie, Diddy, and Cranky. Riding on DK’s back, each sidekick offers a slight advantage that he wouldn’t have on his own; Dixie can extend the length and height of jumps, Diddy can hover in place, and Cranky can bounce off of his cane to attack enemies. There’s also the option to play with a friend controlling one of the secondary Kongs independently from you. Surprisingly, the coordination required to find success as a pair can make things more difficult than playing alone, despite the extra set of hands.
Regardless of how you play, the Kongs’ abilities are dutifully tested by Tropical Freeze’s tightly orchestrated gauntlets of obstacles and enemies. There’s little room for hesitation, and the emphasis on commitment is one of many factors that makes Tropical Freeze’s charming cartoon world so stressful. More often than you’d expect, platforms and structures transform on the fly, and you more or less have to rely on instincts when making blind jumps. Tropical Freeze thrives on keeping you at the edge, where death-defying performances feel like the norm. There’s practically always a twist or gimmick waiting to upend your expectations and test your reflexes.
With enough memorization and muscle memory, you shouldn’t have too much difficulty clearing the game’s main path in less than ten hours. You can, however, dial up the challenge and longevity quite a bit by making it your goal to find the many collectables scattered throughout each level. There are coins that you can collect to purchase single-use items, but the real hidden prizes are the puzzle pieces and K, O, N, and G letters in every stage–one of the consumable items is built explicitly to help you find them, for example. Finding these will help you unlock bonus content, including extra-difficult stages in each world. These items are often situated in difficult-to-reach corners of levels, but they can also be obscured by environmental structures that you have to move, by either obvious or cleverly disguised means.
Hunting for hidden items is usually manageable in stages where you control the overall pace. However, Tropical Freeze has many levels that scroll automatically, say, with you outrunning a lava flow, flying on the back of a rocket, or tumbling down bumpy tracks in a rickety mine cart. These can be such exacting challenges that you will most likely be too concerned with staying alive to discern a means of collecting that seemingly out-of-reach item that you so often zoom past. Of course, once you have the confidence and knowledge under your sleeve to replay a level without trepidation, the challenge of pushing yourself further than before (in different ways) makes repeat playthroughs just as exciting as the first time around.
The primary addition to Tropical Freeze for Switch is the addition of Funky Kong, a surfer who has a far easier time of things than his relatives. Funky comes with his own mode, and the rule changes therein are significant. Where spikes instantly hurt everyone else, Funky can land on them without taking damage. He can also double jump, swim underwater indefinitely without an air supply, and comes with more than double the health of DK. The only thing he lacks is the ability to team up with others when playing alone, but with all the other advantages, you won’t exactly miss them.
Playing as Funky Kong is essentially playing Tropical Freeze on easy mode, but it is also a nice treat if you want to revisit the game under a new lens. Funky is fast and can fly through levels without much hesitation on your part. While there’s no doubt plenty of opportunity to speedrun the game as DK, for the less talented or ambitious, Funky can give you a taste of the fast life with little fuss or frustration. It’s not a game changing addition, but it’s one that mixes up the feel of play in an immediately enjoyable way.
Finally, it’s worth noting that Tropical Freeze looks great and plays smoothly on Switch. Docked, the game is beautiful at 60 frames per second at 1080p (it ran at 720p on Wii U), with the vibrantly colored and expressively animated world looking better than ever. Surprisingly (as reported by Eurogamer) Tropical Freeze runs at a sub-720p resolution when played handheld. Truth be told, the downgrade isn’t that apparent, likely an effect of the Switch’s relatively small screen. Regardless, playing handheld on Switch is a significant improvement from streaming it to the GamePad’s 480p screen from your Wii U, leaving no question that this is the definitive version.
Tropical Freeze isn’t a heavy-hitter from Nintendo in the same way Breath of the Wild or Super Mario Odyssey are, but it’s a fantastic platformer that’s bursting with creativity and expertly designed challenges. It’s tuned just right–always tough but rarely frustrating–to ensure that even the most common moments feel great. If you missed out when the game first debuted back in 2014, give it a shot today. It easily stands the test of time.
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