Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze review – Top banana

Nintendo’s Switch gets another first-party Wii U port in the shape of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. It’s a fine remaster of the 2014 game, and a prime example of 2D level design, but whether you get on with it will very much depend on your feelings about the nuts and bolts of archetypal platformers.

Tropical Freeze is cut from the same cloth as 1994’s Donkey Kong Country, putting you in charge of the titular ape as he romps around colourful environments, rolling into enemies, collecting KONG letters and intermittently riding minecarts. Retro Studios is true to its name in how it handles the core of Tropical Freeze, with an emphasis on hunting collectibles and teetering around a finite number of lives, bolstered by popping red balloons.

The core gameplay is as close to Donkey-Kong tradition as you can get, then, but this isn’t to say that the levels are lazy. Mechanics and challenges are constantly introduced and augmented, true to the Nintendo maxim of teaching through playing, along with a thematic consistency that neatly ties each world together. An alpine-themed land will have you dealing with air-blowing horns, for example, while a burning forest will force you to navigate disintegrating ropes and collapsing trees.  

The Switch remaster comes with a resolution upgrade, kicking the Wii U’s native 720p up to 1080p in docked mode. It looks great on the big screen, with sharp textures and a colourful art style. The resolution takes a slight knock in handheld mode, but still runs at a smooth 60fps. The visual changes from the Wii U version aren’t enormous, but Retro has done a stellar job at tweaking Tropical Freeze for Nintendo’s portable console. Perhaps more important than a bumped-up resolution is the dramatically shorter load times in the Switch version, which will see you jumping in and out of level within seconds.

The other main change to the Switch version of Tropical Freeze is the addition of Funky Kong as a playable character. The surfing simian essentially functions as the game’s easy mode, with drastically more health than Donkey Kong as well as the ability to double jump, hover and roll without stopping. Coupled with two-player co-op, Funky Kong works as a handy addition for less experienced players.

If you opt for Donkey Kong, expect a challenge. Tropical Freeze can be a difficult game, particularly towards its final third, with a dearth of checkpoints and plenty of opportunities to fall to your death. The tie-wearing ape’s clunkiness can be assuaged when he’s joined by either Diddy, Dixie or Cranky – which let you hover or bounce – but a few misplaced rolls can swiftly put a stop to your progress. Often this challenge is fair, but occasionally enemy placements can feel like cheap ways to upend your flow. This isn’t helped by infrequent checkpoints that will see you replaying whole swathes of levels.

The world of Tropical Freeze is charming, and boasts some clever level design, but it ultimately feels like a retro offering. If you have fond memories of hunting down bunches of bananas and KONG tokens, you’ll be happy to see that the Donkey Kong Country formula remains unchanged. Against nimble modern platformers like Rayman Legends and Ori and the Blind Forest, however, Tropical Freeze can sometimes feel as lumbering as the titular ape in its execution. Regardless of your stance, Retro games has done an excellent job with polishing the side-scroller for the Nintendo Switch.

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