Review: Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze Swings onto Switch

Image courtesy Nintendo I’m starting to feel like an unabashed Nintendo fanboy. That might not be a great starting line to establish credibility for a review, but I can’t help but love most everything they have been doing lately. From their third party support, innovations, and even recent multiplayer announcements: everything is pretty awesome in the land of Nintendo. So you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that I’m totally on board with Nintendo’s apparent plan of bringing every single popular Wii U title to the Nintendo Switch. May is seeing a few of these titles, including Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition and Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze. Image courtesy Nintendo Originally released in 2014, Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze was launched to critical acclaim, but because of the Wii U’s small user base, it didn’t see as much appreciation that it should have. Recently released on Nintendo Switch, Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze takes everything that made the Wii U version great, and adds a few extras--all in the portable form that is inherent with the Nintendo Switch. Now, right off the bat it’s important to note that Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze doesn’t miss a single beat on the Nintendo Switch. It runs and looks just as great as its non-portable progenitor. Even better, the Nintendo Switch version of Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze adds just enough stuff to it to make it the definitive version of 2014’s most critically acclaimed platformer. Image courtesy Nintendo Donkey Kong’s island has been overrun by a frosty threat, seemingly bound on conquering with extreme frostiness. Meeting this threat head-on is the titular Donkey Kong who is joined by Kongs Cranky, Dixie and Diddy, all of whom bring their unique abilities to the fight. You can either find one of Donkey Kong’s friends in their respective barrels, or you can join-up in local co-op with a friend, giving them the ability to choose who they want to play as. Co-op mode does add a little bit of trickiness to an already notoriously hard game, though, as each of you share health—which can be precious the harder Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze gets. Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze is a Nintendo platformer, so it has many of the staples: beautiful graphics, smooth animations, tight controls, incredible attention to detail, and an awesome soundtrack that is inextricably linked into the gameplay, as enemies bop their heads to the beat. But Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze fills a completely different role than Super Mario Bros. It can be extremely challenging, but in a different way than your familiar Mushroom Kingdom romps. Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze isn’t timed, so it allows you to explore with few limits besides the environmental and enemy challenges. If you think Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze is too hard, one of the headline features of the Nintendo Switch version is the inclusion of the new “funky mode.” This notorious mode adds Funky Kong as a playable character. He has more health, can glide, ignore most spikes, and is generally just way cooler than Donkey Kong. I mean, he has sunglasses; and being a 90’s kid, I know you can’t get cooler than surfing.  You don’t get Donkey Kong’s normal companions, though you don’t really need them. Funky can do it all himself. But he’s not a guaranteed win—even with Funky’s enhanced abilities, Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze presents a challenge. Image courtesy Nintendo There are lots of little angry penguins, walruses, and other arctic themed enemies to defeat on your adventures through the six plus worlds, each containing at least 9 stages each (including secret stages.) Some normal Donkey Kong attractions reappear. There is the mine cart riding, where even the slightest hesitation can mean failure. The rhino also returns, as well as barrels with their timed-shot challenges. Everything is much more visually impressive than previous Donkey Kong games, with a camera that changes dynamically during levels, fully showing off the beautiful 3D environments. There are also native fauna of a tropical variety, each ready to cause you harm as they walk towards you, usually boppin’ to the beat. Each main area culminates in a challenging boss fight with difficulty to rival some of Dark Souls’ worst—but they’re always fair, and learnable with patience. Image courtesy Nintendo Levels contain a multitude of collectibles and secrets—from bananas, to coins to spend in Funky’s shop. Collectible puzzle pieces, and the K-O-N-G letters make a return, as well as a few other secret collectibles. This leaves plenty of replayability for those completionists out there. My biggest complaint with Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze is some of the best, more fun and creative levels are saved for the latter half. Most people who don’t want to suffer through the inherent difficulty are really missing out on some of the great content that this game holds. Image courtesy Nintendo Whether you’re deftly maneuvering the cart, or timing the perfect barrel shot, Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze is full of hard challenges, and great satisfaction to those who conquer them. If you never got around the it on the Wii U, now is the perfect time to pick up this amazing platformer. Even if you’ve played it before, the Switch’s portability makes taking Donkey Kong wherever you go an enticing possibility. Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze is available on Nintendo Switch  
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Antal Bokor

Antal is video game advocate, retro game collector, and video game historian. He is also a small streamer, occasional podcast guest, and writer.