Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze Review (Switch)

The DK gang is back for a new (sort of) adventure on the Nintendo Switch. Snowmads have smashed DK's birthday party and attempted to freeze his island and take it away from him. DK is joined by Diddy, Dixie, and Cranky in the newest installment of the classic Donkey Kong Country Franchise. Explosive barrels, swinging from vines, bananas, and loads of new gameplay elements will charm old fans and show newer players just why DKC is one of the greatest platforming franchises of all time.

Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze Review (Switch)

introduction

Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze was originally released on the ill-fated Wii U back in 2014. It is developed by Retro Studios and saw a port to the Nintendo Switch in May 2018. It is the successor to Donkey Kong Country Returns for the Wii and adds a lot of improvements and features.

It's no longer just DK and Diddy. Dixie and Cranky can be found in barrels, and Funky Kong has his own special mode for an easier take on the original adventure. At the core, this is a classic 2D platformer that plays very similarly to the original SNES series. Players travel across stages searching for collectibles and trying to make it to the barrel at the finish line. Like DKC Returns, Tropical Freeze is a challenging game, but the merging of new and old and Switch port feels like a breath of fresh air and a great game to revive.

You can buy the game on the Nintendo Eshop for your regional pricing.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze – Launch Trailer (Nintendo Switch)

story

Donkey Kong games aren't known for very strong plots, but the chill vibes from the original series all come back in lush environments, comedic animations, and explosive gameplay.

Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze Review (Switch) mangrove
The story starts off with some classic music from the original DKC and DK celebrating another birthday. His birthday candle is blown out, and ships full of arctic animals in Viking attire, known as Snowmads, begin to try to take over a series of islands in DKs home area. They send a frigid cold over the islands and anchor their ship on top of DK Island. DK and friends have a mission; they need to find the leader of these Snowmads and take them out to preserve their home.

The game really focuses on gameplay, but there are moments in the game that do jump out of the action. There are the cartoonish voices for each Kong family member as well as some funny cutscenes before bosses and during certain stages. I remember a cart level where you take a huge fall, and DK's eyes nearly fly out of his head as the cart hovers in the air. If you die, you need to rewatch this again. DK also likes to bang on his chest at the beginning of a stage, and your characters often try to intimidate bosses as they come face to face.

Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze Review (Switch) under water
These new cinematic editions are certainly entertaining, but I think the cartoonish voices are a little over the top. The original DKC games definitely had quirky moments like Dixie playing guitar solos at the end of stages or DK howling after defeating a boss, so it's not exactly unprecedented in Tropical Freeze anyway.

gameplay

For anyone familiar with the Donkey Kong Country games, particularly DKC Returns, the basics will be easy to pick up. It's a 2D platformer with bananas to collect for extra lives, Kong allies to find in barrels, and tons of obstacles to survive. On top of that, Snowmads, the special villains in Tropical Freeze, will try to get in the Kong's way of success as well.

One hundred bananas give you a one up, and the Kongs all offer DK a special ability. Diddy allows him to hover longer distances, using his jetpack, while Dixie spins her hair to give DK a longer jump range that also offers slight vertical movement. The addition of Cranky is interesting: he uses his cane to pound the ground and can offer a very high jump boost. Though these Kongs were fun to play with, I almost always found Dixie to be the most useful, and I rarely ever wanted to use Cranky. I found Dixie's ability to partially nullify Diddy's use, which is a little unfortunate.

Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze Review (Switch) bananas
The platforming in this game will take a lot of skill to overcome. Stuff like timing jumps on enemies for a boost and knowing your surroundings will be necessary. Retro Studios truly did an amazing job as adding obstacles as the game progresses. The first world is pretty standard, but the second world adds windmills that fall apart as you jump on them, and other obstacles include grass that burns after you touch it and having a limited lung capacity underwater. Obstacles can be particular to a world or a stage, but many are recurring and learning to survive one obstacle is essential as they don't completely disappear, but you also need to constantly know how particular terrain and obstacles will affect you.

There is definitely an undeniably difficult experience to be had here. Unexperienced players will die a ton, and even veterans to the series, like myself, will find certain levels extremely frustrating. Stages are never unfair though; this is a game that challenges you to use your platforming experience and master your terrain. I was happy to see that DK has two hearts and that an extra Kong brings you up to four hearts. It may seem like a lot, but trust me, you are going to get hit a lot in this game, and having an assist Kong is a very precious thing as Kong barrels are rarely seen in the second half of stages.

KONG letters return, as well as some other collectibles. Collecting all of them in a  world unlocks a "K" stage. These are bonus stages that are probably the most difficult in the game--don't even get me started on Bopopolis and Platform problems. The K stages unlock the elusive special world. If you want to collect these, expect to die way more times. You cannot backtrack or simply reset the stage if you miss a letter. You need to quit out and try again or come back later. To make this worse, the load times to enter a stage are longer than I would have expected.

Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze Review (Switch) ice
The worlds in DKC Tropical Freeze are very diverse. You will see beaches, rustic charm, aquatic adventures, and even a frozen DK Island etc. Every environment comes with unique platforming elements and challenges. At the end of each world lies a boss. Gone are the days of just hitting a boss three times. Bosses all have a unique strategy in Tropical Freeze and require about 12 hits to defeat. They can be tense and exciting, but dying to a boss brings you back to the start, and it can definitely be tedious to have to fight a boss over and over. The marathon battles could have been trimmed to exclude some frustration.

Lastly, this is a DKC game. There are plenty of explosive barrels, incorporating some really neat 3D elements and tense timing. You can still swing across vines and Rambi and Squawks return to help out. The cart levels and barrel riding stages from DKC Returns come back, and the familiar elements are still used creatively. There is a lot of familiar stuff, but nothing is boring or simply there to rub the nostalgia button.

Multiplayer and Funky Mode

Local multiplayer is, thankfully, a ton of fun in DKC Tropical Freeze. One player controls DK and the second player can choose whatever Kong they want to use. Both players run around the stage separately, though the second player can jump on DK's back if they wish. It adds some challenge to the game for sure, but it's a lot of fun, and I was really happy to see that local multiplayer wasn't looked over in a series that was once acclaimed for its unique tag system.

Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze Review (Switch) funky mode
I dabbled in Funky Mode, but I wanted the original challenge, so my main game file was in the original mode. Funky Kong has twice the amount of hearts, and he has a ton of range. It can be easier to jump and grab some of those dastardly KONG letters that DK can't reach alone and can be challenging even with the assistance of Dixie. This option is great for players who are new to platforming or players coming back for a more relaxed experience.

graphics & Sound

DKC Tropical Freeze is one of the most beautiful 2D games I have ever played. The environments are all lush and just loaded with details and colors. Screenshots do not do this game justice; so much of the visuals are based upon just how much of the level is interactive and all the moving parts around you, which is nearly everything on screen. The grass flows, trees sway, the wind howls in the back, and there are constantly interactive platforming elements like platforms, windmills, and vines etc. that also move.

It's an absolute feast for the eyes, and the screenshots show off the color but not the diversity of this game, which is mainly in just how well all the elements of the stage come to life and enhance the experience. Even the water is really unique in that the music completely changes when you become submerged. Retro Studios didn't leave a blade of grass or banana bunch untouched.

Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze Review (Switch) giraffe
The music in this game is also top notch. David Wise, the original DKC composer, returns for Tropical Freeze, and it really helps. There are a bunch of returning tracks from the first two Donkey Kong Country games on the SNES (didn't hear any from DKC 3), but Tropical Freeze never relies on them too heavily. Sure, the overworld map returns and levels will certainly fill old players with nostalgic charm, but the new tracks are just as groovy and inspiring as the old.

The music manages to remain immediately recognizable (stylistically) despite its diversity and ability to encapsulate any of the games varying environments. There is a whimsical and exciting feeling to the game's entire soundtrack; the percussion is top notch, and the catchy hooks, whether it be a windpipe, synthesizer, or electric guitar rope you in and tie the music to the player's emotions and series as a whole. 

Conclusion

I give DKC Tropical Freeze an objective 9/10, but I also consider this game to subjectively be a 9.8, for me personally; this is the true successor to the SNES DKC games that I have waited so long for. The levels are extremely intricate, and the way that the mechanics are built up, like a sturdy house with new rooms being added to keep things interesting, and the uniqueness of each area make this a worthy addition to the DKC legacy. Returning elements like shooting out of barrels, riding Rambi, and swinging across vines all come back with some new twists.

Tropical Freeze brings back some legendary tunes from the original series alongside a ton of groovy beats and rhythms, and the detail given to each piece of the environment is just incredible. The aesthetics deserve an absolute 10/10, and I am extremely happy with the throwbacks to the old games and just how willing Retro Studios was to trust their new ideas and never rely too heavily on the old games.

Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze Review (Switch) juicy jungle
Though this game is nothing short of amazing, there are a couple drawbacks. The difficulty, especially for those trying to unlock the secret world, can be downright frustrating. The game is usually fair, but there is no option to restart a level, and you can expect to die a lot in this game. This is accentuated in some annoying boss battles, that last just a little too long, where, if you die, you need to start the entire confrontation over again. Boss strategies were cool, but these fights could have been trimmed down a little.
The funky mode is a great addition, and the added hearts and Funky Kong's added range are great options for newer players who don't want to die over and over again to gain KONG letters or die multiple times throughout many of the game's challenging levels.

In the end, DKC Tropical Freeze is arguably the best 2D platformer released in the last decade, maybe even the best platformer in general. It fixes some of the annoyances of DKC returns and adds a couple of new characters to the mix. The difficulty is a bit more manageable, and the world is arguably the most beautiful in DKC history. This game is a must play for DK, Nintendo, or platformer plans, and it's great that this game found a proper rebirth and chance to shine on the blossoming Nintendo Switch.

PROSCONS
+ Awesome 2D gameplay – Difficulty can be over the top
+ Mechanics are built up well – Boss fights drag
+ Amazing soundtrack – Dixie seemed better than other Kongs
+ Beautiful interactive stages – Load times to enter a stage
+ More balanced than DKC Returns
9
Amazing

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