WiiU

North America

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze Review

by Andy Goergen - February 17, 2014, 5:10 am PST
Total comments: 20

9.5

Don't be Cranky; this is one of the best games on Wii U.

In my review of 2010’s Donkey Kong Country Returns, I stated that Retro Studios had shown real skill in developing 2D platformers. In Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, they’ve shown absolute mastery. In a world where Nintendo has been maligned for over-delivering in this particular genre, Tropical Freeze stands out as the best original 2D sidescroller in years.

The world of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is wonderfully alive with jungle critters and plantlife: it bustles with activity. The combination of Retro’s attention to art design combined with the power of an HD system is incredibly rewarding. Of the six worlds in the game, most don’t feel terribly different from stages in previous Donkey Kong Country games. Two worlds in particular, Juicy Jungle and Bright Savannah, feel like notable departures, and are both very memorable.

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DK moves with a heavy forward momentum, jumping from vine to platform to grassy wall. The character is meant to be a large, heavy mammal, and even moreso than in Donkey Kong Country Returns, he feels like one. The addition of Dixie and Cranky Kong give DK even more movement options, making moving from left to right a joy.

The game is shorter than DKCR, with only six worlds to explore (not counting unlockable worlds). Even still, the stages are lengthy with some stages taking upwards of 20 minutes to play through the first time. The game isn’t quite as overwhelmingly difficult as its predecessor, in part because the required motion control is no more, but you’ll still spend quite a few lives trying to get that elusive K-O-N-G letter or puzzle piece. The collectables here are the same as the last game, but the hiding spots are clever enough to require a few playthroughs of a single stage to get all of the trinkets.

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The Wii U GamePad is supported for Off-TV play, but that’s about it. DKC:TF supports multiple control options, including Wii Remote & Nunchuk, Wii Remote alone, Wii U Pro Controller, and the GamePad. Interestingly enough, when you choose to play with the GamePad on the television, the screen on the GamePad is completely shut off. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, as it conserves battery life and keeps all of the processing power confined to one display. Still, it would have been nice if Retro had found an interesting way to use both screens. They didn’t, and as such the decision to shut off the GamePad screen during TV play doesn’t pose any problems.

Another cool feature new to this entry in the series is time attack online leaderboards. It's possible to compete both with your friends and other folks all across the globe. Even better, replays can be uploaded and shared with the entire internet, so folks everywhere can see how amazing you are at the game. The replays are uploaded by default, and the leaderboards are fast and easy to access, making this a surprisingly competent Nintendo entry into the world of online play. There isn’t any online co-op in the game, but local couch co-op is available in much the same way it was available in Donkey Kong Country Returns.

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Donkey Kong Country has always been a series loved for its music, and original composer David Wise, formerly of Rare Ltd, returns to compose music for the game that he’s known for. The songs are largely very similar to what’s come in the past, but there are definitely a few standouts among the soundtrack. The way the music changes as DK heads into the underwater areas is particularly notable; the music fades from upbeat and jaunty to serene and beautiful in the span of a few seconds.

One other change from Donkey Kong Country Returns that’s worth mentioning is the complete abandoning of the Super Guide mechanic, which was still fairly new in 2010. It’s somewhat nice not to be taunted if you’re struggling on a stage, but this may be a problem for younger players (or parents of younger players) who don’t have the patience required to play the tougher parts of the game.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze does not represent a particularly surprising title for Nintendo, and it may not be the title that pushes Wii U sales into the stratosphere, but it is another wonderful classic Nintendo game on a system slowly building a nice library. If you’re a Wii U owner looking for something to play, you really can’t go wrong here. It’s exactly the kind of game Nintendo does well, and it’s among their best.

Summary

Pros
  • Lavish environments
  • New helpers in Dixie and Cranky Kong
  • Online leaderboards and replays
Cons
  • Somewhat short; only six worlds

Talkback

ejamerFebruary 17, 2014

So yeah... I should probably pull the Wii game off my backlog and actually give it a shot soon.

xcwarriorFebruary 17, 2014

Only one con is good, but that is a big con. People will wait to buy it if they think it's short. WiiU owners need some length to their games, since they don't get many.

Going to be interesting to see how wide of a range of scores we see today on this game.

AdrockFebruary 17, 2014

Quote:

The game isn’t quite as overwhelmingly difficult as it’s predecessor

Thank you, baby Jebus.

Quote:

Interestingly enough, when you choose to play with the GamePad on the television, the screen on the GamePad is completely shut off.

I have a feeling this choice going to be a major point of contention, but I'm perfectly okay with it. The biggest problem with these different options is when developers decide they have to use them because the options are there rather than when they have good ideas for it. Retro Studios didn't have use for the GamePad outside of off-screen play for this game so they didn't force it. Good. That's exactly how it should be.

Other reviews have disagreed with me regarding the difficulty, so your mileage may vary.

PhilPhillip Stortzum, February 17, 2014

I'm glad there was no correlation between the positive nature of the review and how much this game will help or won't help Wii U sales. A disturbing amount of reviews have been shortchanging Tropical Freeze due to it most likely not being a system seller, which is just crazy to me. What does that have to do with the quality of the game? Nothing. That was a rhetorical question.


Anyway, I enjoyed both your and Daan's reviews. It makes the wait for Friday all the more unbearable. Thanks!

ResettisCousinFebruary 17, 2014

I'm surprised the review text mentions the lack of gamepad content but it isn't listed as a con in the summary. In my opinion, it is a con. I will feel like a fool holding a giant controller with a completely blank LCD in the middle of it. It's doubtful this game was rushed given what else we know Retro has been helping with, and the delay. The only possibly justification is that they are preparing - or at least giving themselves the option - to release a gamepad-less WiiU. But even that is a long shot, IMHO, so ultimately I think they should have used the screen. For what? I don't care if it's used it for a simple progress bar and unlockables status, plus current level playtime vs personal best vs online leaderboard time. Whatever. Freakin' copy what NSMBU did. That would be better than holding a giant blank LCD.

Ian SaneFebruary 17, 2014

I'm glad they didn't make the game control like ass to push the gimmick controller.  That was undoubtedly the major flaw with the first game.  Of course having another major Wii U game that doesn't use the Gamepad just makes it seem more like an albatross around the Wii U's neck.  Nintendo is really in a catch 22 where they need to make games that use the Gamepad to justify designing the whole console around it but forced usage can hurt games.

I figured Tropical Freeze would be a good game.  But I maintain that there is no reason for me to buy a Wii U to play a DKC game when my 20 year old SNES already does a damn fine job of that.  I'm not going to buy a new console to play retro-style games with last gen visuals.  The Wii U seriously lacks new gameplay experiences.

Waste of Retro Studios.  Waste of a new console.  Waste of time.  I'll buy it in the bargain bin with my Wii U, perhaps later this year the way things are going.

Quote from: ResettisCousin

I will feel like a fool holding a giant controller with a completely blank LCD in the middle of it.

It's the controller packed in the box; there's no need to feel like a fool.  I play my games mostly off TV anyways, so that's a perfectly acceptable use as far as I'm concerned.


Why waste time and effort shoehorning in features that aren't worth including?  I'm closer to applauding Retro for turning off the screen than listing it as a con in my review.  I'm frankly shocked that Nintendo let Retro get away with that.  It probably helps keep the game at a solid frame rate, and I know it helps with the GamePad battery life.

the asylumFebruary 17, 2014

And the best part of all this is? Now Retro can work on something worthwhile!

Iwata announces production of Wii Workout Party, assigns Retroball>

PhilPhillip Stortzum, February 17, 2014

Quote from: the

And the best part of all this is? Now Retro can work on something worthwhile!

Iwata announces production of Wii Workout Party, assigns Retroball>

To say a new installment to a critically and commercially successful series is not worthwhile is rather ignorant, and the general sentiment from some people that is "derp Evil incompetent Iwata going to make all Nintendo's hardcore studios, including Retro, make things no one will care about" is getting obnoxious, too.

Ian SaneFebruary 17, 2014

This is probably the most controversial good game with no actually objectionable content to be released since Wind Waker.

ShayminFebruary 18, 2014

Quote from: NWR_DrewMG

Other reviews have disagreed with me regarding the difficulty, so your mileage may vary.

Have the other reviewers tried sucking less?

the asylumFebruary 18, 2014

Perhaps "worthwhile" wasn't the right choice of words- I've no doubt that this is a great game, but was it a neccesary game? If not something new, why couldn;t Retro have been working on a franchise that's been horribly neglected, like Star Fox (or been completely shat upon, like Metroid). Great as DKCR was, I don't recall there being any great clamor for another one

Mop it upFebruary 18, 2014

Quote from: Ian

This is probably the most controversial good game with no actually objectionable content to be released since Wind Waker.

Feels like everything Nintendo do lately is super controversial, though I suppose there has been plenty of controversy over them for the past 8 years or so.

Ian SaneFebruary 18, 2014

The second Metroid Prime came out everyone was excited about what else Retro could do, particularly if they created their own IP.  Maybe they could make a new Nintendo franchise with the prestige of Mario, Zelda or Metroid.  So they made some more Metroid Prime games, which was expected and then we all waited to see what was next.

DKC?  Uh, okay I guess.  It seemed like an odd choice and even the Wii one seemed a little unnecessary when Nintendo was already busting out 2D platformers like NSMB, Kirby and Warioland.  Okay fine they did DKC and helped with Mario Kart so NOW let's finally see what they can do when they're not working with someone else's IP.  Nintendo is hyping this up!  Okay here we go!  It's... DKC again?  Oh fuck this!

The backlash is similar to Wind Waker in that there's the game we want that we know COULD exist and Nintendo is the gate keeper, keeping the game we want locked up and giving us something else instead.  It might be good but it's not what we want and now Tropical Freeze is all about what we're NOT getting.  It's not just some DKC game, it's the substitute for our hypothetical Retro Studios game that we figure could be amazing.  It's the same reason Wind Waker had backlash as it was our substitute for the realistic Zelda we felt we were promised at Spaceworld.

DKC was always an odd choice for Retro anyway because it's not quite the same audience as Metroid Prime.  Metroid is a Nintendo franchise that can appeal to people that aren't interested in cutesy mascot characters.  So they effectively took Retro away from those people by moving them to cutesy mascot characters.  Again there is the similarity to Wind Waker.  Zelda was one of the few Nintendo franchises on the N64 that was not branded as kiddy.  If you were sensitive about the perceived childishness of Mario you could still play Zelda.  So then Nintendo pissed that away by making Zelda a cartoon.  It's the same thing: taking something that is a little different than the typical Nintendo fare and making it more like it.

AdrockFebruary 18, 2014

Quote from: Ian

It might be good but it's not what we want

This is exactly the kind of thinking that makes me not want to live on this planet anymore. Something is good and yet you fucking chuckleheads are still complaining. Sure. How the hell do you people even function?

KhushrenadaFebruary 18, 2014

Quote from: Ian

I'll buy it in the bargain bin with my Wii U, perhaps later this year

Well, that would be nice. Maybe then once you start appreciating the system and what it has to offer, you won't be so quick to dump on it all the time.

Quote from: Ian

This is probably the most controversial good game with no actually objectionable content to be released since Wind Waker.

It's only controversial if you make it controversial. As the Pet Shop Boys sang in "Only the Wind": "No angry drama, a storm blows itself out."

Case in point:

Quote from: Ian

The second Metroid Prime came out everyone was excited about what else Retro could do, particularly if they created their own IP.  Maybe they could make a new Nintendo franchise with the prestige of Mario, Zelda or Metroid.  So they made some more Metroid Prime games, which was expected and then we all waited to see what was next.

DKC?  Uh, okay I guess.  It seemed like an odd choice and even the Wii one seemed a little unnecessary when Nintendo was already busting out 2D platformers like NSMB, Kirby and Warioland.  Okay fine they did DKC and helped with Mario Kart so NOW let's finally see what they can do when they're not working with someone else's IP.  Nintendo is hyping this up!  Okay here we go!  It's... DKC again?  Oh **** this!

The backlash is similar to Wind Waker in that there's the game we want that we know COULD exist and Nintendo is the gate keeper, keeping the game we want locked up and giving us something else instead.  It might be good but it's not what we want and now Tropical Freeze is all about what we're NOT getting.  It's not just some DKC game, it's the substitute for our hypothetical Retro Studios game that we figure could be amazing.  It's the same reason Wind Waker had backlash as it was our substitute for the realistic Zelda we felt we were promised at Spaceworld.

DKC was always an odd choice for Retro anyway because it's not quite the same audience as Metroid Prime.  Metroid is a Nintendo franchise that can appeal to people that aren't interested in cutesy mascot characters.  So they effectively took Retro away from those people by moving them to cutesy mascot characters.  Again there is the similarity to Wind Waker.  Zelda was one of the few Nintendo franchises on the N64 that was not branded as kiddy.  If you were sensitive about the perceived childishness of Mario you could still play Zelda.  So then Nintendo pissed that away by making Zelda a cartoon.  It's the same thing: taking something that is a little different than the typical Nintendo fare and making it more like it.

You're still harping on Wind Waker? If you aren't complaining about it being rushed and missing dungeons and broken because of sailing, then it is this complaint of Nintendo Bait and Switching you. This is probably a big reason why Nintendo won't show games ahead of time until they are close to release. Of course, now everyone complains that we don't know what is coming up in the future so they'll never win. And it wasn't even a game. It was just a tech demo showing the GC's graphic capabilities. I'm surprised no one thought the leaf falling on water was a new Zelda game when they used that tech demo to show the Wii U's capabilities. And this was 10 years ago. Let it go, man. Everyone else has. Wind Waker is tied for 2nd best reviewed GC on Metacritic and the HD remake sits in the 3rd spot with only Mario 3D World and Rayman Legends ahead of it.

As for people complaining that Retro's talents are being wasted, what is the game that they are not being allowed to make? Oh right. It doesn't exist. It's hypothetical. Funny thing about a hypothosis. It can be wrong. Everyone complaining thinks that if Retro wasn't oh so poorly burdened by Nintendo in that they've been entrusted the keys to 2 franchises already and succeeded with them then they would be making brand new IP's that would blow the competition out of the water save the image of Nintendo consoles. That is the expectations people seem to have and chances of them fulfilling that are very slim. The original IP they make could be something like Geist on GC which was interesting but flawed. It could be like the Wonderful 101 and have people turn up their nose and dismiss it because it is not the type of game they wanted or expected. Maybe they want another mature shooter or something. I don't know. But for some reason, people opposing this game always take the stance that Retro would be making something amazing instead and never think about the opposite possibility.

And let's not forget that there has been staff turnover at Retro. A lot of the people who helped craft the Prime series made their own studio Armature. After that happened, DKCR was the next game and now a sequel. Perhaps the studio isn't as strong as it used to be or the people in it have a different skill set and creative process from the ones taking the lead before. Plus, Armature hasn't done much since forming on their own either. They had an idea to reboot Mega Man with it looking a lot like Metroid Prime and their biggest release game so far, Batman: Blackgate Origins on 3DS was compared to gameplay style as a Metroid game. Doesn't exactly seem like they have a lot of ideas beyond that right now. And wasn't it terrible how they were shackled to make a Batman game on the 3DS when there already was a Batman game being released on all other consoles?

As for this game being not what "we" want, it is exactly what I want. Saying we includes people that shouldn't be included. Personally, I'd buy this game whether it was released 6 months ago, 4 months from now, 2 years ago or 5 years from now. Doesn't matter to me when it comes out. When I bought a Wii U, I bought it on the expectation to play the next iteration of Nintendo franchises. Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, Kirby, Smash Bros. etc. If Nintendo offers new IPs or 3rd parties actually decide to provide worthwhile games, that's bonus for me. It's the same reason I'll play games like Monopoly, Settlers of Catan, Diplomacy, etc. I'm not demanding Parker Bros. make new board games. The James Bond franchise has some familiar tropes that it uses time and again. That doesn't stop people from enjoying every new entry. No one is complaining that any movie studio could make one so each one is a waste of time and money.

It is a game. You either play it to be entertained or you don't. And if you don't, guess what? The world is full of serious problems. Why not spend that free time trying to do something worthwhile that you would have spent playing a game you "didn't want" because it wasn't a fantasy game in your mind?

Ian SaneFebruary 18, 2014

Quote from: Adrock

Quote from: Ian

It might be good but it's not what we want

This is exactly the kind of thinking that makes me not want to live on this planet anymore. Something is good and yet you fucking chuckleheads are still complaining. Sure. How the hell do you people even function?

What, one can't acknowledge that something is well made but that they're not interested in it?  I like pizza but if I ate it for lunch I'm not in the mood to have it for dinner.  I'm not in the mood for DKC or 2D platformers from Nintendo.  Is this a good game?  Yeah, probably.  I would probably like it in a situation where I am in the mood for it.  But it's the wrong game at the wrong time on a console that is flopping with a lineup of well made platformers.
And I'm not hung up on Wind Waker, I'm just pointing out the similarity between the backlash that surrounded it and the backlash that this is getting.

ResettisCousinFebruary 19, 2014

It's interesting and telling that people justify the blank Gamepad screen with "I wouldn't want some kinda touchy gimmick." I suppose that is the impression Nintendo gave many with the Wii.


Something is overlayed on the TV when the game is paused, right? I'm guessing it's K O N G letters, puzzle pieces, name of level, lives/items, etc. It's too obvious of an idea for me to accept that Retro didn't consider doing this on the Gamepad, and I just do not accept that they were crunched for time on this game. Yes, it could be a performance issue, and if so, that's a DARN shame but I do suppose I'd rather have the 60fps. We have a few suggestions that the WiiU is actually rendering at 720p for the Gamepad, then downscaling (early digital foundry article). Maybe they can't program the dang thing to refresh the gamepad once for every five refreshes of the TV.


People will ask what's going on on the gamepad while playing the game. This review was done by someone that primarily plays off-TV. That is interesting and relevant to the score. It's a CERTAINY Nintendo is going to get this phone call on Friday, "hi yeah, us, this DK game broke my Wii Tablet... it's totally blank?" I loved the seemingly impromptu question from Geoff at the VGX about what purpose the Gamepad has for this game and the answer was off-TV play. Very telling that that was one of Geoff's few questions.

NeoThunderFebruary 26, 2014

Forgot insanely, frustratingly difficult

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WiiU

Game Profile

Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze Box Art

Genre Action
Developer Retro Studios
Players1 - 2

Worldwide Releases

na: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Release Feb 21, 2014
PublisherNintendo
RatingEveryone
jpn: Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze
Release Feb 13, 2014
PublisherNintendo
RatingAll Ages
eu: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Release Feb 21, 2014
PublisherNintendo
Rating3+
aus: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Release Feb 22, 2014
PublisherNintendo
RatingGeneral
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