Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is another in a host of games that launched on the Wii U, but never saw the recognition they deserved due to how poorly the Wii U sold. Nintendo’s making up for that fact by re-releasing many such titles on its new portable powerhouse, the Nintendo Switch. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is not only a joy to play, but it’s a surprisingly astute return to what made the SNES series so great in the 90s. This is our Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze review for the Switch.
DKC has always been a series that loads you up on lives and then takes them away from you frequently with difficult but not annoyingly so platforming. Tropical Freeze can be a really hard game, but like all great challenges, it never feels cheap. You always know that it’s something you did or didn’t do that causes your balloons to pop. There are six “worlds” in Tropical Freeze, and Donkey Kong, Diddy, Trixie, and Cranky scour each of them while gobbling up bananas, riding mine carts, saddling rhinos, and firing themselves out of barrels to stop an invading army of frosty Viking penguins from turning their jungle paradise into a polar mess.
The basics are the same. Each world has levels dotted over the map, and as you complete one level, you unlock the next. Complete special bonus objectives in a level and you may unlock bonus levels. If you remember the old top-down maps of Super Mario World or any other Donkey Kong Country, you get the picture. Spotted throughout each world is Funky Kong’s shack, where he’ll sell you special power-ups you can take into levels to help you survive the arctic onslaught. Extra lives, fall-save balloons, and so forth. But unlike the original release, Funky Kong also gets in on the action of Tropical Freeze.
Funky Kong, bandana and tank-top wearing surfer dude that he is, is what I like to call Tropical Freeze’s “Easy Mode”. When the game originally launched on Wii U, some deemed it too hard, especially for families. When you start a new save game in the Switch version, you can choose Classic Mode (which keeps the challenge intact) or Funky Mode, which allows the eponymous gorilla to help you out and make sure things never get too frustrating. As loathe as I am to admit it, Funky Mode is just more fun than classic mode. I started two games – one without his help, and one with, and despite feeling easier and therefore “less hardcore”, the goofy nature of Funky Kong just adds to the fun of the already excellent level design in DKC: Tropical Freeze. On top of that, it made it easier for my son to play with me (he’s 5), so that helped too.
Play it Again, Donkey
Like all of the best Nintendo platformers, one of Tropical Freeze’s best bits is that it’s so replayable. I promise that levels will never be fully completed on the first playthrough, and there is always one more secret to unlock or collectable to find hidden among the bushes. There are six worlds, with about 10 levels per world, and each level is pretty long in nature. The boss fights are gloriously done, even if they feel like they stretch on a bit too long. If there’s any real nitpick I have, it’s that Tropical Freeze doesn’t have any added new content outside of Funky Kong. And for a full-priced port, I was hoping there may be more added, even as someone who missed the first go round.