With the chillest shades, the hippest surfboard, and the smoothest style, Funky Kong’s flair can only improve the existing fun of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.
Developer: Retro Studios
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: May 4, 2018
Nintendo continues their sensible effort to take everything good that was on the Wii U and put it on the far more successful Nintendo Switch with Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. Depending on how dedicated you are to DKC games being crazy difficult, you either loved Tropical Freeze or felt lukewarm about it. I’m all for wider difficulty ranges for a wider gaming audience, so the new incarnation of Tropical Freeze with Funky’s easier playstyle is a welcome sight even if it’s not a brand new game. The original was so stuffed with personality and goofy DK fun, so opening the door for more players to experience it is a nobile priority.
Donkey and his buddies are enjoying a delicious birthday cake at their island home when a chill wind blows in from across the ocean. The Snowmads, a group of, well, mad snow creatures, have arrived, and with the blow of a magic viking horn thing they freeze the island and blow the Kongs far away. Donkey, Diddy, Dixie and Cranky must hop their way across six total island worlds (including, finally, their home) to kick the Snowmads to the curb and properly celebrate the birthday they originally gathered for.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is almost identical in style and control scheme to Donkey Kong Country: Returns, and recalls other past DKC games as well. Alone, you play as either Donkey or Funky (more on him momentarily), and Donkey brings with him either Diddy, Dixie, or Cranky. In co-op, the second player takes control of one of the latter three Kongs. Diddy, Dixie, and Cranky each have their own special abilities that can be used to traverse levels or access secrets in ways the others cannot.
Tropical Freeze is fine if you’re alone, but I cannot recommend co-op enough. Less mayhem than Super Mario 3D World and more engaging than co-op in Yoshi’s Woolly World, Tropical Freeze lends itself perfectly to two people tag teaming enemies and falling into pits together. Due to the challenging nature of much of Tropical Freeze’s platforming, on the Wii U you probably needed two relatively skilled players to make it through. Not so anymore with the introduction of the Switch-exclusive easy mode where you play as Funky Kong.
I love Funky Kong. Funky swings in and makes the game far more manageable both for busy adults and platforming novices. He doesn’t trivialize the game so much as turns the death counter down to somewhere between Kirby levels of easy and Yoshi’s Woolly World medium. Tropical Freeze is still a moderately challenging platformer, and in Funky mode, you can swap back to playing as Donkey at any time. I recommend starting any new game with Funky and just swapping to DK if you want to, as you can’t change which mode of play you’re in once you’ve started a new file.
…every time the Kongs drop into a level complete screen I have to stop and watch their fur move in 1080p.
And Funky isn’t some kind of magical difficulty antidote. He’s still susceptible to falling into pits, his surfboard hovers slower than a distracted Waldough and his added skills are worthless if you’re in a minecart or on a rocket barrel. All that is good. With Funky, you’ll probably still die sometimes and find some sections tricky, you just won’t burn red balloons like Diddy burns jetpack fuel. Nintendo will baby you a bit by allowing you to skip a level totally if you die enough, but they’re generous with checkpoints and with so many hidden collectibles you’d miss by skipping, you can take that message as a trite insult when it appears and keep working to improve.
I found Funky especially ideal for secret-finding, as he possesses all the abilities of the other three Kong companions and cannot travel with them in single-player, as there’s no need. You can still bring a friend with a special set of skills with Funky in co-op, don’t worry! But you no longer have to worry about bringing along the correct Kong to swim against currents or pogo up to heights. Funky does it all.
Speaking of co-op, as with any Switch game, I find myself eternally extolling the virtues of co-op on the go. With Funky in tow, that’s even better, as I can bust this out with people who have never touched a DKC game and hand them Funky Kong while I trot behind as Cranky Kong and quietly assist. I’ve tried Tropical Freeze on Switch with three relative video game novices now, and all enjoyed Funky’s safety net surfboard and five hearts. I didn’t mind the extra co-op character heart myself.
There’s also something to be said about Tropical Freeze’s upgraded visuals on the Switch, which are especially interesting if you’re playing on the TV and looking directly at the Kongs’ fur. It’s so soft and swishy! The detail is really noticeable. The rest of the game looks good and runs well, too, but every time the Kongs drop into a level complete screen I have to stop and watch their fur move in 1080p. I don’t know if it’s $60 nice, but it’s nice all the same.
That’s all that’s new, but that’s okay. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was one of the best Wii U games in the system’s lifetime, and on the Switch now it’s one of the best there too. It’s never repetitive by virtue of its multiple difficulty modes, co-op, plenty of secret levels and a secret world, and a wide variety of challenges from rocketing away from a giant cheese roll to chucking penguins at an enormous owl to riding on giant giraffe puppets Lion-King-on-Broadway style. And it’s all backed by an absolutely jamming soundtrack from David Wise. Tropical Freeze is fun and even more friendly for a wider audience in its latest incarnation. Unless you absolutely had your fill on the Wii U, Tropical Freeze is worth your time and money.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.