Review: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Switch)

One of the best games on Wii U has managed to get better on Switch!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 05/29/2018 11:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
Editor's Choice
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Brilliant presentation; David Wise's soundtrack is creative, bouncy, and bold; Funky Mode and Funky Kong provide something new for veteran players and makes the game accessible to those who might otherwise be left out; whether in Handheld Mode or on the TV there are no performance hitches to speak of; tons of replayability
Poison Mushroom for...
Still might be a smidge too hard for some folks even in Funky Mode or while playing as Funky Kong

I loved Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze when it landed on Wii U back in 2014. The second Donkey Kong Country game made by Retro Studios, it represented a substantial leap compared to its predecessor Donkey Kong Country Returns on Wii. Bolder graphics, the addition of swimming, two new Kong family members, and even more levels to tackle made Tropical Freeze one heck of a sequel. Now, the game has come to Nintendo Switch and many of you are likely wondering if it’s worth the investment to buy Tropical Freeze a second time around. To which I will say… absolutely! Not just because the game is so darned good and remains impeccable four years later. I’m also recommending Tropical Freeze because of the addition of Funky Kong and his new Funky Mode.

Before I launch into what’s new and fresh in Tropical Freeze on Switch, let me direct you to my original review of the game on Wii U for the broader strokes of what makes the game so great. In a nutshell, Tropical Freeze is everything that made Returns special but bigger, grander, and more varied. More buddy characters and the introduction of swimming, in particular, added a lot to an already successful formula of gameplay. Admittedly, there are some who prefer Returns to Tropical Freeze, with one of the largest complaints being that the latter is too hard. I’ll be honest, I don’t have that issue with any of the Donkey Kong Country games, whether the original trio on SNES or these newer iterations. That said, I can understand how some of Tropical Freeze‘s challenge might be pretty high to the average player.

Well, take heart if you’re amongst those who were turned off by Tropical Freeze, as the introduction of Funky Kong has somehow managed to ease the difficulty level without totally undermining what makes the experience so special. Indeed, I’d argue that even those who played Tropical Freeze on Wii U owe it to themselves to try the game with the character, as he adds an entirely different dimension to the proceedings. Let’s unpack what Funky Kong and Funky Mode bring to the table.

Funky Mode itself is intended to facilitate an easier run through Tropical Freeze. What’s fascinating about it is that nothing really changes in terms of the game itself. The stages are the same, enemy placement is unaltered, and so on. So for those who want just that little bit of extra edge to get through the game, have at it. For those wanting something altogether different and another level gentler beyond that, there’s the option to play as Funky Kong.

Funky Kong is a radically different character than Donkey Kong. To begin with, Funky goes it solo: no allies will join in while playing as him. To compensate for this, Funky has an outrageously diverse move set to take advantage of. He can use his surfboard to negate almost all spike damage as well as hover (he spins it with his feet like a helicopter blade!) to slow his descent. Funky can also roll without end, breath underwater indefinitely, and double-jump. As if all of that isn’t enough, Funky has five hearts in tow, a full heart more than when DK has an ally along.

Now, the knee-jerk reaction here might be to say that Funky is way too overpowered, but in practice I came to find that he’s not. Keep in mind, Funky’s skill set is necessitated by the fact that he operates alone; anywhere in the game that you could have gotten with DK and one of his buddies, you can get with Funky. So, in a way, playing as Funky is like always playing with an ally. What’s more, and it’s something that I’m grappling with how to properly communicate, is that playing as Funky does make the game easier… but that doesn’t mean the game becomes easy, as a result.

Remember, Tropical Freeze in Funky Mode is the same game. The only change is that when playing as Funky, some of the challenge is mitigated by all the uniquely crazy, bodacious things he can do. Heck, DK should be wondering why the big guy hasn’t jumped in like this before considering how effective he is! All kidding aside though, while Funky makes it easier to navigate some of the different hazards in the game world, that is by no means a guarantee of victory. Rocket and mine cart levels are as treacherous as ever, and going blindly at bosses without taking into consideration their attack patterns will all lead to a game over screen if the player is careless.

I embraced playing as Funky as an entirely new way of experiencing Tropical Freeze. He’s very different from his Kong family members and made things manageable for a series veteran like me without dumbing them down too much. It’s a brilliant way of making Tropical Freeze more accessible to less-skilled players while simultaneously giving longtime ones something new to fool around with. Funky’s skills also make tackling the timed challenges a different beast, particularly because he can even bounce off of spiked enemies and obstacles, meaning new routes through stages can be formulated. If players have been perfecting certain runs through stages since back on Wii U, this might be incentive to see if they can get through them even faster.

One more small (but impactful) change to the formula here is that the KONG letters are collected differently while in Funky Mode. In the original version of Tropical Freeze, each individual letter must be collected even after the player dies. Meaning if a player snags the “K” and “O” in a stage but dies before reaching the end, they’ll have to reclaim them after respawning. This is no longer the case in Funky Mode. Grab a letter once and it’s in the player’s inventory no matter how many times they die; simply reach the end of the stage and it’s added to the overall tally. This is how Puzzle pieces are collected in both modes, so it should be an easy thing to adapt to after a stage or two.

Beyond Funky Kong and his new mode, there are some welcome performance and display improvements. Tropical Freeze now displays in full 1080p on TV screens, while in Handheld Mode the game looks every bit as gorgeous on Switch’s comparatively diminutive touch screen. What’s more, the added horsepower of Switch also means load times are faster than on Wii U (although I find it odd that there’s still a bit of that visual stuttering on the load screens). This is hands-down the definitive version of Tropical Freeze from both a features and technical standpoint.

All due respect to Kirby Star Allies, but with Tropical Freeze now on Switch, it has easily taken the crown of best 2D platformer on the console. It was a thrill to be able to play the game once more with a spot of extra polish and the addition of Funky Mode and Funky Kong. Funky’s inclusion is a solid way of making a hard game more approachable to a wider audience of players. The fact that he’s also a blast to experiment with for veteran players, too, speaks volumes about the competence of Retro Studios as a developer. Make no mistake, even those who bought Tropical Freeze on Wii U should head out and give it another purchase on Switch, and those who missed out? Well, now you have no excuse! Go buy it.

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