A bunch of floating platforms are placed in front of you, taking one leap you land safely on the first before something in the environment is triggered, platforms are falling and you make a lucky jump to the platform ahead. With vines located on the roof you’re able to jump and grab them while everything else collapses around you. In doing so you fail to see the enemies that come flying towards you, in a panic you try and avoid them and fall to your death. This has happened for the tenth time. The Wii U gamepad proceeds to fly against the wall. Welcome to Tropical Freeze. Who said games these days are too easy?
Retro Studio’s second go with the DKC license is more challenging than we remember any previous game in the series being. And note the word “challenging” was used, because while there are many moments of rage quitting, swearing and shouting, it never feels unfair. Whenever you fall to your death or get hit by a projectile, once the red mist has cleared you’ll come round to the fact it was probably your own fault.
In a way, Tropical Freeze could be considered a companion piece with Super Mario 3D World. While not capturing the pure joy and majesty of Nintendo’s flagship Wii U platformer, DKC can stand proudly alongside it. 3D World felt very much like it was open to everyone, welcoming in newcomers and veterans alike. Tropical Freeze is for those people who grew up on those platformers of yesteryear. Ones that after one slip up will furiously pummel you into the ground till you’re a quivering wreck.
The first world in Tropical Freeze doesn’t present that many problems, but from world 2 onwards is where it picks up. Gameplay wise it’s very similar to the previous DKC game, only this time waggle is left at the door. In fact, there’s zero waggle or touch screen support in the entire game. Perhaps not so much an admission that the unique abilities of the Wii U hardware are pointless, more admitting that there’s very little that can be added without turning challenge into frustration. The weakest area of Super Mario 3D Land were the levels that required use of the gamepads touchscreen, and with a game like Tropical Freeze that is more fast paced in its execution, it could be a nuisance. With that said, it would be nice if Retro Studios could’ve at least put something on the gamepads screen. Maybe a map or even a logo would be better than the black screen that has been given.
The new addition, and if you watched the painful demo at the Spike VGA’s you’ll know what this is, is Cranky Kong. Now in playable form, Cranky Kong is basically Scrooge McDuck, using his walking stick to pogo off the ground and enemies. Donkey Kong is always the controllable character, Cranky along with Diddy and Dixie give you their own unique abilities (and two extra hearts). Diddy able to use his jetpack to hover and Dixie channelling the spirit of Luigi and giving Donkey extra airtime when jumping. Dixie being the most useful of the characters, almost to the point where the other two became insignificant. Cranky especially as his ability can lead to all sorts of accidental deaths. Dixie’s ability also making each jump a lot easier to hit, and quite frankly we’ll take all the help we can get.
The level design while staying close to the DKC roots (with floating barrels and your standard world structure) still manages to feel fresh. Yes, the mine cart levels and flying barrels both return, but there’s still enough diversity in each level that you’ll want to see what the next one holds. It also helps that the game looks absolutely glorious. Worlds are vibrant, animations are smooth and now Donkey Kong looks better than ever. On top of the music (that borrows themes from older DKC games and gives them their own twist) this feels like a complete package and not just a rehash of the Wii game which is what everybody first feared. There is a multi-player elements added, but really this is not the type of game that benefits from two players the same way a Mario game would. Still, there’s plenty of longevity to be found in the sheer amount of collectibles and secret levels. KONG letters being scattered through each level and jigsaw pieces that are extremely well hidden, there’s plenty here for the completionist.
Tropical Freeze is a trip to a time when games didn’t hold your hand or treat you like some sort of imbecile. It revels in its challenge and while there will be many moments of screaming and frustration, it never feels unfair, and that’s what makes this game great.