Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze evokes the memory of classic franchise titles through subtle homage and playstyle, but it's the game's buddy system-style of multiplayer that really drives that feeling home.
We spent some time with the game's multiplayer during a recent demo in San Francisco. As the sequel to Donkey Kong Country Returns, the spiritual successor to the SNES series, Tropical Freeze is full of familiar faces — Donkey Kong and his sidekick Diddy return, as does Dixie Kong, the heroine introduced in the second DK game on Super Nintendo.
Kicking Tropical Freeze off in multiplayer mode will automatically grant Donkey Kong a buddy of the player's choice, rather than requiring them to find one in the level. Unlike the SNES titles, players control their individual characters on-screen at the same time. If one person is killed in action, his or her partner can continue on, though players have a set number of lives they can burn through. Downed players have to be rescued by — naturally — breaking them out of a barrel.
Unlike her male counterparts, Dixie moves a little more gracefully, pirouetting across the stage or using her ponytail to helicopter over enemies. When we shook the Wii Remote, Dixie would use her hair to slap the ground and shake things up — unlike Donkey Kong, who pummels with his fists.
Dixie is hardly dainty, however, and during our demo proved to be just as formidable as her cohorts. While on Donkey Kong's back, Dixie is able to fire attacks at enemies with bubblegum gun; a similar maneuver to Diddy Kong's peanut popguns. Dixie also helped Donkey Kong move more efficiently when crossing long gaps, thanks to her patented hair-copter. Riding shotgun does have its downsides, however. When Donkey Kong tumbled over the edge, he took Dixie down with him — and ate up two of our lives instead of one.
Other levels during our demo required us to be mindful of our surroundings and help our partner clear a path. As we traveled through one level covered in fiery hazards, my partner and I pulled eggplant-like fruits filled with water and hurled them onto blazing bushes and enemies. While traversing these levels, it was easy hop out of danger's way by climbing on Donkey Kong's back. The carrying method provides another option, too — players who need to step away for a moment can go submissive while hitching a ride.
Much like the classic Donkey Kong titles, Tropical Freeze will also feature minecart levels. During the demo we played, the level favored only one player. Dixie could chose to ride on Donkey Kong's back and assume a passive role, or jump in alongside him and duck to avoid damage. Boss battles required a bit more strategy; our demo culminated in a fight against a Viking hat adorned seal that slid from one side of the stage to the other. By timing our attacks and working cooperatively with our partner, we were able to easily defeat the boss by landing jumps on his back.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is expected to launch in February 2014 for Wii U. Check out the trailer below to see Dixie and the whole Kong crew in action.