I, like a lot of you, spent a good chunk of my spare time as a kid with a ragged controller in hand, hunkered down on the floor with slices of pizza and a friend or two by my side. These memories are recalled fondly, but not content to live solely in the past, I still make a point to connect with friends over a game in meatspace whenever possible. However, there were a few years when the emphasis on online gaming threatened multiplayer as I once knew it. I get it: online multiplayer is convenient. Still, a friend whimpering in defeat or celebrating triumphantly in your ear doesn't compare to the same scenario on a couch, where you feed off of each other's energy and potentially elbow each other in the ribs.
Keep your online multiplayer, I say. Give me a controller and a second player port, and I'll show you how to co-op.
Thankfully, all hope for local multiplayer isn't lost. With games such as Samurai Gunn and Nidhogg drawing GameSpot editors in like a fun-filled vortex, I'm reminded that the spirit of playing with friends is alive and well. After playing Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze with GameSpot video producer Jeremy Jayne at a local event recently, it struck me that Nintendo has actually kept the local co-op candle burning for decades, and games like Super Mario 3D World and the latest Donkey Kong sequel are ensuring that those smart enough to own a Wii U are never without opportunities to connect with a friend in front of the TV.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is enjoyable in single-player, but Retro Studios' tough-as-nails platformer begs for a partner in crime. I began playing solo, but I quickly realized that this was a mistake. Also, the game becomes very difficult very quickly, and the thought of a sidekick becomes really appealing, really fast.
So Jeremy and I teamed up to tackle Tropical Freeze and ours was the only demo station with two players in control, and compared to the furrowed brows and hushed curses coming from around the room, our boisterous and animated reactions clearly stood out. This is a game that warrants your full and undivided attention, but even though Jeremy and I died, a lot, we were enjoying ourselves in the process.
Tropical Freezes predecessor, Donkey Kong Country Returns, wasnt a walk in the park either, and it, too, was a more enjoyable experience with a second player riding along. Though I have fond memories of Returns, which was a great game in many ways, Tropical Freeze immediately overwrites that game in my mind. Tropical Freeze doesn't significantly alter the Donkey Kong Country formula, but it offers a new character to control in Cranky Kong, whose aptitude with a cane puts Scrooge McDuck to shame. Cranky not only uses it to bounce off of dangerous obstacles and kill enemies underfoot, but he puts it to work underwater as well, clearing enemies and objects from his path.
There are stages where his skill set is particularly useful, with spike traps standing between you and a collectible item, and the same goes for Diddy and Dixie Kong, two other playable characters from previous Donkey Kong Country games who reemerge in Tropical Freeze. Diddy Kong still has his jetpack, giving him an extra bit of hang time, and Dixie's ponytail achieves roughly the same effect as Diddy's jetpack, albeit with an added boost of altitude at the end. There's little your squad can't achieve when two players put these skills to good use, and though you could, in theory, achieve the same results in single-player, the two-player experience is riskier, and thus more rewarding. It may not seem right to champion anything that makes a game harder than it has to be, but if it adds to the overall enjoyment, what's not to like?
I feel the same question cross my mind when people deride Nintendo for delivering games with marginal changes to preexisting formulas and franchises, something I've been guilty of in the past. I can certainly relate to the desire for groundbreaking design and fresh settings and characters, and I can't wait for the next game from Retro Studios that pushes the envelope like Metroid Prime did on the GameCube. However, I can see no reason to hold Tropical Freeze against Retro. It's a logical successor to its previous Donkey Kong game, with new levels, characters, and yet another amazing soundtrack. While I had some fun playing on my own, I thoroughly enjoyed playing with Jeremy, someone I interact with but rarely play games with. I would have been perfectly content to keep playing, but with the cloud of impending deadlines overhead, we had to call it a day sooner than I liked.
Even though adult responsibilities eat up most of my free time, and it might be easier to arrange online multiplayer games as a result, I'm glad games like Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze continue to beat the local co-op drum. It's not an innovative or groundbreaking game by any measure, but it reminded me why I love games in the first place: they bring people together. In an era where technological innovations impose limits on our social life for the sake of convenience, I'm glad that I can still look to video games to not only connect with old friends, but also make new ones along the way.