When I was a young lad, I remember my dad taking me to Toys R Us (back when it was a big deal and always busy, so I’m dating myself here, I suppose). We were going to pick up the hottest new game, with the most mind-blowing graphics I had ever seen before: Donkey Kong Country. I remember putting endless hours into the original Donkey Kong, and was incredibly excited to play the new game.
Fast forward 20 years later, and here I am, excited once again for the newest iteration of the franchise, Tropical Freeze – ready to see the Kong in HD, fur flying everywhere, and fists pounding baddies. Not to mention the two new contenders, Dixie and Cranky. But, will this new addition to the Wii U library live up to the franchise’s previous glory?
Firstly, as soon as I began the opening level of the game, I was amazed at the frame rate and beauty of the game. Fluid animations and a screen full of eye candy greeted my senses, and I was immediately pulled into this game world. After hours of gameplay, I still found myself replaying levels – not just to get all the extras, but to just look at the levels themselves. The Wii U isn’t nearly as powerful as it’s next-gen rivals, but this game is very pretty. The art design in this game was lovingly created, and it really shows; I even found myself examining the extra unlockable images in the game. I also had to stop sometimes and just look at the beauty of the level, and I noticed many little extra things that were added, such as some baddies getting chased by animals in the background, falling rocks and blocking foliage in the foreground, and the superb level design crafted into each level. Also, contrary to complaints I have heard (before and after release), the only long loading times for the game take place as the game loads. After that, each level doesn’t take long at all to load.
The only thing I admired more than the graphics was the music. David Wise was brought back to compose the music in this game, and it’s safe to say they made the right decision. Remixes of older DKC songs, as well as many new compositions fill each level and give even more character to each level, world, and NPC. There are at least 5 songs in the game that I have stuck in my head (that I switch between, of course) as I write this review, having put the game down a half an hour ago. I am eagerly awaiting the release of the soundtrack for the game, and will purchase it immediately. But, don’t take my word for it: watch this video of level 3-1 and see the level design, graphics, and music (make sure to turn up your speakers!)
The gameplay in the game is solid as ever, and much the same as DKC Returns. One addition has been added to Tropical Freeze that I was a little wary about before, but it turned out to be just as solid as the rest of the gameplay: swimming underwater. In fact, there is one particular level involving a large octopus later on in the game that is in my top 5 favorite levels in the game. In the case of DKC, if the gameplay isn’t broken, why fix it? Like Returns, you can play two player co-op, with player 1 being DK, and player 2 choosing between the 3 remaining Kongs. As in Returns, there are KONG letters and puzzle pieces to find, as well as the time trials runs (we will get into that a little later). The game is much the same to DKC Returns, but the charm in Tropical Freeze is turned up to eleven.
Which leads to my favorite aspect of the game and pushes it into being a great game: the level design. This is the strongest part of the game, and Retro Studios worked their butts off to give the gamers a very entertaining, and challenging, experience through the entire game. The only other games I can even think of with such variety between each level is Super Mario 3D World and Rayman Legends. For example, in one world you travel through a level that seems to be influenced by The Lion King, a giant tornado/lightning storm, a forest burning down, a town that you literally barrel through, an underwater cave you rocket through, and fight a giant owl with an epic beard. That’s only one world, and not even all of the levels within that world. The game is full of awe-inspiring backdrops and level design that have brought me back to play levels various times after I’ve beaten them. I honestly cannot think of any levels that I did not like; and that is quite a feat.
Finally, we have the online features; i.e. – Miiverse and time trial leaderboards. I am a huge fan of Miiverse, and find myself using it daily. You can upload screen shots of your game with a little note, hand write a message (or do a cool drawing like I’ve seen many times), or go and like other gamers’ comments and impressions. Maybe you need help finding something in a level? The community is very good and will help you out. Maybe YOU can help someone else out finding a hidden puzzle piece. However, Miiverse isn’t utilized within the game, and that is a big miss (especially compared to other games like SM3DW). As far as the time trial runs, I have never been a huge fan of those in any game. Yet, I found myself trying them all the time, and watching other people’s runs to try and trim my time. This is a really cool online feature, that is both well done, and depressing (some people’s runs are so precise, I know I will never get even close to them). On top of searching for KONG letters, puzzle pieces, and beating time, there is still a lot more left in the tank (which I won’t spoil for you). I’ve put in a good 13-14 hours and I’m at about 76%, so you shouldn’t worry about content.
The one very negative thing I have to say about the game is the usage of the GamePad, or lack thereof. The GamePad goes completely black when not being used for off TV play, and that is extremely disappointing. Nintendo’s system is underpowered compared to the others, and isn’t necessarily quite the media machine the others can be. So how will they sell their system? By creating a unique experience you won’t get with the others, and that revolves around the GamePad. This is not how you create that unique experience. Nintendo has to start really using the GamePad in innovative ways, and giving incentives to other developers to do the same. The way they use the GamePad in Tropical Freeze is completely unacceptable.
Overall, this is another solid addition to the Wii U library, and one of the best platformers you will ever experience. Will this win people over to buy a Wii U? Sadly, I don’t think so, though I would’ve bought the system for this game if I hadn’t already gotten one. But this is a solid game to add to the list of well received Wii U games, which will be memorable for it’s music and level design. Do yourself a favor and go buy this game if you haven’t already!
Visuals – 9.5/10
Audio – 10/10
Gameplay – 9/10
Entertainment Factor – 9/10
Overall – 9.4/10