Thawing Out a Frozen Gem: “Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze”

Michael Curran

Contributing Writer

 

Originally released on Wii U in 2014, “Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze,” while rated highly by reviewers, never got the same limelight as it proceeded to get when it was rereleased on the Switch. It’s important to remember what made “Tropical Freeze” so damn good in the first place. It’s a side-scrolling platformer featuring Donkey, Diddy, Dixie and Cranky Kong as playable characters, but the story is rather simple. It’s DK’s birthday and he’s with his friends Diddy and Dixie, as well as his grandpa Cranky there to celebrate.

“Tropical Freeze” has six main worlds and one secret world with 63 levels total. Each world has a particular theme and each level gushes with colorful backgrounds and excellent level design. The soundtrack is boosted by the return of the great composer David Wise, who composed the original trilogy’s soundtrack to much acclaim. It has a great level design logistically and artistically. But there’s one component about “Tropical Freeze” that often goes unnoticed: it is made for speed. There is an option for each level, Time Attack, that, depending on your pace, allows you to earn a shiny gold, gold, silver or bronze medal. You can then upload your time to the worldwide leaderboards.

Levels are specifically designed for the player that likes to go fast. Watch any Time Attack of a level that’s at shiny gold pace and you’ll see that enemies are conveniently placed so that the player can move swiftly to the next platform or section. That is not an accident. Each level, if you’re speedrunning, has a particular rhythm that is pretty hard to get, but when you do, it feels amazing. The trick lies a lot with DK’s ability to roll, a powerful move. Not only can you roll into an array of enemies, but it can build momentum for jumps. DK on his own can only roll a short distance but nevertheless helps out your jumping when you don’t have a buddy. But if you have a buddy, you can roll as long as you like.

Whether speedrunning or not, you can easily tell a novice player from an experienced player based on whether they know how to apply rolling effectively. You can roll jump in midair like in “Returns” and the original trilogy. This means that if you roll off a ledge, you have a window in which you can jump in midair. Overall, movement is very fluid and fun. There is one last major control feature to touch upon: swimming.

With “Tropical Freeze,” swimming returns after its hiatus in “Returns.” Swimming is, by far, more tolerable and smooth than the Mario platformers. By pressing the dash button, DK (or his buddies) twist through the water and get a boost of speed. For more precise swimming, pressing the jump button causes DK to do breast strokes. So, swimming is actually not that bad and handled pretty well in “Tropical Freeze.”

Finally, exclusive to the Switch version, we must talk about the new Funky Mode. In this mode, you can play as Funky Kong. Funky has seven hearts, can breathe underwater indefinitely, land on spikes, roll indefinitely and has a mid-air jump and stand-still hover. Funky Mode is designed for less experienced players. You can choose between original mode and Funky Mode when starting a new save file but you have to stick with your choice for the whole campaign. Fortunately, there are three save files. While Funky Mode is not my preference and takes a bit away from the challenge in my opinion, it’s a good addition for less experienced players and is still fun overall.

“Tropical Freeze” is arguably a bit underrated. It was one of the best platformers on the Wii U and is one of the best on the Switch. It faithfully retains the quality of the original DK trilogy and is an improvement over “Returns.” If you give “Tropical Freeze” a play. I doubt you’ll regret it.