Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze Review

Donkey Kong Country was a phenomenal series on the Super Nintendo, even if it did have a few too many iterations. There’s not quite enough distance from the last entry in the series, a 3DS remake of the 2010 Wii game Donkey Kong Country Returns, but this Wii U entry offers enough new gameplay alongside the familiar tropes of the series to make it worth a purchase.


To those who say the Wii U isn’t a powerhouse–or at the very least, is incapable of beautiful graphics–please, oh please, play Tropical Freeze. As Retro Studios CEO Michael Kelbaugh has come out to say that the Wii U is “a powerhouse”, and this game proves it. Sure, you won’t be looking at Ryse: Son of Rome or the next Uncharted, but know that this is Donkey Kong, and what a beautiful Donkey Kong it is.


Environments are the way Retro Studios decided to show off their engine and rendering capabilities. From the lush greens of the forests to the sparkling ice, and the subtle reflection from the rubbery texture of those darned little penguins, this game looks deliciously polished. And with good reason, too; Retro Studios has a lot of experience producing Donkey Kong Country games.

Tropical Freeze also charms the player with beautiful effects. Flat levels occasionally jump into a surprising three-dimensional parallax view, most often when DK and friends are blasting through barrels, and this shift is a wonderful diversion from the classic two-dimensional view. It also appears as if each stage is built with a half-dozen layers of scenery behind it. Each layer moves independently and has its own depiction of trees or mountains or lakes or whatever bizarre wildlife might inhabit the world.


The audio in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is best described with one word: funky. The fun, quirky, over-the-top sounds of Donkey Kong have returned with Tropical Freeze, and while there is some new stuff there, it is all familiar, and instantly recognizable, almost to a fault.

In fact, the one thing is that the audio has changed less than anything else. For a classic franchise on a next-generation console for the first time, perhaps the game should’ve been given a bit more of an auditory facelift. At the end of the day, however, the game still sounds excellent, and a bit of nostalgia (or lazy recycling) never hurt anyone, right?


When we played the original Donkey Kong Country games, we nearly destroyed our controllers. The games were remarkably frustrating, costing us life after life. But we played on, just to jump through one more barrel. Collect one more letter. Grab one more banana.

It’s safe to say that, in a world where simpler games–or at the very least, easier ones–sell through more copies than ones labelled as more difficult. So Tropical Freeze ran the risk of becoming less difficult and, dare we say, easy. Maybe it’s the unassuming characters or the Nintendo badge, but we’re happy to report that Tropical Freeze is just as damn hard and frustrating as any other game in the series.


The cartoonish setting is a ploy to suck you into the world, where it will then chew you up and spit you out with so few lives, you’ll wonder why you ever picked up the game. And yet, it’s amazing because of it.

To be perfectly honest would be to say that Tropical Freeze doesn’t really make any leaps and bounds over what it’s been good at all this time. By the same token, that’s not a bad thing. The franchise’s usual tropes are certainly present, though some are reimagined, such as the animals that you’d never see in a Donkey Kong game before now (walruses, anyone?) or the fact that the game features an expansion of the Kong clan with Cranky Kong.

It’s fair to say that Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is more of a super-polished, infinitely-refined DK Country game, and coming off the success of the last two entries in the series, that’s saying something big.


Nintendo doesn’t exactly stray from the formula that made Donkey Kong Country the success that it is, but that’s not a bad thing by any means. In fact, the game reimagines some key gameplay elements and leaves the ones that work perfectly intact to create an even better experience on a platform with better graphics. It’s really that simple.

Nintendo knows how to pump out classic franchises with incremental updates. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze doesn't exactly buck the trend, but the game is polished enough to call a worthy addition to a lacking Wii U library.
Beautiful HD visuals; super polished
Traditional difficulty level
Cranky Kong is playable
Resting on tradition a bit too much
Too many DK Country games lately