Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze Preview
Developer: Retro Studios
Shock The Monkey
When Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze barrel-blasted into view back at E3, fans were understandably aggrieved that Retro Studios’ top secret project turned out to be nothing more than another Donkey Kong Country game (a game which was universally praised by gamers and critics alike, no less).
No matter how many bunches of bananas, cute, viking-themed characters and mine-carting escapades the trailer showed off, it wasn’t enough to quell the cries of disappointment from the Nintendo loyalists. Factor in the obvious omission of a certain Samus Aran, and it’s not surprising that the level of disenchantment on Nintendo’s E3 Miiverse community grew substantially in a short amount of time.
It’s unthinkable, then, that everyone’s favourite simian is suddenly under a considerable amount of pressure to defy players’ expectations and, furthermore, surpass the brilliance that Retro Studios managed first time around. Add in the unfortunate circumstance of the Wii U’s worryingly thin library of software, and it’s fair to say that Donkey Kong is teetering on a dangerous, slippery slope, with more than just the weight of Diddy Kong on his back.
As I approached the lovingly adorned booth that housed Tropical Freeze, surrounded by distinguished DK barrels and cuddly, cut-out characters, I was confident that no unforeseen, metaphorical banana peels would trip me up during my play session. I basically knew what to expect after all, bar a few new mechanics and the different level designs. Foolishly, however, I managed to blindly overlook the biggest banana peel of the lot – the delight of playing with another human being.
I’ve never been a fan of online co-op, (I know, I’m weird) and I’d have to go as far back as Resident Evil 5 as to when I last tried it, never mind whether I enjoyed it or not. Though it’s great to hear your buddy shouting in your ear every time you die, the magic that comes with seeing somebody’s reaction in person is simply unbeatable. And boy did I enjoy the reactions and camaraderie that I managed to create with a very excitable Nintendo representative during my play session – and it was all down to the relentless on-screen action of Tropical Freeze.
Though I was reluctantly cast as Diddy Kong – who, to be fair, is easier to control than his bigger, more cumbersome partner – I took great satisfaction in teaching a Donkey Kong Country novice a few tricks of the trade. Despite the gulf in quality between us, a clear sense of teamwork was established early on as we let one another tackle certain enemies or take control of the barrel blasting sections. The endgame lottery barrel was left solely to me, however, and I doubt I’ll ever meet anyone again who was so overawed by my ability to hit the DK symbol at the end of each stage with uncompromising accuracy. Yeah, I’m not afraid to admit it, it made me feel rather special!
The platforming felt as a sharp as ever, even when using the Wiimote and Nunchuk set up, as I rolled, jumped and readjusted my leaps with effortless ease. Retro Studios may have said that they had unfinished business with the DKC series, but the platforming mastery that was apparent and so enjoyable in Donkey Kong Country Returns returns here almost untouched.
In regards to Tropical Freeze’s new mechanics, Donkey and Diddy are now able to pick up enemies as if they were barrels and chuck them wherever, and at whatever, they see fit. They can also pull on plugs that jut out from the ground, and can still ground pound all sorts of areas and objects into submission. Though the additions seem scant at first, it’s clear that Retro has put some thought into how picking up enemies can be used to affect the gameplay and increase the amount of secrets or hidden locations on offer. There were plenty of ample opportunities to tactically hold on to a downed enemy or item, with the chance that you may need something to fling at a target further down the line.
Despite the inescapable familiarities that come with playing a sequel, if there was one thing that stood out during my time with DK and Diddy’s new tropical adventure it was that the action felt quicker, faster and was packed with more perilous situations than ever before. Despite only reviewing Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D for the 3DS a couple of months ago, I was relieved by how fresh and exciting the new levels were. Whether I was careering down a death-defying mine track, or shooting out one of the labyrinth of barrels as the camera twisted and turned to provide a new perspective of the action, my wits and skills were constantly tested by the obstacles that I came across, and my face was plastered with a beaming smile once they were overcome.
Not Just Fluff
Thanks to the added power of the Wii U hardware, Retro have stepped up almost every aspect of the DKC formula. There’s a genuine sense of seamless, continuous action in Tropical Freeze, whether it’s happening in the foreground or background, with numerous set pieces keeping an unrelenting pace. The colourful and vibrant world that was so magnificently created for the ageing Wii hardware has definitely benefited from the boost to high-definition resolutions – along with DK who now sports the most fluffiest fur in video game history…probably. But perhaps the most important technological aspect of the game is that Nintendo’s quest for 60 frame-per-second slickness is alive and well in Tropical Freeze, and this is crucial because your reactions will need to be quicker than ever before.
Of course, an E3 demo doesn’t tell the whole picture of what the final product will truly offer. For example, I was unable to enjoy the musical stylings of series’ veteran David Wise due to the horribly low volume level, drowned out by the nearby Duck Tales booth, ‘a-woo-hoo!’ indeed. I also have reservations about the underwater levels which return to the Tropical Freeze – I’ve never enjoyed underwater levels, in all honesty – and I didn’t get to sample the female form of Dixie Kong and her unique capabilities, either.
Nevertheless, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze seems destined to melt the heart of any platforming aficionado and continues to strengthen Nintendo’s unfairly criticised philosophy of promoting offline, local co-op. This game is a chest-thumping joy to play with friends – or even complete strangers – and has all the right flourishes and refinements to ensure that Donkey Kong can climb above the voices of apathetic naysayers. I for one am eager and impatient to get my opposable thumbs on DK’s new digs when it swings onto the console in November. And if I can grab another player to rumble in the jungle with me, then I think I might just go ape.