Donkey Kong and I have a long and contentious gaming relationship. My dad had a Colecovision and the first video game I ever played was the original Donkey Kong, spending endless hours wondering I kept playing the same levels over again, and wondering why I could never just rescue the princess (It was years before I found out that you eventually did rescue her before the game looped, but the Colecovision port didn’t animate any of that. Also, Pauline wasn’t a princess.) Later, I played all the Donkey Kong games on Nintendo, including that bizarre math game. I was in Elementary school when the original Donkey Kong Country was announced and came out. At that point and time, I did everything I could to get my hands on anything I could to read more about it. Gaming magazines, the VHS tape you could rent from Blockbuster Video that had that really boring interview with the dev team, and anything else that mentioned it. Something about a CGI Donkey Kong game on Super Nintendo really interested me. Then we spent an entire Christmas break hooked to the game trying to beat it. Crazy to trace those timelines back and realize that was almost 20 years ago.
Nowadays, a few gaming generations later, DK and his pals are still at it. He still wears that silly tie, and he still can’t speak a lick of English (though he seems to understand it ok when his friends speak it) but it’s time to embark on an all new mission. Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze is the first of the franchise for the Nintendo Wii U and pits you in a series of island adventures in an attempt to claim back your homeland from the Snomads, a series of cute, yet angry animal pirates. That penguins dressed like a viking is cute till he points a cannon at you right?
Release Date: February 21st 2014
Overall Rating: E for Everyone
Everything is great on Donkey Kong Island. DK is happily celebrating his birthday with Diddy, Dixie and Cranky when the Snomads lay waste to the Island, and set up frosty shop on the tropical paradise, exiling our heroes far away. That’s essentially the entire backstory as you’re thrust right into the story mode from there.
The basic premise of the games haven’t changed – You’ve got the usual DKC side-scrolling adventure game ripe with the lush graphics you’re used to out of the series. You collect bananas for extra lives, and it’s 100 for an extra life (represented by balloons.) Enemies are killed usually by throwing an object at them, jumping on their heads or attacking them somehow (for example, DK’s barrel roll, or Rambi the Rhino’s horn charge.) Certain enemies can only be beaten specific ways, but it’s usually pretty obvious (for example, you don’t want to jump on the penguin with the horned Viking helmet on.) There are coins within the levels as well. These coins can be spent at Funky Kong’s shop to buy powerups and extra lives. Funky’s shop is on each island, but will only be accessible after beating different stages.
Levels are pretty long this time out, however. All have multiple checkpoints and usually take about 8-10 minutes each. Much like the previous games, there are plenty of hidden bonus stages within the levels, as well as the ever popular chase of the K-O-N-G letters in each stage. The game is broken into six different islands, each more progressively difficult than the last one, and all containing numerous main stages, and plenty of unlockables. The challenges in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze can be broken into what you’d typically expect in a side scroller – Lots of jumping, swimming, ducking and melee challenges, but nothing so utterly difficult that it alienates itself from its demographic and age range. There are barrels placed in each level as well which will summon a friend for you. Some are fixed, and some will allow you to summon based on when you pick the barrel up. Each friend has a special skill as well, and are as follows:
-Diddy Kong: Diddy has a jetpack that will help you jump/soar higher and a bit longer
-Dixie Kong: Dixie’s ponytail propels you upward a bit during the landing of your jumps
-Cranky Kong: Cranky’s cane can be used in a spike attack on the ground. It can be used similar to a pogo stick if you wish, but you have to time your button presses for each jump (it’s not automatic after the first jump.)
I thought Diddy was the best of the lot here, and didn’t really feel strongly with Dixie or Cranky. In fact, I found myself holding onto Diddy as long as I could, even if I had the chance to switch mid-level (some levels will have multiple opportunities to swap based on how many checkpoints there are.)
One of the better features of the game that I feel might go unsaid is the way the screen support works (or doesn’t work in this case.) While you can choose to play on your TV or off the screen of your WiiU Gamepad (this feature isn’t anything new,) there is no dual screen features, so if you choose to play off your TV, the gamepad screen literally shuts off. No fuss, no muss. No wasted battery life, and no worry about having to reach for the charger. For a kids game, this is fantastic. The kids don’t have to fiddle around and charge the gamepad after a couple hours. The gamepad lasted far longer than my laptop capturing my gameplay did. While it’s a bit disappointing there isn’t some form of dual screen support, having nothing at all is just much better than a status menu done for no reason than to keep the gamepad screen busy.
There’s so much going on at any given time that you might forget to step back for a moment and look at how vibrant the graphics and backgrounds are. From flying leaves to floating clouds and flowing waterfalls, everything is done really well here, with no in-game slowdowns or graphic ticks or glitching. Oddly enough, I’d say that DK and his pals sort of look the same (just detailed better) all these years later, but now you’ve got a full experience going on behind you too. The graphics in this game are a definite gem. The soundtrack to this game works for what it does. Funky cutesy island beats abound while you bounce from leaf to leaf, or platform to platform. It’s nothing spectacular, but it works. Hopefully the gameplay video at the bottom of this review shows both off a little better than I can describe it.
The difficulty of the Donkey Kong Country Games have typically been geared toward a younger demographic challenge-wise, though it definitely comes equipped for all ages and family gaming. I’d estimate around 10-15 hours of playtime for a straight playthrough, and longer if you intend on 100%-ing everything. Granted, there is plenty of replay value in this game. There’s no way you’re going to remember every little move DK has to open up all the little nooks and crannies hidden on each level. The only advice I can offer you for anything suspicious is – If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…well, you know the rest.
My main gripe with this game is with the controls. They are a bit sticky and unforgiving. Donkey Kong, a previously well accustomed and agile gorilla appears to have been stripped of his vert as though the Monstars rolled into town and robbed him like they robbed Shawn Bradley back in 1996. I found myself missing jumps that you normally wouldn’t with prototypical gaming physics, and at one point blew about 10 lives in one of the 2nd Island stages because I couldn’t make heads or tails of the physics and kept falling short even though I thought I was jumping from the farthest possible point. It’s not luck based – I just have to give in to the fact that I’m not terribly good at these games, and should stick to the Professor Laytons of the world (which, coincidentally enough will be the next review I post here.) One of the other complaints for this title I had is one I always have for the Donkey Kong Country titles, and it might not really be a fair one for someone my age (since I know I’m out of the target demographic) – The game’s a tad repetitive for lack of a better term. Even though DK and friends have their basic movesets and purposes, they aren’t very diverse characters, and the levels all have very similar basic principles in how to get from Point A to Point B. This, again may just be something I notice as someone who reviews video games. I doubt very much that your little ones would have the same criticism though.
Free pass to the mine cart stages though. I’ll never get enough of those. If Nintendo ever made a Donkey Kong Country game that was all mine cart stages, I’d be there with a big smile on my face and money in my hand on day one. There were enough of those types of stages (massive in size too) in this game to keep me happy.
Those things aside, this is another well done title by Nintendo, who have been publishing some real gems lately. This is a great game for the family to get into, and I wouldn’t hesitate to tell you to pick it up for the little ones or if you’re a long time series fan. With only one other true non-handheld title for the franchise since the Nintendo 64 days (I just can’t count Donkey Kong Jungle Beat!,) hopefully this jumpstarts things again and this is the first of a few DK games to come now that the licensing and development is straightened out. He’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for getting my gaming life started, and I’ll keep playing these as they come out for sure.
I still have that old Colecovision too. I should dig it out one day and see if it still works. Till next time DK.
Gameplay: 4.5 / 5
Graphics: 5 / 5
Sound: 4 / 5
Controls: 4 / 5
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4.5 / 5
Overall: 4.4 / 5 (88%)
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is thawed and ready on store shelves at Best Buy and online at BestBuy.ca
Ready to check out some of Tropical Freeze? Check out this gameplay video featuring some of my personal ups and downs, trials and tribulations and some of the different stages and challenges.