Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze – Initial Review

So, I finally got my hands on the latest iteration of the Donkey Kong Country franchise. I was extremely excited to play it, but a little nervous after hearing a few things from other reviews I had read. I got home late Saturday evening, popped in the game disc, and booted up the game. But before the review, I want to explain my reviewing method and scoring philosophy.

For each game I analyze, I will do two different reviews – an “initial review” and an “overall review.” Since I’m not cool enough to get games before they release to review, I have to get them day of (or after); the “initial review” is my analysis of the game while I may have not finished it yet. I will play the game a solid amount of time before releasing this review, but I won’t be finished with it. The other, “overall review,” is the final say in a game after it has been played through completely. I decided to use this method for two reasons:

  1. I will get a review out fairly close to when a game is released
  2. You, the reader, will be able to see how my opinion may, or may not have, changed during the entirety of the game being reviewed

As far as scoring, I will base each game on these aspects:

  • Visuals
  • Audio
  • Gameplay
  • Entertainment Factor

Visuals, audio, and gameplay are very straightforward, as far as explanations go. However, I want to explain what I label as Entertainment Factor. I decided not to use “Story,” as some games don’t have stories (nor do all games need a story). I also decided not to have “Online” as a separate basis for scoring, as some games don’t really have any online functions (and, like above, some games don’t necessarily need online functionality). Instead, “Entertainment Factor” covers….well, just that: entertainment. Story, online, multiplayer, social media….all of these things are meant to entertain, and just because a game may or may not utilize every one of these aspects does NOT mean it immediately makes them less of a game. For instance, it’s like rating Bioshock lower simply because it doesn’t have any multiplayer or online capabilities (when it was purposefully made WITHOUT those). One final thing to know is that I will grade on a 1-10 scale (1 being the worst, 10 being the best score). All that being said, let’s get on to the review!

DKC:TF

As of now, I am halfway through World 3 in the game. Now, that doesn’t seem like a very long time playing, but it really is: the levels in this game are MUCH LONGER than any previous games in the franchise. What’s even better is that the levels don’t get boring or feel like they overstay their welcome. This leads to what I will emphasize the most in this review: the level design is some of THE strongest I’ve seen in the last ten years. They are incredibly diverse, well thought out, not overbearing, and gorgeous to look at. I’ve literally replayed levels to simply just see them again. I have to say my favorite level thus far is 3-1, and I could go on and on about why I love it, but I don’t want to ruin it for you.

With incredible level designs, we have to ask if the graphics can do them justice? For all the Wii U naysayers out there (my past self included), DKC:TF shows that this system is not just an upgraded Wii, but a next-gen console, even though it isn’t nearly as powerful. There’s something satisfying about seeing all of DK and friends in this graphical capacity; the same feeling when I saw the “incredible” graphics of the first Donkey Kong Country. The levels shine graphically as well, and really make the world seem 3D, though the game is technically a 2D side-scroller. Long story short, you won’t be disappointed with the graphics. I also want to put to rest any complaints or statements about the supposed long loading times between stages. They are not long at all. But, don’t take my word for it; see the video below that I took before I played a level.

Next, I want to talk about the core of the game: GAMEPLAY. Retro delivers in this regard, creating tight and intuitive controls. I was a bit worried about the underwater gameplay, but was quickly relieved almost instantly, as it is introduced almost from the beginning. The gameplay is solid, which is a wonderful thing – if I die in a level, I have only myself to blame, and not the controls. I hear too often these days that “the game made me die,” and many times, that is a somewhat true statement. You won’t find that excuse here, as DK and friends respond to your commands fluidly and quickly, which gives you the feeling of true accomplishment when you finally collect everything on a particularly hard level.

The only thing more impressive than the graphics and gameplay is the music. David Wise was brought back into crew from the original DKC games, and I’m ever so glad Retro Studio did. He has created loving remixes of classic music from the original games, as well as new music that fits so incredibly within the game, you would think they’ve been there since the beginning. For the first time ever, I found myself just sitting in my living room, listening to music you can unlock in the game. When you get this game, make sure to turn your TV up and just enjoy the music you will be introduced to.

Finally, the Entertainment Factor. There are no online capabilities (not even Miiverse is found within the game). Now, I didn’t expect any online gameplay, because there is an emphasis on local multiplayer, but not incorporating even Miiverse is a definite downfall. Luckily the Miiverse DKC:TF community is fantastic, and gave me plenty to come back to and discuss. The other thing that was lacking was any usage of the GamePad. Yes, the off TV gameplay is great, as usual, but when you play the game on the screen, the GamePad goes dark. This is unacceptable, and this is a major factor in why I rated this game lower. Nintendo needs to be incorporating the GamePad, not dismissing it (a great example of GamePad usage can be found in The Wonderful 101). Other than these two faults, this game has entertained me in every other way. I don’t play these games for any kind of deep story – I play these games for sheer gameplay entertainment. And DKC:TF delivers in spades, with extremely immersive and diverse level design, solidly built gameplay, amazing graphics, and memorable/awe-inspiring music. This game is a MUST HAVE, and is definitely worth buying a Wii U for.

Visuals – 9.5

Audio – 10

Gameplay – 9

Entertainment Factor – 8

Overall – 9

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