Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze review

  • Great presentation, with lush graphics and charming music
  • Incredibly challenging, but never feels unbeatable
  • New Kongs encourage different playstyles
  • Will simply be too difficult for some tastes
  • Co-op play is a disappointment

Seeing everything there is to see in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a privilege, not a right. While some platformers present their content to you on a silver platter, daintily spoon-feeding each level into your eager mouth, Tropical Freeze tells you to go out into the snow barefoot, run around, and find your own damn stages. And as someone who's always loved DK's run-'n'-jump franchise, I wouldn't have it any other way. This demanding 2.5D sequel on the Wii U might refuse to go easy on you, but if you can handle some trial-and-error punishment, progressing through this frosty jungle is a gratifying delight.

Unlike Hell, Donkey Kong Island has frozen over, courtesy of the arctic Viking animals known as Snowmads. Donkey Kong makes tracks to reclaim his banana-laden home, with Diddy in tow--and this time, Dixie and Cranky Kong are joining the fun. If you played Donkey Kong Country Returns on the Wii U or 3DS, then you've got a good idea of what to expect from Tropical Freeze: vibrant graphics, catchy music, precision jumping, and more secrets than Cranky could shake a walking stick at. Oh, and a few levels so difficult that they make you want to rip your fur off with duct tape, just to feel alive again. But don't worry--that challenge is a good thing, because Tropical Freeze is difficult for all the right reasons.

First off, you've got far more control over the Kongs this go-around. No more awkward Wiimote waggling to perform the most basic of moves--Tropical Freeze ditches motion controls entirely, which is a godsend when traversing over the trickier chasms and collapsible platforms. And with three piggy-backing buddies to choose from, you set the pace of your play. Diddy's jetpack is great for beginners who need a little leeway on their jumps, Cranky Kong's invincible cane bounce is unwieldy but invaluable once mastered, and Dixie's extra mid-air lift is a happy middle ground between the two. Usually, you're given your pick of the three; this creates an awesome dynamic where you can experiment with everyone or endeavor to truly master one Kong.

All the backup Kongs get a chance to shine in the inventive levels, which stay varied from start to finish. No imaginative gimmick gets reused, save for the prerequisite mine cart and rocket stage--and contrary to what you might expect, Tropical Freeze isn't a game composed entirely of snow levels. The six islands (with more awaiting completionists) unite a ton of nifty themes, from savannah brushfires to sinking ships, and the difficulty scales up at just the right pace. That said, the challenge starts pretty steep as it is, with hidden exits and devilishly shrouded collectibles showing up even in the first level.

That challenge is perfectly encapsulated by Tropical Freeze's boss fights: grueling, but never insurmountable. You might expend upwards of ten lives figuring out how to reach a single checkpoint or overcome a single patterned attack from a boss, but you'll collect 1-Up balloons like candy, softening the blow of each fatal learning experience. Tropical Freeze has a helpful item shop stocked with extra lives, additional hearts, and one-time life savers, but there aren't any permanent upgrades--just Band-Aid items to help mend the damages of a single level.

Pro(ish) Controller

I played through the majority of the game using the Pro Controller, which felt comfortable even in the trickiest of platforming sections. But I have one minor quibble: Why can't I remap the controls to my liking? Tropical Freeze refuses to let you recreate a SNES controller layout with the D-pad, Y to roll, and B to jump; I was forced to use the joystick instead. Again, it's a trivial complaint, but it seems silly to make configuring a truly old-school control scheme impossible.

Unlike the generous New Mode in the 3DS port of Returns, DK and his cohorts can only survive a mere two hits in Tropical Freeze. You'd think this would make each stage feel like a treacherous slog, but it somehow has the opposite effect: Tropical Freeze forces you to improve at such a drastic pace that you have no choice but to get better. Soon enough, you'll be cruising past obstacles you once found overwhelming, and it feels pretty awesome when you feel your skill increasing with each level. If you're determined to collect every last puzzle piece and KONG letter, your journey won't end until you've achieved nothing less than platforming expertise.

Alas, this kind of exacting difficulty translates miserably in co-op play, which boils down to two kinds of experiences: a frantic circus of same-screen confusion, or the second player sacrificing almost all their agency by hopping on DK's back. The latter is nice for your lesser-skilled sibling or parent, letting them play along by shooting enemy-stunning projectiles. But true cooperative play is so discombobulating that it just doesn't feel worth it, especially in the later worlds.

The benefits of Tropical Freeze being on Wii U are subtle, but they're definite there. At first glance, Tropical Freeze looks like a slightly more polished version of Returns--which isn't a knock, because that game was gorgeous to begin with. But when you take the time to examine the smaller features, particularly when you're not the one playing, the graphics really start to shine, with impressive depth and detail to each backdrop. As for the GamePad, it might as well not exist. Tropical Freeze makes zero use of the second screen beyond off-TV play, though that in no way detracts from the experience.

Tropical Freeze is a bit like Cranky Kong himself: it expects and demands so much from you, but always with your best interests at heart. Those not looking for a challenge have virtually no reason to play this game--but frankly, it wasn't made with them in mind anyway. Tropical Freeze caters to players who derive fun from overcoming adversity, which the game offers in near endless supply. If you can fall down a pit 16 times and still eagerly drift down on your 17th balloon, this is the Donkey Kong you're looking for.

More Info

Release date: Feb 21 2014 - Wii U (US)
Available Platforms: Wii U
Genre: Platformer
Franchise: Donkey Kong Country
ESRB Rating:
Everyone: Mild Cartoon Violence

If you crave a challenge, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze will bring out the best of your platforming abilities. Those expecting a cakewalk will feel like they slammed headfirst into a brick wall of difficulty.

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  • -_-Anonymous-_- - May 25, 2014 11:18 a.m.

    This is a great game. I've played the demo for it. And it was sick (in a good way) I don't have the game yet. But planning on buying it. I would like to see the Original Donkey Kong remake in 2.5D
  • shawksta - February 26, 2014 10:30 a.m.

    GODDAMN, im so far 3 and half worlds in and my god im having a lot of fun, and with my brother too, we got used to Returns Multiplayer so this was no problem. The level design and especially the sound track is just so amazing. So far its definitely one of the major contenders for Soundtrack of the year, but goddamn world 3 is just constantly throwing different time cycles and its crazy, first a tornado, then a massive fire, and now a night time Barrel run with giant ass sharks.
  • shawksta - February 26, 2014 10:43 a.m.

    Also i love how the Rocket Barrel music got variations in TF, my favorite so far is the Flute and Xylophone variation in Twilight Terror
  • shawksta - February 20, 2014 9:20 a.m.

    Something i noticed you didnt point out Lucas, though maybe you didnt know yourself yet. Unlocking Hard Mode lets you choose any single Kong you want, but as the name implies, one hit your dead.
  • BlueBoboDoo100 - February 17, 2014 10:49 p.m.

    Gotta say, I don't agree with one of the game's negatives being listed as "too difficult for some tastes." It's Donkey Kong Country, it's supposed to be a brutal platformer. In my mind that's like counting off of God of War for being "too violent for some tastes" or Mario 3D World for being "too fun for some tastes." That's what it's intending to be! As long as the difficulty is genuine and organic and not out of poor design or bad controls, then this should not be listed as a negative.
  • Jackonomics2.0 - February 17, 2014 1:50 p.m.

    Alright DK, didn't expect less. Retro just kept slapping DKC references in Returns, this game has them do their own creativity. Whatever they learn here can help whatever these selfish brats wanted instead in the future. Better off now than not making TF.
  • universaltofu - February 17, 2014 4:54 p.m.

    Who are the brats?
  • Jackonomics2.0 - February 17, 2014 5:04 p.m.

    The people who whined like babies over Retro making a DK sequel instead of a 4th Metroid Prime. Apparently a sequel is a bad thing and a 4th game isn't.
  • Redeater - February 17, 2014 5:43 p.m.

    Is there actually anyone whinning about that though? I've heard nothing bit positive comments about the new DK. People genuinely seem excited. I only mentioned Metroid because from a business standpoint, it makes full sense to get Retro working on a FPS to draw in some of the younger crowd. Let's face it, DK just isn't going to appeal to the COD crowd. Luckily, I'm not in the business of making Nintendo successful so BRING ON THE KONG!
  • Jackonomics2.0 - February 18, 2014 12:06 p.m.

    Yes, even people saying "It's a waste of Retro's talent" which is disgusting. Otherwise DK needs justice after his return and this is it.
  • universaltofu - February 17, 2014 5:06 p.m.

    nvm, I scrolled down and saw the context.
  • Redeater - February 17, 2014 12:43 p.m.

    I look forward to massacring this game 100%. I can't tell you how glad I am they got rid of that fucking awful motion control. It made the time trials impossible.
  • shawksta - February 17, 2014 10:10 p.m.

    Good to see your happy about it Im still gonna handle Wiimote Nunchuk tho :P
  • shawksta - February 17, 2014 12:03 p.m.

    Dat music in the video review was from the game right? GODDAMN
  • shawksta - February 17, 2014 11:22 a.m.

    Awesome. Challenging is what i eat for Breakfast, if the Co-op is exactly like Returns, me and my bro will do fine. Damn, even with Visual cues the game is still hard, i like that. Loving the level design the music(Based David Wise) from what ive seen so far and i cant wait to play it. Regarding Gamespot's 6 review, i find it odd, people and you say things are barely reused except Minecart and rocket Barrels and yet Mark says everything is bland except the Minecart and Rocket Barrels. Varying Opinions are such are beautiful thing.
  • universaltofu - February 17, 2014 9:58 a.m.

    Some of my most potent gaming memories are DKC related, when I got an snes, it was with DKC, 2 was just a phenomenal sequel, and 3 made for one amazing Christmas morning. 64 was a bit of a letdown at the time. Jungle Beat impressed me. Returns repulsed me, though once I played it on 3ds without the waggle, I enjoyed myself. This looks much better overall, and I don't think it can be understated just how good the music is this time around, David Wise doit2it, if I can snag the ost I will.
  • shawksta - February 17, 2014 11:27 a.m.

    This DKC if anything is my biggest memory considering it was me and my brothers first video game(We were late gamers cause the N64 was already out at the time and our first console was a SNES). Returns was just a damn great hit in the nostalgia with awesome difficulty that made me and him love it and i cant wait for TF.
  • Vonter - February 17, 2014 9:03 a.m.

    My response:
  • winner2 - February 17, 2014 8:12 a.m.

    Very cool...see that? I'm proud of that. Glad to see 2 great DK games in a row.
  • Doctor_Pancakes - February 17, 2014 6:11 a.m.

    From what I have gathered from the batch of reviews I have read this morning is the game is respectfully challenging... you know like any ole Donkey Kong game is supposed to be and on top of that the internet is saying The Wii U doesn't have enough challenging core games... now what I am seeing is Retro produces EXACTLY what we have all wanted but now some of the critics are saying the game is TO HARD? Really? Great review, you embraced the difficulty and properly made me excited to play this new entry to the franchise but from some of the reviews I have seen crop up this morning it looks like they handed off the game to the wrong staff members that cant take the challenge Lol.

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