As someone who never owned a Wii U, I applaud Nintendo’s strategy of re-releasing their first-party back catalogue on the Switch. The quality of the ports to date has mostly been excellent, and while some of these titles have included additional content and others have been straight cross-overs with minor improvements, they’re all still games I otherwise would have never got to play, so I’m grateful to now have that opportunity. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is the latest port to make its way to the Switch, and having not played either it or its predecessor, I was excited to return to the traditional 2D platforming that the series is known for (especially as I wasn’t a fan of Donkey Kong 64).
Tropical Freeze opens with a cutscene of Donkey Kong celebrating his birthday with the rest of the Kong family. All of a sudden, however, a balloon flies out the window and across the sea to where Lord Fredrik, leader of the Snowmads and his fleet of ice-covered ships are sailing. This alerts the frosty foes to the location of Kong’s home, and with destruction on their mind, they send furious windy weather towards the island, covering everything in ice and blowing DK and the rest of the Kongs away to a far-off island. Starting here, DK and crew must work together to defeat the Snomads and reclaim their home. It’s nothing original – but it is Donkey Kong after all, so it gets the job done.
At first glance, Tropical Freeze is exactly what you’d expect from a typical DK platformer; you’ll find yourself jumping between platforms, swinging from vines, dodging enemies and jumping on their heads to dispose of them. What surprised me, however, is how challenging the game can be at times, as even in the early stages you’re required to jump with caution and execute every move with precision. While the game isn’t necessarily innovative in its design, each level is expertly constructed and does a fantastic job of satisfying players who like to explore and look secrets.
Throughout each level, you’ll find power-ups in the form of Diddy, Dixie and Cranky Kong. They’ll act as a second character, with each having their own special jump/glide ability as well as providing DK with a valuable health boost. There’s a great mix of enemy types and stage mechanics that make each level feel unique, and the pacing always remains on point because of the varying obstacles throughout. It also helps that after completing a particularly challenging area, you generally get an easier stage like a runaway mine cart level as a reward for your perseverance.
As an overview, Tropical Freeze has 60 stages across 6 worlds (as well as an additional secret world to unlock). As to be expected, you’ll navigate a world map like in previous games (this time represented by different islands), and included in each world is a Funky’s Fly ‘n’ Buy for purchasing items. You’ll collect coins throughout each stage, which can then be exchanged for items such as additional health, one-time crash guards, various coloured balloons, or a Kong on your back when you begin a new stage. The most useful item, however, is the parrot, which is great for finding collectibles as it’ll sit in the corner of the screen and squawk whenever a puzzle piece is close by.
The main addition to the Switch version is the all-new “Funky Mode,” which allows you to play as the surf-loving ape, Funky Kong, and pretty much acts as a Safe Mode. When playing as Funky Kong, you’ll have more hearts, a non-stop roll, double-jump, protection from most hazards, and the ability to glide in the air or corkscrew underwater using his faithful surfboard. Given the difficulty of the game, I can appreciate the value of this mode for some players, though I personally prefer the challenge and reward of the Classic Mode. My favourite way to play, though, is co-op, as you and a partner can control a Kong each and put each other’s platforming abilities to the test. Pairing up may not help with the difficulty curve, but it does provide an extra sense of accomplishment if you can survive the chaos.
On top of this new mode, the port has also seen improvements in several other areas; most notably the resolution and load times. The resolution on the Switch has been bumped up from 720p to 1080p while docked, and load times have been reduced in general across the board. Another fun touch is that DK will play with a Switch during his idle animations. Even without these improvements, though, the game was already fantastic-looking with its enchanting art direction and lush environments. The soundtrack, in particular, is also excellent and stays true to the tone of the series.
There’s no doubt that Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a great addition to the current library of games on the Switch. Not only is it an excellent Donkey Kong game, it’s an exceptional platformer in its own right. For returning players, it’s well worth a revisit – and even if you don’t need it, the Funky Mode is still a lot of fun to try out. For newcomers such as myself, however, it’s a no-brainer. The game looks and plays better than ever, and with added accessibility as well as the chaotic but ever-jolly couch co-op mode, you’d be bananas not to pick it up.