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Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze Review

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Released: 2014

Publisher: Nintendo

Developer: Retro Studios

Submitted by: Retro Gamer

High FiveYou have to hand it to Retro Studios. After impressing the naysayers with its largely excellent Metroid Prime series, it breathed the same fresh life into the Donkey Kong Country franchise. Nintendo was obviously pleased too – it shifted nearly 5 million units worldwide, without taking the 3DS remake into account – and has had the developer hard at work on a sequel.

Kensuke Tanabe, the director behind Super Mario Bros 2, has once again been involved with the project, but here his influence feels more obvious than before. This is most noticeable in one of the new abilities that Donkey Kong and his friends now possess. It’s now possible to stun certain enemies, pick them up and lob that at unsuspecting foes. Objects in the ground can also be pulled up, revealing hidden items or altering the level that the Kongs are currently exploring, while there’s even a new smart-bomb effect created by having two Kongs high-five each other. It’s a shame that one of the most significant additions to the gameplay has been plucked from a 26-year-old game, but it works well enough all the same and does become very useful during certain boss battles later on.

The other major addition to Donkey Kong Country’s core gameplay is the addition of two new playable Kongs: Cranky and Dixie. Dixie can give Donkey Kong a temporary lift with her long hair, while Kranky uses his cane DuckTales-style to bounce on enemies and dangerous objects. Cranky can also hit enemies with his cane, which is particularly useful in Tropical Freeze’s many underwater areas. The addition of the new Kongs is a welcome touch, adding a bit of variety – particularly in multiplayer – but they still feel a little underdeveloped.

multiplyerMultiplayer is good fun. We’re particularly fun of grumpy old Cranky.

And that’s one of Tropical Freeze’s biggest issues. Like Retro’s second Metroid Prime game and Nintendo’s New Super Mario Bros 2, it feels like too much of a retread – as if Retro is simply going through the motions, ticking off a list of features that every polished platformer needs. And, in fairness, Tropical Freeze is a very polished game.

The controls throughout Tropical Freeze are largely great, with the Pro Controller being our peripheral of choice. Retro has wisely dumped the motion controls of the original game, allowing for far more responsive platforming, which is handy, because this is a far tougher game than its Wii counterpart. Double jumps, particularly during the numerous mine-cart sections, still feel a little hard to pull off, but the controls for the most part work well with even the GamePad performing admirably.

Graphically, Tropical Freeze is superb, with sumptuous visuals that really bring its tropical locations to life. Donkey Kong himself looks incredible with wonderfully realistic fur, while the environments he gallops through are filled with impressive detail. One stage takes place in the eye of a tornado, while others are set entirely underwater, something sorely missing from the previous game. It’s an aesthetic showcase for Nintendo’s console and is arguably one of the best-looking games on the machine. The graphical glory is further enhanced by some exceedingly catchy tunes that perfectly capture the on-screen antics of the mischievous simians.

Bosses

While the bosses have good attack patterns they take far too long to defeat.

For all its aesthetic splendour there are issues with Tropical Freeze, with the biggest being its difficulty level. There’s nothing wrong with challenging games, but certain levels feel brutally unfair at times, seeing you lose many lives. There’s no Super Kong this time around either, making Retro’s sequel a painfully tough experience to get through in places. This is particularly noticeable in Tropical Freeze’s numerous boss encounters. There’s no doubting their creativity – a cavorting sea lion here, a well-equipped owl there – but they can be a right bugger to defeat. It’s not always clear how a boss can be beaten, and many battles have numerous layers to them, with defeat sending you right back to the start. This is also true of the mine-cart levels and stages where you potter along on the back of a flying barrel. They were tough in Donkey Kong Country Returns, and remain the wrong side of frustrating here.

And yet there’s a lot of things Tropical Freeze does get right, and for all its hard difficulty spikes and tricky stages, the sheer amount of items tucked away in each stage will reignite those halcyon days of searching every last section of a level that the best 16-bit platformers had. As with Super Mario 3D World, there’s a lot more to Tropical Freeze than first meets the eye, meaning there’s plenty to do once you’ve finished the main game.

Tropical Freeze is everything you’d expect from a Nintendo platformer, but you can’t help but feel that it could have been a lot more. The occasional forced perspective levels that crop up cynically suggest that it’s not going to be too long before we see a 3DS update, while the new gameplay mechanics don’t add a great deal to the core – admittedly enjoyable – gameplay. Tropical Freeze certainly entertains, but playing it can be a bittersweet experience.

In A Nutshell

It looks superb, but there’s a genuine lack of innovation going on here, while the difficulty often feels a notch too high. Tropical Freeze is certainly a solid platformer, but it’s nowhere near the creativity or imagination of Super Mario 3D World.

Score: 74%

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