Donkey Kong switches it up in Tropical FreezeMay 17, 2018
Review: “If at first you don’t succeed try, try again.” Wise words that apply as much to work as they do to play, and a phrase that anyone who has experienced the exercise in frustration that is Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze will be all too familiar with.
Plenty of games are based around the idea of trial and error, but this is more a case of trial by error. You will fail, fail, and fail again but somehow you keep coming back for more.
Sometimes it feels as if the failure is a fundamental part of the experience, an essential rite of passage that must be endured to maximise the satisfying pay-off that comes from the rare, fleeting moments of success.
Here’s how a typical session plays out: Die. Die again. Die three or four more times, give up for a while and come back for “one more go”. After the ninth or tenth try, swear at the screen, die again, then invent some entirely new swear words as none of the usual ones accurately reflect your level of rage.
Sounds like a blast, right? Well, it’s worth considering that any game this challenging would have to have something going for it in order for you to tolerate such torture – if it wasn’t so good, you simply wouldn’t bother.
First and foremost, this is a game with some serious pedigree. Tracing a 37-year lineage that goes right back to the arcade classic that introduced Mario to the world, Tropical Freeze is essentially a souped-up version of the game that appeared on the Wii U back in 2014.
Like Mario Kart 8 before it, the decision to repackage an old game for a new platform is justified by the fact that hardly anyone bought a Wii U, and millions of people have already snapped up a Switch. Games this good deserve an audience, so it’s not quite as money-grubbing as it seems. It’s also the sort of game that’s perfectly suited for pick-up-and-play gaming on the move.
The one major addition to the Switch version of the game is the new Funky Mode, allowing you to ditch Donkey and play as Funky Kong, DK’s bandana-sporting surf dude cousin. This basically serves as an “easy mode”, as Funky is impervious to spikes, has a double jump of sorts and can take up to five power-up items into each level.
You’d think that this would be a welcome tonic in a game so fiendishly tough, but if anything, playing as Funky simply makes that game far too easy. It’s the equivalent of going out for a curry and the only two options on the menu being a lava-hot vindaloo or a timid korma.
For me, the true beauty of the Tropical Freeze comes from its demanding difficulty level which forces you to up your game and rewards your perserverance. Funky Mode is great for kids or people who really don’t have the time or patience to play through a level 12 times, but I tried to avoid it wherever possible.
Graphically, it’s nothing short of stunning – with gloriously detailed characters and lifelike backdrops brought to life by amazing animation and subtle lighting effects. It looks even better than it did on the Wii U, running in full 1080p when docked to the TV and holding a steady 60fps frame rate throughout.
The music is equally impressive. Bringing original composer David Wise back into the fold has resulted in a stellar soundtrack that cleverly combines updated versions of classic themes with remixes and original compositions. Several levels incorporate the audio into the action, Rayman-style, as the score dynamically reacts to what’s happening on screen.
Most importantly though, Tropical Freeze is an incredibly well designed game, fine-tuned right down to the tiniest detail and full of subtle touches that make it instantly endearing despite its difficulty.
Platform games sink or swim on the “feel” of the action, and each jump, swing and slide is perfectly processed – vitally important in a game where the tiniest pixel can make the difference between success and yet another frustrating failure.
As with earlier games in the series, Donkey Kong can smash barrels in each level to unlock helper monkeys and make things a little easier. Each mini-Kong has a different ability; long-time sidekick Diddy gives a brief boost with his jetpack, Dixie adds vertical lift with a spinning ponytail, and Cranky bounces after landing on his cane.
If you fancy sharing the ordeal with a mate, co-op gameplay is well integrated, with player one taking control of the main monkey and additional players operating as one of the trio of offsiders. It might have been fairer to allow both players to use the same character but, a problem shared is a problem halved, and there are certainly plenty of them to go round.
As one of the most difficult games of recent years, Tropical Freeze is probably not one for the faint-hearted, but if you like a challenge, the steep learning curve is a refreshing change from the modern trend of dumbed-down cakewalks that hold your hand through every tricky section. It won’t be an easy ride, but you’ll get a lot out of it.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Platforms: Nintendo Switch