Okay, I have to get something off my chest. I love Nintendo and I love the Wii U. However, the Wii U is in trouble, and part of that is down to there being no real “killer apps” at the moment. There are a fair few games (although not as many as I would like), but none of them are compelling enough to really push the console. Still, it’s a new year and my faith in Nintendo suggests that this will be the year that the Wii U rises from the ashes.
So, the first game of this new year is Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. Another platformer. Hmmm, are there not already enough platformers on the Wii U, at least in comparison with other genres? How about something new? No? Oh well, I guess we had better take a look at the big ape’s latest adventure.
In case you have been living under a coconut in recent years, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a side-scrolling platformer in which the player takers on the role of the titular ape and, along with his companions, jumps swings and pounds through level after level of tense, precision-based gameplay.
This time around, as Donkey Kong and his friends are celebrating his birthday, the island is invaded by anthropomorphic animal vikings. An icy wind freezes the island and blows Donkey Kong and buddies to another island. It is now up to the big ape to make his way back across the six various islands to his home and get rid of the viking invaders.
The Donkey Kong games have always provided ample eye candy, and Tropical Freeze does not disappoint in this respect. Of course, it helps that the Wii U is capable of HD visuals, ensuring that everything is looking crisp and colourful, but there has to be a nod to the developers for such detailed levels through which to play. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is as good to watch as it is to play.
Despite the very enticing visuals of Donkey Kong’s first appearance on the Wii U, the game is still punishingly difficult, something which has been apparent in all of the Donkey Kong games. It may look family friendly, but the high level of difficulty will quite possibly have little Jonny or Jenny throwing a controller at the screen and swearing like a sailor. This is no real surprise, it has long been a feature of the Donkey Kong games, but it does mean that very few of the gamers that buy it will ever see the end. Progression is slow as players die frequently and learn from their mistakes, but fans of the series would not have it any other way. It is not all frustration though, as there is a store being run by Funky Kong that the player can visit in game to pick up items that will aid in their journey. But still, Tropical freeze is a game that favours the more extreme gamer.
Beyond jumping from difficult to reach level to difficult to reach level, collecting bananas, and defeating pesky enemies, players will not be surprised to find that there is some variety thrown into the levels, such as the popular mine cart riding and the newly returned swimming. The variety of the levels, including the settings, are inspired and will leave the player anxious to reach the next level just to have a look.
Donkey Kong doesn’t take on this epic journey alone, with three companions that can be found hiding in barrels to provide both additional life hearts and new moves. Diddy Kong brings his jetpack to the party, allowing Donkey Kong to jump further. Then there is Dixie Kong, who keeps Kong in the sky with her helicopter spin, and Cranky Kong who does his best Scrooge McDuck impression and bounces on his cane. This move not only adds height to a jump, but also allows the apes to jump upon otherwise dangerous hazards. As always, these characters are controllable by other players in co-op.
With a game that requires this level of precision, good controls are a necessity. The Wii U offers plenty of options when it comes to controls, with the WiiMote (with or without Nunchuk), GamePad and Pro Controller all an option. Using the WiiMote brings the chance for some motion controls, but the need for precision may suggest that the GamePad or Pro Controller would be the better choice for serious playing. Either way, the controls are solid and Donkey Kong moves with the exact level of skill that the player brings to the game.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze makes use of the GamePad for off-screen play, which is nice as it frees up the TV for other family members. But otherwise, there really is no use of the unique Wii U controller’s capabilities, which I find unusual. Still, better no additional functions than functions that just don’t work.
Keeping the player coming back are the myriad secrets hidden within the game, epic boss battles and the additional Time Trials, which include the option to upload a clip of your best run to the internet for others to watch. While the game may well have less worlds than Donkey Kong Country Returns, there is certainly ample content here to keep most players happy for a long time. In addition, bringing in a friend for some co-op action, albeit generally chaotic action, is great fun that will have the game popping up at more than one party.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a great looking, and great playing game. It does lean toward frustratingly difficult at times, but that is to be expected. The real problem is not with the game, as it is very good, but rather that it is not what the Wii U needs at the moment. It may not be the game that will sell the struggling Wii U, but for those who already have the latest Nintendo home console, it is a fairly essential purchase.