Thoughts and Impressions-
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze is a game that has been met with much disdain sense It was first announced. It is almost humorous in a way. It seemed Nintendo unintentionally threw this game under the bus most of the time. It started with the first E3 2013 hype of Retro Studios new title. Or the Spike TV VGX Awards where they revealed the Cranky Kong trailer. People were expecting more from Nintendo on both these occasions. But Nintendo clearly thinks highly of this game to show it this much, Especially during an event they rarely attend, such as the VGX. Even I was expecting more from Nintendo when it came to that event. But after playing the game for about 3 Hours and playing through the first two in a half worlds, I can see they wanted to show this game so much.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a 2-D platforming game that plays just like it’s predecessor. If you have played Donkey Kong Country: Returns you will feel right at home here initially. You will generally only travel from left to right using the left thumb stick or directional pad . You will also of course be doing a lot of jumping on platforms, and on top of enemies to avoid falling to your death using the A or B button.
The mechanic of pounding has returned in which you will smash various things in the environment using the ground pound mechanic to unlock new areas, and secrets in the levels you play. Tropical freeze has made a subtle change in the mechanics when it comes to finding its secrets in the level. This change is the removal of the blow mechanic from Donkey Kong Country: Returns. In the previous game you would blow on objects whether they were flowers, windmills, or even enemies on fire. This mechanic acted as another method in unlocking, and exploring secrets in the level. Tropical freeze has removed this feature, but replaced with pulling. Now with the L and R buttons Donkey Kong can pull objects out from the ground in the environment. Like I mentioned earlier this is just subtle change but it does seem to suit the character, and environments better than the previous mechanic.
A cool addition to Tropical Freeze are the inclusions of Cranky and Dixie Kong. These two new characters play the same role as Diddy Kong did in Returns by giving you helping hand when it comes to navigating levels. The characters abilities do differ from one another so each one does serve a valuable purpose. Diddy Kong has kept his jet pack from the previous game which allows you to float in mid-air for a couple of seconds. Dixie Kong Offers extra height and a slight float with a hair twirl. And Cranky uses his cane to give you extra height in your jumps on any surface, or allows you to jump on hazards you would normally take damage from like spikes. Though the abilities do differ so far it seems like you won’t need to master them specifically for any particular one of the levels. Though some levels seem to only have one option, Other levels let you choose when you come across their barrels. It is a missed opportunity in my opinion as one of the best and most rewarding things about platformers is when they ask you to master a specific ability your character may have to get through certain levels.
A big change when it comes to Tropical Freeze is the broader level design. Anyone who plays returns knows, that the levels in that game are fairly straightforward when it comes to depth. Thought they did have you jumping into the background a lot the levels didn’t have a lot of exploration. Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze so far is alleviating that by adding underwater segments to the games early levels. Retro has also changed how unlocking extra stages work from the previous game. In Donkey Kong Country Returns you merely needed to pay a certain amount of banana coins to unlock extra stages in the world besides the Kong letter stages. Now in Tropical Freeze to unlock bonus levels in the world you will need to explore certain levels, and find hidden exits within them. So far though Retro Studios has designed it so it is fairly obvious which level you need to go into to find the secret exit.
One of the biggest things touted by retro when the game was first revealed was the new dynamic camera angles. So far these camera angles are really well done, and do a good job in expanding on the background movement ideas from Returns. They also slightly remind me of the more cinematic 3D parts of most recent sonic games, but they seem a bit more polished in their execution. They have yet to intrude on the platforming, and I haven’t yet felt that they are purposely making certain parts of the game difficult. Unfortunately though as I finished playing through the first world the second world did not really use these angles at all. The dynamic camera angle is used quite extensively in the first world, but that may have just been because the levels did feel very familiar to begin with.
On the technical side the visuals and art style are top-notch. While some areas seem quite detailed, others are lacking in same level of polish. So far though I think the game is the best looking Donkey Kong platformer I have played with Jungle Beat coming in second. One of the gripes I do have though is the load times. The first start-up screen after the main menu does take a noticeable amount of time to load, and at times the game does take longer than I’d like on loading screens. The game runs buttery smooth though when running in a level, and on the world map as far as I have gotten so far.
I also feel I must mention quickly that another huge improvement in this game is the soundtrack. One of the knocks on Donkey Kong Country Returns was that the music was way to familiar. Tropical Freeze has so far impressed me with it’s catchy music numbers. The instruments used vary greatly as well as one level you are listening to a nice jazz melody and the next stage you are listening to a hard rock guitar ballad.
So far Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze is wonderful. Even though the first world, and platforming mechanics felt very familiar at times. I do feel my biggest gripe is with the missed opportunity in the non-restrictive use of the other Kong’s. Despite these flaws, and at times some strange loading hiccups, I think that Tropical freeze has shown me enough subtle changes in mechanics and large changes in the level design, music, and new dynamic camera angles to validate its existence at the moment.