Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 20, 2014

Email: Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze Impressions

I thought about writing a “Link Between Worlds” impressions email but honestly, you’ve gotten so many and there’s really nothing I could say that would differ much from the ones you’ve already gotten. I liked the free open world exploration, Ravio is kinda lame, liked that it cut out a lot of the fat but could stand to be more challenging, blah blah blah. So how about some impressions on the new DK game? Surprsingly WiiU sales picked up slightly when this was released.

First off, when you compare this to NSMBU, you can that it had effort put into it. Retro didn’t treat this like something they had to do because Iwata said so, they wanted to make this epic. Why couldn’t NSMBU get an epic opening like this? While penguin ice Vikings is a bit silly, they at least try to make these guys seem epic and threatening. They show up with a vast armada of ships and command a giant ice dragon and essentially annex DK Island. When was the last time Bowser’s invasion felt epic? For me it was the first Mario Galaxy game. I remember the site of fire raining down as the Toads ran in horror, but after this game, now Bowser just shows up comically nabs the Princess (or fairies) and that’s it. They don’t even try with the 2D Marios. Can’t be bothered to have a nice CG intro to set the stage for an epic adventure. Also I know some wish the Kremlings would return but I honestly think Retro feels that’s Rare’s baby and would rather make their own villians. Plus all the Kremilings wanted to do was steal all the bananas where the Ice Vikings want to conquer the island. Also a side note: The Walrus Vikings look very similar to the walrus race in Northrend in the WoW:Litch King expansion.

But anyway back to DK:TF. Basically Retro reminds us what a modern 2D platformer SHOULD be. The levels feel organic and have depth as opposed to a flat, painted 2D background with sprites in the foreground. Retro used the WiiU to it’s full power as opposed to NSMBU with just used up res Wii engine graphics. Donkey Kong gets nice orchestral music and no wah wah stuff. There’s even moments when the camera switches to an almost 3D perspective to show off the level. Definitely couldn’t do that in a “New” Mario game. Also so, far the levels try not to be rehashes of the first game. DK and his pals were flung to far off islands working their way back home. Though some will probably get flashbacks to DKC3 on the SNES. You remember that one that starred Dixie and her baby cousin traveling through Canada for some reason. But the levels have rhyme and reason to them as opposed to just a bunch of levels slapped together from past concepts.

Gameplay wise, it is a lot of what we got in the Wii DKC Returns. I wish more animal buddies would get used. Rambi’s fun and all and Squawks is back if you want to find puzzle pieces but I miss Squitter, Enguard, etc. There’s swimming in this one and Enguard would’ve been awesome though at least in this one DK can attack underwater which is nice. I also think the absence of more animal buddies was to focus on the additional Kongs and their unique abilities. Diddy has his jet and peanut gun, Dixie can fly and Cranky’s Scrooge McDuck pogo is mostly useless. Honestly there’s no reason to ever play with anyone else besides Dixie. I do wish the game didn’t force player one to be DK. Player 2 can choose between the other 3 but in a weird design choice, if you want to swap out say Diddy for Dixie, you have to drop out then drop back in as a different Kong. Also rather surprised there’s no 4 player co-op which is why I thought they had 4 Kongs in this game. Once again I wish they’d let Cranky complain about modern gaming again. I could see him today “in my day console wars were about GAMES not which generic FPS ran in 1080p!”

There’s some issues though. This time around at least you can play with the gamepad or pro controller so no silly shaking to pound things or blowing on stuff though a black gamepad screen is odd. You’d think they’d just slap a progress or inventory screen on the gamepad but at least it’s not distracting. I also don’t like having to hold a button to grab vines. I died many times in the first temple stage simple because I was not holding the ZR button to grab. DK should really just auto grab vines like he did in the SNES games. Also as you heard, the game ditched the stupid “auto play” feature if you die too many times. I know Nintendo thought that was a way to make games more accessible to the casual audience but in the end, people just found it insulting. You do die a lot in this game but it never feels frustrating or cheap. Sadly though the game makes it very easy to grind lives meaning unless you’re playing co-op, you probably won’t see the Game Over screen. Banana coins are every where and you can buy all the lives the power ups you want at Funky’s shop now. Unlike DKCR you aren’t limited to a single item. You can buy enough banana juice to throw a jungle kegger if you’d like. But honestly I remember getting tons of lives was a thing in DKC on the SNES. It was Diddy’s Kong Quest that was the insanely hard one making you pay coins to save.

Also Retro takes advantage of the internet feature. Online co-op would’ve been great however instead of stupid Miiverse messaging, they have online leaderboards where players compete for the best time. Ironically in Mario 3D World, a number of players used the Miiverse feature to post how quickly they beat levels. There’s also no Miiverse messages cluttering up the map screen. You want that, go visit the Miiverse on your own.

This and Rayman Legends were the two best WiiU games I’ve played so far namely as they both felt challenging. The two recent 2D Rayman’s could be amazing if they had life systems instead of just endlessly respawning you at the last checkpoint (the hardcore love the 2D Raymans for their “art style” and not having lives). It’s easy to see why people want Retro to take on franchises like Starfox or Fzero. They did such a good job with bringing Metroid and Donkey Kong Country Returns to the modern era, they’d probably do great with just about anything. Hell, if they did make a 3D Donkey Kong, I’m sure it would be worlds better than that collectahon gone wrong Donkey Kong Country 64 (seriously even a lot of Nintendo die hards didn’t like that one). But I agree, give DK a break, let Retro make something new.

It sounds like a good game. It sounds like something I would buy or rent if I owned a Wii U. However, I feel I can just skip it like I skipped the entire N64 and Gamecube eras. I wouldn’t be surprised if I bought at discount or got used the Wii U’s best hits and played them all within a week sometime years in the future.

What is the reason for me to be an owner of Wii U TODAY? Just so I sit my ass while waiting months between releases? With the Wii, I knew I didn’t want to miss that. I also didn’t want to miss the DS. But I feel fine missing out on the 3DS and Wii U.

It feels like the great multiplayer games are missing as well as RPGs. Wii and DS were amazing multiplayer experiences. Co-op is OK, but we need more.

We’ll see how Mario Kart plays.



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