If I had to make a guess as to which game I played most on the Super Nintendo, it would definitely be a toss-up between The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and the original Donkey Kong Country. The Donkey Kong games have always held a special place in my heart because of their unique sense of style and more challenging execution, but due to the controversial Donkey Kong 64 and the fact that I skipped a bunch of console generations, it’s been a while since I’ve actually been excited to see that hairy mug and hear those infectious jungle beats. Once again my Nintendo Switch comes to the rescue by bringing the mostly popular and notoriously formidable Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze onto what is swiftly becoming one of my favourite gaming consoles.
If you’re like me and you missed out on Tropical Freeze when it was first released on the Wii U a few years ago, have no fear because the story is just as simple and agreeable as the rest of the series. Donkey, Diddy, Dixie and Cranky Kong are all together celebrating our hero’s birthday when their idyllic island is suddenly assaulted by frigid wind from the wintery themed Snowmad Vikings. DK and the gang are whipped away from their home and must conquer the five surrounding islands before returning to their own and ousting the leader of the Snowmads. In the quest to reclaim your home, you’ll traverse dense tropical jungle, medieval style villages and even picturesque savannahs.
Bananas, floating platforms and enemies that are too cute to hate? Klassic DK
If you’re a fan of the Donkey Kong series, you’ll be happy to know that Tropical Freeze stays true to its retro roots and delivers tightly executed 2.5D platforming action. As DK you’ll roll, jump, swing and ground-pound your way through the world, bashing enemies, collecting bananas and trying to grab the classic KONG letters. There are also a few newer mechanics that have been introduced such as pulling items out of the ground to collect or progress the level and stunning enemies which you can then pick up and throw. Along the way, you’ll be joined by other members of the Kong family and gain their abilities. Diddy Kong sports a coconut jetpack, which lets you hover, Dixie’s ponytail acts sort of like a double jump (and a hover), while Cranky Kong rides his cane like a pogo stick, allowing you to bounce on sharp enemies and deadly spike-traps. In certain levels you’ll also encounter helpful animals (like Rambi the Rhino, who can smash through enemies and special blocks) and classic vehicles like the rickety mine-cart.
Deforestation is a serious issue on Kong Island
Putting the cheery, colourful aesthetic aside, the gameplay can be quite unforgiving at times, especially toward the latter parts of the adventure. In response to criticisms from the first time Tropical Freeze was released, the developers have included a new ‘funky mode’, which softens the blow a little for players who would just prefer a fun romp through the jungle. In funky mode, if you perish multiple times over the course of a level, the game gives you the option to unlock the next stage and encourages you to continue your journey. You also have the option of playing as Funky Kong, who comes with more health, the ability to double jump and hover, and is almost un-killable in most situations. While I personally never had to employ the use of Funky Kong, I think it’s great that there is an option for a less intense experience, which means you (or your children) can just focus on having a good time.
If you’ve got a friend who wants to come along for the ride, Tropical Freeze on the Switch allows you to snap off a Joy-Con and hand it over, with the second player taking control of either Diddy, Dixie or Cranky. They all retain their abilities from the single player mode and can even team up with DK to perform all of the co-op moves you’d be used to when playing alone. Of course, you have the option of attaching a few pro controllers, and if you can I would recommend it, as the Joy-Cons can get a little fiddly when the game ramps up the challenge. If you wish, you can also activate the motion sensors while you play, which lets you pound the ground by shaking your controller.
True to form, Kieron played as Cranky Kong
One of my favourite things about the older Donkey Kong games is the phenomenal soundtrack, which set them apart from other 2D platformers of the time. David Wise, the composer of the original DKC games, returns alongside a crew of other talented musicians and it definitely shows in Tropical Freeze’s amazing music and sound design. Normally I pay very little attention to the music of a game until after I’ve played it for a while, but Donkey Kong’s identity is so intrinsically linked to its beats and rhythms that it has to stand out, and thankfully in Tropical Freeze, it really does. Each of the five islands has its own style, flair and musical uniqueness which, when combined with the gorgeous graphics and smart level design, make them an absolute joy to explore and gives the player an awesome and memorable audio-visual experience both in docked and handheld mode.
For a regular playthrough the game will take you around 12 hours to complete, but there are so many hidden levels, collectables and other extras to unlock that you’ll always want to go back and play again. Sometimes after finishing a stage I’d see that I’d missed one or two hidden puzzle pieces (which unlock concept art) and immediately jump back in, desperate to find the missing pieces.
Tropical Freeze ain’t afraid to get artsy
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a fantastic game and an authentic DK experience. I keep saying this about the Switch, but it’s honestly the best platform to play this kind of game on. The portability of the console means that you can fill your boring tram rides with some funky monkey business, but playing it at home means you can share it with people close to you. If you missed the Wii U version of Tropical Freeze, I highly recommend picking this up, and if you did play it a few years ago, get it again and see how much it’s improved.
Now, all we need is a remaster of Diddy Kong Racing.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch | Review code supplied by publisher