tiistai 14. kesäkuuta 2016

REVIEW - Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

GENRE(S): Platformer
DEVELOPER(S): Retro Studios
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo
RELEASE DATE: February 21, 2014

The well expected success of Donkey Kong Country Returns called for an obvious sequel, which arrived in the form of the Wii U exclusive Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze in early 2014. I didn't know anything about this game when I bought it, and the only experience I had with Donkey Kong Country Returns was the 3DS version, which I liked, but it was hardly amazing and not nearly as good as the last two games in the original SNES trilogy. It felt like half-cooked fan service at its near-worst and nerve wrecking crap at its absolute worst - thanks to some new gameplay mechanics, not to mention heavy repetition of those "new and amazing" level designs, and snotty controls - but then again, it just might be that the Nintendo 3DS or any handheld was never cut out to run a hectic and precise platformer like Donkey Kong Country properly. I thought to myself, would I like to play an amazing platformer like Rayman Legends on the Nintendo 3DS? Hell no! I dug up one single rating, not even a review, for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze before starting it up (I had already bought the game though, for DK's sake), from somewhere I trust. They said it was all right, and at the very least on par with the previous game. Then I wrote that review of Donkey Kong Country Returns, and ended it by saying that maybe I should see how this "new" Donkey Kong Country plays out on a bigger screen, with a better controller. The game itself can't be that different from the previous one, right? Well... it sure sports the same basics. Only those basics are honed to near-perfection here. To my complete and utter surprise, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is the best and most satisfying Donkey Kong experience I've had since my first run with Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest. That was a fucking long time ago.

At the heart of winter

Donkey Kong's birthday bash is ruined by Snowmads - an army of vikings from a faraway arctic land, led by one Lord Fredrik. Using his magical horn to summon a furious stormwind and a gigantic ice dragon, Lord Fredrik freezes the whole of Kong Island in mere seconds and sends the whole Kong family flying all the way to the edge of the surrounding sea, to Lost Mangroves, before claiming tyrannical (and cold) rule over the island. DK, Diddy, Dixie and Cranky embark on a long and difficult quest to travel back to their home island and chase away the unwanted birthday guests.

I'll cut right to the chase. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze feels like a fresh, new game from the very start. It still pays a lot of homage to the earliest games in this particular division of Donkey Kong games; as a matter of fact, there are a lot of times I think it's just about as close to classic Donkey Kong Country as you can get. You can change the controls to a classic mode if you like, and swimming is back (with a vengeance, I might add), with that weird blowing ability omitted from the fray. Rambi and Squawks are still the only classic animal buddies around; Enguarde's classic underwater attack is now practically a part of DK's own repertoire. The level design is absolutely marvellous, not to mention innovative, flowing, and exciting just to watch, and there is no unnecessary repetition; the one single part of the game where I felt just a little bored was the world where almost every level is an underwater level. Even then there's something to save the experience from becoming too stale. There are exciting gauntlet runs; the dash isn't any better or faster than before, but the controls are much better and the game much more forgiving when it comes to your speed. You just need to be very precise from time to time. Those rocket barrel rides which I hated in the previous game? Once again, MUCH better and responsive controls, AND an extra tick of health by default for your ride, be it a mine cart or a rocket barrel. There are only a couple of each types of vehicular levels in this game; again, no unnecessary repetition, and that's also one of the reasons they're so fun this time around. The game is full of glorious surprises. Such as the next part.

We're back in the water. Not that fluid, but occasionally fun.
This next part almost makes me cry. So I played a few levels, actually my best friend was sitting right next to me, and I went underwater for the first time. The music changes in real time, from the standard music to an underwater tune, and vice versa. While I was getting accustomed to the underwater controls, my friend noted "ah, what a familiar track - brings back memories, doesn't it?" I was like, "yeah, but they already remixed a lot of stuff in the previous game so it doesn't really surprise me". As I was listening to the track, though, I thought to myself that it really was an outstandingly beautiful remix. Then, the remixes stopped playing for an extended while, and all this new music set in. AMAZING music, which already, after the first two or three worlds, built up to the greatest video game soundtrack I've heard since the late 90's. When a fucking jaw-dropping remix of "Lockjaw's Saga", one of the greatest tunes in Diddy's Kong Quest, hit in an extremely creepy underwater level (just the right spot for it), it hit me. This is fucking David Wise. Not a Japanese dude covering him, all that's been playing is David Wise. It's gotta be. Is it? YES... with a few Japanese assistants, yes, but he returns as the primary composer of the game for the first time in the main series since Diddy's Kong Quest, and altogether as the primary composer for any major console game since GameCube's Star Fox Adventures. The years have done this man wonders. This is seriously the best and most memorable soundtrack in any game I've heard in a long, long while. It isn't just my admiration for Wise, or if it is, there's a reason for that admiration - and Tropical Freeze is a pretty damn good reason. To me, David Wise is an integral part of the true Donkey Kong Country experience. Now, on to the gameplay.

Family matters

The definitely lost vikings.
The basics haven't really changed, and every idea from Donkey Kong Country Returns, be it a good or an initially bad one, is rehashed - the controls are better, there's no force fed repetition. The level design is much more exciting and constantly changing, even within levels (2D to pseudo-3D in the middle of the hottest heat and vice versa, just as a quick non-spoiling example). This much I already covered. There's a lot more to it than first meets the eye, though. There are much more secrets in the game than just well-hidden jigsaw pieces, bonus rooms and KONG letters, and some secret extras that can be accessed by the acquisition of these. There are also secret exits hidden in certain levels, leading to secret levels in the worlds, the difficulty level of which varies this time - they're not all borderline impossible. There's also post-completion content in seven secret relics which will open the path to yet another "Lost World", I presume.

Funky Kong runs the shop this time, and the variety of items on sale hasn't practically changed at all. You will need to buy an abundance of extra lives at some point, presumably, and luckily they're still cheap assuming you're half of an explorer - you're bound to run into loads of extra money. He sells extra figurines for your viewing pleasure, though, that's the one addition. Cranky is a playable character.

And with the last sentence, we can end this review. 10 out of 10. Stay tuned for the next review.

...Just kidding. Actually, Cranky isn't even that good of a partner unless you need him to collect some specific collectables. Unless you're playing with a friend, your partners once again travel piggyback. Diddy is just the same as before - he can use his jetpack to make you hover for a short time and help you over large gaps without you having to resort to your insecure forward roll. Dixie pretty much functions the same, but she can also help you make a kind of a double jump to higher ground. Cranky is basically Scrooge McDuck. Seriously, his pogo jump mechanic is identical to DuckTales - the newer, simplified version - and yes, you can even cross floors covered with spikes with Cranky's cane. Just like Scrooge. Every partner is a gift - but in certain situations, such as most boss fights, Cranky is useless besides the fact of bringing two more health points to the table. Too bad. We love that guy. There's just one partner available for certain levels, but usually, and always in boss fights, you can make the choice between the three yourself. I usually use Diddy all the time I can - he's the most comfortable and familiar partner to use after all that time I spent on crying and cursing through Donkey Kong Country Returns. Pressing L or R once having defeated a set amount of enemies with your partner in tow, you can unleash a special attack that destroys every enemy on the screen. Doesn't do squat to bosses, though.

This is no longer bullshit. I kinda like it.
The boss fights are simply awesome. The previous game had a few great bosses, but here no one disappoints. Their strategies change with every bit of damage taken, they look amazing, and the tunes that serve as their themes kick ass. The final boss fight against Lord Fredrik is one of the most frustrating, but at the same time satisfying platformer bouts I've been part of in a long time, and there are definitely more than one or two solid pointers to the many vintage fights against the one and only K. Rool. It's great.

If there's one flaw in this game, I'd have to go to my favourite subject of criticism in any platformer: ice. Being called Tropical Freeze, this game obviously has its share of icy levels... but surprisingly, those levels are fun in the challenge they provide. There's also a certain attraction to them - I think fans of Donkey Kong Country Returns will love these levels in particular. But, underwater levels are not that fun, especially comparing them to the nicely flowing underwater sequences in an obvious game of comparison, Rayman Legends, which came out a bit before and obviously influenced this one a little in many ways. The swimming mechanic is not that good, and can turn out really frustrating, considering how many underwater levels there are in this game. None as frustrating as the rocket barrel levels in the previous one, though.


Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze simply does everything better than its predecessor, there's no way around it, and there's no way to describe by words how much the slightly tweaked controls, as well as the general atmosphere brought on by great music and altogether genius level design change the face of the game. Going into this game, I said something along the lines of "let's get this over with". Coming out of the game, I can easily rank Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze one of the greatest platformers I've played since the 16-bit era.


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