Donkey Kong Country Review: Tropical Freeze

By now we should know, after works like the Metroid Prime trilogy and the wonderful Donkey Kong Country Returns, the name Retro Studios is synonymous with the highest quality. A study that in the span of a scarce fifteen years has proven to perfectly master very different genres such as first-person adventures and old-school 2D platformers, also passing through racing games (it is difficult to forget their contribution, even if of pure labor, to Mario Kart 7). Yet despite everything, the presentation of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze during the Nintendo Direct of E3 2013 left more than one fan unhappy. Those who expected something different from the Texans, maybe a new Metroid or maybe a new “mature” IP; those who expected a job whose graphic impact would most mark the generational leap from Wii to Wii U; who, on the other hand, maliciously pointed the finger at the "leaks of talents" that punctually hit Retro after every major release. It is with great pleasure, therefore, that we finally welcome the infamous Tropical Freeze to the test of fire, ready to see if once again the Texan team of Nintendo has been able to silence skeptics and detractors.

Something familiar ...

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is the sequel Wii U by Donkey Kong Country Returns, a title released in 2010 on Wii and revived in 2013 on 3DS. Once the fearsome Tiki Tak has been vanquished, this time a new group of fierce enemies is disturbing the tranquility of the Kong family and their beloved island: the Nevichingi. This group of Viking glacials, made up of polar animals such as penguins, polar bears, seals and sea lions, will in fact be able to chase the apes from their island, transforming that tropical paradise into a real frozen hell. The aim of the game will therefore be to cross a series of islands, defeating outposts of Nevichinghi and gradually get closer and closer to the lost homeland, to regain it once and for all. This little gimmick allowed Retro to focus on a whole host of new environments, very different from those that characterized Returns. The various islands that we will explore will in fact consist of the most disparate locations: not only the classic jungles and beaches, but also fiery savannahs, underwater worlds and incredible fruit juice factories in the middle of the forests. The result is that there isn't a single level that looks like, or was recycled from the previous game, making Tropical Freeze extremely fresh and varied even for those who have spent a lot of time on Returns. From the gameplay point of view, there are many points in common with the previous game, but also some important news. The basic structure remains the same, with 2D levels to traverse, enemies to be eliminated by jumping over them or by using barrels and other gimmicks, letters and hidden puzzle pieces to collect, any secret exits to discover and so on. Even the level design recalls the excellent one of Returns, with never two levels that resemble each other in concept or feeling, but always each built on different ideas: we go from the level in which the enemies have placed bombs and mines everywhere to the one in which we have to go through. a savannah hit by a tornado, one in which a terrible fire consumes the various platforms forcing us to a fast-paced platforming, to those underwater, to those in which to ride the rhino Rambi or the infamous mine cart. In addition to the enormous variety of the base, the taste for is also back a "rhythmic" gameplay, which allows, once you get into the spirit of the game, to proceed instinctively through particularly challenging phases, giving a lot of satisfaction to the player who reaches the end of the level by relying on the "flow" of the gameplay.

… And something new

So what's different from Returns? First of all il difficulty level, recalibrated and made more accessible. Although many hardcore players have appreciated the great difficulty of Returns, it seems that the criticisms of less experienced users have caused Nintendo to decide to reduce the difficulty level of Tropical Freeze. Let's be clear: for the common player, however, the title is not easy, you die a great number of times, especially if you play with carelessness and lightness; on the other hand, a huge number of extra lives is provided, so that Game Over is practically impossible, and that everything is resolved with the memorization of the most difficult passages. The latter are far fewer than in Returns during the main game, allowing anyone to finish the story without going crazy, while they find themselves in large quantities in the various secret levels, a sign of Retro's willingness to leave a "sop" to the players. more demanding. Other novelties are the introduction of aquatic levels and the presence of two new supporting characters in addition to Diddy Kong, that is Dixie Kong e Cranky Kong. Spending a few words on the gameplay of the aquatic levels we can say that it is made in an extremely precise way, avoiding the frustrations that many 2D platformers present in these situations. The inertia during swimming and the air levels have been calibrated to perfection, and the difficulty is rarely incorrect with the player: as on the other hand with the terrestrial phases, any possible life lost is due to a player's error. , not to a difficulty or a level design that is demanding, but never unfair. The presence of two new support characters allows instead to further diversify the gameplay of the game: if Diddy Kong allows, as already in Returns, to glide for a couple of seconds after a jump, Dixie Kong will instead allow to perform a sort of "double jump ”useful for reaching high platforms or for correcting any errors. Cranky Kong instead will allow you to use your stick as a Pogo Stick, exactly like Scrooge Scrooge in DuckTales. In this way it will be possible to cross normally lethal stretches of land, such as barbed wire, or to kill enemies that have horns or thorns, usually immune to normal jumping. In the game there will be both levels that will force the use of a particular partner, for level design reasons, and levels in which we can freely choose one of the three, perhaps going to greatly modify our strategy and our path in that level. Even some secrets will only be accessible with the help of a specific partner, greatly increasing the replayability and longevity of the title.

Tropical orchestra

It is useless to deny that during its E3 2013 presentation, Tropical Freeze was not particularly brilliant from a graphical point of view, and that even in subsequent trailers and showcases (here our impressions of the build from last July) the game often seemed like a mere upgrade of Donkey Kong Country Returns. In the final version of the game, things have changed dramatically, even if we are still not faced with the maximum that Wii U can give. The most immediate novelty is the technique used to make Donkey Kong's fur, the various apes and enemies' fur realistic, a fur shading with convincing and realistic results, which together with a series of small touches helps to make the visual appearance extremely pleasant. . While not presenting itself with a riot of polygons and special effects, Tropical Freeze manages to amaze with the beauty of its seabed and its animations. Not only are the various characters animated with maniacal care, but also countless elements of the backdrops are mobile, alive, believable, with an impressive attention to detail. Even the settings, more varied than those of Returns, contribute to this picture, thanks to their bright and gaudy colors. Finally, a special mention for the new camera, which will not only shoot the action from the side, but which in some sequences (for example when our heroes are shot from an explosive barrel, or when they are aboard the mine cart) will follow by close to DK and his companions, allowing you to observe the three-dimensional worlds created by Retro from an unprecedented point of view. To crown it all, we think the extraordinary fluidity of the game, nailed on 60 FPS (the resolution instead is 720p, possibly upscaled to 1080p), which makes everything more pleasing to the eye and more satisfying to play at the same time. The sonic aspect had perhaps been one of the weakest in Donkey Kong Country Returns, with music that did its job well, yet did not excel. For this sequel Nintendo and Retro Studios managed to contact and engage David Wise, one of the three composers of the original Donkey Kong Country trilogy. Needless to say, Wise's contribution was fundamental to say the least and that where the music was the weak point of Returns, in Tropical Freeze they become the real strength. Wise has managed to create a large number of unpublished compositions of great effect, with a particular ambient and intimate taste in some levels (the melodies of the aquatic levels are beautiful), and epic and adventurous in others (simply spectacular and exciting the Snowing theme) . A very high level and truly inspired soundtrack, free of weak tracks, and able to really give the game an edge.

You wish it would never end, yet ...

Thanks also to the reduced difficulty of the main game, Tropical Freeze is definitely a shorter game than Returns. Not only that: the worlds present are only 6 against the 8 of the predecessor, and despite the average length of the levels is slightly higher, the widespread feeling is that of being faced with a title shorter than the previous one. There are certainly ways to tone down this brevity, including 100% game completion (which will force you to hunt every single secret and tackle the extra tough extra levels) and the ability to tackle the various levels in time-attack mode (and conquer the gold medal in each level will be no small feat, which will require enormous command control and great skill from the player), but in the end it's hard not to feel a bitter taste in the mouth: Tropical Freeze is so much fun, varied and well built that you would like to last forever. Unfortunately this is not the case. There is, as in Returns, a modality two-player local multiplayer, in which the first player will use Donkey Kong and the second one chosen by Diddy, Dixie and Cranky. It goes without saying that this is a useful addition as a pastime with friends and family, but that any real commitment to tackle the entire game in co-op is soon frustrated by a level design that does not suit two players, being designed for a single player. From this point of view Tropical Freeze proposes the same exact shortcoming of Returns, and it is a pity that we have not tried to overcome this problem. As for the exclusive features of Wii U, unfortunately Tropical Freeze barely exploits them: there is only a basic integration with Miiverse, while the GamePad is not used in any way: you can simply choose whether to show the game on the television screen or on the GamePad screen, leaving the other screen black and unused. A shame, also because it should be Nintendo's job to show the possible uses of a tool like the GamePad, and because a very talented team like Retro would have had what it takes to amaze us, a bit like what happened with motion controls. by Metroid Prime 3: Corruption.

Verdict 9/10 Years go by, but DK is still the boss Comment Despite everything, once again, Retro Studios never ceases to amaze us. If you thought Donkey Kong Country Returns was hard to match, you were wrong: In many ways, though not all, Tropical Freeze is even better than it. I'm talking about the variety of levels, their graphic impact, and above all the extraordinary soundtrack. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is an epic and addicting platformer, with a textbook level design and rock solid gameplay. In what then does it not surpass its predecessor? Without a doubt in longevity: despite all the artifices we are faced with a shorter game than Returns. And then not everyone might appreciate the downward retouch of the difficulty. Undoubtedly the game will still be very difficult for less experienced players, but some hardcore gamers may not appreciate what will inevitably be a reduction in the level of challenge in their eyes. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze may not, in the end, upset us as Returns upset us for the simple fact that we have already played Returns, but it undoubtedly remains a work of the highest quality and a cornerstone of Platform 2D for years to come . We would certainly have preferred more use of the GamePad, though. Pros and cons Sublime gameplay and level design
More varied than the predecessor
Good graphics and extraordinary music x A little shorter and easier than Returns
x Little use of the potential of the GamePad
x Improved multiplayer

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