Up Up Down Down: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
When Retro Studios took over the Donkey Kong series in 2010, the developer delivered what was possibly one of the finest Nintendo-published platformers of all time in Donkey Kong Country Returns. It'd be easy to think that such an example of excellence in the genre would be hard to top, but Retro managed to do exactly that. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze isn't an evolutionary step for the series, but its level design is so beautifully intricate that it's impossible to deny that this game may very well have surpassed its predecessor, if not every single entry in the series that came before it.
Up Up: Outstanding platforming
As great as the platforming action in Returns was (and it was really freakin' great), Tropical Freeze truly manages to outshine it. Each level is fairly large, with dozens of collectibles and secrets to discover. Even if you're not seeking out extras, it's easy to become completely enamored with the immersive level design, formidable challenge, and utter creativity. You run across both foregrounds and backgrounds, escape as stages collapse behind you, and ride those good ol' minecarts — there's never a dull moment to be found.
Down Down: A bit too familiar
Tropical Freeze may be arguably better than its predecessors, but it's still a largely familiar affair. The game is in no way progressive, even if it is absolutely remarkable. For some, the only thing that matters may be just how awesome the levels are. For others, especially those who've just come off from playing the updated remake of Returns on the 3DS, the sense of deja vu may be impossible to ignore. Still, it's hard to focus too much on how repetitive this sequel is because of how good it is.
Up Up: More Kongs
Last time, Diddy Kong was the only monkey aiding DK. Now the duo has more backup in the form of Dixie and Cranky Kong. When two buddies play together in co-op, player two can pick from any of the other three Kongs. Diddy's the weakest of the gang, only offering a bit of hover power with his jetpack. Meanwhile Dixie can propel herself upward, and Cranky pulls off a hell of a Scrooge McDuck impersonation by bouncing off his cane. If you're playing solo, these characters will jump on DK's back and provide their appropriate abilities, which often lead to secret areas.
Down Down: Player one is relegated to using DK until Hard Mode is unlocked
It's a shame that player one always has to play as DK at the start, especially considering how much Dixie and Cranky stand out. The two are easily the stars of the game due to their awesome abilities. It would be great to see different combinations of characters, but alas, unlike Super Mario 3D World, you're not free to pick any character right from the get-go. Instead, you can only do so once you've unlocked the game's Hard Mode, which is a tad disappointing. Don't worry, DK, we still love you.
Up Up: Great soundtrack from original Donkey Kong Country composer
The Donkey Kong series has always boasted striking tropical soundtracks. Returns was no slouch, but with original composer David Wise making a comeback this time around, Tropical Freeze offers up one of the grandest collections of music, blurring the line between retro and modern quite expertly. In addition, a lot of the levels actually play off of the music. The Rayman inspiration is immediately apparent, but in a way, Tropical Freeze almost melds gameplay and music even more impressively. No disrespect to Ubisoft's limbless hero, of course.
Down Down: Still no King K. Rool
It was a bit underwhelming when the enemies in Returns were a bunch of evil Tiki masks instead of King K. Rool and his Kremling army. You'd think we'd see the return of the dastardly croc in Tropical Freeze, but sadly, that's not the case. Instead, we get a gang of polar miscreants. Sure, they're not lame like the Tiki baddies — and they're called Snomads, which is pretty rad — but come on, we miss K. Rool!
Up Up: Swimming gameplay
Returns may have lacked swimming stages, but that's not the case in Tropical Freeze. In fact, there are plenty of sequences that allow the Kongs to wet their fur (which looks even, um, furrier in HD). Aside from the handful of underwater levels, a lot of the land-based stages have small bodies of water that house their very own collectibles and secret exits. It's cool being able to take the Kongs deep sea diving once more, especially when there are plenty of bananas and other goodies to discover.
Down Down: Bosses are a pain
The bosses in Tropical Freeze aren't exactly bad, but they are kind of annoying. Encounters are ridiculously lengthy, and most bosses have way too many phases. The challenge seems admirable at first, but it quickly enters overkill territory. Since these battles are the low points of the game, it's especially frustrating when you're stuck dealing with the same polar critter repeatedly in order to unlock the next thrilling world.
Left Right Left Right: Tropical Freeze is quite possibly the best Donkey Kong game of all time
Donkey Kong is one of my absolute favorite Nintendo franchises. That's why I was left in an incredulous stupor with Tropical Freeze. The game presents some of the best platforming the series has ever seen, which only solidifies the claim that Retro has successful taken Rare's super-franchise and made it its own. Even if you don't share the same sentiments and think other Donkey Kong games are better, Tropical Freeze still shines as a brilliant installment that's worthy of being in any Wii U owner's library.
Seriously, though, where the hell is K. Rool?!
Want to talk about indie games, Kirby, or cheap pizza? Follow me on Twitter @dr_davidsanchez.