As anyone who’s played it will tell you, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is one of the best platformers to have been made over the last decade or so – maybe even beyond that. When it first launched on the Wii U in 2014, it instantly became one of the system’s best games, but due to platform’s own failings as a commercially viable product, the game just couldn’t reach the masses the way it probably should have. Four years later, Nintendo have brought Tropical Freeze over to the Switch, as they have been doing with so many other Wii U games, giving it a chance to reap the kind of success and acclaim it deserves.
"As anyone who’s played it will tell you, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is one of the best platformers to have been made over the last decade or so – maybe even beyond that."
Tropical Freeze is, just as it was back when it first launched, an absolutely stellar game, brimming with ideas both innovative and traditional executed to near-perfection, with smart and tight level design that is in equal measures an absolute blast while playing and genuinely challenging, all of which is brought together in an amazing package that also boasts of excellent production values in both visuals and music. Everything that made this game so great four years ago is still here today (and in some cases, much of it is a lot more polished), while developers Retro Studios have also added in elements to make it a much more accessible and welcoming package to those that might not be veterans of 2D platformers.
The biggest of those additions is Funky Kong, a lesser known but extremely cool member of the Kong family, and the centrepiece of what is possibly one of the best “easy” modes you will ever see in a platformer. While playing as Funky, you have extra health, can double jump, slow down the speed of your fall, drop on spikes without taking damage, and roll and swim as much as you want- all of this gives you a significant edge while you make your way through the game’s levels, making it much less challenging than it is ordinarily. What’s notable, though, is that while you’re playing as Funky, rather than making you invincible and completely immune to any and all hazards present in the game, Tropical Freeze instead only gives you advantages. Even though the game is markedly easier in Funky mode, it still requires agency and skilful platforming. The only difference here is that you just have more margin for error.
And make no mistake, playing as Funky Kong will start looking like more and more of an attractive option as you continue playing through Tropical Freeze. This is a very challenging game, one that is constantly throwing new and unpredictable hurdles your way. From the bosses – which are incredibly designed and a joy to go up against, but also put up a very tough fight – to some of the faster moving levels, which require you to make series of complex jumps so quickly you’re almost doing it on an impulse more than anything else, to the way the levels dynamically keep changing, constantly throwing fresh obstacles at you to always keep you on your toes, Tropical Freeze keeps finding new ways to put your skills to the test. Much like any other game that is as challenging as this one is, the sheer gratification and satisfaction you get from beating these challenging is perhaps the best part of the game. If, however, you’re the kind of player who gets frustrated by such things and would rather go for an experience that is more forgiving but still very enjoyable, Funky Kong lets you do just that, without making the game too easy.
"What’s notable is that while you’re playing as Funky, rather than making you invincible and completely immune to any and all hazards present in the game, Tropical Freeze instead only gives you advantages."
The challenging nature of Tropical Freeze rarely ever veers into the territory of being cheap or unfair, though. This is the kind of game that will induce many screams and groans of frustration from its players, but rarely will it ever feel like it’s being difficult only so that it can check off that box. The credit for that goes to the game’s level design, which is some of the tightest and most creative you will see in a 2D platformer from the last few years. Every level in Tropical Freeze presents new gimmicks or new mechanics, and gradually goes on to squeeze every last bit of gameplay potential out of these ideas, while mixing them with things that people have come to associate with the Donkey Kong Country games. This makes every stage fresh and unique, to the point where you’re genuinely excited to see what situation the game will put you in next.
It also helps that each stage in Tropical Freeze inherently encourages replays. The primary goal in every stage is, of course, to get to the finish line, but there’s a lot else to do as well. Every level contains KONG letters and a number of puzzle pieces for players to collect, which are entirely optional challenges to undertake. These present opportunities to put your platforming skills to the test by performing jumps and feats that players of the more casual ilk may not be able to. Several puzzle pieces are also hidden in off-screen sections of the stages, giving you the opportunity to look for these areas to satisfy your completionist tendencies. There’s also the fact that the addition of Funky Kong – who lets you blast through levels at a much quicker pace than any of the other Kongs – opens up completely new doors for all the speed-runners out there. All of this gives those who’re interested enough plenty of reasons to keep coming back to game even beyond its roughly 10 hour runtime.
Beyond Funky Kong, Retro have made a few other improvements to Tropical Freeze on the Switch, though obviously none of them are as significant. While playing docked, the game runs at a resolution of 1080p, which is a notable step-up from the Wii U version’s resolution of 720p- which, by the way, is the resolution it drops back down to when you’re playing in handheld mode. Just like the Wii U version, the game also runs at a consistent 60 frames per second, regardless of whether you’re playing handheld or docked. You don’t need to be told why that is a major bonus for a twitch platformer such as this one- or any other game, for that matter. Meanwhile, loading times on the Switch are also significantly faster than on the Wii U.
"Every level in Tropical Freeze presents new gimmicks or new mechanics, and gradually goes on to squeeze every last bit of gameplay potential out of these ideas, while mixing them with things that people have come to associate with the Donkey Kong Country games."
The biggest pitfall Tropical Freeze on the Switch might face with many people might be the fact that by way of new content, there’s not much going on here, barring the addition of Funky Kong, of course. If you played the game on the Wii U, there’s not a lot on the Switch that you haven’t already seen before, and the prospect of getting to play through its excellently designed levels once again is probably going to be the biggest (or maybe even the only) draw for you. If you haven’t played Tropical Freeze before, however, this is the perfect opportunity to experience an astonishingly well-made game. Thanks to its music, its colourful and sharp visuals, its incredible level design, and the nature of its fair-yet-unforgiving challenge, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze has instantly earned its place as one of the best games currently available on the Switch.
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch.
Incredibly smart and varied level design; Very challenging; Funky Kong mode is much easier but still very enjoyable; Excellent music.
Very little new content.