Daan spent several hours with the Kong's latest adventure. Here is what he thinks!
Donkey Kong Country Returns was a game that I really liked, but did not 100% love. You might think that is the because of the motion controls, but honestly, I really liked using them and the uniqueness of the game makes me think very fondly of it. If we have to go deeply into what I disliked about the title, it is the more trivial things of the whole adventure. The Tikis were not my favorite Donkey Kong villains ever and, in some ways, they felt somewhat dry. They lacked the true personality of some others characters in the Nintendo universes. Some of the more fun elements from the original games were gone too, like the underwater stages and some of the more glorious world names. Luckily, Retro Studios saw fit to change up some stuff in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and it is for the better.
The game opens as Donkey Kong and his friends come to face to face with Snowmads of the North Sea. These winter-loving animals have taken several islands hostage and have now stepped foot on Donkey Kong Island. Before the big ape can do anything, he is thrown off his island with nothing to hold on to. The impact of the attacks throws the Kongs several islands away and they end up at the Lost Mangroves. Now they will have to travel across various islands and free the islands from the grasp of the Snowmads'.
The gameplay in Tropical Freeze has not changed in any major ways from Returns, though the infamous flower blowing mechanic has been removed. Otherwise, players will feel right at home with the Wii Remote and Remote with Nunchuk options still available. If you prefer the set-up in the Nintendo 3DS remake, you can also opt for the Wii U GamePad or Wii U Pro Controller. These control options allow you to choose the D-Pad and the sticks, depending on which you find more comfortable. One element that I do have to bring up is how the Wii U GamePad is used. If you are playing on the television, the touchscreen will have nothing displayed on it and it stays blank the entire time. There are no options to quickly select levels or see simple information displayed. If you are going for off-TV play on the GamePad, which you have to toggle before playing, it is the same deal as nothing will be displayed on the television. It is not the worst thing ever, but it made me want to use the GamePad less and that can't be what Nintendo and Retro Studios wanted. For most of the journey, I went with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk for that reason. It is more involving and the simple shakes make you feel like an ape inside.
While the game does not feel entirely fresh and uses elements from the previous game, I found myself having more fun with the levels presented to me. I won't reveal many here today, but I do want to highlight some excellent stages that you can find yourself looking forward to. To start, the Minecart and Rocket Barrel sections will challenge you to new heights as quick movement is required to survive. They start easy, but in the later iterations, they start to throw in some interesting elements that make it intriguing. Tropical Freeze also has plenty of examples of levels that make great use of a single idea, such as a level you where hop from zipline to zipline, one where you use special fruit to get rid of fires or another stage where you wipe you away mist so that platforms can rise further up.
Another great addition is the return of the underwater levels and a ton of these can be found in the fourth world, Sea Breeze Cove. You will explore the depth of the oceans as saws will come your way and a gigantic octopus tries to crush you. Rambi also makes a return, although in the four worlds that we played, he was barely used. Similar to Donkey Kong Country Returns, it is sad that the animal buddies barely get any attention anymore. The game is still fun without them, but they certainly made the original SNES trilogy unique in some ways. Talking about animals, the Snowmads come in many varieties with penguins and walruses as the prime examples. They are also more challenging foes in the form of bosses, which proved challenging and fun in our playthrough.
The game proved a similar challenge to Returns so far, though I was less frustrated than I was with that game. I think this particularly comes from the fun I saw in some of the elements and that I couldn't wait to give them another go. I was not equally reactive at the every level, because I still died a lot and there were a few levels that were not amazingly special. The one thing I always knew for sure was that every mistake was my fault and my fault alone, even if the game required me to so some tricky moves. More moves can be found with the new Kong buddies and these are the best things about Tropical Freeze. We all remember Diddy well, but Cranky and Dixie have their perks which prove insanely helpful. Dixie allows you to reach a platform above you that had been almost unreachable before and with Cranky on your side, you can jump over difficult terrain with his cane.
These abilities will certainly help you to find the Tropical Freeze's many secrets. You can collect the KONG letters and we are already pondering on the purpose of these here. The puzzle pieces make a return too and they allow you to unlock additional content in the Extras menu. Illustrations and music can be found here, as well as the new figurines. These can be purchased in Funky Kong's shop by paying five Banana Coins and you don't know what you will get after you complete the purchase. Sadly, these could be figurines that you already own, so think wisely about going on a spending spree. In the store, you can also find all the items you would need on your quest. You can purchase barrels for the three helping characters, additional lives, the ability to use Squawks to find hidden puzzle pieces and many more things.
More new secrets come in the form of the hidden levels, of which there are three in every world. These levels must be found in secret exits in the main stages before it and these are certainly hard to spot. We only found a couple during our play time and we are certain that finding them all will keep you busy for a while longer. A nice example of the bonus level is 1-B, Busted Bayou, where it uses the same silhouette aesthetic from Returns. It is, however, set in a somewhat silent jungle and finding all the secrets is somewhat trickier here. There are hidden beanstalks, plane rumps that completely break apart and even some moving platforms for good measure.
The presentation looks like a step up from Donkey Kong Country Returns. While the map screens are still somewhat static, more elements move on the islands and Donkey Kong actually walks about through the environments. While you are playing, you will see also more details moving about in the background and it is all a lot more lively. While the same gameplay structure and basic aesthetic is still in place, Retro Studios has made changes to make the game tick more. Even if it is in the subtle things, that can't be a bad thing. Donkey Kong Country Returns was, even for Wii, a good looking adventure after all. The only thing I was really irritated by were the loading screens, which seem to be 14 seconds every time you jump into a level or return to the map screen. It is not a game breaker, but I certainly didn't expect them to be there and that is a downer. The music found in Tropical Freeze has some classics returning like Aquatic Ambiance, but there is also room for new tracks as well. The tracks of the third world, known as Bright Savannah, I was particularly impressed by and gave it a sort of Lion King feel.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is shaping up to be a very good game, even though it has some lacking factors. The long loading times between levels are not particularly great and the Wii U GamePad is barely part of the experience. The gameplay structure in place has also not changed much, but the brand new additions make it all a great blend of old and new. The grand return of the underwater stages is pleasant and some of the one-time ideas are really impressive. I can't wait to explore the game even further and see what secrets still await at the end of the ride.
Want more Donkey Kong action? Why not check the videos we recorded for you. There are seven levels for you to explore!