Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is the next game to come out of the fruitful partnership between Nintendo and Austin-based Retro Studios. It's a platformer in the truest sense, despite the fact that its title makes it sound like a delightful, pina colada-flavored crushed ice treat.
Tropical Freeze is a sequel to Donkey Kong Country Returns, Retro's well-received Wii spiritual successor to the SNES series. It plays incredibly similar to that title, tasking players with navigating DK and Diddy through side-scrolling stages, looking for bananas and tokens while stomping every enemy in their path. One to two players can play through the campaign in traditional Donkey Kong Country fashion.
The titular cold front comes in the form of sieging Viking warriors who are, for reasons still unclear to me, assaulting the Kong's jungle habitat. These foes are all non-human, narrowly avoiding any unfortunate Congo comparisons of ape-on-man violence — fur and horn-adorned penguins and walruses are more Tropical Freeze's speed. My exposure to these enemies was actually limited during my brief hands-on demo, as was my exposure to Dixie Kong, the SNES series' returning heroine. I was told her ponytail-based attacks are returning as well, but I still haven't seen her in action.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze appears to be hitting one element of the series harder than a Donkey Kong Country ever has: The demo level I played was absolutely jam packed with hidden items to collect and secret mini-games to uncover. The series has always been a bit more meticulous and methodically paced than its 2D platforming ilk, and Tropical Freeze seems to take that to new extremes.
There are bananas and precious, life-giving balloons to uncover, of course, and tokens that can be spent in an in-game store to unlock boosts for your apes. There are also puzzle pieces strewn across each level, most of which require you to solve a tricky puzzle or plumb the depths of an out-of-the-way path. Some of those puzzles might be kind of simple; just remembering to bounce off an enemy to reach a high puzzle piece, for instance. Some are trickier; throwing an enemy into an object in the environment you assumed to be background to knock a puzzle piece into reach.
You can pass everything up if you're not in the mood for sleuthing, of course, but completionists will spend far more time searching for clues than they will rolling through foes. It's worth the extra effort, though; the first level hid an underground speakeasy for series regular Tutorial Pig, whose fellow swine toss bananas at you, rewarding you with bonus treasures if you manage to grab them all.
Levels look a bit larger this time around, partially thanks to the return of swimming to the series. Swimming-based levels are no longer separate from traditional levels; the very first stage sees DK falling from a crashed plane and splashing into a river. It adds some familiar mechanics back into the game, but more importantly, it gives Retro more hiding places to tuck treasures.
Levels also seem deeper, with a more dynamic camera that chase DK and Diddy as they move in and out of the background. It's still a 2D game at heart, but frequently, the perspective changed as I shot through a series of barrel cannons, around a giant tree and into the sky. It looks absolutely terrific, and might just set the graphical bar on Wii U — something Retro also accomplished on GameCube with its Metroid Prime games.
If Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze has one thing to overcome, it might actually be its title. Subtitles are kind of a rarity for Nintendo's games, and maybe for good reason, as they often conjure up memories of ill-conceived spin-off games. Tropical Freeze doesn't look like it fits that description at all — it looks like an evolution of a series for which Retro has already proven itself to be an adept caretaker.
Also, seriously. It sounds like a snow cone.