NS Review – Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Switch)


2014 was arguably the best year for the Nintendo Wii U; it saw the release of many of the console’s highest-selling games, including the no. 1 seller Mario Kart 8, the Switch release of which has already surpassed the original’s sales. Nintendo also released Super Smash Bros for Wii U, a game that’s still being played in both competitive and casual circles. Other high-profile releases included Bayonetta 2 and Hyrule Warriors, both of which are already confirmed for the Switch.

The next biggest game of that year would be Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, developed by Retro Studios and released in February. Four years later, the title has been revived for the Switch with a few tweaks, a new mode, and a fifth playable character.

Stylin’

The Switch version of Tropical Freeze doesn’t quite feel like the DX upgrade seen in games like Mario Kart 8 DX and Pokkén Tournament DX. Most content remains the same, which makes it difficult to recommend to those who played the Wii U original to completion.

For those who haven’t played Tropical Freeze at all, there’s no doubt that you should pick this up. It’s a fantastic platformer with a gorgeous cartoony art style, solid level design, and plenty of challenge. David Wise’s soundtrack is one of the best from recent times. The visuals on the Switch version have received a very subtle upgrade as well. It’s showing Retro Studios in their consistent top form, and it’s exciting to think about what the studio is working on at the moment. Amusing as it would be, it’s unlikely they’ve spent the last four years perfecting the new Funky Mode.

Funky Mode is the biggest addition to the Switch version, and with it comes Funky Kong. This bodacious primate ran the item store in the Wii U game, and that role gets filled by a stylish parrot instead.

Funky can’t walk around on spikes, but he won’t get hurt by them

Funky Mode is more variable than it initially seems. First off, Funky Kong plays like a combination of the other four Kongs. He can roll infinitely, double jump, slowly glide downwards, land on spikes, breathe underwater, and jump on certain enemies that the other Kongs can’t. He also has 5 hit points. The powerful stats mean that Funky can’t be supported by an additional Kong in single-player mode, although 2-player mode allows players to combine Funky with another Kong. Funky himself has been given plenty of personality, confidently strutting his stuff and teasing bosses before the battle. Sadly the pre-rendered cutscenes have been recycled without him.

It isn’t necessary to play as Funky Kong in Funky Mode; the player can choose Donkey Kong, who will start with 3 hearts instead of the original 2. This increases to 6 when a second Kong character is acquired. Funky Mode also allows the player to select items – such as Squawks or Banana Juice – during the middle of a stage rather than at the beginning. Store items are also cheaper. It’s a mode that makes the overall experience a little less ferocious, and considering the complaints about the original difficulty, it’s a welcome inclusion.

So in general, Tropical Freeze for the Switch is all about accommodating inexperienced players, and those who struggled with the brutal difficulty of the original. Funky Mode makes the game more accessible, while still giving options by offering either Funky Kong or the original four. Besides Funky Mode, players can start the game in Original Mode, which is how the game was in the Wii U version.

In 2-player Funky Mode, Funky Kong will still have 5 hit points. The other player has 3

One potential problem with Original Mode and Funky Mode is this: once a player starts a new game, they can’t switch to the other mode. This could affect players wishing to make the game easier or harder for themselves without restarting from the beginning. For example, a player might want to start out in Funky Mode, but improve as they progress and desire to make things more challenging. Conversely, a player might reach the later stages and struggle to succeed. With frustration setting in, they may wish to make the game easier by selecting Funky Mode. In either case, the player has no choice but to restart. It’s not a universal issue, however there aren’t any noticeable differences in rewards between the new modes either. As far as I’m aware, the same rewards are earned in either Funky or Original Mode, so it feels somewhat arbitrary to restrict players from switching.

It’s a blot on what is otherwise a convenient game. Player Two no longer has to drop out and re-join in order to change their character; it can be done from the menu. Naturally, all control schemes are supported, including support for a single Joy-Con. Playing Tropical Freeze on the portable screen is fantastic too.

“NOT FUNKY”

The other improvement worth mentioning is loading times. As good as the original was, the loading times would linger, which was frustrating especially for simple tasks such as visiting the item store. Now the item store’s loading time is virtually non-existent, and while other loading times are naturally still present, their length has been cut down.

Whether you should purchase Tropical Freeze on the Switch comes down to a few factors. Anyone who hasn’t played the game at all should definitely consider it, and players who found the original too difficult to finish may want to retry it. Competing against that recommendation is the lack of new levels or challenges for veterans, as well as the steep retail price considering its status as a port. Therefore, those who already played through Tropical Freeze extensively will probably want to pass, unless they’re seeking to replay it along with the bonus of portability. It’s the same fantastic game it was four years ago, for better or worse.

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