I could easily say that Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is one of the most difficult games you will ever play.
OK, so I just needed to get that off my chest and out of the way. Donkey Kong is full of bizarre contradictions that will one moment leave you thoroughly enjoying the game and the next leave you contemplating if the Wii U Gamepad would look better in two-fourteen pieces – rather than the usual one.
The game follows Nintendo’s flagship ape and all his simian friends, fighting back an army of Viking-like enemies who want to turn DK’s tropical island into a giant iceberg of Titanic sinking proportions.
Although this is the case, the game’s worlds and levels always seem to be set in the usual tropical locations of previous entries in the series and only really seems to have brought ‘ice type’ enemies to the fray, such as penguins and walruses.
Thanks to Nintendo’s expertise of making bright and beautiful games, Tropical Freeze looks superb, with amazing attention to detail on all of the characters from Donkey Kong’s fur to Diddy Kong’s cap with the Nintendo logo emblazoned across it.
Worlds and levels also look spectacular, with rich and vibrant levels that you just wouldn’t dream of seeing in a 2D side scrolling platformer.
With all of this in mind, does the game play as beautifully? Well… maybe not so much.
As I mentioned at the start of this review, you feel persistently and constantly contradicted as you play. One moment you will enjoy going back to simpler times of running back and forth and jumping on the enemies and collecting the usual items to help your score as you go (in this case bananas… obviously).
The next moment you will find yourself seething with anger, as games in this genre were never this hard and probably never will be!
Even as you play through the game’s opening world, you will feel as though you have been transported to somewhere between the mid point and the end of the game as the difficulty is relentlessly challenging and offers no forgiveness.
The game’s learning curve is practically vertical. No tutorial is given, even as you progress through the early stages, leaving most of it up to guess work as you scramble around the controller for a solution to the predicament before you.
The game only offers slight speech bubbles from a friendly pig (bare with me) who tells you what to do to overcome the obstacle.
Even still, the advice is vague with a mere diagram of the buttons to use rather than an explanation of how to execute a manoeuvre.
Perhaps the most difficult of these is the jumping from vines…
You don’t really jump, so much as fall from them, meaning your timing has to be perfect or you are plummeting to your death!
Having grown up around the platforming golden-era (the 8-bit and 16-bit consoles), jumping is a pretty fundamental and primary action for such a genre.
Even this can be obstructive, as it feels you are never really fulfilling DK’s jump. You often fall short, or never ascend to the heights you feel you should.
With all of this said, you are probably thinking ‘how on earth can a game like this be any good?’ But it can!
The games challenging nature is not necessarily one that will make you give up and vow never to play the game again, but rather one that will make you keep trying until you master the mechanics until you resemble an extra in The Jungle Book.
With enough play you eventually realise that this isn’t Mario, but a completely different creature and it takes time to adjust to this considering most people (myself included) will feel as though they should be playing a hairier version of Nintendo’s plumber. The beauty and the slight dash of complexity in a simple platformer concept will want you to work through these obstacles and when you do, it pays off with finesse and utterly satisfying results.
Overcoming such challenges is more satisfying than you realise and nothing beats 100% completing a level once you have acquired all of the collectibles hidden within.
The collectibles come in two forms: four hidden letters that spell KONG (again – obviously!) whereas the other is puzzle pieces.
Puzzle pieces are often found in hidden locations or require you to fulfil certain criteria – such as collect a bunch of bananas within an area before they disappear.
Some pieces are in hidden locations in the level and require you to bounce, jump or swing your way around within a small time frame, collecting bananas as you go. Doing so will reward you with yet another puzzle piece. Collecting all puzzle pieces within a level will unlock concept art and music.
Hidden locations also help pad out the enormous levels and will often stop you wanting to rush to the end and make you decide to take your time and look for hidden areas, new routes or alternate finishing points. These, in turn, will unlock new levels on the world map.
This also helps to extend the longevity of the game meaning that you will either spend an age on each level collecting every collectible until you finish the game, or you will be returning to previous levels to explore for new areas and hidden collectibles you may have missed.
One disappointing factor, however, is the complete lack of use of the Wii U Gamepad, which is only used if you decide to play the game on the Gamepad screen rather than the TV.
If you decide to play the game using the TV as the primary display, the Gamepad will simply show a black screen and play sounds as you collect items or interact with the world around you.
This is a pretty poor show from Nintendo and this is something I would expect from a third party company.
Another shame is the lack of co-op or multiplayer. With four characters heavily used during advertising and right there on the front cover of the game, you would expect a game such as this to incorporate some kind of multiplayer.
However, DK’s cohorts serve only to give you new abilities such as a small glide if you are partnered with Diddy or the ability bounce on any surface to great heights with Cranky.
I guess overall the game feels as though the means to turn this game from a frustrating challenge to a fun one is just out of reach.
Lack of new material means this game feels like more of the same – another Donkey Kong Country platformer, except this time it’s back with a vengeance and it wants you to work for it.
Difficulty aside, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a beautiful return to a basic and almost forgotten genre only really experimented with by indie developers.
Nintendo prove yet again that there is a lot of life left in the basics and the hard work on such pursuits really are rewarding.
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