Game Review: Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze

February 26, 2014
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Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze – Nintendo Wii U  US$46.95

You can’t make a monkey out of Nintendo‘s favorite ape mascot, that’s for sure. Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze is the latest, and unquestionably greatest, manifestation of a fantastic franchise. Donkey Kong is a franchise beloved of late middle-aged children on down and this version, lovingly put together by people who are clearly fans from way back is a big fat hit. Not only does it have a beautiful look about it, it’s endlessly funny and inventive.

The only thing wrong here is that the game’s old-school designers have made basically no concessions to the Wii U original attributes – Although you can play it on the GamePad‘s screen, freeing up your TV, its control system ignores the touch-screen. Without utilizing the classic left-to-right-scrolling platform, it really doesn’t offer any convincing irresistible reason for the unconverted to invest in a Wii U instead of a PS4 or XboxOne. That’s a pity, because, without a Wii U you’ll miss out on hours of pure platform action. Above all, it’s a shame that Nintendo’s people just couldn’t get it together enough to cut a deal with the folks at Play Station or Xbox: A loss to both an AWOL pool of fans and your wallet!

Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze

Concept-wise, the Tropical Freeze tag is explained by an intro sequence, in which a chill blows through the lush bougainvillea of a jungle paradise, beautifully created by the artists inhabited by Donkey Kong and friends, and the island is invaded by Snowmads, penguins and owls and all kinds of exotic wildlife. It’s your job to restore order by enhancing and then finishing up different worlds’ worth of levels. Precision platform action is the general order of the day. Yet, because it’s Donkey Kong Country, there’s an abundance of activity levels involving jumping around in various makeshift vehicles, flying from barrel to barrel, and, naturally, climbing from tree to tree, swimming like a hirsute Michael Phelps, and swinging from vines, often accompanied by his three amigos: Diddy Kong, Dixie Kong and that crafty Lord of the tropical trees, Cranky Kong.

Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze

A few cool additions, too. There are pull-up handles, revealing power-ups and the ability to refresh and thus reshape the scenery. Survive with a companion on your back, and there are bonuses built in, points rewards and extra power to unleash a Kong Pow attack, which kills all enemies. Be sure to collect the displayed bananas. Collect them all quickly enough and you’ll receive a reward, like puzzle-pieces. Collecting tokens, which are generously placed around Tropical Freeze, is of the essence, since Funky Kong’s shop has received something of an upgrade, with a welter of new items like green balloons, and cow-catchers for mine carts.

Every elevated level contains some kind of creative turn, most of which are silly enough to have you giggling. Like, who thought up the incendiary hedgehogs you need to throw plums at to extinguish? Or, the wee baby owls in their eggs and others who are already out. Them you have to squash before using their corpses as missiles. The folks who designed and engineered this baby have a kind of surrealist anarchy about them.  At times, Tropical Freeze abandons its left-to-right rigidity by using sequences that move into and out of the screen, showing off the magnificent quality of the normally low-key graphics, which is kind of a shame. It’s certainly the best-looking Wii U game I’ve seen.

Tropical Freeze has a two-player co-operative mode which lets someone else (using a Wii Remote) jump in to play as your companion. This part of the game is fantastic and will surely be a fine ice-breaker during holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas parent-sibling bonding. Tropical Freeze definitely offers good value for money. It runs incredibly long, especially considering the game’s increasingly fearsome and adrenaline-level raising difficulty levels. The very fact that it is so crammed full of collectibles like Kong letters and puzzle pieces will keep you occupied for a long, long time.

So, really, it’s a great game – exactly what we expect from Nintendo. But in a way, that’s also its problem: anyone with a Wii U would be a fool not to buy it, but so few people have committed to the Wii U, and in order to rectify that, Nintendo needs to woo the unconverted with all-new gaming experiences. The gaming experience Tropical Freeze provides is rich, enjoyable, challenging and frequently hilarious.

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