The Leader of the Bunch:
Donkey Kong Country Returns was a game I never thought could recapture the DK magic from the golden era of platformers. I was wrong. I didn’t make the same mistakes doubting Tropical Freeze when it debuted on the much maligned Wii U a few years back – I knew we were in for something special. I am thrilled to report that the inevitable Switch port is even more fantastic.
Donkey Kong and his family are enjoying a nice birthday celebration when all of a sudden a cold wind blows and snuffs out the candles of DK’s cake. This northerly breeze is courtesy of a bunch of encroaching Viking-animals who are looking to turn the tropical paradise into a frozen tundra, and it’s up to Donkey Kong and his buds to put an end to this chilling conquest.
As a collect-em-up, hard-as-nails 2D platformer Tropical Freeze never really needed to tell a fantastic story – and it doesn’t. It doesn’t let overly long cutscenes or unnecessary exposition get in the way of delivering a ridiculously pure DK experience, and that’s great. In fact, one of the best assets Tropical Freeze on the Switch boasts over its Wii U counterpart is massively faster load times, getting you to the heart of the game – and the centre of the action – even quicker. Tropical Freeze has its priorities straight, and that in itself is worth applauding.
Running around these wonderfully crafted levels that are simply brimming with secrets was just as much of a joy the second time round as it was the first. Tropical Freeze really is a masterclass in level design, from the platforming challenges that command the spotlight to all the extra activities and bonus rooms just off to the side. Retro studios never stumble in presenting gorgeous levels that provide just enough of a tell to the secrets hiding off-stage that you’ll still feel smart when finding them and never unfairly robbed if you’ve missed them.
Cavorting across deadly pits by swinging on vines, rolling down hills into barrels of enemies, and tackling larger-than-life arctic boss-fights make up the core of why DK is such a treat. The steadily increasing difficulty curve that ends up providing one of the best challenges I’ve had in a platformer in recent memory is a commendable achievement, and even more so now that the Switch port offers the less capable (or more relaxed) players a new character to tackle the game with. Funky Kong is a brand new addition, bestowing double hit points and a bevvy of overpowered moves that help turn the tightly tuned mish-mash of brutal platforming sections into a breeze. It’s there if you want it or need it, and completely avoidable if you don’t – and by including this one simple addition Retro opened up the game to an audience that was always a little put-off by the difficulty.
Tropical Freeze runs beautifully on big, HD screens. With a sharper resolution and a locked framerate this is the definitive edition of the title. You’ll be pleased to know, however, that if you do decide to take Donkey on the trot with you that the performance doesn’t suffer. Whilst the resolution takes a slight bump the framerate remains locked and steady, and it’s an absolutely beautiful game to be able to play on the go.
The score might be one of Nintendo’s best, too, with some of the finest video game music ever committed to the medium. I often stopped just to take in a particular track, and whilst I’ll do the soundtrack a great injustice by attempting to describe it in words, I’ll simply say it’s breathtaking stuff.
Tropical Freeze is an absolute no-brainer if you never picked it up on the Wii U. If you missed out on the game – or the console entirely – this is an absolute must buy. For my money it’s one of the finest, most joy-filled 2D platformers ever created, up there with the likes of Rayman Legends. If you did buy it and are wondering whether DK is worth a double dip, know that this is the definitive version of the game, packaged with a couple of neat extras and wrapped up in a beautiful package. Let’s hope king of the jungle is going to return with a brand new adventure soon.
Long live the Kong!!