Nintendo has really taken a notice to the power of fan service and nostalgia in these past years. After the prodigious success of the Super Smash Bros. series and consistent support for just about every other title with Mario in it, the company has pushed even the most obscure characters into the lime light. The Kid Icarus series had seen a new title after 26 years of silence, and R.O.B. has been popping up in various games for the past few years. They’ve been spending so much time breathing life into old franchises to bring them up to current marketable status that it seemed like their core platformers were being forgotten. It wasn’t until E3 2010 that we saw a resurgence to the more notable classics, but it’s been years since E3 showed off our favorite, banana-loving Nintendo character.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is the direct sequel to its newly remade 3DS predecessor Donkey Kong Country Returns. For the most part, a perfect sequel should take what was great about the original and beef it up with new features, mechanics and sometimes controls without losing what made the precursor so popular. DKC:TF takes a different approach all together. Rather than changing… anything, it didn’t. That isn’t to say their aren’t minor tweaks here and there, but if you were to sit someone down and play both games, you could barely tell the difference.
The concept of bringing a sequel to a next gen platform is sheer power of the system. Graphical limitations, memory limitations, sound limitations all become an afterthought. While DKC:TF looks as beautiful as Returns, there isn’t much in the way of fancy new graphics. Sure, they added some significant hair physics to our favorite ape, but the environments look just as they did on the Wii: still well done, still absolutely gorgeous, but still what they already were. It’s a shame that a place like DK Island hadn’t gotten a chance to really show off the potential beauty of the next console generation. But while that’s an esthetic choice that may be fine with most gamers, there are some other things they kept that aren’t as disposable.
Another challenge of bringing a game into the future is figuring out how the mechanics get translated to the new controllers. The Wii U is backwards compatible with the Wiimote and Nunchuck which is a fine idea, but the developers chose to ignore one major complaint that the public had about the first game: Waggle. Despite across the board complaints that DK’s roll being a wiimote waggle felt unnatural to gameplay, it has been left that way for this follow-up. By the way, yes, it still feels unnatural and disorienting for both players.
The two player system still plays a prominent role in the game. Much like in Returns, you and a friend can tackle each level together and hope to use your character’s specialized skill to advance. Donkey Kong has the power and pounding ability and Diddy still has his Peanut Pop Gun and jetpack. This means that two player is still frustrating and Diddy is still useless unless used for a longer jump which, if actually playing with a human, you would never want to allow happen. When Diddy is on Donkey’s back he becomes uncontrollable by the player unless to get off. Whoever is playing Donkey Kong then has all the control and second player is just waiting to jump or shoot weak, powerless peanuts. It is highly recommended to play single player in this one.
Though the game has kept an awful lot, one of Nintendo’s new selling points is the “dynamic camera.” Used mostly when entering barrels, the camera will make significant changes to angles and point of view. This opens up new parts of the world and lets you as a player absorb more of the scenery. But with these dramatic changes comes a difficultly curve so one should always stay on their toes. The problem with the “dynamic camera” is that, once again, it doesn’t appear to be anything significantly different than what was used in Returns. Sure, it makes the longer barrel sections feel a bit more cinematic, and the world is beautiful to look at, but it brings the same intensity that fixed camera brought. While it’s a nice additional to liven up gameplay, using it as a selling point is pretty weak.
Despite all the negativity coming out of my impression, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is not bad. Though the graphics aren’t going to blow anyone away, they are still vivid and beautiful. The controls are annoying, but if you made it through the first game, it’ll be nothing new that you can’t handle. The rest is what you’ve come to expect from plat forming to barrel shooting to secret finding and the like.
The game still has a couple of months to mold into something great. With a release date in November, they should already have a lot of it completed that they just weren’t showing off at E3. We really won’t know what it has to offer until it’s here so hopefully a few alterations and improvements are on the way. Dixie Kong was even hinted at finally returning her to the DKC universe after sixteen years. We’ll have to see what other secrets they’ve been keeping under wraps in November but until then, it sure is a sequel to Donkey Kong Country Returns.