Video Game Thoughts: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was a 2014 platformer game by Nintendo for the Nintendo Wii U. I had this game on my wishlist for quite a while, but there always seemed to be another game I wanted more. That changed when Nintendo re-released the game for a new low price of $20. I just couldn’t pass up that offer. I played all three of the original Donkey Kong Country games, so I knew what to expect. That’s why Tropical Freeze was on my wishlist. In fact, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest is one of my all time favorite games from the 90s. I knew this modern sequel would be a return to form.

In the story, Donkey Kong’s birthday was disrupted by the Snowmads, Viking-inspired animals from the cold north. Donkey and crew were blown off their island by a powerful wind to a faraway island. The player had to guide Donkey Kong past each island, all previously conquered by the Snowmads, to get back to their own island for a final showdown with the bad guys. The story wasn’t the best, but it was interesting enough for me to want to see the end. Unlike the older games, especially Diddy’s Kong Quest, there wasn’t much story outside of the intro and ending, but the story was much better than some other Wii U platformers like New Super Mario Bros. U.

Like the old games, Tropical Freeze involved Donkey Kong defeating enemies and jumping over pits to complete each level, but there were a number of twists to the gameplay. For one, Cranky Kong was playable for the first time. He had the special ability to bounce on his cane like a pogo stick. Diddy Kong and Dixie Kong also returned. All three Kong buddies had new special abilities underwater. Lastly, collecting bananas filled up a meter that could be expended with the help of a Kong buddy for a Kong Pow special move. This attacked transformed all on-screen enemies into a beneficial item based on the partner Donkey Kong had at the time the move was triggered. I had fun mastering all the new moves. It took me some time to get used to the controls, but then they felt very precise. I never felt like the controls caused me to lose a life, critical in a fast-paced game like this.

Every level felt unique. They all had a different theme or spectacle for the player to see. The boss fights were especially good. They were pretty hard because the bosses took a lot of hits before going down, but they all had unique mechanics that really stressed all the player’s abilities. Even the normal enemies were fun to fight. They all had such creative animations and attacks. The game constantly threw new enemies at the player each level to keep things fresh.

I was impressed with the graphics overall. The graphics on the Wii U came a long way from New Super Mario Bros. U. Tropical Freeze really took advantage of the Wii U’s 3D graphics capability. The levels all had detailed backgrounds. In some cases the background affected the foreground, such as enemies jumping in front of Donkey Kong. The developers did this even more with the barrels. Many barrel sequences had the camera panning and rotating to see all sorts of different angles. The framerate was always nice and smooth too. There were no framerate hiccups during levels. The only bad thing with the new graphics was somewhat long loading screens. It probably took 10 seconds to go from the world map to a level and again when going back to the map.

Tropical Freeze’s length was good too. There were 6 worlds with about 6 required levels and a boss fight. While it only took about 12 hours for me to finish the main story, there were tons of optional collectibles in each level. First, the player could collect the four KONG letters. Second, most levels had various hidden puzzle pieces to collect. Third, each level had time attack medals to earn by finishing the level in a short time. Fourth, each world had three optional levels to unlock, each with their own KONG letters, puzzle pieces, and time attack modes. If all that was done, there was a 7th secret world unlocked with three more levels to complete. Finally, doing everything unlocked Hard Mode. On this new mode, Donkey Kong lost a life after just a single hit. Besides just completing each level again, this new mode also tasked the player with collecting the 4 KONG letters in each level again.

Other than the sometimes tedious load times, the only bad thing with Tropical Freeze to me was that Hard Mode. It wasn’t the game’s fault. I just wasn’t good enough to play perfectly enough to survive without taking a hit. Once I unlocked Hard Mode, I considered myself done with the game. Here and there I go back and try out another level on that high difficulty, but this is a game I will probably never do everything in. That’s okay though because I spent at least 40 hours doing the other things. For a game I only paid $20 for, I was impressed. I had a blast playing the game. It really hooked me. Once I started playing, I wanted to play just one more level. Hours could disappear. It was easily as fun as the old Donkey Kong Country games, in many cases it was better. I still liked the story and music a little more in the older games, but that was about it. The gameplay in Tropical Freeze was superior in pretty much every other way.

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