Except for a game where he was standing at the top of the maze throwing barrels, and the odd cameo, I haven’t had much experience with the big ape Donkey Kong. Bring on Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze, where like many Switch games, I try out a series blind to confirm if you should do the same.
Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze is a 2D platformer, that was originally released on the Wii U, and as such has been ported to Switch so people can play it. Thanks to its cartoony nature, the game’s aesthetic still holds up.
The story has the Kong family enjoying a wee party, when their tropical island is attacked by ships who cast a spell, freezing the land, hence Tropical Freeze. This leaves Donkey Kong with one option, to go and save the day, and that sums up the story completely.
Fortunately, where the game lacks in story, it makes up for in fun gameplay. There isn’t anything especially outstanding about any of Donkey Kong’s platforming, it’s all standard fare to be honest. Jump, slam, attack, don’t fall down the holes, enemies kill you. This is what most of the game entails.
Even the platforming isn’t perfect, as I found many times the landing felt like it slides a little. This is something you do get used to, but it’s still annoying. An interesting quirk is that the game uses half of the buttons. Instead it opts to change what a button does based on what Donkey Kong is doing at the time. This is extremely annoying when you are moving, press a button, and instead of slamming the springy platform you landed on, he rolls straight off it into spikes. This does make for some unnecessary care when momentum could be better.
Yet despite this, once you adjust to these flaws, it’s so easy to love this game. The world, and Donkey Kong himself are so darn charming. This charm is helped with the variation of gameplay style it mixes in. Simple ones such as being shot between barrels like cannons, are an exciting and interesting mechanic, which gets especially entertaining when you need to get your timing right for collectables, or to not die.
The rhinoceros stages are especially entertaining, where the giant ape rides a rhinoceros through the level with more pace and slamming power but can easily have you overshoot a ledge if not careful. Then there’s the rocket barrels which works like flappy bird where you control how high he is going with bursts of fire. This is a gameplay mechanic that generally annoy me, but even in Donkey Kong, it can be frustratingly charming.
The major addition to Tropical Freeze is the use of Funky Kong. When you start up the game you can choose between Funky or Donkey Kong. Donkey Kong gets some help from his friends, that come by way of helping him glide, but they are at risk of being lost if you get hit by enemies. Funky basically has all the powers always thanks to how funky he is with hi surf board. Using this you can glide down form jumps, making platforming easier, and spikes don’t kill you, which helps a lot.
The Funky Kong addition I certainly an easy mode, and I wound up using it more than I’d like to admit, but it doesn’t make the game totally easy. He still dies if you fall down a hole as opposed to spikes, or when his barrel rocket slams into objects. This means that when you get annoyed at a level, whipping Funky Kong out doesn’t remove the whole challenge, and I used him plenty.
The other way the game makes itself more accessible is after a few fails, it lets you skip the level. You lose everything gained from it, but you can return at any time. I was tempted on occasion to do so but powered through. It’s an option for those who want it.
One of the game’s strongest additions is the use of secret areas. You can find hidden locations with collectables, or far more interesting than that, you can enter challenge rooms. These generally involve collecting all the bananas in a limited amount of time, which is always doable if you get your timing down. Then there are the hidden exits in some levels which open you up to actual extra levels. This game has so much to explore and collect, it would be hard not to find the value in it.
I’ve picked on the game a little, but that’s because those are the game’s biggest flaws. Levels are interesting and fun to play, the different landscapes and enemies are varied, and the whole thing just drips of charm that Nintendo produce in spades. Add to this the interesting and fun boss fights, and it’s an easy game to recommend.
Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze has its flaws but overall, it’s a fun platformer with an entertaining vibe. If you’re in a serious mood, it has some solid and interesting puzzles and platforming, or if you’re in a relaxed mood, it has a silly tone that will make that Sunday afternoon that much more enjoyable.
7.5/10 - A Kong, not a Donkey
Blair reviewed Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze with a copy of the game he bought.