Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze review – a solid port of a classic

By Alex Donaldson, Wednesday, 2 May 2018 12:24 GMT

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze may be a simple port, but if you didn’t own a Wii U this title is a must-buy.

Tropical Freeze is the second Donkey Kong Country game from Metroid Prime creators Retro Studios, and it’s one of those sequels that nails absolutle everything with a real sense of swagger. It’s self-assured, tightly designed, and adds a great deal to what its predecessor had to offer.

The Wii U had a modest game library to put it politely, but on any platform Tropical Freeze would’ve been a contender for one of the best platformers of a generation – or even as one of the best of its generation period. That makes it a welcome release on a platform that people actually play, own and enjoy – the Switch.

On Switch, Tropical Freeze doesn’t add quite as much as some other last-generation Nintendo ports, the gold standard still being the excellent Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but it still receives some decent bumps in performance and quality, something most welcome in a platform title that can get surprisingly twitchy.

Docked, it runs at a solid 60 frames per second at 1080p, a significant bump from the Wii U version. In handheld mode the game actually runs below 720p, though it looks great on the Switch’s smaller screen, producing a crisp image that also refreshes at a solid, uninterrupted 60fps.

The sacrifice of resolution to ensure the frame rate is maintained in both modes is a smart decision, as Tropical Freeze gets fiendishly difficult. When timing some of the most tough jumps in stages, every frame feels like it counts.

Speaking of difficulty, the main addition to Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze on Switch is actually something to help remedy that a bit. DKC has its origins with Rare, and Rare seemed to be keen at the time to make a platform game more challenging than Mario’s adventures. Retro continued to lean into this focus on difficulty, and boy – Tropical Freeze gets brutal. If somebody tells you that Nintendo games are easy and for kids, hand them a later stage of Tropical Freeze and wish them luck. They’ll change their mind pretty fast.

Tropical Freeze had Donkey Kong accompanied by Diddy, Dixie and Cranky Kong, each coming boasting their own unique abilities. You can either play as two characters as a solo player (one Kong rides on DK’s back) or you can call a friend in to control the second Kong. All-new for Switch is Funky Kong, DK’s sunglasses and bandanna-wearing buddy.

Funky comes with a surf board, and he’s basically Tropical Freeze’s new easy mode. The surf board allows him to hover to make difficult jumps more of a breeze. If he lands on spikes, he puts the surfboard down first so that he doesn’t get hurt. Underwater he wears a snorkel and so doesn’t have to worry about getting air. He also has double health.

He’s a beast, to the point where even having Funky unlocked requires you to choose a separate “Funky Mode”. The original balance is preserved in Classic Mode.

While I didn’t end up playing too much of Tropical Freeze as Funky, one can see why he’s so useful. Finally, this previously brutal game has a good mode that’s suitable for kids or less experienced players. More experienced fans can pick up one of the other Kongs and let themselves be battered mercilessly by the stress-inducing gauntlet that many Tropical Freeze levels are – and that choice is most welcome.

The rest is largely familiar, and that makes this a much less compelling package for those who’ve already experienced Tropical Freeze. The game’s challenging and co-ordination testing cooperative play can also be played off the console undocked by snapping off a pair of Joy-Con, and that’s cool, but I also can’t see myself playing something this punishing co-cooperatively on a flight.

The important thing is that the core game behind this port is brilliant, mind. It’s difficult to actually add much new content to a game like Tropical Freeze because the original version of it is so close to perfect – so instead you end up with the same fabulously choreographed levels and challenges recreated on a new, better platform. While punishing, it largely steers clear of frustration, a perfectly-pitched mix of challenge and reward.

In this instance, that’s enough to recommend to anyone – Tropical Freeze is a classic, and a no-brained recommendation for any Switch game library.

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