Hands-on with Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for Wii U

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And here we are, back again… in Donkey Kong Country.

If you aren’t familiar with the series– by which I mean the new series, rather than the Super NES originals– I recommend checking out my review of Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D for the Nintendo 3DS. It’s pretty much the best reference point I can give you for everything else here.

The demo begins in a somewhat similar fashion to the last game, with DK crashing into a wrecked plane in the treetops of the jungle. Shaking the Wii Remote and Nunchuk controllers breaks off a chunk of the plane, which drops to the jungle floor below. Further shaking has Donkey Kong break the door open, and the adventure begins in Mangrove Cove. Go back into the plane’s cockpit from the back, however, and you’ll get an easy 1UP balloon, plus an Easter Egg if you perform a ground-pound in front of the monitors.

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Here, we’re introduced to the first big change of this game over its predecessor: The return of swimming. However, much as Donkey Kong Country Returns plays like a different game from the Super NES titles, so too does the swimming act differently.

Rather than somewhat imitating the swimming style of Super Mario Bros., Tropical Freeze completely reinvents the act. DK can now move in different directions– that is, actually swim in those directions, rather than elevating and descending while in the same position. An underwater spin attack will help foil aquatic assaults, but you’ll also have to keep an eye on your air meter and collect bubbles, Sonic-style.

Call it a hunch, but I expect there will be at least one stage which has you rushing from one patch of bubbles to the next with nary a second to spare.

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The level also introduced a new mechanic. Whereas Donkey Kong frequently had to stop and blow on various background items in Returns, here he finds these loop-like handles on the ground. One pull with his massive strength has various effects, from triggering platforms to lower to… well, nothing at all. Fortunately, the process feels a lot less slow than the blowing of the previous game– something I never even quite realized until I played this one.

Another fun thing is that, just like Mario, DK can now stomp some enemies before picking them up to throw them around as weapons. This comes in handy not only for hitting some enemies, but also targets which trigger rewards.

There isn’t too much else to say about this particular stage; it reintroduces you to the basics of the new Donkey Kong Country while also showing you some of the new elements which are on offer. Oh, and it also has one of the most fantastic remixes of “DK Island Swing” I’ve ever heard (I’d say check it out for yourself in the video at the end of this article, but that one doesn’t even seem to do it justice compared to hearing it while playing).

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Another stage (actually 2-6, compared to all the others’ World 1 roots) took place primarily among a number of bridges and apparatuses along some cliffs. Using the barrel cannons spread throughout without setting off the large explosives is key to getting through here.

While the first level mentioned above does well at introducing you to the new 3D effects which complement the 2D-style platforming, this is where it really gets interesting as you have to fire your barrel cannon not only left and right or up and down (or diagonally), but also towards the background as well. What’s more, you’ll only have a short amount of time to line up your shot in certain instances, as crumbling structures are going to destroy your barrel cannon– with you in it, if you aren’t quick enough.

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The third level of four available in the demo is a mine cart level. Much like the barrel cannons, it begins with simple left-to-right movement, but soon opens up as the track curves into the background and towards the foreground.

Between this and the other levels, the 3D layouts and interactions are absolutely incredible. While Donkey Kong Country Returns was improved by its move to Nintendo 3DS, where its 3D elements were allowed to really shine, Tropical Freeze completely blows it away– you’re going to wish that this was on the Nintendo 3DS, or that it would at least get a Donkey Kong Country game which uses it to this kind of effect.

As an aside, the mine cart level also features a nice harmonica-based tune which is quite enjoyable and fits well with the level.

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The final level of the demo is the boss of World 1, a mean-looking viking seal. You get back-up from Diddy as usual, as the two are forced into an arena full of penguins to fight in “Big Top Bop.”

The boss attacks in a variety of ways, and unlike your typical Mario or even Super NES Donkey Kong Country bosses, it takes a while to beat him, as he takes more than three hits. Between each blow you deal to him, he sends a number of fish and urchin into the arena, leaving you to dodge or defeat them (well, the fish, anyway).

Even though he’s only the first boss, he’s tricky to hit, as his slippery self moves quite quickly across the arena floor. After a few hits, he begins curling up into a ball as he rolls through, followed by an invasion of penguin soldiers, and proceeds to throw bigger fish and the penguins get more involved as the fight goes on.

Overall, it’s a longer fight than one might be used to from this type of game, but it’s still a good one.

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The main takeaway from Tropical Freeze is that yes, it is indeed a sequel to Donkey Kong Country Returns. Of course, that should be taken in the best possible way, as it feels like it adds considerably to the formula of the original (and no sign of rocket barrel stages… at least, not yet). The graphics are glorious in high definition, and the gameplay has been changed up just enough to feel fresh while still feeling very much like it’s predecessor.

And feel like its predecessor it does; those who might not care for the revised style of gameplay/controls versus the Super NES installments might be disappointed to know that this game, by and large, plays exactly like the first one where it counts. It’s also worth noting that we had to use the Wii Remote and Nunchuk to play the game; for some reason, there was no GamePad support on hand, though we can hope it will be in the final version and work like the Nintendo 3DS port.

Speaking of which, Nintendo wouldn’t quite confirm or deny just how much influence the Nintendo 3DS version of Returns would have on Tropical Freeze. I can confirm, however, that DK and Diddy each had the three hearts from that version’s “New Mode,” and the green balloons which save you from pitfalls have been confirmed to return as well.

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This all leaves just one question: What about Dixie? As we’ve all seen in screens and trailers, she’s making her return with this title, but for reasons unknown, she wasn’t included in the demo. As a result, I cannot say what she brings to the table, or how using her differs significantly from Diddy Kong (though she seems able to get a little extra elevation in the trailer).

Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D offered a steep challenge, even with its New Mode, and it looks like Tropical Freeze may continue that as a tradition. The levels in the demo felt firm but fair, with a noticeable step up when going from the World 1 levels to 2-6. Hopefully it won’t be quite as brutal as its predecessor, though.

Right now, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is shaping up to be every bit as good as the game which came before it, and quite possibly even better. We’ll see how good it is when it’s released this November.

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David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.

  • MattG

    I really hope the GamePad support works like the 3DS DKCR. Having to shake the Wii remote to roll in the Wii version of DKCR was a major hassle and part of why I eventually gave up on the game. I’m further along in the 3DS version now just because the controls are more traditional.

    • Same; I think I saw someone say that there was Off-TV play, which would seem to confirm it, but I haven’t found anything official on that front.

      That said, something about the Wii Remote/Nunchuk just really worked for me in the demo this time. I was practically standing casual, hands at my sides in front of the demo, playing and pulling off all the various tricks and stunts as you do– it was kind of neat, once I realized what I was doing.