Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze [referred to as DKC in the review] is the game the Wii U has been longing for in order to convince those who weren’t settled on the console’s potential, based on another Super Mario game. Three hours into the game and DKC proved to be an enjoyable 2D platformer that delivered a colourful and vibrant experience, coupled by fair challenge and a variety in gameplay.
DKC starts off with Donkey Kong and friends celebrating his birthday centered around the temptation of Banana topped cake and tropical sunshine. This ends all to quickly however as the island is invaded and overrun by an army of Atlantic wildlife known as Snomads. In traditional video game fashion it’s up to Donkey Kong and friends to take down his frozen foes and reclaim the island.
On the surface DKC is a colourful and well detailed game, colours pop out, the environment is alive, and character animations are consistently fluid. DKC is flawless in the performance department as it contains no graphical hitches, texture problems, frame rate dips or slow-downs whatsoever, all in all DKC plays as great as it looks and is a joy to watch in motion.
Although DKC is a remarkably good looking game and each level is colorful, vibrant and captures the core representation of past Donkey Kong games, it lacks a modern charm that others such as Rayman Legends and Trine 2 bring to the table. DKC is exciting visually, but this falls flat as everything you see from the first few levels of the game become all to common. Additional special environmental details or effects in lighting would have been welcomed as the game looks bland in comparison to other titkes.
While the game offers up plenty of variety in its level design at first, some aspects of this become stale and repetitive and fail to keep things changing as it’s all introduced in the earlier parts of the game. Swinging on vines, rolling under spiked logs, and evading sharks is fun and all, but as most of these platforming challenges aren’t spaced out enough through many of its levels, you tend of go in to each one with a fair idea of what to expect.
Vehicle sections such as riding a rhino and boarding a miners cart help keep things moving at faster pace, and this stops each level from over staying its welcome and gives the player a change in progression and length. Despite these few minor flaws each level carries an energy with it that feel alive within its own personality. Platforms tilt, plants in the background move in the wind, and even the hazardous traps and pitfalls manage to have their own cheery sense of attitude and life.
Each level is taken on through a series of island based hubs that allow you to keep track of your progression. Outside of actual gameplay the player is free to visit one of the shops run by the Funky Kong, where they can spend points they’ve earned throughout the game on perks, character changes and additional lives. These perks aren’t necessary in order to get through the game and don’t do much in the way of mixing up gameplay. The good news however is that the accumulation of coins and bananas will never be scarce to the player, so they should in no way feel the need to worry about obtaining a certain perk or skill, in order to overcome a specific level.
As DKC offers the choice of local two-player cooperative mode via another gamepad, pro controller, or Wii-mote, this adds a social dynamic that can help spice up gameplay and how you approach each level. The game itself while delivering a ton of choice in control methods, presents an unavoidable and noticeable issue that will no doubt grab the player’s attention right from the start, and this is in the Wii U gamepad.
Nintendo manages to contradict themselves with this game and it sits on the line of Wii-accessory and “Wii-bother”. On one hand they deliver a game after two years of waiting that finally gives people a valid reason to purchase the Wii U, if they haven’t already been convinced by the sheer greatness that is Super Mario 3D World. While on the other hand, they manage to demonstrate the lack of a value proposition with the Wii U gamepad. DKC provides no options or additional features for the Wii-U gamepad other than to switch which screen you play on.
There’s no touch features, mini map, progression display, or even a shortcut menu that may have given a better use case for the inventory system, such as activating your chosen perks on demand. As one display is chosen for gameplay your TV or gamepad, the other screen immediately turns to black. Which in the case of the TV being your main output display renders the gamepad to a pitch black state that thinks it’s suitable to leave the back-light running therefore killing the awful battery time that the gamepad is already known for having.
While this presents a strong reason in the case of the gamepad still being seen as a Wii U accessory that is nothing more than a gimmick, it doesn’t do anything in damaging the core gameplay or detracting anything away from the experience. The Wii U gamepad still remains to prove its potential and why it’s such as crucial component as being part of the experience. You play the game, realize there’s no benefit in it, and you spend your entire playthrough making notes to yourself of how you would have personally incorporated the touch pad and made it an essential device. This seems to be the case for many of Nintendo’s Wii-U games, not just DKC.
As the controls rely heavily on the use of precise platforming, the soft buttons on the gamepad became a nuisance at times as they can be slow to respond. This slow responsive in the gamepad damages the balance between Donkey Kong’s own momentum and platforming, this can lead to poor judgement and decision making in traversing the environment. I recommended playing this game with a Wii U Pro controller just to save the aggravation as well as the disappointment from the gamepad’s slow nature to respond and lack of features.
Donkey Kong Country introduces Dixie Kong and Cranky Kong along with the already known Diddy Kong as secondary players controlled by a human partner or the game’s A.I. It fails however to make any real use of them or provide any advantage that Donkey Kong himself couldn’t have overcome. Each character has the ability to hold Donkey Kong in the air for an extended period of time. Whether its Dixie’s hovering hair, Diddy’s jet pack, or Cranky’s pogo-like walking stick, neither one of this differentiates itself enough from the other to really affect your choice in who you take along with you.
There’s no denying the fun-factor that each one presents visually, but as the platforming results are the same and you’ll spend the majority of your time landing on the enemies head’s to defeat them, neither one of these assist characters contain anything special in the way of combat. One thing that did strike me though and I guess you could say it’s down to Nintendo’s own comedic logic is Cranky Kong’s maneuverability. He requires the ride of Donkey Kong’s back plus his own walking stick just to make his way around the environment, yet he’s a professional athlete when it comes to the sport of Pogo stick. Cranky Kong do your thing old timer.
In the end DKC is an exciting adventure that provides plenty of replay value long after completing the game. A local two-player experience, secret areas to uncover, and gameplay perks to mix up the fun in an intricate and engaging choice of levels. Donkey Kong has returned once again proving the Wii U to be a viable next-generation console.
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo Wii U.