Nintendo's library of first party titles have been trickling in for over a year now, and we've had some great experiences with them. Despite the number of delays their upcoming title, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze proves that Nintendo still has it in them to produce high quality games amongst their peers success. This game is indeed a blast in a single-player experience, but it's real charm comes when played in a two-player, local co-op session. You may be familiar with the formula of a Donkey Kong Country titles, but luckily for us all, Tropical Freeze will satisfy most with a polished side-scrolling experience that will keep us wanting more.
The premise of the game doesn't stem away from the basic formula of any normal DK game: some bad guys show up, take over DK Island, and DK & crew must go on a quest to kick them out of their home. Simple enough, right? The enemy this time aren't the Kremlings and King K. Rool, but the Viking-esq tribe of Snowmads. It's interesting to note that when you play the first few levels of the game, there is almost no ice or frost to be seen, as the opening cinematic shows otherwise. Regardless, the game's hysterical characters and rich environments work perfectly with one another to make the atmosphere of this title top notch.
Of all the Kong partners to choose from, Dixie is (by far) the best to bring along.
Her hair twirling can give your team the lift it almost always needs!
Tropical Freeze has Donkey Kong (the main player) travel across levels and reach the end of the stage. Various barrels with initials will sometimes be encountered, where players may free a corresponding Kong member to join up with DK; Diddy Kong, Dixie Kong, and Cranky Kong. They each possess their own unique, platforming abilities to aid DK, helping him complete the stages in a much easier fashion. Diddy Kong offers his trademark jetpack to allow DK to hover horizontally for a short distance. Dixie Kong gives DK a small horizontal hover, followed by a decent vertical uplift using her helicopter hair. Finally, Cranky Kong grants DK almost identical powers to that of Scrooge McDuck from Capcom's DuckTales, utilizing his spring-like cane to propel the pair high into the air (though a platform is needed to perform this). Each of these Kongs' powers has their upsides and downsides to them, but I found that Dixie Kongs' was, by far, the most useful of the three. While Diddy's is a watered down version of Dixie's (he doesn't have that added uplift to help with platforming), Cranky's is all but useless in many stages of the game. Pitfalls are very abundant in some levels, some even encompass the entirety of a stage. Without some ground or an enemy's head to bounce off of, Cranky is little more than a distraction on DK's back.
These abilities help to gather the game’s collectibles; bananas (100 are needed to gain an extra life), balloons (give 1-extra life each), yellow coins (used at Funky Kong's shop as currency) and collectible items are scattered along the platforms or hidden from plain sight. Using each character's abilities to collect or uncover these items sometimes depends on the pairing's composition. For instance, a ledge might be too high for Diddy's jetpack to help DK reach, so Cranky might be the better partner. Because of this, I was a little disappointed to learn that players must ALWAYS have DK in the combinations and couldn't swap him out for other character combos, like a Diddy/Dixie team. DK is mainly there for two reasons:Single-player always has the second Kong on DK's back to give him their platforming abilities. He's the only one big enough to carry anyone, so this is the only way combining two characters together during co-op.
Still, this is a minor hindrance in the grand scheme of things (it is DK's game, after all). By collecting all items in a stage, they unlock tons of extras for players to enjoy, like concept art, sound tests, character models, etc. This game has a TON to offer for those completionist types or treasure hunters.
Funky Kong's shop offers many different items to equip before entering a level, including invulnerability potions and Squawks, the hidden items locator.
Onto the main co-op aspects of this game. It becomes immediately apparent the game is a better experience when played with a partner. One of the reasons being each player can control a Kong separately, or combine together whenever they choose using a control button. Be warned, however, that if players do choose to play co-op, their current number of lives will be shared between them (two lives will be lost if both die). That being said, stocking up on lives through collecting bananas or grabbing balloons should be a high priority. It's important to be aware of the gauge on the left of your character icon. When it is full (collecting bananas fills the meter) players can initiate a super attack to turn all enemies on-screen into 1-up balloons!
On the plus side, the player to fall behind the lead player will only teleport to them instead of losing a life. The only things they share separately are individual item inventories, each able to carry 3 items total. The most useful item in my opinion, Squawk the Parrot, can be used between both players, while a single Life Bar increase can only be used per Kong.The player who is in control of DK when combined will have complete control over all jumping/climbing/grabbing commands, while the other player gets to ride and shoot their long-range, enemy stunning weapon. This is a great concept for beginner co-op players who might need help getting through a part of a level; DK can carry them while they provide long-range support.
Either player may assume the role of DK in the session, while the other may choose any of the three (unlocked) Kongs to play as for the entire time. I couldn't find an option to switch between the Kongs in-game, so I had to return to the title screen to change each time. Still, co-op does make collecting certain items easier to get on the bonus stages. These levels usually require all the bananas in a large room be gathered within a set time limit. Having another person there to divvy up the tasks makes completing these rooms a piece of cake.
Of all the beautiful levels Tropical Freeze features in it, one level completely stood out to me as being unique in art design. It was an unlockable stage on World Map 1 called "Busted Bayou". The level features a dark, shadowed scheme where you are navigating through a very shaded treetop. All aesthetics were presented in completely black silhouettes, besides DK and his partner's main clothing item featured in a bright color (like DK's red tie) . I very much compare it to those designs featured on iTunes gift cards with the people holding their iPods. If Nintendo made this game with more levels like this in it, or even make the entire game look like this, it would be brilliant.
Some small nit picking I had with the game involve the somewhat slow loading times and the various game menus. In regards to the loading times within Tropical Freeze, they can be somewhat slow when players are entering or exiting levels, or even when entering the world map screen from the title screen. Now, I downloaded the digital version of the game to review it, so I'm not sure if the disc version is any faster. In any case, this issue is minor, but can become tiresome over time. And there's also Cranky's character that I barely used, much to Nintendo's enthusiasm in featuring him as a playable character.
Overall, Tropical Freeze is a super solid title for the Wii U library that I'd put near the same level of quality as Super Mario 3D World. It shows that Nintendo puts a ton of love into its core franchises and continues to perfect the peak gameplay found in their respective series. My disappointment in Cranky's mechanics aside, this game easily took most of my attention from other co-op games I'm currently playing. For veterans or beginners alike, Tropical Freeze accommodates both perfectly in co-op and rewards those who choose to play as a team. As a cooperative a Nintendo title currently available for the Wii U, you can't find a more satisfying and refined experience than this one.
The Co-Optimus Review of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is based on the digital Wii U version of the game. A code for the game was provided by the publisher.