Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze – Preview
From barrel-throwing menace to kart racer to platforming icon to bongo salesman, the years have been rather strange for Nintendo’s leading gorilla. When Rare left to join Microsoft many feared that we wouldn’t see a return of the Donkey Kong Country series, but in stepped Retro Studios – most revered for putting the Metroid series back on the map before Ninja Theory took it right back off – to bring the jungle japery right back on to our screens in one of DK’s most successful outings yet. Donkey Kong Country Returns became a critical darling and bolstered Nintendo’s coffers to the tune of over five million copies even before it was recently re-released for the 3DS, and so it wasn’t entirely surprising to discover that Retro Studios have been working on the long-awaited follow-up.
Fitting in with its winter release rather aptly, Tropical Freeze sees our titular hero’s island invaded by warm-blooded Viking Walruses, penguins and even some owls, forcing the tie-adorned ape to embark on a journey to take his home back by force. Helping him on his journey once again is his little buddy Diddy Kong, with Dixie Kong returning to the series after being absent from the previous adventure. Dixie will come with different abilities to Diddy, with the roster filled up by a fourth playable character yet to be revealed, but only Donkey and Diddy Kong were available to play as during our hands-on time.
Diving straight into the deep end saw me jumping into a boss battle and squaring off against one of the lead Walrus Vikings, with the stage set up like a half-pipe, allowing the boss to slide from one side to another in an attempt to see off our simian companions. The key to victory came – as it often does in anything Nintendo – from jumping on top of it whenever it slid across to swipe at our heroes. After landing several successful hits, the battle began to spice up as during its attacks the Walrus would call upon the aid of his penguin allies, meaning that both Donkey and Diddy had to keep their cool and avoid the slippery leader as well as his minions. While it certainly stepped up the difficulty, it by no means felt like it was too much to deal with, instead making the battle feel even more intense as victory was constantly threatened and failure only came as confidence turned to cockiness.
Once our foe had been dispatched, I opted to try out some of Tropical Freeze’s opening levels, and it was here when it became clear that this sequel is more than a new lick of paint and some more levels. Both Kongs come with a set of new moves, some of which take more than a few cues from producer Kensuke Tanabe’s work on Super Mario Bros. 2. Our heroes can now pluck things from the ground in order to help reveal secrets scattered around each level, and the Kongs can also pick up and throw stunned enemies, as I discovered when my co-op partner grabbed one of our dazed foes, throwing him at part of the ship we were standing on, causing a platform to swing around and reveal a previously hidden surprise.
As in Returns, the platforming is absolutely sublime, being constantly left to feel as if any mistakes you make are entirely your own, and you will be making more than a few of those by the time you’ve reached the goal, but nowhere was this more evident than during one of the iconic mine-cart levels. While getting to the end was a challenge in and of itself, the true skill lay in an attempt to collect all of the puzzle pieces and the floating “KONG” letters spread throughout the level, with many of them giving you a split-second to react before they were out of reach or too perilous to snatch. As someone less concerned with a hundred-percent rating, I found just reaching the end to be enough to breathe a sigh of relief, but some of the more obsessive players are going to have to absolutely master Tropical Freeze to come out alive with every collectible in tow.
Even with the few levels I’d played it was clear that Retro Studios haven’t phoned in their return to Donkey Kong Country, and instead have only honed the formula that gave them so much success last time. With ground-plucking and foe-throwing added in to the mix, alongside the ability to attack underwater and the presence of two new playable characters, both of whom promise to have different abilities to the familiar Donkey and Diddy team – although there’s no word yet on whether it’ll have Off-TV play – Tropical Freeze isn’t coasting on its previous success; it’s riding the wave and pulling off some awesome kick-flips to boot.
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