Review: Donkey Kong Country – Tropical Freeze / Platform: Nintendo Wii U / Release Date: Out Now
After 2010’s much-loved reboot of the Donkey Kong Country series for the Wii, Tropical Freeze acts as the confident sequel that improves upon everything that came before. New levels have been introduced, the volume of monkeys has doubled and the enemies are no longer forgettable Tiki masks with psychic powers.
Nope, this time around Donkey Kong Island has been invaded by the Snowmads, a group of Viking penguins, owls, walruses and other ‘iced-up’ creatures that threaten to place the lush tropical surroundings under a deep freeze. As a strong advocate of the no banana should be served cold policy, Donkey Kong and pals set out on an adventure across six worlds of side-scrolling platform madness to thwart the meddlesome foes.
New to the formula this time around is a selection of companions. As well as the returning Diddy Kong with his hovering jet-pack ability, we now have Dixie who can use her curly locks for a mild jump boost and Cranky, who pulls off his best Scrooge McDuck impression to bounce around levels on his walking stick. These new additions provide a welcome change of pace, each companion has their merits and matching each one's strengths to the levels ahead is often the key to success in Tropical Freeze.
To those unfamiliar with the Donkey Kong Country series, the platforming isn’t as fluid as other recent genre heavyweights like Rayman Legends or Super Mario 3D World. It’s purposefully weightier, with the thrills and spills coming from your interaction with the dynamic and unpredictable level designs. Rolling through grass patches to reveal hidden areas, holding onto a wall only for it to collapse upon your touch and manoeuvring in a mine-cart as the track crumbles around you, the levels are keen to test your quick fire reactions, meaning the cold hand of death is always a mere banana slip away.
Tropical Freeze however improves upon its predecessor by making this never feel cheap. Whereas DKCR was often bogged down by cases of trial and error, the sequel feels a little more balanced and forgiving through the consistently brilliant level design. You’ll still be left clawing at the curtains, plotting Arctic creature genocide, but it’s an enjoyable and short-lived frustration. The kind that encourages overtly masculine expressions like chest-beating and slamming your fists on the table to scream at a kitten.
It’s also very difficult to remain frustrated when the soundtrack is so wonderful. David Wise, the composer behind the original Donkey Kong Country games, makes a spectacular return here, playing with nostalgic classics and bringing in new numbers that elevate the charm of the entire package. Some levels even play with the musical motif – one standout sees bassoon-playing owls in the background, blowing enemies and collectibles into your path. Another echoes The Lion King, with thumping drums and rousing chants that perfectly match giraffe-orientated climbing sections and sweeping sunrise vistas.
Occasionally the perspective switches into the third dimension during some of the game's intense barrel blasting or rocket chase sequences. At these moments the impressive graphical details on Donkey Kong and the levels really shine, and it’s a shame it isn’t used more over the game's entirety. The same goes for the integration with the Wii U Gamepad, which is practically unused apart from to allow for off-screen play. A disappointment considering Nintendo normally set the creative standards for their home consoles.
Despite these small missed opportunities, Tropical Freeze is still a brilliantly designed platformer that will delight those looking for a challenging ride. It might be too familiar to be up there with Nintendo’s finest offerings, but it’s a tough and lovingly crafted throwback to the platformers of yesteryear. A time when collecting bananas and causing physical distress to the furniture satisfied all our inner primates.