Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze feels more like an old Rareware game than anything we’ve gotten since Star Fox Adventures, which means we need to talk about the role Rare used to fill for Nintendo.
Before they got purchased by Microsoft in 2002, Rare was Nintendo’s right-hand. During Nintendo’s heyday, Rare filled the gap between first-party game releases, shipping games that felt an awful lot ‘like’ Nintendo titles almost every year. Like Mario Bros.? Chances were good you’d enjoy Donkey Kong Country. Mario Kart? Probably gonna dig Diddy Kong Racing, and so on. But with the exception of the studio’s most defining title, Goldeneye, they made games that stood in for full-fledged Nintendo releases: great playing games, with above average visual design, and tons of personality, but nonetheless games that were never quite as special as Nintendo games.
Tropical Freeze fits that description perfectly; it’s an easy game to like. It looks and sounds great —with some of the game’s visual design rivalling the stunning Little Big Planet— and a soundtrack put together by the series’ original composer.
But Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze never finds a compelling way to differentiate itself. It’s still a slower, more calculated platformer that relies on preparation and patience over quick reflexes — although there’s a fair share of that too. Tropical Freeze actually takes preparation one step further by introducing a handful of new items which you equip before starting a level. One of the game’s new items, the green balloon, saves you from falling down a pit —a reasonable attempt to make a difficult game more accessible— but since they can’t be equipped mid-level you won’t know if you need a balloon until it is too late.
The inclusion of the green balloon really signals is that the game knows you’re going to die —a lot— and that being saved from the frustration of repeating a section is a small blessing. Trying to memorize each level goes a long way to keeping you alive, but it’s clear the game needed to find more alternatives to an otherwise certain death. There are a few spots later in the game which you’ll be forced to repeat so many times it starts to feel like running back to your corpse in an MMO; it’s made worse by the game’s loading, which is just long enough to be aggravating when you hit a rough patch.
It’s actually a way bigger issue if you’re trying to play co-op. Small piece of advice: don’t play the game’s co-op unless you’re up for a controller-crushing challenge. Each monkey gets two hearts, so when you’re playing solo you can take up to four hits —meaning you can brute force tough sections if you need to— but in co-op you’re splitting hearts between players and losing twice as many lives every time you restart. It’s great that the feature is there, but it’s not an ideal way to play the game.
I had a good time playing Tropical Freeze. The lively music and visual aesthetics do a lot to make the platforming exciting, but it’s a game that never finds a reason to exist beyond, “more Donkey Kong would be fun, right?” I could also never really shake the feeling that everything going on was something I’d seen before — it’s not a sense of nostalgia so much as déjà vu.
- I adore the music.
- So clearly not a two-player game.
- All the challenge rooms are just: collect bananas quickly! Wonder if they had other ideas that got cut (it’s kinda lame).
- You have to chose between analogue controls or digital — annoying at first.
- It’s great that there’s no timer. I’m still confused why Mario 3D World had one.
- First world is a lot less visually interesting than the rest of the game.
- Pro tip: SPEND THOSE COINS. Don’t horde them, it’s not Resident Evil.
- It’s incredibly telling how much indie gaming has changed our relationship with AAA games, this doesn’t make-up for the lack of wii u games at all. Doesn’t mean it’s not fun, just not substantial.