Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze is a brand new platform game from Nintendo. It sometimes gets confused for a game that didn’t come out in 2010, on something called the Wii U, which didn’t exist.
This is my first proper play through of a Donkey Kong game since the first one. The first Donkey Kong Country game is available on the SNES Classic Mini, but I haven’t had more than a quick look at it. In some ways I wish I hadn’t had more than a quick look at Tropical Freeze, but it’s too late for regret now.
So lets start with the positive. Tropical Freeze is a very good game. A McGuffin happens so Donkey Kong has to run from the left of your screen, to the right, jumping on things as he goes. Plot is a little thin on the ground, and to be honest, who cares? It’s a platform game. You jump. The special theme of the game is cold, so there are penguins and ice. Cold things.
Tropical Freeze might be the best looking game I’ve seen running on the Switch. The colours are bright and vibrant, without getting in the way, making obstacles and enemies difficult to see. There’s plenty of variation between worlds so your eyes never get bored. The music is delightful and memorable, so expect it to be running around your head after playtime has finished.
Gameplay style is broken up with the occasional swimming or flying level. The mix is very well done, and gameplay feels balanced. These non-platforming levels are used just the right amount.
There’s nothing glaringly obvious when it comes to shortcomings.
However, I do have two little problems.
As you progress through levels, you get the chance to be aided by one of your three ape friends, Diddy, Dixie, and the old one I can’t remember the name off. It turns out that there’s no point to picking any of them but Dixie. She’s the only one with an ability that will actually help you. It’s not a game breaking problem, but it’s a huge missed opportunity.
Then there’s the issue of lives. The reason we have lives in games, is so that you can run out of them. If you run out of them, you may well put more money into the arcade cabinet you’re playing on. The problem here is that your Switch is not an arcade cabinet and you don’t need to put more money into it. It was considered groundbreaking when Super Mario Odyssey did away with lives, and it was from the first game to do so. Tropical Freeze is a hard game, and the added pressure of worrying about your life count isn’t welcome. Some of the boss battle are epic, and I found myself having twenty or more attempts at them, all the time keeping watch on how manny lives I had left. I much prefer the life free methods of Rayman Legends which allow you to throw your player into levels without having to worry about how many attempts you have before it’s game over.
That leads me to the big warning I have about this game. It’s really really hard. It’s not like Mario, not like Yoshi, and it’s definitely not Kirby. This is the game where Nintendo decide they’re going to make it hurt. Playing on the default difficulty settings, I’ve gone as far as I can. I’m no eSport world champion, but I’ve been playing games since I could hold a joystick and I consider myself to be more than competent, and I can’t get past the level I’m on no matter what I do. Sometimes the only tip is to get good. Perhaps it’s something to do with my age or level of commitment.
With all that in mind, it’s time to ask the question that people seem to be asking. Is it worth the money? Of course it is. It’s a beautifully crafted piece of art, the sort of which only Nintendo can create. Like I said earlier, I think people were getting it confused with another game that never came out on a console that never existed. It’s like how people think Sinbad was in a movie called Shazam. But even if this really was an old game ported over from an older system, it’s still worth it. If it’s a game you think you’ve already played, you haven’t, that was a dream, but if you had, the value of buying it again depends entirely on your desire to play it again, or for the first time, and only you know how much you want to do that.