Greetings Master Malstrom –
I just wrapped up the main part of DKC: Tropical Freeze last night. The short review is that it’s amazing. Everything that the one guy whose review you posted said about it is 100% true. Retro throws a tricky mechanic or enjoyable setting at you in practically every level, and I found myself saying“Heh, neat!” or “Wow, that’s really cool!” throughout the experience. It’s rare for any game to impress me now that I’m a jaded adult, and I was supremely impressed with Tropical Freeze. It’s the best game I’ve played on the Wii U so far, and the best platformer to come out since Super Meat Boy. Retro was already one of my top developers because of Metroid Prime, but now they’re #1 in my book. If I was rich and had money to burn, I would personally buy every copy of Tropical Freeze that I could find on shelves in order to ensure its success. (Disclaimer: I am a huge fan of DKC Returns as well).
This is in stark contrast to my experience with Super Mario 3D World. I found every star and stamp in that game and beat every level, including both of the maddeningly frustrating ones in the final world. I was sick of the game by the middle of the third world (out of 11), but I forced myself to finish it, and when a whole extra world opened after the credits rolled, I greeted it with an “UGH!” After that world was finished, ANOTHER one, with twice as many stages, was unlocked, which elicited another huge groan from me. Since I’m a completionist with Mario games, I forced myself to play all of them (and I’m glad I did – they were the best part of that game). I was sad when Tropical Freeze was over, but relieved when I hit the end of 3D World.
Now that it’s in the news again thanks to its shiny red box and “PLAY ME, I’M GREAT!” sticker, I got to thinking – why did I enjoy Tropical Freeze so much more than 3D World? The games are very similar. Both iterate on their previous entries and add a shiny new coat of paint rather than do anything truly new. The gaming press all but fellated Miyamoto with praise over how “creative” and “original” 3D World was, and that tidal wave of opinion was what got me to buy a Wii U. By contrast, Tropical Freeze took a lot of flak for hewing too close what was done in Returns, for not being especially original or creative, and for being too hard.
After playing through both games, I’m convinced that the gaming press has adopted INGSOC’s “IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH” slogan and won’t listen to them ever again. 3D World is a fine game, but it’s got nothing on Tropical Freeze. Here is why TF is so much better:
- The story actually matters. Yeah yeah, who cares about story in platformers, but I’m serious! In 3D World, Bowser kidnaps some stupid-looking fairies that are introduced to you for about three seconds before said kidnapping. That sure gets me motivated to run to the right and stomp on things for 20 hours. In Tropical Freeze, the ice Vikings kick DK off his island and freeze everything. Motivation: check.
- The worlds are fun and unique. 3D World has the standard grass, desert, fire, ice, etc. worlds that Nintendo has leaned on since New Super Mario Bros. BOOOOOOORING!!! It’s only when you get to World 8 that the world designs actually start to get neat. Each world in Tropical Freeze is either something that’s never been done in a platformer before, or a twist on an existing trope (the factory world, for example, is now a juice factory built in harmony with the jungle). The frozen island reminds me of Crysis, and is both an awesome visual and mechanical part of the game. “Creativity”is a word that gets thrown around a lot in reference to Miyamoto, but Retro showed the world what creativity really is with this game.
- The levels are actually interesting. All of 3D World’s levels, save one or two that take place inside what looks like a Japanese residence, are made out of blocks suspended in the sky, similar to Mario 64, and look like it. Tropical Freeze, however, is like playing a painting. You can look at a painting and admire the overall beauty of it, but good paintings also reward close inspection with lots of cool little details. Every single level of Tropical Freeze is jam-packed full of those, and they add to the experience rather than taking you out of it. At least half the levels also feature some kind of mechanic that you’ll only see there (like the Jell-o molds and popsicles in world 5). Mario 3D World has this too, but the only one that I actually found neat was the flashlight that kills Boos. Also, the fact that Miyamoto had to flat-out rip off a level from DKC Returns for his game shows who the really creative ones are. (Check out these videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIII8jE4oqc for DKC, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qECxOFoi9pQ for Mario)
- It’s not 3D.
- It’s not 3D.
- It’s not 3D! I said it 3 times to stress how important it is. I can’t tell you how many jumps I missed in 3D World because it’s hard to get a 3D perspective from a flat picture. There is at least one boss that is super frustrating because he pops up all over the arena, and it’s damn near impossible to line up a jump on the one tiny place you can hurt him because of the 3D. You don’t have this problem in Tropical Freeze, obviously.
- The game is actually difficult. Both games force-feed you more 1-ups than you’ll ever need, but you’ll actually use them in Tropical Freeze, and not because of bullshit like missing a jump because of the 3D. 3D World holds your hand until the very last level in World 8, and beating that is still just an exercise in memorization rather than platforming skill. It does get difficult in the secret levels, and therefore fun, but it had very nearly lost me by that point.
The bottom line is that everything the sycophantic gaming press said about 3D World actually applies to Tropical Freeze, and everything they said about Tropical Freeze actually applies to 3D World. What kind of bizarro world are we living in?
I don’t own a Wii U or either of those games.
I am extremely disappointed with how Nintendo has been handling Mario (both 3d and 2d). When I think of a new Mario game, this is what I think:
Mario wasn’t just ‘level design’. The entire essence of Super Mario Brothers are the environments. Do you remember how games were before Super Mario Brothers? They all had black backgrounds, didn’t scroll, and were very gameplay orientated. Super Mario Brothers world one went from overworld, underworld, sky, and castle. World two went from overworld, underwater, bridges, and castle. The point is there was variety. There was new stuff. Super Mario Brothers 3 really gets to the heart of it with the different worlds and how each level was a modification on that world.
Nintendo doesn’t make worlds anymore. And I hate it.
The first four Mario games really established the mythos of the entire Mario franchise. Each game introduced new characters, villains, and realms that have become staples. Has any Mario game since added anything on such a scale? No.
It disappoints me that you say 3d World is a joke until World 8. That was how it was for NSMB Wii as well. I love the NSMB series for bringing 2d Mario back, but I hate how Nintendo is missing the bus again. This company goes decades not realizing, or not wanting to realize, that people want 2d Mario, then they keep making Mario this stale ‘level design emphasis’ with no new monsters, realms or anything memorale.
I am also biased against 3d World. After NSMB Wii, everyone, including myself, was begging Miyamoto to put in Peach and allow us to pick other characters than Mario instead of Mario/Luigi/Two Toads. NSMB U deliberately did not have this. Why? Because Shigeru Miyamoto is an asshole and intentionally saved such SMB 2 elements for 3d World. 3d World is, to me, Shigeru Miyamoto giving all of us the middle finger. Well, fuck him. That game’s flop (and it was a flop based on the very high Nintendo sales expectations) should show Miyamoto that 2d Mario fans are not going to buy 3d Mario.